Agent Monday: On Sticking to Things

Soccer Goalie Blocking BallHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks with a variety of writer friends. Some already published, some working hard to get there. And we started chatting inevitably about careers. An unpublished writer said she was worried about what to write next because it has to get an agent. She has to get an agent or what’s the point? So today I thought I’d chat a bit about setting goals – the good and the bad, and on the goodness of sticking to things with that long view of your career.

Remember, I’m not only a literary agent, I’m an author, too. So I understand how it’s hard to justify in a practical way taking time away from your family, and from a “sensible” income to write as much as you can. Why? Do you have a book deal? Do you have an agent? Do you have a decent income? Many writers do not. And many writers can have an agent but no book deal for a length of time. Or a book deal, or several, and still need another source of income. You should definitely work hard toward goals. You deserve to give your creativity your best efforts. But if you are a writer, you are one no matter what. And you don’t know what is around the next corner. Ups and downs alike.

That’s why I cringe a little when I hear aspiring writers saying things like, I have to get an agent this year. This book has to sell. I’m going to write in this genre because it’s hot now and it’s going to sell.

Hey, it’s smart to know the market. It’s smart to work hard and strive. But I think it’s cruel to your muse to set up goals in a way that will send you the signal to stop. That if you don’t achieve this goal at this time, it’s never going to happen and you should quit.

How well I remember sitting in an accountant’s office with my husband as the accountant frowned over my income and looked over our books. He sat back in his big leather chair, pressed his fingertips together and said, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s give your little writing thing, oh, another year. And if nothing comes of it, then you can get a real job.”

My husband’s eyes met mine. I knew he was on my side and believed in me. Even though, despite national magazine article gigs and yes, even a book contract, I still made less than a McDonald’s worker. Far less. I found myself spluttering to the accountant that I wasn’t some hack. That I was a writer. Period. And I could see in his eyes he didn’t get it. And I didn’t care.

Thank goodness I didn’t care. I cared about my craft and my voice and I kept writing. And my income wouldn’t impress an accountant. Maybe my writing income never would. But I love what I do. And that matters.

So don’t quit. You don’t know when the next great thing will come from your efforts. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, your dreams will never come true.

I wonder if that practical accountant tossed his dreams aside along the way. Hm…and now he tries to quash the dreams of every creative that comes into his office. A possible plot!

Boy Playing SoccerI just want to say hang in there, writers. Dream big. Plot your own career with a long and positive trajectory. And enjoy the ride. That is a gift in itself.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Resolution: Put Writing First

Happy 2010 all!  Confession: New Year’s is my least favorite holiday.  If it were up to me, I’d just go to bed at 10 and wake up the next morning around 10 and have a nice brunch. I know, exciting, right? Fact is that as a fiction author I’m all too often plotting in my head the what ifs. What if we, or someone we know is driving home from a party, and some drunken jerk is on the road. Shiver…

But there is something I do love about New Year’s: the fresh start.  Here’s where the fiction writer in me can plot eagerly. What will come in the next year? What do I want to change? What do I look forward to?  Naturally, I’m really into the whole resolution thing.  And I love to hear what other people’s resolutions are, too.  But every single person I’ve hung out with in the past few days has had no resolution. Or, worse, a resolution to never make resolutions.  Bummer.  And just this morning on the news they said just having a resolution makes you 10 times more likely to accomplish your goal. So feel smug resolution holders! (They also said that telling people your resolution and putting it in writing, keeps you more on target and keeps that goal from just fading away. If you want to add your resolution in a comment after this post, go for it, dude.)

I, of course, DO have a resolution: Put Writing First.

I’m a full-time writer, and I do spend plenty of time on my computer, but just how much of that time is devoted to fiction? Hm, definitely not as much as I’d like.  Like most authors these days I spend a huge amount of my time doing promotion. Setting up signings, getting in touch with press, doing interviews, organizing and running workshops. It’s fun and rewarding, but time consuming. (If you’d like to see what promotion you can do for your own writing, visit my post on it by clicking here.) Yet promotion is something we authors just can’t walk away from, not if we want our books to get into the hands of our readers. Gone are the days when writers wore tweed and cat glasses and squirreled themselves away into a room for months on end, only emerging briefly, blinking from the shock of daylight, to deliver a manuscript. Gone are the days when promotion was up to the publisher.  We writers today must be experts in every phase of a book’s life.  Writing is less and less a part of an author’s everyday ritual. Phooey.

A typical day for me involves checking my emails on various accounts and following up on what’s there. Next I stop by facebook, twitter, wordpress, verlakay’s blueboards. Sometimes I’m updating folks on appearances I’m doing, sometimes I’m promoting a fellow author’s accomplishments, and sometimes I’m just giving folks a glimpse of my life. Then I read the free newsletters sent to me: Publisher’s Lunch, and Shelf Awareness. This keeps me current with what’s going on in the industry. And that’s just for starters.

If I have a busy appearance schedule, I’m doing back and forth correspondence with organizers, I’m writing features and press releases about the events, I’m sending out this press. This can eat up DAYS. And if I’m actually making an appearance, there is time spent preparing for it, printing up promo material to bring, plus the time spent getting there, and being there. More days gone. And still no writing.

In addition to all this, there’s junk that I do. I confess that before I get down to really writing something, I get nervous. Especially if it’s a dicey bit of a novel. A complicated scene or a section that I’m unsure of. Then I hit the games on my computer. Huge confession: I’ve played so much spider solitaire that I’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Luckily I’m not one to waste time watching t.v. (and luckily daytime t.v. sucks), and I actually have a fairly serious work ethic, but still…

Then there’s the other stuff I’m involved in. I’m in two different writing groups. One involves lengthy and rewarding critiques, the other involves lots of promotion. Since I am technically the stay-at-home-mom in this family, I’m the one who cleans the house and buys the food and cooks the meals. (My wild fantasy is that someday I will be able to afford a maid. Ooooo!) I’m also the one who ferries the kids to lessons, sports, etc. etc.  Plus I’m a scout leader.  As a writer, I’m an organizer.  I love to envision stuff and pull it all together. I like to think big. My scout troop is going to London this year, and guess who is planning the bulk of it…

So life is full. Life is good. But in 2010 I resolved to PUT WRITING FIRST!  One thing I know about myself is that once I start working on my fiction, I’m instantly on a roll. Four hours, six hours, ten hours. I can sit there forever and time flies. Because of things like meals and kids and sleep, I really can’t write like I want to. If it were up to me and only me, I’d write all day all night, and someone would slip great food under my door until a novel is complete. I don’t live and write in a bubble, but what if, instead of checking all those on-line sites, answering all those emails, and doing all that promotion, I simply start my fiction first? What if I didn’t play spider solitaire? Or follow up on what’s happening in the industry everyday? Or didn’t book so many appearances until I’ve finished a manuscript? Wouldn’t I have so many more manuscripts to put out there in the world? Wouldn’t I be happier?

So here’s the goal…first thing in the morning I go to the computer, forget about going on line (this is going to be a tough one), forget about playing spider solitaire-solitaire-minesweeper-hearts (this is going to be even tougher), and I will spend the next few hours writing. Just writing. Not press releases, not feature stories, not emails, just fiction. And then I can do everything else. AFTER.

Okay, I’ve officially put my resolution in writing. I’m ten times more likely to accomplish it now. I feel mighty. I feel like playing a quick game of spider solitaire. But no. I’m redoing my writing life. I can do this. I can!

To my fellow writers, be bold, be organized. Remember we do have some control over what we actually create, and we CAN make better use of our time.  2010. A new year. A fresh beginning.

May all of your writing dreams  come true.