Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 32: The Most Important Thing Dan Learned In The Last Year

This the third in our series of retrospective episodes. The most important thing Dan learned this year? Being a full-time author is a lot different than he thought it would be.

How different? What was Dan expecting? Was he really imagining silk pajamas and a notebook computer on the beach? We talk about the types of non-writing work that we’ve found ourselves doing, and why those things are so important to us and to our careers. We discuss how our publishers’ schedules impact our own, and why writers are often expected to drop whatever they’re doing in order to handle something for their publisher.

During our discussion we mention a new local novelist Aprilynne Pike, whose debut book Wings is available now, and made #6 on the NYT Bestsellers List for Children’s Chapter Books.

Episode 32 has been brought to you by “A Snack.” But hurry! We don’t pause for long!

Writing Prompt: Write the first page of a story, stop, write a first page of a different story and then go back and finish the first story.


22 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 32: The Most Important Thing Dan Learned In The Last Year”

  1. Wow, I’d never thought about that aspect of being a writer. In all honesty, I thought about it the way Dan did at first. Thanks for clearing that up, guys! I guess that causes a problem for those not good at business management, though…

  2. Nice commercial. Sophisticated.

    I enjoyed the discussion of task-switching. As an “outline writer” too, I spend a while ramping up momentum and have a hard time if my cycle is interrupted. And discipline in daily schedules is also difficult for me. So, I wish there were more on the topic, but I appreciated you all raising it.

  3. Listening to Dan come up with the writing prompt I lauged to myself. I’ve heard that tone of voice come out of my own mouth when I realized that I needed to give homework but hadn’t planned any yet…

    It’s amazing how much better you get with that kind of waffling over time :)

  4. I would have thought Dan’s fantasy would have involved pyjamas AND bacon.

  5. Please don’t ever play that commercial again right after you’ve discussed embalming.

    Does interrupting writing my novel to write a short story or edit a story or outline a new novel count as task switching? Cause I do that all the time.

  6. You know…it’s easy to criticize and throw out suggestions and so I ask that everyone takes this with a grain of salt. I love, repeat, love this podcast. I find it entertaining and very insightful. I have been a loyal listener from the beginning. I have noticed however, and this is only my opinion, that the podcasts have become less and less helpful to new writers and it seems they focus more on “I’ve got published, let’s talk about me and what my life/book/cartoon is like”. These last 3 podcasts especially seems rather…well…empty. I hope I do not insult by saying this. I can only imagine the difficulty in discussing new and insightful topics each week with such a focused subject. Regardless the podcasts have been fun to listen to, but how many of us are published authors? So this podcast in particular is fun to look forward to as a writer, but not very practical if you ask me. I wish I had the “my editor bugs me and I have to stop writing my 3rd book to deal with him” problem…but I don’t. Like I said, it’s easy to criticize and I hope this doesn’t come off as mean spirited or picky. I think you all are doing an amazing job and even if you only pimped your books and websites for the entire next season…I will still listen as I find you all very humorous.


    The Jerk.

    P.S. Love the show. : )

  7. If I counted up all the hours I’ve spent writing/editing/marketing my novel and then divided it by the income I will receive from it (once I get some), I wonder if I’ll even make minimum wage. I was like Dan, thinking that being a writer meant that you wrote for a few hours a day (in pajamas and fuzzy slippers) and then played around the rest of the day. Being a novelist is a lot of work and it’s something you must love to do, or it’s not worth the effort.

    Of course, sometimes when I play big band gigs, I only make $15-20 dollars for three hours of playing, so I don’t even make minimum wage doing that. Boy, did I pick a couple of great paying careers. (But I’m loving it)

  8. You know…sometimes you write stuff online and after awhile you do what you should have done in the beginning, and THINK about what you are saying. I think my previous comment was a little harsh. I think more than anything it was a bit of jealousy creeping through and for that I’m sorry. What you all have said is important to all writers, regardless of where you are in the writing process. You guys really are amazing and please just take my previous comment as a lapse in judgment on my part.


    The repentant Jerk

    P.S. Still love the show.

  9. Berin: It’s okay, I’ve picked the exact same two careers you have. ;)

    42: Yes, I think that’s exactly what they’re talking about.

    Also, I want to hear you guys redo that commercial in three part harmony.

  10. @The Jerk I think the system saw you coming and trapped your first comment in the moderation queue, giving you time to write your second comment before anybody had read the first.

    Your criticism is a fair one, at least in part. Dan’s “what I learned” is less useful to aspiring writers than perhaps Brandon’s or even mine. Brandon and I, however, presented information that is critical to the new writer. Brandon provided focus (good writing as opposed to trend-tracking or gimmick creating) and I offered an object lesson regarding the examination of your creative process.

    Neither of these are nearly as useful to new writers as the podcast that comes next.

  11. Task switching? When I was running programming teams, one of the great complaints was interruptions and having to change jobs. Most programmers like to focus on one thing and keep working on that until it gets done. Unfortunately, sometimes work requirements don’t allow that luxury.

    We tackled it from the “set down” side. As I remember it, some of the key points in our list of ways to deal with this included:
    — make your plans explicit. It may not be evident that sitting with a cool drink in hand, feet up, listening to music and staring at the ceiling, you are engaged in heavy thinking. This was partly to avoid the explosions and anger when someone interrupted. Posting a schedule, putting up a notice, taking the phone off the hook — let other people know that this is not a good time to interrupt.
    — break at the right point. Sometimes you need to say I’ll stop in two hours or when I get to this point. Admittedly, two hours may stretch, but stopping at a good rest point where you can pick up more easily next time can be very helpful.
    — make pickup notes! Right now you know what you will need to know to pick it up later. Sit down and write at least some notes to yourself to help with the restart.
    — plan for interruptions. One of the things we noticed was that we didn’t keep the design up to date with changes as we worked on it — we knew that we had made those changes and we would change the documentation later. But when you set it down, you forget all of that mental context. If you keep your outline and design and name lists and all that stuff up to date, setting it down and then picking it up doesn’t depend so much on mental context.
    — break the project into smaller pieces. I think everyone loves uninterrupted, dedicated long-term effort. But when you don’t have that luxury, having the project in bite-size pieces that you can work on in the time you have makes it easier.

    Having a good solid design or outline should make it easier to set things down. Momentum, the mental context, is the way we enjoy working, but as you point out it is very sensitive to interruptions. The trick is to learn how to capture enough of that context to make picking it up again easier.

  12. Task switching is what kills me. I’ve really got to focus on one thing and get it done. If i’m not careful my writing becomes a hydra, with new heads continually sprouting before i can get one finished off.

  13. @jabberer Keeping yourself on track is a running battle. One of the advantages of a journal or just scrap notes that I’ve found is that writing down that new idea, scribbling a little about the serendipitous factoid that I ran across — getting down the extra sprouts and blind alleys quickly usually lets me set them aside and go back to the work I thought I was doing. Similarly, having at least a rough plan or outline — even just an image or perhaps a one-line pitch — can help keep the work on focus. Third trick, while I’m rambling on — take a hard look at what is pulling you off-focus. Sometimes there’s another character, another good idea, something that really deserves to be pulled up and worked on, or sometimes it’s just that there is a real problem with the work you’re doing — your backbrain is trying to tell you that the last 3,000 words have been expanding on a mistake, and you’re going to have to rework them. Sometimes you save time by stepping back and taking a hard look at what’s going on.

    But, yeah, staying on track and focus is hard. I end up making up little reminders — First Things First. And use those scrap notes — I scribble little notes and file them. If I just try to ignore them, my backbrain insists on reminding me about them. But once I write them down, my backbrain lets go of them. Your backbrain may vary.

    Maybe we can get Brandon, Howard, and Dan to talk about staying on focus sometime.

  14. This episode was really good; it’s nice to have realistic and informed expectations of working in the industry. Thanks guys!

  15. It’s Monday morning … no new episode that’s hopefully more applicable to us beginners … Oh! that’s right – it’s Memorial Day in the U.S…

    *long-distance trans-Atlantic phone connection crackles and dies*

  16. they spoiled us with early updates. Now we are back to late updates and it’s going to drive us crazy.

  17. Sorry, folks. I’m the guy who usually does the write-ups, and I was at a convention all weekend. I crashed exhausted last night, and didn’t notice that Producer Jordo hadn’t uploaded an audio file yet. I went to sleep without it even occurring to me that perhaps I ought to email him.

    The file arrived at 1:22 AM.

    I didn’t make it out of my bedroom for another seven hours beyond that.

    Episode 33 is now live!

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