Why Your Writer Friend’s Hobby is Actually A Part-Time Job
And Why You Shouldn’t Blow Them Off About It
Writing is Hard. Let’s just get that out of the way. I figure there are two types of people reading this.
- People who have a friend or family member who is a writer
- Writers who are looking for some empathy
I often come across people – friends, family, and even strangers – who don’t necessarily understand how writing could be so much work. I mean, it’s just putting words on a page, right? And because we are writers, it’s assumed those words come easily to us.
The truth is, for those writers who want to take their writing beyond simple words on a page, who are aspiring to push themselves to be better writers, or who want to be published one day, there is so much more to writing than just the writing. Writers are truly the best multi-taskers.
Research and Outlining
Let me start by saying that there are plenty of successful writers and authors out there who do NOT outline, and that is great. It’s what works for them. Often times, though, researching and outlining go hand in hand. The writer who does not outline does their research and rearranging in a different order, but they still do it.
Here is a general breakdown of a Researching and Outlining session:
- Once I come up with the idea, I start outlining (using basic bullet points to start) my story.
- Sometimes I start in the middle of the book, because I had a specific scene in mind, but I often start at the very beginning of my book and work in chronological order.
- Pretty early in the process, I will hit a research point. This can be any number of things:
- What does it really sound like when someone gets stabbed in the back?
- How far away is Buffalo to New York City, and how long would it take someone to drive from one place to the other using one of the major routes? How many different routes are there, and how do their travel times differ?
These are just a few examples that might not seem like a big deal to someone who is not a writer, but they could have major consequences to a story if not properly researched.
Depending on what sort of piece I am writing, the research and outlining process can take a few days to a few weeks, even months!
- Once I have finished my basic outline, it’s time for me to delve into more detail, including Character Interviews, World Building, and more detailed plot points.
- It is important to note that if I decide a character’s parents used to be fishermen by trade, I need to make sure the parents lived close to water. If that character no longer lives by the water, even if it never gets put into the story, the decision to move has shaped their personality, or life events forced them to move away. These life events are important to understanding who your character is and whether or not they would make a certain decision one way or another.
- In the cases of world building, everything from government, town layouts, terrain and weather patterns all need to be considered, and how they will impact the story.
- What you read as a reader is only the tip of the iceberg of information that your writer knows in order to create the story you are enjoying.
Marketing yourself as a brand and marketing your books cannot wait for you to be done with your book. A writer needs to get hype up about their book far in advance of its release. This includes:
- Sharing snippets of the current work in progress as teasers to get people excited
- Advertising when pre-orders of the book will be available
- Setting up the pre-orders
- Running contests and give-a-ways in advance of the book
- Continuing to promote any works that have already been published
- Running ads on places such as Facebook, Goodreads or BookBub for current and future books
It takes time to research all of these things and decide not only what is right for the writer’s budget, but also what is the best option for the type of genre the book may be.
Putting the Words on the Page
This is certainly the part that most people know of when someone tells them they are a writer. And we have all heard of the struggles writers face when it comes to this task. Whether you have an outline to follow or not, there are days that putting words on the page is difficult.
And, just because we can, let’s throw in there that your writer already has a full-time job they need to work around. Maybe they have kids, a spouse, and a dog they need to walk every day. If your writer is lucky enough that they do not have an additional 9 – 5 job, this means they are likely in charge of all the day-to-day tasks of running their household. As any homemaker will tell you, this is considered a full-time job in and of itself.
Editing, Revising, Beta Readers and Editors
Some definitions first
- Editing: This is when your writer checks for run on sentences, the correct usage of Their, There and They’re, and that the strange spelling of their villain’s name is consistent and accurate.
- Revising: Revising can be done before or after the work has been sent to the Beta Readers and Editor. Sometimes both. Revising is when the writer removes any excess fluff that is not needed to move the story along, or adds in detail where more explanation is needed. Sometimes a scene needs to be moved to a different location in the story (referencing the outline can be helpful in determining where the best new location will be), or a character’s reaction to a specific situation needs to be changed (see above where Character Interviews and Development is discussed.). Revising is incredibly in depth and can take just as much time, if not more, than writing the actual words themselves.
- Beta Readers: Beta Readers are like a writer’s test readers. Sometimes they are people who enjoy reading. Sometimes they are fellow writers. These people read the writer’s story, and then give the writer feedback on how to make the story better. It is the writer’s discretion whether to take their beta reader’s advice or not, but when they do, their next step is more revising.
- Picking the right beta reader is important. A writer wants someone who is reliable and will be guaranteed to actually read their book and get back to them in a timely manner. It is also important to choose a beta reader that is familiar with the book’s specific genre. A reader who is only familiar with mystery and thriller novels would not be good for a high fantasy novel. This takes time on the writer’s part to interview people, and to find out who the best people are in order to conduct those interviews.
- Editor: There are many different kinds of editors. Some are strictly limited to spelling and grammar checks. Others give feedback on content, like a more advanced beta reader. Some will even help to format the book for final publication. A writer sends their work to their editor once they believe their story is as perfect as they can get it. Once their editor returns their manuscript back, the revision process starts all over again. Sometimes, a writer will send their manuscript to an editor multiple times.
In order for a writer to stay sharp, it is important for them to read. And not only read within their genre, but read other genres as well. Writing styles change over the years, just like music styles, the depiction of women in movies, etc. A writer who wishes to have their book accepted by the mainstream market needs to understand what is popular and what is not. Read anything from 50 years ago, and you will find a lot of what is now called ‘purple prose.’ Present tense versus Past tense is also becoming quite popular, but only for specific genres and target audiences. It’s important for a writer to understand these things so they can write their book accordingly.
As much as most writers would love to, they cannot sit in their little writer cave and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. As a larger part of marketing, a writer needs to create an online presence. This includes participating in writer’s groups, helping other writers and authors, offering critique for other writers and authors (which is a step before beta readers).
Remember how we discussed the importance of a writer creating a brand for themselves as well as their books? This means presenting themselves to the public, not just in the safety of other insecure writers. If a writer has a Twitter account, they need to be consistent in their activity. If they have a Facebook page, they need to interact with their fans, reply to comments in a timely manner, and post on a predictable schedule.
It is also popular for writers to have a website and blog. Creating regular content that followers can count on every week is important. So, your writer is not only working on their book, they are creating blog posts, scouring the internet for articles their Facebook fans might be interested in, talking to writers, readers and fans, etc.
If they have published works already, managing things like author signings, conventions and events to promote and sell their books is very important, even while another novel might be in the works.
As you can see, being a dedicated writer is so much more than sitting at a laptop in Starbucks and typing out some words on a blank screen. It requires enough man hours to warrant a minimum of a part-time job every week, and could easily become an additional full-time job. Remember, your writer is doing almost all of these things simultaneously. There’s no such thing as only picking one or two things for weeks or months on end. All must be considered and scheduled for maximum success.
So the next time your writer friend or family member mentions their busy writing schedule, you can bet they aren’t exaggerating! If anything, your writer friend or family member deserves a little more credit than the average person realizes. So give them a pat on the back (or don’t, we’re usually pretty picky about who we let into our personal space) and give them a big mug of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie.