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Transcript for Episode 9.15

Writing Excuses 9.15: Becoming a Writer – Full Disclosure.


Key points: What don’t people warn you about being a writer? Dealing with bad reviews. Even good reviews can hurt. Don’t respond, don’t defend yourself, and consider getting someone else to filter them for you. Or don’t read them! Physical pain. Beware posture and typing problems. Also, watch for weight issues. Scheduling issues — deadlines interruptus! Multithreading! Task-switching in mid-project. Broken momentum. No time for leisure reading. Research, blurbing, but not “that looks interesting.” Consider audiobooks.

[Mary] Season Nine, Episode 15.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses. Becoming a writer, full disclosure.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Brandon] And the part of Dan this week will be played by…
[Dan] Dan.
[Brandon] Dan’s back!
[Chorus Yay!]

[Brandon] All right. So. We had a listener write to us and say tell me about the things they don’t tell you about. The parts of the job that may not be your favorite part, that you don’t… That people don’t get warned about. So we created a list, and it was very easy to create…
[Brandon] A very long list very quickly. The first one I’m going to ask about is bad reviews.
[Mary] Yeah. So bad reviews are interesting. This is one of the places where my theater background comes in handy. Because if you get bad reviews… It’s actually not the… Like they just kind of don’t tell you about what’s going to be coming. There’s the bad reviews from the… Like Goodreads and things like that. Those you can kind of ignore. But my first review for Shades of Milk and Honey was “plodding and wooden” were two of the descriptions that were in there and it just… You look at it and you’re like, “Oh, God. That’s just… Ow.”
[Brandon] You don’t think it’s going to hurt because you’ve gone through writing groups. You’re used to people critiquing your writing. And then… Then it comes out and it does.
[Mary] Yeah, and part of it…
[Brandon] The Kirkus review for Elantris was one of those that…
[Mary] Was it?
[Brandon] Sanderson has a tin ear, and this… It just is this like… It’s not even horrible, but it was bad.

[Dan] Yeah. Well. That’s the thing. That even a good review that you disagree with hurts. We just got a review for Ruins that said something about Kira is off on a new adventure, where she has to decide if she will kill everyone she meets in order to save the world. I’m like, “That paints the book in a little more violent light than it really is.” It was a glowing positive review, except it played out an aspect of the book that I…
[Mary] Was not the…
[Dan] [inaudible]
[Howard] Related to that is the review or the commentary where somebody interprets your work for you as part of the review.
[Mary] Yes.
[Howard] You look at it and you say, “I did not put that in there on purpose, and in fact, on doing a little soul-searching, I didn’t put that in there accidentally, but that is now attributed to me. Thank you.”

[Mary] Yeah. One of the things that I want to point out about these bad reviews that is different from a negative critique that you get with your writing group is that you look at it, especially with your first one, and you know it’s going to affect sales and you look at it and you go, “Oh, my God, my career is over.” The other thing is, as a writer, you will focus on the negative. Like I can quote the negative parts of that review. But I cannot quote to you any of the positive reviews that I got.
[Brandon] This is just human nature. So preparing you for this, it will happen. If you don’t believe me, go read the one star reviews of Hamlet. It’s going to happen. You’re going to get bad reviews, and they’re not just going to come on Goodreads and this. You’re going to have professional reviewers that do not like your writing style. There is no one perfect writing style. You’re going to have to deal with that. Don’t respond.
[Mary] Don’t respond.
[Brandon] Don’t defend yourself. If this is something that really hits you hard, ask your agent or a family member to collect all the reviews and not show them to you until you are deep in working on your next project and at a point where hearing about this won’t completely throw you off. Because the real thing that scary about these is when you get them, if it stops you from writing.

[Dan] Well, it’s also an option to just never read them at all. Which is what I typically try to do. I will occasionally, if someone sends me one on Twitter that I know is going to be glowing, I’ll read it just for the ego boost. But I don’t read reviews.
[Brandon] There are writers, my agent says, that just have said, and this is perfectly all right, send me the good ones. The agent collects them, gets a nice packet, and sends it to them when they need a boost in the middle of the next project, that they can read through and say, “Wow, I am good at this” and keep going. All right, let’s move…
[Howard] My buddy Dave worked for the company that made the Fantastic Four videogame. He had a review posted on his office wall to remind him that they made a mistake. The review had a line in it that said, “Before we give this game its obligatory one star, we’d like to apologize to every other game to which we’ve only given one star.”
[Oohoho. Wow.]
[Howard] I remember that he had it on his wall because this was a case where the development team knew “You know what, we threw that one out the door. We shouldn’t have done that.” So maybe there’s something to learn from your reviews, but…
[Mary] Yeah. That is true. I will say that you can learn, but you cannot learn from them until you are in a place where you know how to evaluate them and that is not with your first book.
[Howard] No.

[Dan] All right. What else do we have?
[Brandon] Next one is physical pain.
[Dan] Ouch.
[Howard] Oh, my goodness.
[Mary] Yes. So, you want to dive into this one, Dan, since you were…
[Dan] I will start. I actually ended up… This career gave me spinal surgery two years ago. I had to get my tailbone removed because I could not sit down to do my job. So I actually stood, and a lot of people do standing desks or tread desks anyway. But, yeah, this job put me in an operating room at one point.
[Brandon] Didn’t you have something with your hands at one point as well?
[Dan] I did. That was mostly a misdiagnosis by an [insta-care?]. But yeah, I ended up with a… Not carpal tunnel, but ulnar nerve damage.
[Brandon] Howard?
[Howard] Yeah. I am now allergic to Advil.
[Howard] Because… Okay, yes. If I take… If I take more than to Advil during a week, then I have G.I. difficulties. That is because I was using Advil to compensate for the fact that my hand and arm hurt all the time because I’d had so many sketch additions to do, I had so many comics to draw, and hey, I’m doing the sketch additions because money, and it was nice but it was really expensive. There have been times when, even when I didn’t think I was pushing too hard, I got home and realized I needed to soak my arm in a sink full of ice water because this hurts a lot.
[Mary] Yeah. Coming at it… It’s interesting that you say that, because I’m coming into it from a career in puppetry, which is an incredibly physical activity. I have more back issues from writing that I get from when I was working 125 pound puppets. Part of it is that I know when I’m looking at a puppet that weighs 125 pounds that I have to go to the gym and I have to be in condition. As a writer, I’m like, “I’m sitting on a chair all day. What happens if I slouch?”
[Howard] What’s the worst thing that could happen?
[Mary] That could happen… So one of the things they don’t tell you is that your posture is going to suck, that you aren’t going to get up and move around enough, that you will do repetitive things. So it’s worthwhile talking to an occupational therapist and coming up with good strategies, or even just reading about it.
[Dan] Well, it’s worth the expense. The extra 50 bucks to get the really nice office chair instead of the crappy one. And everyone’s different. I know Brandon writes on a couch, and that works for him. [Inaudible]
[Brandon] I write on a couch, or in an easy chair, and that… I’ve never had any problems with any of this. Because I’m always leaning back really… And I don’t know if this is bad posture or what, but it works for me. I also do use the tread desk, and I get up every hour or two and walk for a half-hour while I’m typing.
[Mary] Yeah. I think the getting up every hour is really the thing that I failed at.
[Howard] I think the worst part about the actual physical pain, the physical injury, is that when you try and explain this to anybody else…
[Brandon] Yeah. No way.
[Howard] Who has [inaudible] “Oh, poor guy. Sitting in your chair. Oh.”
[Mary] Actually, one other thing that I’m going to mention which is tangentially related that they don’t tell you about is that the change occupation will cause your weight to change. Some people it goes up, some people it goes down. But the change in activity is going to cause a change in your physical structure, and you need to be aware of that going in. And watch for things. Like watch for you forgetting to eat. Or you eating too much at your desk. Whichever it is.
[Dan] Yeah. It’s worth pointing out very briefly, once you get to the point where you’re doing book tours, that’s a week…
[Mary] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[Dan] Or two or three weeks where you are eating out constantly and…
[Mary] Yeah. And it’s very easy to fall into the “Oh, well, I should treat myself because I’m working so hard.”
[Dan] Yeah. And then you eat greasy junk every day for every meal. I’ve gotten to the point where when I travel, I try to eat vegetarian, just because I know it will force me into a better diet.
[Mary] Yeah. I am vegetarian, and I when I travel, I eat fish because otherwise I starve on tour.

[Brandon] Let’s go to our book of the week, which is Shambling Guide by Mur Lafferty.
[Howard] Oh, yes. Mur Lafferty’s Shambling Guide to New York City. It’s the story of a technical writer who gets a job writing a travel guide type book to New York City that is designed for zombies and vampires and the assorted coterie, I think, is what she calls them in the book, who are denizens of New York. So it’s a… It’s an urban fantasy. It’s delightful. I loved it. The sequel is actually out now, The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Both are available on audio, but you definitely want to start with Shambling Guide. Small content warning, there’s some sexy peril in there that somebody’s going to read to you out loud. But I…
[Mary] That Mur is going to read to you out loud.
[Howard] That Mur… That’s right, Mur narrated this herself, and she’s got a podcast which we love, the I should be writing podcast.
[Brandon] All right.
[Howard] So go out to Start yourself a free 30-day trial membership and grabbed The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty absolutely free.

[Brandon] One thing that I wanted to put onto this list of things they don’t tell you about that you should prepare yourself for is once you are writing professionally, you will have deadlines. Most people are ready for deadlines in that meaning “Oh, I have to work really hard” or “I may have to put some extra time into this.” The thing about deadlines that blindsided me is I as a writer get very deep into a project. I think most of us do. The Ray Bradbury type write on one thing one day, write on another thing another day, is very rare. Most of us, you’re working deep on a book and you’re really into it, and that’s when inevitably you will get a call or something from the publisher that says, “All right. We have copyedits in. You need to do this and have it back next week.” The deadlines interrupting your other deadlines are what is so frustrating about this.
[Mary] Yeah. I just had that happen. I was… For Of Noble Family, I was working on that, proofing Valor and Vanity, and proofing the trade paperback corrections for Without a Summer. So I was working on all three of the books simultaneously.
[Brandon] Yeah, and it’s…
[Mary] That’s actually just in one universe, and it still made my brain explode.
[Brandon] For what happened to me…
[Howard] That’s part of the problem that I have ongoing because Schlock Mercenary, there is a rolling 30-day deadline which is that I need to have the comics uploaded 30 days in advance so that I can remain sane. Then, if there are other projects that I’m working on, I have to be Ray Bradbury. I have to be able to work on multiple things. And yeah, when a deadline roles and where somebody says, “Yeah, can we get this in two weeks?” Yes. But in order for you to get it in two weeks, I have to shave two weeks off of my comic buffer, and then I have to put those back in somewhere, and there is a convention coming up and… Oh, my holy time management.
[Mary] Yeah. This is…

[Brandon] I would say for me the biggest problem with this is that I need momentum on a book to get through the first draft. Interrupting a first draft is absolutely miserable for me. It’s particularly miserable if you have something like I have going on, where I have two publishers. Having two publishers makes this exponentially harder, where you’re working on a book, you’re deep in this book, and your other publisher writes and says, “We need these revisions. You promised to add this chapter to the book that we talked about in revision.” You’re just like, “I can’t. I need two more months to finish this book that I’m working on.” But they can’t wait two months. You have to stop, do this book, and it completely destroys your momentum. It’s something that you have to learn as a writer your own process. Be aware of your process and try to work with this.
[Mary] This will… This is one of the reasons that when I’m doing short fiction even, I will outline it. Because when that interruption comes, when I come back to the story I don’t have to… It’s… Because I’m not holding it in my head anymore, and I can at least remember a little bit where I am.
[Howard] I’m outlining a lot more than I used to for this exact reason. I started doing a lot of short fiction for Privateer Press. I’ve got multiple Schlock Mercenary projects I’m working on, and I can no longer afford to discovery write things because when I get interrupted… Not if I get interrupted, when I get interrupted, information will be lost if I haven’t put it down somewhere in an outline.

[Brandon] The last one on this list was one that Mary actually added which is not getting time to read for leisure.
[Mary] Yeah. That was something that they really did not… No one told me that when I signed up to be a professional writer, that my leisure reading time basically is dropped to nothing. When I’m reading a book these days, I’m either… Because I write historical among other things, I’m either reading for research or frequently I’m reading to blurb for somebody. I’m reading arc… Which is great. I’m getting to read interesting things, but I’m not getting to pick up things that I want to read based on just my own personal that looks interesting. I’m also… Because of knowing how my own brain works, I have to be careful about the kind of books that I pick up and read.
[Brandon] Right. Unconscious influence.
[Mary] Exactly.
[Dan] Yeah. I was really getting annoyed by this. So my solution was… And it’s not a… Still a perfect solution, but I’ve been teaching myself to speed read. Which changes the experience of reading, but it has helped a lot. I’ve been able to read a lot more because I can read literally twice as fast as I used to. And still have a lot of room for improvement on it, but…
[Brandon] What has helped me is actually audiobooks. This whole book of the week thing… It works for me. Because I have enough stuff that I can do that is not active full brain usage. Like, for instance, I’ll get sent 2000 tip in ages they’re called that get bound into a book and I’ll sign those. Or I’ll sign this or that. Or there’s things I work on. Beyond that, I found that early in my career, you spend all day writing, working with words, and then you spend all day revising, and then you read a few chapters for someone’s book for a blurb, and by the time you’ve done all that, you do not want to be sitting there reading. Audiobooks have allowed me to do something else. I can sit and I can sort Magic cards and still be reading. That’s worked really well for me. A side effect of this is… I don’t know if it happens to you guys, but a lot of people give me their books when I’m on tour or something, and they’re like, “Will you read my book?” I’m sure they’re just thinking, “Well, he reads anyway,” because I do. Then there’s the sense of well, maybe he’ll read my book. I don’t think they quite understand how little time I have and how precious that time is for me to read something I really would like to enjoy. So it’s very hard for me to get to these books. I appreciate being given them, but I’m really not getting to very many of them at all.
[Mary] Yeah. I don’t even have time to read… Like I haven’t even read your new book yet. Of course, granted, that will take me five weeks.
[Brandon] Yeah, it’s a little bit big. But… Anyway.

[Brandon]Let’s do a writing prompt. Dan, you’re back!
[Ha ha! Laughter]
[Brandon] You can give us a writing prompt.
[Dan] My back hurts so much. Okay. A writing prompt?
[Brandon] I mean, in your mind, you’ve only been gone one week, right? So…
[Howard] He’s talking his way into this. I can hear him.
[Dan] Talking my way into it.
[Mary] Okay, I’ll give you one.
[Dan] Oh, thanks, Mary.
[Mary] So your writing prompt is that your main character is, in fact, a writer and they want to write, but cannot because of some other completely bizarre professional requirement that is not one of the things that we have talked about.
[Brandon] All right. Excellent. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses. Now go write.