I’m getting geared up for the posts in this series that are probably what people are actually interested in, i.e. the bit where I signed with a literary agent and eventually got a book deal. But first I have to talk about everything that went before!
— Well, maybe not EVERYTHING. But let’s talk about a couple of important things. One is social media.
“Make sure you have a social media platform” is now hoary advice for published writers and writers working towards publication. I enjoy social media and it’s one of the things I make time for, other than writing and, y’know, actually socialising. It can be a horrible distraction as well, but everyone just needs to work out a way to control that for themselves lah.
But with this and my next post, which will be about conventions and networking, I want to talk about what I think is the real point of going to all the effort of being on Twitter and Facebook and having a blog. The point is not advertising or marketing or boosting yourself and your work constantly. The point is not having millions of followers on Instagram, or making lots of connections, useful as those can be. Those are obviously side-effects you might want to achieve, and there are also the practical aspects of it — you do want some form of online presence which makes your work available, so that people who hear about you can find and read your writing easily if they would like to. But even that is not the point.
The point is connection.
In Part 1 of “Writing with a day job”, I explained why I do it. This post is about the how.
I have a fairly simple rule, which I started when I broke the hold of writer’s block and figured out how to write regularly. I decided I would write a little bit every day — a single sentence would do if I didn’t have time for more — but I would take one day off from writing every week. This was usually Friday, because I’d get to the end of my working week and feel very tired and want to mess around on the Internet or read stuff instead of writing.
I’ve more or less stuck to that basic rule since then. When I have a project that I’d like to get finished by a specific deadline, I’ll work out how many words I need per day in order to finish it and then do that, so there are times I might have a specific daily word count target (usually around 1,000 words/day). Other times I might decide I’m relaxing and just do a bit each day instead of having a specific word count I’m aiming for. Sometimes I’ll decide that editing or proofreading or preparing a story for submission will count as my writing work for the day, but I don’t let myself do that too much as actual writing is the hardest thing for me, so I’m a little worried I’ll just keep coming up for excuses for not doing it.
Like many writers, I have a day job. I’ve been asked a few times whether I’d like to write full-time or (put it another way) why I haven’t given up the job now I’ve got a book deal. The answer varies a fair bit depending on my mood and the time of day, but the three main reasons why I don’t write full-time are:
1) I’m quite risk-averse. (I’m a lawyer by day. This is very common amongst bookish Malaysians whose parents want them to be able to cari makan.) Sadly, having one book deal is no guarantee that I would ever get another.
2) I quite like having a day job. Mine is interesting, well-paid and well-regarded, jokes about killing all the lawyers aside. I am good at it and like my colleagues.
3) I’m not sure I’d actually like writing full-time.
That last might need some explanation, given how
maniacally invested “passionate” I am about writing. (I’m not an obsessed loser! I’m a passionate millennial!)
To be happy in your career you need three things.
The days have been such a blur* since I arrived in Malaysia that I forgot to post about this article I wrote for Poskod.MY sempena Cooler Lumpur:
What being an alien taught me about stories
I am eight years old, a new pupil at SRJK (C) Kwang Hwa.
“This is my new friend from England,” chirps my classmate when she introduces me. I have never been to England in my life, but why should she know the difference between USA and England? Here in Penang both countries seem equally distant and unreal.
My family moved from Malaysia to the US for a couple of years when I was a kid, so by that age I already knew what it was to be an alien.
Basically it’s me wondering aloud “what is the proper subject of the Asian/Malaysian writer?”
Don’t forget I’m running two giveaways for my anthology CYBERPUNK: MALAYSIA. Enter for free, win a book that is both shiny and chrome!
* I haven’t really been busy, unless you count “sleeping only three hours a night” and “obsessing over the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell BBC series” as being busy. I do, but I admit there may be legitimate differences upon the point …
I have been meaning to write a post about this ever since I spoke with an author friend about how I got my short story collection Spirits Abroad published and realised how opaque the process is. This is an author who is way more established than me and has published a bazillion short stories, and yet I don’t think it had occurred to them to do what I’d done.
Mind you, this is because they operate in the US/UK market and I was focused on another market altogether. After I broke through the Block, I wrote about 20 short stories, felt I’d got a bit of a handle on how to do them, and decided I wanted to shift my focus. What I really like in stories is character, and short stories don’t give you a whole lot of space to explore your characters. I wanted to write novels: it was the one thing I felt I couldn’t do, and it was the one thing I felt I had to do in order to be a Real Writer.
I know this is a complete lie and directly contradicts #1 of my mission statement. (The thing that really drove in the fact that it is a lie for me, by the way, was reading a Dorothy Parker biography and finding out that she felt the same about novel-writing — that she had to do it, or she wouldn’t count as a writer. But the novel just didn’t seem to be her form. Like so many others, I’ve rejoiced in Parker’s scathing wit and perfect turns of phrase, and she didn’t need a novel to persuade me she was a writer for the ages.)
Unfortunately I have yet to work out how to make my feelings line up 100% with my opinions, and anyway I did want to know how to write novels for the sake of it, leaving aside all status-related insecurities. So I decided I’d try to get rid of my short stories at one go, as a collection, so I wouldn’t be worrying about editing them, submitting them, etc. while focusing on the longer-form stuff. At least I would be getting rejections at much longer intervals!
Or, how I started writing and publishing short stories.
I’m always a little puzzled to know how to answer when people ask me how I got into writing, because there are a few different answers.
1) I started when I was 6 years old, with a 101 Dalmatians-style story featuring a plucky little girl rescuing rabbits kidnapped for their fur.
2) I started when I was 16, writing fanfic and posting chapters on a Yahoo Group.
3) I started when I was 25, writing short stories and selling them to SFF zines.
But before I was 25 I did not write consistently. I never knew when or if inspiration would strike, and I could never really trust myself to finish a story. I worried about this less as an 8-year-old writing Enid Blyton pastiches; I worried about it more as a teenager promising fanfic to my friends. Because of course I wanted to be published, and I didn’t see how that would happen if I didn’t know how to write regularly.
I guess I’m getting to the stage where people look at my writing career and think, “That person must know what she’s doing”, because I am starting to get messages from people who are keen to talk to me about publishing.
I am reluctant to disillusion them. I do not like to explain that I know bupkis about publishing. To me it is a mysterious opaque world, the landscape of which is only occasionally illuminated by emails from my agent and editors, and tipsy conversations with other writers.
However, it seems a little ungracious to send people away with “Google Absolute Write, good luck”. So since this blog could do with some actual regular content, I thought I would do a series of blog posts — not on how to do it (“it” being “get a book deal”), but how I did it. It’s not only going to be about selling my novel, though: since it is a journey, I’ll talk about what’s happened since I first prevailed upon someone to give me money for my fiction.
I plan to do posts on:
- Selling short stories
- How I published a short story collection
- Signing with a literary agent
- How I figured out how to write a novel
- Going on submission
- Selling the novel
- Conventions and festivals
- Social media and networking
- Other stuff!
My focus will not be advice. There is sufficient writing/publishing advice on the Internet to equal even the cat photos and pornography. It’ll be what I did and why it worked for me (or why it didn’t). But the big thing to remember about writing is that there are a lot of different ways to do it; there are lots of different paths to publication; and you only have to do what works for you, which might be different from what works for other people.
Which leads quite nicely into the meat of this post! Here are
Ten things I believe about writing
A sort of mission statement
(This is not advice. It is stuff I tell myself. It might SOUND like advice, but all the “you”s in this post are really me.)