“One Page a Day . . .”

Writing in Overdrive by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive
by Jim Denney

The following is an excerpt from my new book for serious writers, Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly.

One of the most acclaimed novelists of the 20th century is Sir V.S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad) Naipaul. A Trinidad-born Briton of East Indian descent, V.S. Naipaul is the author of such acclaimed works as A Bend in the River and The Enigma of Arrival. He was knighted in 1990 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

In his early life, he received a great deal of encouragement and writing instruction from his father, journalist Seepersad Naipaul. In fact, the father dreamed of becoming a novelist himself. But the senior Naipaul never completed the manuscript he worked on for many years, and he died never knowing his son would one day achieve the success that eluded him.

V.S. Naipaul succeeded because he was intensely committed to his craft. He would arise while it was still dark and write thousands of words before sun-up. Writing was his unbreakable daily habit.

Naipaul’s father, by contrast, lacked the all-important qualities that every successful writer must have: serious commitment, serious focus, and serious self-discipline. A chronic procrastinator, the father promised himself that “someday” he would get his novel written. He made many excuses for not writing.

Father and son often exchanged letters about the writing profession, and V.S. encouraged his father to become more disciplined as a writer. “Your experience is wide,” V.S. wrote, “and if you write merely one page a day, you will shortly find that you have a novel on your hands. … Stop making excuses. Once you start writing you will find ideas flooding upon you.”

But Seepersad Naipaul wouldn’t take his son’s advice. He’d write a few short stories, submit them to magazines — and sink into a deep depression when the stories came back rejected. Sometimes he became so discouraged that he’d stop writing for weeks at a time. Meanwhile, V.S. wrote dozens of short stories, submitted them again and again, received rejection after rejection — but refused to give up. As he explained in a letter to his sister, “This is my apprenticeship, and one expects rejections.”10

V.S. Naipaul became a Nobel laureate. His father died without achieving his dreams and fulfilling his potential. What separated these two writers? The son was serious and focused on his goals, the father was not. If you want to write brilliantly by writing in overdrive, then approach your craft with a serious concentration on your goals.

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Is Writing in Overdrive for Everybody?

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck: “Write freely and as rapidly as possible.”

On Twitter today, I tweeted a quote from my new book Writing in Overdrive: “It’s a paradox but it’s true: The faster you write, the better you write.” One of my friends on Twitter replied, “Not true for everybody.”

You know what? She’s right. There are exceptions to this rule. While I am convinced that most people actually write better when they write faster, I do acknowledge that this principle won’t work for everyone. Here’s what I wrote in Chapter 1 of Writing in Overdrive:

“To be sure, there are some truly great writers who write with painstaking slowness, polishing each sentence to perfection before proceeding to the next. Kurt Vonnegut, Dean Koontz, and George R. R. Martin are exemplars of this approach. If writing slowly works for you, who am I to tell you to change? I’m not saying this is the only way to write. Every writer must decide which techniques and approaches work best for him or her.”

Why do I believe that writing faster (in first draft) produces better writing for the vast majority of writers? Several reasons: When you write quickly, you write freely, shedding your inhibitions. Writing quickly, you silence the inner critic—that nagging voice within you that causes you to doubt yourself, the voice that says, “What will people think if you write that?” When you write slowly, you write from the intellect, you write from your inhibitions, you write from your fear of being rejected and criticized.  But when you write quickly, shedding your conscious inhibitions, you tap into the power of your unconscious mind, the source of your creativity, imagination, and dreams.

My study and experience confirm that fast writing is powerful writing. The writers I have admired most—Madeleine L’Engle, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Ursula Le Guin, John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler—always wrote their first drafts with remarkable speed.

As Ray Bradbury observed in a 1987 essay, “In quickness is truth. . . . The more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.” And John Steinbeck said, “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. . . . [Writing slowly] interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”

The faster you write, the better you write. I admit this principle doesn’t hold true for everybody—but it is such a powerful writing principle that I hope every serious writer at least explores the possibilities of writing in overdrive.

Let Your Words Pull You

Writing in Overdrive by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive
by Jim Denney

Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, talked about his need for speed as a writer. He set a daily goal of ten pages per day, or about 2,000 words. This would add up to about 180,000 words over three months — and three months, he said, was the maximum anyone should take to write the first draft of a novel. Any longer than that and the story begins to go stale in the writer’s imagination. “Only under dire circumstances,” he observed, “do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He wrote one dystopian science fiction novel, The Running Man, in a single week.

King described the euphoric sensation of being in a creative flow and writing quickly: “With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job. It’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There is plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”

Stephen King knows. The faster you write, the more confidently you write. You must write fast enough to stay ahead of the doubts. When you write quickly, when you enter that inspired state of creative flow, you’ll find you write brilliantly.

Detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler put it this way: “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” So let your words pull you. Let your creativity and confidence flow through you. Write brilliantly. Write fast. In Writing in Overdrive, I’ll show you how.

“There’s Nothing Crass or Ignoble about Trading Your Writing for Money”

This article is an excerpt from QUIT YOUR DAY JOB by Jim Denney.

There is only one way you will ever be able to write for a living: You must write words that people will pay money to read. If you do that, you’ll make a living as a writer. If you don’t, you won’t—simple as that. The money you make as a writer represents more than just the ability to pay the mortgage and buy groceries. It is the writer’s strongest and finest affirmation. It is tangible proof that someone thinks your words are worth purchasing and paying attention to.

There’s nothing crass or ignoble about trading your writing for money. Your words are your stock in trade. Doctors sell their medical knowledge for money, lawyers sell their legal knowledge for money, and you sell words. If they are good words—well-chosen, skillfully crafted, filled with ideas and energy—the world will buy them. You prove your own craftsmanship by writing saleable words. It’s a great feeling to receive a check for a publisher’s advance; but it’s an even greater feeling to receive a royalty check, because that means that it’s not just the publisher who likes your words; the public is willing to pay money to read them.

It is that feeling that enables you to say, boldly and unabashedly, “I am a writer.”

From QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer by Jim Denney (Sanger CA: Quill Driver Books, 2004), 6.

The Blog Hop Tour

Ten Questions for “The Next Big Thing”

A lot of my author friends have been doing the “Blog Hop” tour, in which we all answer the same set of questions about our newest (or future) releases. My thanks to award-winning suspense novelist James L. Rubart, author of Rooms, The Chair, and Soul’s Gate for pointing the way to my blog.

Thanks, also, to Dorothy Love, author of fine Southern historical fiction, for linking to this page. Dorothy is the author of the Hickory Ridge series, including Beauty for Ashes and Every Perfect Gift.

1. What is the working title of your book?

Actually, I want to talk about a series, not just one book. My Timebenders series, first published in 2002, has just been completely revised and updated, with Books 3 and 4 debuting on Christmas Day 2012. Plus, I am currently writing a brand-new book in the series with the working title War of the Electronic Brain.

The first four books in the series are Book 1: Battle before Time, Book 2: Doorway to Doom, Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Book 4: Lost in Cydonia. These books are for middle grade readers, ages 9 to 14.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for the Timebenders series came from my son, who was a kindergartner at the time (he’s now working on his master’s degree!). One day, he came to me and said, “Daddy, would you write a book with me?” I said, “Sure. What kind of book should we write?” He said, “I want to write a book about a time machine and dinosaurs.”

So we started working and we wrote a little each day for a week or two, then we forgot about it for a while. A few years later, I took a fresh look at the pages we had written, and I decided to finish the book. That first book was Battle Before Time, and the publisher asked me to write three more. Last year, I got the rights back from the original publisher, and I updated and rewrote the books, and Greenbrier Books has reissued them with stunning new covers.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

The Timebenders series is science fantasy for young readers. I deliberately chose titles that would have a campy, pulp-science-fiction feel.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a science fiction fan. When I was five years old, my favorite TV show was a space opera called Space Patrol. It had spacemen in space suits with fishbowl helmets spouting dialogue like “Smoking rockets! A cosmic storm!” And my favorite cartoon at that age was Popeye, the Ace of Space, in which Popeye battles space aliens on Mars.

In elementary school, I searched for science fiction books in the school library, and was ecstatic when I discovered A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle on the “new arrivals” shelf. I was only nine, but the scientific concepts and appealing characters captured my imagination. (I wrote about the impact of that book on my life in a recent op-ed piece.)

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My protagonists in the Timbenders series are in their early teens. To play Max McCrane, I’d cast Zach Mills of Super 8 fame (with round-lensed eyeglasses, Zach is Max). The perfect Allie O’Dell would be another Super 8 alum, Elle Fanning (with the addition of red hair and braces). C. J. Sanders, who played a young Ray Charles in Ray, would be well cast as Grady Stubblefield. For villainy, either Max von Sydow or Christopher Plummer would make an excellent Dr. Delyrius, the evil alchemist in Doorway to Doom.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Here’s Book 1: Battle Before Time in one sentence:

“Boy inventor Max McCrane turns a rusty orange Volkswagen into a time machine and takes three friends across time and space to battle a deadly dragon in a place before time began.”

Here’s Book 2: Doorway to Doom:

“Max and friends go back in time to an ancient kingdom ruled by evil King Wyvern and Max must either serve the king or doom his friends to a horrible fate.”

Here’s Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers:

“Max McCrane is hijacked into the past by scheming Luna Skyes, and his friends are chased through time by robot warriors of the fourth dimension, the Time Troopers.”

Here’s Book 4: Lost in Cydonia:

“A frightening miscalculation sends Max and friends to Mars, where they encounter an ancient secret guarded by strange blue-skinned creatures, the Timelings.”

Here’s Book 5: (working title of work-in-progress) War of the Electronic Brain

“Max and friends go back in time to Los Angeles in 1942, and must foil a plot to attack America and change the outcome of World War II.”

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agency.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

My first four Timebenders books were each first-drafted in about six to eight weeks (each is about 45,000 words long). Once the first draft is written, there’s a lot more work to do—additional drafts, substantive editing, copyediting, first proofs, and second proofs.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I set out to write the kind of books I enjoyed when I was a boy—a wild roller coaster ride through time and space. I wanted my readers to have the same experience I had when I was a boy reading A Wrinkle in Time, The Martian Chronicles, and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

As time travel fiction, the Timebenders tales are part of a literary tradition going back to Washington Irving, H. G. Wells, and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. There’s even an echo of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Lost in Cydonia.

And, of course, there’s a great tradition of adult time travel literature that I’ve enjoyed over the years—classic short stories such as Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—” and “By His Bootstraps,” Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner’s “Vintage Season,” and Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier,” to name a few. Great time travel novels include Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol series, Gordon R. Dickson’s Time Storm, Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time, David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My son, who was in kindergarten at the time, inspired the Timebenders series. That’s why the first book in the series is dedicated to him.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I vividly recall the writing process of the first four Timebenders books, especially Book 2: Doorway to Doom. I was a couple of chapters into the second book when we were attacked on 9/11. At first, the horror of that event disrupted my creative flow. At that time, some of my writer friends actually stopped writing for a few weeks. I had a tight deadline, so I had to keep writing. I wrote with the cable TV news blaring in the background, so I could keep an ear open for news developments.

As I wrote, I kept coming up with new ideas, including a new ending for the book. Later, I realized that most of those new ideas had to do with darkness. My mood was dark, and it showed in the writing. I added a scene where Max, my protagonist, was tossed into a dungeon by the villain, Dr. Delyrius. I added another scene involving Max’s friend, Allie, threading her way through an underground maze by torchlight.

Even though the scenes dealt with darkness, they demonstrated the light of faith, hope, and courage. A number of readers have written to say that those scenes are their favorite passages in the whole series.

I recently gave an extensive interview that provides more background on the writing of the Timebenders series. You can read it at Random Writing Rants.

Thanks for stopping by on the Blog Hop Tour. Check out the Blog Hop interviews by these fine authors:

Southern historical writer Dorothy Love (author of Beauty for Ashes)

Fantasy novelist Jill Williamson (author of By Darkness Hid)

Science fiction writer Steve Rzasa (author of The Word Reclaimed)

The Grab 15 Principle

A writer’s worst enemy is procrastination.

You don’t punch a time clock. You have no boss to answer to. If you’re going to get that novel written or meet your daily word quota, you’ve got to be a self starter.

There are many reasons writers procrastinate. For some, it’s self-doubt (“I don’t know if I can do this”). Others are intimidated by the size or complexity of a novel (“I don’t know where to begin”). Still others are plagued by obsessive perfectionism (“I can’t start until everything is just right”).

The cure for procrastination is to box yourself in and leave no escape route. You must give yourself no option but to write your daily quota of words. That’s how you turn the dream of writing full-time into a daily habit.

This article is an excerpt from QUIT YOUR DAY JOB, a sound, strategic plan for building your career as a full-time writer. Author Jim Denney has been a full-time, self-employed writer since 1989.

I’m a full-time writer with over a hundred published books to my credit. Writing is my day job. But if you’re still working at a day job, you may find it hard to carve out a daily writing time. You might be struggling to find the time to write every day. If so, I have good news for you. It’s called The Grab 15 Principle.

I learned The Grab 15 Principle from my friend Bert Decker and his wife Dru Scott Decker. Bert is the founder of Decker Communications, Inc., and the author of You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard. Dru is a consultant in customer satisfaction and time management, and the author of Finding More Time in Your Life. Dru originated The Grab 15 Principle and it has absolutely revolutionized my life.

The power of this principle is its amazing simplicity. Anyone can do it. Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you have a novel to write, but you’ve been finding it impossible to free up a big chunk of writing time. The solution: Stop waiting for a big chunk of time. Instead, commit yourself to writing that novel in bite-sized chunks of 15 minutes a day. Make a commitment to “Grab 15” minutes of writing time every day.

Your best 15 minutes might be in the morning when you get up, or late at night before you go to bed, or during your lunch hour. But whatever you do, make sure your head doesn’t hit the pillow at night until you have spent at least 15 minutes working on your novel.

Don’t tell me you can’t do it. Everyone has 15 minutes to spare out of a 24 hour day. You can set your alarm earlier, go to bed later, skip Wheel of Fortune, or spend a little less time phoning or tweeting or Facebooking. We all have places in our daily schedule where time slips through the cracks. By practicing The Grab 15 Principle, you’ll stop hemorrhaging time and start making progress toward the goals that really matter to you.

I know this principle works because I have written entire novels in small, daily blocks of time that I carved out around my regular writing schedule. It sounds too easy, but there are several reasons why this principle is so powerful.

First, those 15-minute snippets of time add up. If you Grab 15 every day, you will magically add at least 91.25 hours to your year. That’s the equivalent of more than two 40-hour work weeks that have been added to your life with hardly an ounce of inconvenience.

Second, The Grab 15 Principle boosts your creativity. It keeps your head in the game. Every day, you’ll spend at least 15 minutes concentrating on your novel. You’ll remain focused on your goal day after day. Ideas and insights will come to you even when you are not writing—when you’re driving, in the shower, or drifting off to sleep—so keep a notebook handy. All of that added creativity and focus helps you make the most of your 15-minute writing sessions.

Third, once you get started on a Grab 15 session, it’s hard to stop at 15 minutes. When you’re on a roll, you want to keep going—and that bonus writing time will move you even faster toward your goals.

Fourth, The Grab 15 Principle builds good writing habits. If you’re not a full-time writer but you want to be, this is a good way to acquire a daily discipline—and a good way to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to be a professional writer. The Grab 15 Principle will help you build a daily habit that soon becomes hard to break.

So try The Grab 15 Principle. Test-drive it for a couple weeks or a month. Then drop me a line and let me know how you like it. I’m betting you’ll tell me that this simple tool has revolutionized your writing life.

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Update, December 27, 2012: Thanks to my friend, suspense novelist James Scott Bell, I learned that this column on the Grab 15 Principle was highlighted by journalist Porter Anderson, who writes on leading edge issues in the publishing industry. Read Anderson’s column, “Writing on the Ether.” Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute. As a journalist, he has worked with the CNN networks, The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other outlets. He contributes to Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blog and to Writer Unboxed. Follow Porter Anderson’s column at JaneAnderson.com.

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The Grab 15 Principle is just one of the many practical ideas

The Grab 15 Principle is just one of the many practical ideas and insights in Jim Denney’s Quit Your Day Job!: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer. A Writer’s Digest Book Club Selection, available at Barnes and Noble and at Amazon.com in trade paperback and Kindle ebook editions.

Excerpt: How to Punch Your Way Through Writer’s Block

“Books have bad patches. . . . The important thing is to get through
them,
to get the words down however ill-chosen they may seem. . . . I tell myself that
I’m going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always
tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and
tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took

the day off, and I’ll have avoided guilt and at least kept my fingers limber.”
—Lawrence Block

This thing we call “writer’s block” is a different experience for different writers. For some, it is an inability to generate ideas—imagination at an impasse. For others, it’s a lack of inspiration and motivation, an inability to get started, a sense of terminal procrastination and ennui. Sometimes writer’s block is that sense of malignant self-doubt we feel after having our work rejected, ignored, or savagely criticized.

In essence, writer’s block is simply not knowing what to write next. The ideas, scenes, and words you need are just not there. Fortunately, writer’s block is quite treatable. You just have to know a few techniques to become re-inspired and re-ignited as a writer. Let me share with you a few “block-busting” techniques I use to punch through writer’s block. I’m sure they’ll work for you.

Writer’s Block-Buster Number 1: Withdraw briefly. Sometimes pushing too hard can block your imagination. To write, you need to be relaxed, free, and uninhibited. So take 20 minutes away from your keyboard to adjust your focus. Lie down and put your feet up, close your eyes, clear your mind, pray, meditate, or daydream. Or get some exercise. Or take a hot shower. Or listen to music.

As you relax, your subconscious mind will keep working on the story. You’ll find that inspiration and ideas will seem to pop up in your mind out of nowhere. Suddenly, you’ll know exactly what you need to do—and you’ll have to hurry to your keyboard to set it all down. When your conscious mind withdraws, you give your subconscious mind freedom to play. Try it. You’ll be amazed at how creative you become when you simply take a short mental break from your writing.

For the rest of this article, go to Writer’s Block—What Is It and How Can You Avoid It.

And read Jim Denney’s first two articles in this three-part series:

The Need for Speed: How Does Writing Faster Make You A Better Writer?

How to Write Faster in Seven Easy Steps

Excerpt: The Need for Speed—Learn to Write Better by Writing Faster

From my article “The Need for Speed: How Does Writing Faster Make You a Better Writer?” Part 1:

“The faster I write the better my output. If
I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing
the words instead of being pulled by them.”
—Mystery writer Raymond Chandler

Some years back, I submitted a novel proposal to a publisher. The publisher replied, “We’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is we want to publish your book. In fact, we’d like to sign you to a four-book series.”

Well, that wasn’t just good news, that was incredible news. So how bad could the bad news be?

Pretty bad, as it turned out. For starters, the advance they offered was (to put it politely) modest. The deadline they offered was humanly impossible—they wanted me to write four books in four months. Oh, and one more thing—the contract contained a $100 per day fine for late delivery.

Read the rest of the story and learn how you can write more brilliantly by learning to write faster at Random Writing Rants.

Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly

A candid, no-nonsense appraisal of the daily grind of the writer’s life, QUIT YOUR DAY JOB lays out a sound, strategic plan for building your career as a full-time writer. Author Jim Denney has been a full-time, self-employed writer since 1989.

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
—Lawrence Block

The following is an excerpt from my book on writing for a living, Quit Your Day Job: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer (Linden Publishing, 2003, and a Writer’s Digest Book Club Selection). The book is available in paperback and as an ebook at Amazon.com and in paperback at BarnesAndNoble.com.

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A young woman came up to me after a workshop where I spoke on writing for a living. “My problem,” she said, “is that I never finish anything. I’m so afraid someone will see a mistake in my story that I go over it and over it, trying to make everything perfect. I write a paragraph, and then I rewrite it and rewrite it before going on to the next paragraph. Sometimes, I can’t even get started on a story. I know what I want the story to be about, and I know my characters and my plot. But until I can think of the perfect opening sentence, I can’t write the rest of the story.”

Obsessive perfectionism is deadly to good writing. It not only keeps you from finishing a book or story—it can even keep you from starting. If you are obsessed with writing the perfect book, you’ll end up with no book at all. The solution: Give yourself permission to write a bad book.

I give myself that permission all the time. When you are okay with the idea of writing badly, you allow the words to flow. A lot of them will be lousy words, formed into wretched sentences. But some of them will be good. A few will be great. You simply keep the good words and delete the rest.

The beauty of writing on computers is that you are not writing on paper—you’re just shoving electrons around. Your words are not chiseled in stone or even typed on paper.  Until you actually print out your manuscript, your sentences exist only as invisible traces on the ferromagnetic coating of your hard drive. So what have you got to lose by writing a bad sentence?

In the old days, a writer used to sit at a typewriter, with crumpled paper overflowing from a wastebasket, with scores of paper balls littering the floor. Back then, if you wrote a bad sentence, you defiled a sheet of paper. Today, if you write a bad sentence, you just highlight it, tap one key, and make it disappear. So relax. Have fun. Write badly. Brainstorm. Experiment. Throw some really awful sentences on the screen, then read them and laugh. Then think about it. Some little notion of genius may lurk in one of those bad sentences. A horrible sentence may give you a clue to a classic line that will live forever. It happens all the time. . . .

You want to write the perfect book? Then put perfectionism to death. Snuff it. Terminate with extreme prejudice. Give yourself permission to write badly—and soon you’ll be writing brilliantly.

This excerpt is from Jim Denney’s Quit Your Day Job: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer (Linden Publishing, 2003), 120-121.

NOW is Your Time to Write!

A candid, no-nonsense appraisal of the daily grind of the writer’s life, QUIT YOUR DAY JOB lays out a sound, strategic plan for building your career as a full-time writer. Author Jim Denney has been a full-time, self-employed writer since 1989.

“What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?”
—Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

The following is an excerpt from my book on writing for a living, Quit Your Day Job: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer (Linden Publishing, 2003, and a Writer’s Digest Book Club Selection). The book is available in paperback and as an ebook at Amazon.com and in paperback at BarnesAndNoble.com.

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One thing I’ve noticed as a writer is that, when people find out what I do for a living, they often say, “I always wanted to be a writer,” or, “I bet I could write a book if I put my mind to it.” The people who tell you such things might be pizza delivery guys or doctors or astronauts, yet they all admire writers, they all have a secret wish that they could write. They all think they could do what you do if they had the time or the opportunity or if their lives were different somehow.

But you know what? I’ve never met a writer anywhere who wanted to be anything other than a writer. Take any person who says, “I am a writer,” and I don’t care how penniless he is, how long it has been since his last paycheck, how much he struggles with self-doubt, writer’s block, and unreasonable deadlines—he does not, even for a moment, consider changing jobs. Why? Because writing is not a job. It’s a mission. It’s a calling. It’s more essential to your soul than a career. It is not just your profession—it’s your identity.

A computer programmer can go to seminary and become a preacher. A school teacher can tender her resignation and become an exotic dancer. But can a writer give up writing and become something else? Unheard of! Writing is not what you do, it’s who you are! If you are a writer, there is nothing else to be.

If you know in your bones what I’m talking about, if you know that you have to be a writer, then you must write. You only get one life, and the life you’ve been given is made up of a finite number of heartbeats. Between your first heartbeat and your last is a brief span of time in which you are permitted to write your books and speak your piece. When your time is up, they will put you in a box and throw you in a hole to make room for the next writer waiting in line.

Now is your time, my friend. If you’re going to write your books, you’d better get at it.

“But,” you ask, “what about my age? Am I too young to be a full-time writer? Am I too old?” Whatever age you are, right now is the time to go for it. If you are young—say, in your twenties—you have the advantage of having fewer debts and responsibilities to tie you down and restrict your options. If you are in your forties or beyond, then you have a whole different set of advantages, including a wealth of experience and accumulated wisdom.

Science-fiction writer David Brin is the author of such books as Earth, Kiln People, and The Postman (which was made into a motion picture starring Kevin Costner). Brin earned a Ph.D. in Space Physics at UC San Diego and held positions with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and NASA’s Specialized Center of Research and Training (NSCORT-Exobiology) before he turned to writing science-fiction. He gained an enormous amount of life experience before turning to full-time writing.

“Writing is a worthy calling,” Brin told me, “but it was not my first choice as a profession. I wanted to be a scientist, foremost, and I became one through hard work. I also had this hobby—writing—that provided a lot of satisfaction. I always figured that I’d write a few stories a year, and a novel every few years, while mainly working to become the best scientist and teacher I could be. But it turned out that I’m much better at making up vivid stories than I ever was at discovering new truths as a scientist. At least, that’s what people say—and they sure pay me better to write novels than they ever did to do science!”

So there’s no such thing as being too old to turn to writing as a career? “Of course not,” Brin says. “The best writers I know did something else for many years first. They lived life and did useful things and interesting things, before presuming to preach and write about the human experience.”

The net-net: Whether you’re young or old, don’t let age hold you back. If you are young and unencumbered, you have little to lose by giving it a shot. And if you are older and more experienced, you have a lot to offer the world as a full-time writer. Either way, now is your time. What are you waiting for?