Writing Excuses 5.24: The Author’s Responsibility to the Reader

Kevin J. Anderson, multiple New York Times bestseller, joins us for a discussion of becoming productive, and how this is a reflection of our commitment to our readers.

He starts by telling us about his work day, and it’s pretty obvious that he never lets up. Kevin J. Anderson is known for hitting his deadlines, fulfilling his contracts, and being prolific, and his work day is part of how that happens.

We talk about what it really means for an author to have a contract with a publisher, and how being a writer really is a job, just like any other. Which leads us to a discussion of the mathematics of productivity, and some good suggestions for new and old writers alike.

We close with a the idea that we as authors have a contract with our readers, and that contract is both a privilege and responsibility.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Island Realm: Crystal Doors, Book 1, by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta

Writing Prompt: Envision a world in which writers are subject to the whims of their readers via a pleasure-pain induction system… in real-time.

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43 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 5.24: The Author’s Responsibility to the Reader”

  1. Awesome podcast! I’m glad you did one on this, because I’ve been wondering what it’s like as being a writer for a full time job. I’ll have to check out some of Kevin J. Anderson’s books.

  2. Dan didn’t say anything! :( But otherwise, Kevin J. Anderson had some pretty good insight. Thanks again!

  3. I would think writing something that is inspired can take extra time. I’m sure another author could offer an opposing point of view (including GRRM).

  4. I like this guy “Everything you do is writing related” That’s what I tell myself when I’m on my 3rd consecutive Netflix movie.

    Really, I’m not trying to be a writer or a pro writer but having “the attitude of being a professional writer/whatever” is good advice. Not so easy to do when the other job is paying the bills but it’s good advice.

  5. One of the most mentally/emotionally difficult parts of writing before you are published is the feeling that friends and family aren’t taking you seriously. The longer you stick with it the more they will respect your passion for it.

    I appreciate what Kevin said about making sure your family is on board with treating writing like a second job. My wife and I had a long talk about this one night and the next day she made me a bright yellow sign that says “Writer at Work” which I hang outside the door of the computer room when I need to.

    Sound cancelling headphones work well too. (Also a thoughtful gift from the wife.)

  6. I could not agree more with the sentiment that “If you say you’re going to be done by a certain date, you be done by that date.” And if that’s not actually possible, then you need to let the person you are contracted to know at least a week or two ahead of time. It’s just common courtesy.

    As an enterprising writer, who has never actually written anything worth publishing, I find that filling my time with writing is rather difficult. This is mostly because I’m still a student and thus have no time to write other than after school and during free periods.

    You guys should do another podcast about time management, as I think that usually turns out to be the biggest hindrance to enterprising writers.

    Also maybe I’ll actually write this writing prompt. I’ve never actually done one before….

  7. Another good one. I really appreciate the attitude you guys have, that you know you do have an obligation to your readers and that you take it seriously.

    One thing – and you did touch on this a bit: I could physically write 200,000 words in a year, but that doesn’t mean anyone would want to read it. I’ve heard stories of new writers who wrote the first book and sold it with a three book contract, with deadlines, and were unable to come up with anything in the later books that approached the quality of the first book. I heard of one author who signed for the future book contracts who was so desperate for material, people had to watch what they said to her because their personal stories were showing up in her books, without permission.

    So I loved it when Kevin listed all the things that he considers writing, that aren’t strictly putting words on paper (or computer screen) or handling the business end. And how important pondering time is. And filling the well.

  8. Loved this! It was really encouraging. I have small children at home, and spend most of the day doing that “thinking time” while running around like crazy. I usually only get to write in little bursts (10 minutes here, five minutes there — sometimes it’s only ten minutes a day, period) and I’ve found that now that I have no time, I can “hit the ground running” and I’m more productive than I’ve ever been. Several years ago, I heard Brandon Sanderson talk about how serious writers write at least a novel a year. It sounded like more than I could do…but supportive hubby told me if I was serious, I needed to do it (by then, it was October and I was pregnant and had a toddler, i.e., always exhausted). I wrote the best book I’d ever done that year, wrote two the next (both better than anything in the pre-deadline era), and have started strong this year. It really does help (me) to think in terms of deadlines, even if I haven’t signed a contract with anyone but myself.

  9. Made me think George RR Martin and Melanie Rawn… *cough*, though I think I’m more patient than other readers. I’m more the type to be upset that the author dies before the completion.

    As for Dete:
    1. I write where ever I can.
    Dentist’s office, on the bus, in the train station, on the subway, while someone is making comments and trying to talk to me, during my lunch break, during breaks, between classes (when I had them–but then I was fast at HW and rarely needed to study.) If I’m flying, then on the plane.

    Most writers do the best in the semi-conscious state between waking and sleeping. So early morning or evening.

    2. Brewing time.
    When I sleep, I’m also writing books. Because when I dream and get that 8 hour time in, I’ve become so entrenched into making stories and consuming them that if I don’t write for the day, my subconscious punishes me by sending a dream I can’t remember or write down that well, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

    Shower, walking, running, exercise.

    When I’m bored out of my mind, that’s when my stories brew.

    If it’s important to you, you’ll make the time for writing, cut off social life, a weekend, a month, TV watching time, video games, and so on. You have to make writing important. Is getting published more important than catching up on the next episode of survivor? What was your word count for the day? When are you idle?

    Time management isn’t about time at all, it’s about prioritizing. I’ve been writing every night for about at least an hour since I was thirteen. (Before that it was a hobby).

    So when the teacher says, “Write for 15 minutes.” I think that’s too short.

    I should note, too, that I’m anti-caffeine and I’ve managed to still clock in word count without it.

    You have to simply make the time, not the excuses.

  10. I am thankful to be given another reminder of this. I often miss time when I could be writing, and then I feel horribly guilty afterwards.

    I wonder when my Superstars Writing Seminar CDs will finally come in the mail.

  11. I agree that “I don’t have the time” isn’t an acceptable excuse. I work two jobs and I’m still able to write at least two hours a day, six days a week. I write before and after work, during my lunch break, during boring sermons at church…whenever I have a spare moment. I started doing this five months ago and in that time I’ve written more than I did the previous year!

  12. I usually agree with most of the stuff you guys say on the podcast, but I found myself in disagreement today.

    While meeting deadlines is obviously a serious commitment, I don’t think it’s always a question of being “responsible” versus “irresponsible,” and I don’t think a failure to meet a deadline is necessarily an indication of laziness. Certainly, discipline, routine, and consistency are essential for a serious writer, but you present the sum of a writer’s work as a question of quantity, never bringing the issue of quality into the picture.

    Patrick Rothfuss took an additional three years to bring “The Wise Man’s Fear” to a level of quality he found satisfactory, and I don’t see that as irresponsible. On the contrary, I think his decision to delay publication was the *more* responsible option. Writers also have a responsibility to their readers to produce the best book they can, and if it takes them longer than predicted to do so, I’m happy to give them that extra time. I’d always rather wait for a better book than get a substandard book today, even if it means waiting years.

    The world is full of extraordinary books. The order in which I read them is of less importance to me than how thoroughly they captivate my mind.

  13. I find it’s not so much “I don’t have the time” as “I haven’t gotten myself into the habit of using that time effectively.”

    Which really sucks when the flow has dried up a bit and the story isn’t progressing. Might be writer’s block, I guess, but all I know is slacking off is very, very easy.

  14. The whole idea of treating writing as a second job is my exact approach to it, even though I am still unpublished. And the limited writing time leading to greater bursts of output idea fits as well. I generally get two hours a night in which to write and right now can bang out about 1000 words. This is up from a year ago when I could produce 500 in the same time frame.

    Also, as an aside to Howard, thank you very much for the work you do on Schlock Mercenary. I really enjoy the comic and I’m glad that you’ve never let your readers down and that I can look forward to reading a new comic each morning before I head off to work.

  15. Thanks for another wonderful episode.

    As for treating writing as a second job…I try to do that as much as possible. I do double lunch supervision at the school I work at so I can use my lunch break to write. I’m trying to write on week nights in addition to listening to old writing excuse podcasts and fleshing out my map for the World of Jastor.

    I was wondering if you guys and gals could give me some advice. I’ve been discovery writing this YA fantasy novel and am up to 44000. It’s supposed to be the first is a series of books and I’ve hit a massive problem. I have realized that while the world is interesting and the several of the character’s are interesting, the main male character is boring to the point that I can’t continue writing him. The main female character is fantastic, but she can’t alone carry the story partly because she is only six and partly because the story line requires the main male character to use his god like powers to save her at the cost of him being turned to stone and vanishing. This was going to be the jumping of point for the next book.

    One the other hand I do have very solid ideas for a better story with the main female character where I can use some of what I have written as either flashbacks or dream sequences. The question I guess is should I through in the towel and start the new story or continue plugging away making very little progress.

    One day I want to be a professional writer and I’m sure that even pro’s get to the point where they have to make the decision I’m facing. I would really appreciate some advice.


    David G. Lein

    P.S. This is my second novel (third if you count the one from high school)

  16. David: WHAT makes him not interesting? Lack of motivation? Not enough personality? Does he not feel tied to the larger conflict enough?

    I recently had a serious struggle with the main character of the novel I’m outlining currently (I thought I was done but realized I had some major structural flaws and decided to start over…) and I realized I was not sure my character was worth rooting for. And lets be honest, if the author isn’t sure that the character’s worth rooting for, why should anyone else care?

    I ended up sitting down and considering his major flaws (he’s terrible at facing confrontation) and then I worked on it and worked on it… until I realized no, he’s terrible at facing his OWN problems, but damn it, he’ll stand by his friends come hell or high water (and it does come, oh yes, it comes in flaming buckets). Which also leads to an interesting plot moment when standing by his friends means facing his own mistakes head on, no matter the cost.

  17. @Priscellie Pat Rothfuss is the exception that proves the rule.

    Pat Rothfuss slaved over that second book, and it took him less than half as long to write as the first one did. He missed deadlines because he and his editor set unrealistic deadlines. They had no real baseline to work from, because The Name of the Wind was his very first novel ever.

    And it’s not a question of quantity vs. quality. It’s a question of “working” vs. “not working.” If you’re not writing, you’re not writing quality words. If you ARE writing, the odds improve. If you’re writing a LOT, and if you’ve got a good feedback loop in place, then the odds improve even more. So you need to build your schedule around being able to write, research, learn from what you’ve written, and write some more.

  18. @David — something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is conflicts, goals, and stakes. What does your character want? What’s stopping him from getting it? What happens if he fails? This may or may not solve your problem, but I’ve found that when I find a character boring, one of these three things is missing…or that the stakes haven’t gone up in a long time, so it feels like there’s no progression. Hope that’s helpful.

  19. Thank you for this great episode. I was having something of an identity issue regarding thinking of myself as a writer, and this episode contained just what I needed to hear.

    There is no word in the English language that can accurately describe how jealous I am of those who are blessed enough to have people who take their writing seriously. Recently my parents learned to humor me, but I sometimes get the “real job” speech from friends and family who are convinced that I am wasting my life.

    It also doesn’t help that I don’t have anyone to talk to who doesn’t believe that writing isn’t “real” unless you’re a NY Times bestseller making J.K. Rowling money. You can imagine how they think of me, the guy who isn’t even published. To them, when I am typing words on the computer I am doing nothing. When I’m planning new ideas for my current project, I am doing nothing. When I’m sitting at my desk, line-editing my full manuscript in preparation to market it to agents and publishers, I am doing nothing. They’re also happy to encourage me to get off my butt and “do something” with my life. My writing may as well not exist.

    Long story short, this has resulted in my own difficulty in thinking of myself as a writer, or taking writing seriously as a job. I guess that’s why I enjoy your podcast so much. Listening to you guys makes writing feel like a real occupation deserving of respect and consideration; not just my silly little hobby.

    Although, when I think about it, perhaps the fact that I keep going at it despite the atmosphere of pessimism is what makes me a writer. I’m going to take Kevin’s advice and treat it like a serious job in which I am expected to perform. Maybe if I act more like a professional, the feeling of being a professional will follow.

  20. Thanks to Patrick and Megan for their advice and suggestions. I’m wondering if part of the problem is that I might be a little burnt out. I’ve been working on several projects with almost no downtime on top of a full time job. My schedule was Get up 5am write till 6am; go to work for 8am. Write during lunch from 1-2pm, finish work at four get home at five eat dinner as the computer boots up, write till 9pm go to bed and repeat. I can count the number of books and audio books listened to and read on one hand in the last three years, while my list of books to get to and or listen to keep growing.

    I’m wondering and I put this to everybody here. How important is downtime? Should it be taken between projects? Should I budget some in everyday?

    Sorry if this is hijacking the thread a bit.


    David Lein

  21. @ David: I might not kin tell you about character development but down-time I know a little something about:

    Seriously, I believe it’s sort of like eating; you have to take food in and you have to let it digest…I’m not a writer but I do sort of do creative work. There’s only so much quality one can put out before they have to take in (via research or simply being inspired). And then there’s that down period where things must be absorbed. I truly believe that the subconscious part of our brain is hardest at work at these times; that it’s working things out even if we aren’t aware.

    I also believe that there’s a difference between exercise and truly inspired work. This doesn’t mean that true creativity doesn’t happen when it’s on the clock. It’s not the most romantic notion but I agree with Howard…Just work.

    I don’t practice this (with my personal projects) as I should, but I do agree. I would think that the key is balance and honesty. We know when it’s time to eat and when it’s time to stop eating, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we know when we need downtime, how much we need, and when we’ve had too much. A little goes a long way.

  22. @Howard Tayler

    Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive to the issue. I’ve seen firsthand how Jim Butcher is slaving over “Ghost Story,” so when some folks online acted like the three-month delay was the end of the world and maligned his work ethic, it really frustrated me.

    I know the real take-away from this podcast for your listeners was to hammer home the importance of making time in one’s life to write, treating it as a serious commitment, and I couldn’t agree more with that! Too many aspiring writers have yet to develop that essential discipline, and I commend you folks for devoting an episode to the subject. But your binary of “undisciplined writer who can’t meet his/her deadlines, if he/she even gets picked up in the first place” versus “responsible, disciplined writer who meets all his/her deadlines” didn’t leave room for “disciplined writer who recognizes his/her book isn’t up to previous standards and requires an extension to re-jigger and polish it and make it truly superb,” or even “disciplined writer who needs a breather to keep from getting burned out.”

    Thanks again for running such a fabulous podcast! It’s the only one I listen to without fail every week.

  23. That last comment in the podcast is an important one. Let me re-state it.

    WRITERS: Work hard, be responsible. You’re probably not working hard enough.

    READERS: Do not accuse your favorite author of not working hard enough. EVER.

  24. @Howard –

    Excellent call on Rothfuss. The guy took “forever” by some standards, but his section rewrites are longer than some novels. “I don’t like how this part of my book is reading, let’s rewrite that 80k word block.”

    At no point have I thought that he wasn’t trying to get it done. I certainly wish that he, and Martin, and pretty much any other author that I like would be able to churn out books more quickly, but if they did the quality would suffer.

  25. @Howard

    I think you guys were right on the first time, before you dialed back on the responsiblity of authors. I know why you did it. We all do. They are your colleagues and all of you guys are very nice people. You don’t want to offend anyone :-).

    But Brandon is right. When an author sets out to write a series, they are making a promise/contract with their readers. The readers purchase the work, support the project, and allow the author (ideally) to not have to worry about finances whilst they work. The reader, in turn, deserves the works delivered in a “timely” manner. There’s nothing outrageous about that. Timely doesn’t have to mean a novel every single year.

    Pat Rothfuss is putting out a volume that is what, 1000 pages? That’s about 3 average books from most authors. I don’t have a problem with that, and I don’t think reasonable readers do either. Pat’s also very new at the published game and I am sure there is a learning curve. Also, Pat didn’t have a million side projects going on. He released one short, fairtale type story and that was really it. (Didn’t he also release a short story for an anthology?) Still, very reasonable.

    I think we all know the elephant in the room. The one that Mr. Gaiman addressed. GRRM. I think this is where the promise/contract was maligned and broken. The readers lavished praise and money on the author. The author apologized for his latest work taking so long. Then he put it out with the caveat that another book was half finished and would follow shortly. That was like over five years ago. Since then, said author has put out numerous anthologies, attended multiple conventions, sold the rights to HBO, sold the graphic novel rights, and put sundry items for sale on his site. I agree with all of that as smart business. But it’s an insult when said half finished book has never been seen. DO any of us believe that GRRM has been feverishly working on the novel for the past five years? Do any of us believe that it would have been this long between books if the readers hadn’t provided GRRM with the means to not worry about money?

    So don’t worry about going to far Howard & Co. You’re right. Readers don’t have the right to demand their authors produce on command, but by entering into a contract of sorts with the author, the author should deliver on their promises in a timely manner.

  26. Hey guys,

    I really enjoy listening to your show, but lately I’ve have been unable to download your podcast off of iTunes. I primarily listen to your show through iTunes and an iPod and I was wondering if the trouble with downloading was something on my end or if you guys are having some trouble with bad files on iTunes or something. Keep up the good work and hopefully I’ll be able to listen normally again soon.

    P.S. I have been having trouble downloading since the film considerations podcast.

  27. Mr. Anderson, thanks for the great idea with the dictation. Tried it this morning and it really let me talk out some issues with my story. Not so much as the word-for-word dictation of the script but the key plot points and how they can enhance the story as a whole really worked for me. Thanks to everybody again for bringing this podcast to life every week…it’s always a joy to listen!

  28. Two of my very favorite authors, Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, now have to scale back for health reasons. Yes, I feel like a drug addict losing my fix, but I’m not so stupid or selfish I’d blame them or chide them. I want them to do whatever it takes to stay as healthy as they can, even if that means fewer books, taking longer to write a book, or even no books at all. (Well, okay, I’m a fan, what I WANT is for them to write a top notch book every month forever, but that’s my irrational needy side talking.)

    So take care of yourselves, guys. (This means you, too, Howard – I remember how sick you got last December. As much as I would miss my daily Schlock fix if you ever skipped a day, I think you’d be bothered by it even more.)

  29. Great episode, guys! I was wondering if sometime you would consider speaking to the demands on the author, not just to write the book, but to market the book already written. I’ve just sold my first book and now find myself faced with a myriad of additional expectations and responsibilities to help the book do well (or as well as can be expected). I’m unknown, so I have to try to establish some kind of an audience and an author brand. I’ve never really taken the time to get involved with social networking or blogging before (because I was writing), but now it seems essential that I do so. And that’s added a huge demand on my time. I guess I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. :-)

    Thanks so much for doing what you do. I love the show.

  30. This was a really good podcast. If this doesn’t make you want to get off your butt and write, I don’t know what will.

  31. Hi guys. Long time listener, first time commenter. Yet another fantastic discussion – even more inspiriational than previous ones.

    Crucially for me, the idea that writing is a job was really motivational. I constantly hear people (inlcuding you three) say you have to make time, and you can just allocate an hour or so here and there, but convincing yourself that it’s a job, that it HAS to be done, that you’re contractually obliged to put pen to paper is exactly the sort of thinking that will get my arse in that chair. Thanks!

  32. I tend to agree with Priscellie about the overstated importance of discipline and deadlines in this interview.

    Treating writing as a second job is important for the writer, to maintain discipline and avoid making excuses not to write. Meeting a deadline is important for the publisher, and they will value any writer that can do so reliably. Stressing the importance of both these qualities is good advice.

    But as a reader, I care about neither of those things. I care about whether the finished work is *good*. I ultimately don’t care how many hours a day you worked on it, and even less about whether it was delivered on time. On the contrary, if your work reads like it was written to a deadline – rushed, abrupt, incomplete – I will be the first to say so – to friends, or in an online review – and likely not read your work again.

    If you have a contract with me as a reader, the most important aspect of that contract to me is quality. If you are contracted for a series, the most important commitment you have is to a series worth the reader’s time and investment. Missing the deadline to make the work acceptable to you does not make you a prima donna, lazy or unprofessional – it’s fulfilling the contract you have with the reader. If your work takes my breath away, I’ll wait.

    One more thing I’ll add: beware of writers who always talk about how hard they work, and how they always deliver on time, but never about the work itself. Or, at least, don’t bother reading their work. It won’t be worth your time.


  33. @Hunchback Jack: Are you a writer?

    This episode is aimed at writers, and make no mistake, we did not overstate the importance of discipline and deadlines. If you want to work in this business, you need to be a fantastic writer, a pleasant person to be around, and you need to deliver what you say you’re going to deliver.

    One more thing I’ll add: beware of writers who always talk about how hard they work, and how they always deliver on time, but never about the work itself. Or, at least, don’t bother reading their work. It won’t be worth your time.

    Harsh, and incorrect.

    We’re talking to writers, not to readers here. If a writer is attempting to market his or her work by talking about how hard they worked on it, that’s just poor marketing. But most writers aren’t very good at marketing and might make this mistake, even for spectacular work. When we talk to other writers, however, work habits and discipline come to the fore — especially when we’re trying to educate, enlighten, and edify one another. It’s not marketing at all. It’s straight-up “how-to,” and fellow writers appreciate it a lot.

    How to talk to potential customers (readers, agents, editors) about your latest book is a great idea for a future ‘cast, because as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, most authors are not particularly good at marketing themselves.

  34. @Howard,

    I’m not a writer. Sorry, I didn’t mean to gatecrash, and I’m sorry if I got a bit strident in my opinions.


  35. No problem. I understand your point. I wanted to make sure that everybody understood the difference between talking up your own work-ethic (which writers must do with their editors, agents, and peers) and talking up your actual WORK, which is a critical marketing skill.

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