Guest post: Should I Be Writing?

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of the Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Fiction River: How to Save the World, Weird Tales, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online. He teaches science fiction literature at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and speculative fiction writing at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.


Back in January, I wrote a guest post hereabouts on defeating the Procrastininjas. Now I’m going to talk about one of the most powerful Procrastininja clans.

One of the fundamental questions for any writer trying to make a go of it today is this: how do I balance writing time with promoting?

Since I went into this writing gig full-time in the Summer of 2012, my biggest struggle has been finding the balance between time spent writing and time spent promoting.

First of all, I hate marketing. I hate being inundated by it, day in, day out, being unable to go outdoors and not see marketing messages slathered all over every tree, board, building, and light post. I hate the intellectual numbness it inculcates, and I hate the way it so often assumes people are stupid, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I hate the way it feeds and reinforces the blind consumerism that lays waste to vast swaths of our planet. I digress, but only just a little.

Being a self-employed artist must also make me a businessman by necessity. I have a product to sell. As I’m a writer, my product is Story. Story is conveyed in a number of ways, but mostly still by physical books and packets of 1s and 0s. I want people who like to read to buy my Stories so that I can eat. In the case of my current project, I want readers to help fund the creation of OTHER people’s stories (but we’ll get to that in a moment).

The bottom line is: if no one ever hears my name, no one will ever buy my Stories. With how publishing has evolved in the last few decades, the overwhelmingly vast majority, teeming hordes of writers, must market themselves to get their work into the hands of readers who will pay them money.

This requires marketing. And thus, my love-hate relationship.  My feelings about marketing make it a very steep hill to climb when I think of adding my own trickle of marketing to the immense, crashing ocean of it already out there. Most of the time it feels like screaming into 180dB noise.

Are there any authors in the U.S. who do not have to market and promote themselves to maintain a living? Sure, and they can probably be counted on your fingers and toes.

Let’s take two authors, of similar quality, with similar publishing contracts, with books of equal mass appeal. Those who succumb to their innate resistance and eschew marketing and promotion are much more likely to swirl away and be lost in the constant upswell of new talent (and for some, “talent” is a euphemism). The thing with hot up-and-comers is that they produce an equal number of forgotten down-and-outers.

So. Heavy sigh. Whether we want a traditional contract or readers for our indie-published work, we have to market ourselves. It’s part of the job description.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it is immensely easier to go and do some marketing busy work than it is to face the blank page. Even when the Story is flowing, it can be a hair-pulling, leather-chewing, smashing-your-pinky-in-the-car-door load of anguish.

There are some who say that the best form of marketing is simply to write another book, another short story. There are other writers who are marketing machines, blasting away with tremendous loads of ammunition—and they seem to get results.

These are opposite ends of the spectrum. So who’s right? Most people would agree that there has to be a middle ground.

The first half of 2013 resulted in paltry little fiction output. I was running a successful Kickstarter and taking care of its results, teaching a university class in science fiction literature, and I was beating the bushes at a number of marketing approaches. And all this on top of family and friend interaction. I was dissatisfied with my fiction output, which left me crabby, surly, curmudgeonly. So I changed the balance of time. My girlfriend found she liked it when I disappeared to write for great stretches of time. I was around less, but we all liked it when I was in a better mood.

Finding a good middle ground is a constant struggle for me, but here’s something that helped me find the balance. It was introduced to me by other writers, and I have found it a useful tool.

The WIBBOW test. Would I Be Better Off Writing?

When I apply this very simple test (created by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith) to whatever I am doing that is NOT writing, unhelpful activities get highlighted quickly. This includes things like trying to set up book signings, convention appearances, social media (egad, what a time sink!), sending out piles of review requests, everything that is not the composition or revision of new fiction. Not all of these things have passed the WIBBOW test, but they were all part of the learning process that has helped me weed out what does and does not contribute to my mental well-being.

If finding balance is a daily struggle for you, try the WIBBOW test.

So what about this guest blog post? Does it pass the WIBBOW test?

In the case of this guest blog post, which Mur has been kind enough to host, I happen to be working on a fantastic anthology project as the editor. I’m really excited about Cars, Cards & Carbines, so I’m delighted to be putting the word out. If a high-octane, multi-genre, speculative fiction anthology—in which Mighty Mur is one of the lead authors—gets your fuel pumping, please give this a look. The Kickstarter campaign ends on December 19, 2013.

So does shifting my creative gears temporarily into not only editing, but also putting together and running a Kickstarter campaign pass the WIBBOW test?

Yes. Putting oneself in the shoes of an editor is an eye-opening experience in many ways, not least of which results in becoming a better writer. The chance to work with the lead authors we have on board has also been a tremendous experience. So the chance to put this anthology together required a crowd-funding campaign, which requires marketing. All of these things pass the test, regardless of whether the campaign funds successfully.

So the bottom line is this: if you’re not writing, does what you’re doing have value for your career, make you a better writer, increase your network of resources and contacts, make you feel more fulfilled, or help pay your rent?

If so, keep doing it. If not, get your butt back to the blank page.

SO many things to talk about! Let’s bullet point:

  1. Our fridge stopped working the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We got it fixed a day later but that threw the whole of holiday planning into chaos and I ended up missing several days of the NaNoWriMo podcast. Sorry about that. I ended the month with about 20k words written, but other things got achieved (passive voice FTW) in addition to writing, so I’m pleased.
  2. This got announced right before Thanksgiving and I’ve yet to actually talk about it. I’ve agreed to join Protagonist Labs as a consultant for their upcoming storytelling game, Storium. Full story here. To say I’m thrilled to be part of this project doesn’t even begin to describe it.
  3. I’m also involved with the Cars, Cards, and Carbines Anthology project, and it’s coming together beautifully. It being a Kickstarter anthology, it won’t happen unless it’s funded, so check it out and give if you can!
  4. You may have already noticed, but the kiddo and I are trying to do another month of advent-opening fun, video style! If Final Cut cooperates, that is…
  5. I was on the Moment in the Zone podcast discussing mental aspects in regards to writing recently, hear it here!
  6. I just passed a year writing every day, thanks to the Magic Spreadsheet. I wanted this to feel huge, like a massive accomplishment, but really it just felt like I was writing on just another day. I was disappointed but then I realized that was what I wanted. I don’t celebrate consecutive days of brushing my teeth or washing the dishes or picking my kid up from school, because those are habits, and they have to be done no matter what. (OK, sometimes the dishes do slide a day, but you get my meaning.) After a year, my writing is a habit that has to be done no matter what. And that in itself is a triumph. No more diva, “I don’t FEEEEEL like writing today!” I still say that, understand, but then I sit my ass down and get the writing done regardless. Thanks, Tony, and thanks Magic Spreadsheet.
  7. Lastly, if you are a newcomer to The Shambling Guide to New York City, the free podcast goes away on the 15th! Download while you can! And hey, the book makes a great holiday gift, and don’t forget you can pre-order the sequel, Ghost Train to New Orleans.
  8. While I’m shilling, I wanted to remind you I had a book of Christmas short stories available via ebook!

    Every Xmas Story from Mur: Only $3.99!
     

I think that’s everything, but I’m sure I’ll think of something else. Then I’ll blog again.