“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.

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Do You Have the Fire?

In Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Lawrence Block retells an old story.

A young musician approached a world-renowned violinist. “Master,” the young man said, “I want to pursue a life in music. I know I play well, but I don’t know if I have the talent to become great. If you give me encouragement, I’ll devote my life to music.”

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.

“Play,” said the master.

The young man poured his heart out through his violin and played every note flawlessly. Then he waited for the verdict from the lips of the master.

The master violinist shook his head. “No,” he said. “You lack the fire.”

The young violinist was shattered. He walked away, depressed and despondent. He set aside his violin and studied for a career in business.

Years passed. One day, he heard that the old violinist was in town to give a concert, so he went to the master’s hotel room to call on him. When the master answered the door, the businessman said, “Years ago, I played for you and asked if you thought I had talent.”

“I think I recall you,” the master said uncertainly.

“You said, ‘You lack the fire.’ I was bitterly disappointed, but I had to be realistic and accept your judgment. So I chose a career in the business world, and I’ve become very successful. But one question nags at me: How could you tell that I lacked the fire?”

“Oh, I can’t tell anything from hearing you play one time,” said the master. “Whenever a young musician plays for me, I say, ‘You lack the fire.’”

The businessman gasped with outrage. “How dare you!” he sputtered. “I played my heart out for you! I looked to you for encouragement, and you shattered my dreams! How could you do that to me?”

The master was unmoved. “I said you lacked the fire and I was right. No one could have kept you from your dreams—if you had the fire.”

Do you have the fire to be writer? If you lack the fire, nothing can help you. If the fire burns in you, nothing can stop you.

If you are a writer, you will write.

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.

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?