On Writing for a living (or not)


I write novels. I could as easily have chosen to write advertising copy,  greeting card jingles, movie scripts, plays, articles for travel magazines, column inches for a newspaper or any of a dozen other lines of work in the writing world. Heaven forefend, I might even have stooped to writing speeches for a politician (but I have a soul, thank you very much, and a conscience, and want to keep them both clean).

But I chose to write novels. Mostly because I enjoy reading novels, and the genre doesn’t matter as much to me as does the quality of the writing. But there was a short time several years ago when I despaired of finding something I wanted to read. Lo and behold, I decided that I would write the sort of novel I wanted to read.

Two years later (gasp), it was done, and edited (more or less), and after spending a year searching for an agent willing to take a chance on me, I decided to self-publish. And I am glad that I made that decision.

And before you ask, no, I am not one of the top ten writers in my genre, or even one of the top one-hundred. But my novels (three of them to date) do sell, and those folks who read them seem to enjoy the experience. So I’ll keep on writing. Rich? No. Well off? No. Satisfied with my lot in life? Not really, but I’m working on that.

And I’m working on my fourth novel.

Actually, I’m rather tied up at the moment (actively avoiding working on my fourth novel). Life has its ups and downs, and it seems to take great pleasure in coming up with perfectly acceptable reasons for me to do anything  but work on my fourth novel.

And that has to stop, now. I’ve got less than a week’s work left to get the MS on the way to the editor, and an even dozen things that have to be done before I can clear my head of all the odds and sods that clatter and clamor for my attention. I’ll try to do that tomorrow so I can wrap up the novel by the end of next week. I promise. You can believe me. I’m a writer. Would I lie to you?

I want to see it available for the Kindle by April, or May at the latest, depending on how long the editor takes with his end of things (Oh, how I love the sound of deadlines as they go whooshing by).

Truth to tell, anyone with half a brain should avoid writing for a living. You make more money cutting lawns, and folks don’t mind if you date their daughter.

Writing well takes enormous mental effort and self-discipline. Keeping all of the characters true to themselves and moving the plot along, providing a decent and interesting (but not too interesting) amount of background  information takes a determined effort on the part of the writer. Not allowing yourself to fall into the traps of the more common mistakes of writing like getting lazy and failing to provide sufficient information to carry the tale along, reusing phrases, starting a sentence with a gerund and such like, ending sentences with participles and so on seems like very basic stuff.  Until you reread what you wrote that morning and find that you have to throw half of it out because it’s such utter garbage that it would get you shot at your writers group.

There really is no such thing as “Creative Writing”. It sounds lovely, true, but the ‘creative’ aspect of writing fiction is only about ten percent of the job; the rest is rewriting, and rewriting and more rewriting. The occasional burst of pure genius aside, good writing is rewriting.

If you can’t do that, if you can’t bring yourself to act brutally against your own ‘creation’, you probably shouldn’t even think of writing fiction for a living. Or have a garden, or throw pots on a potters wheel (you will occasionally actually have to throw a pot or two into the garbage).

“Creative Writing” is not only a misnomer; it should be a misdemeanor under the law.

“Oh, I have a story in me, but I don’t have time to write it. Shall I send you my idea?” No thanks. I have plenty of ideas all my very own, thanks ever so much. Ideas are so cheap they’re free, folks. Writing is tough. Writing a novel is just about the toughest thing I’ve ever done for a living. Writing well is hard work. It is self-imposed drudgery; self-abuse of the very worst sort.

And for most writers, there is no profit in it.

That said, it’s just about the most fun a fella can have by himself and still talk about it in mixed company.

Because at the end of all of that drudgery, you have a well-written, readable and enjoyable novel. And not many people can say that.

Unfortunately, what you actually have in your sweaty little hands is a ‘Product’.

You have just invested two years of your life making that product. Now what?

I’ll give you the answer to that question next week.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
This entry was posted in Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.