Given how heavy last week’s blog was, I thought I might lighten it up a bit. In the course of my career, as soon as people know I’m a writer, I’ve gotten a lot of questions, ranging from the concerned “What did your parents do to you?” to the outright rude, “Oh, so what restaurant do you bus tables at?” But some are genuine and interested.
I’ve picked out a few questions not just to give you my personal answers but as a way to think about your own journey as a writer and why having the answers to some of them is important, whether you get asked or not.
Writers Frequently Asked Questions:
How do you come up with your ideas?
I dunno man. It’s part magic and part just paying attention. Sometimes it’s a character from my childhood that I want to reformulate and expand upon. Sometimes I’m watching a nature show on octopods and flip the station to an expo on genetic research. I will say this for the good writers I know. Ideas are everywhere, and it’s all about paying attention to why each story, article, factoid, or fungi is interesting and how they could be moreso. Even though tropes and genres rarely change, the situations, characters, and actions are an endless pool of inspiration.
I’ve written about space captains and cowboys, Krampus’ nephew and Bacchus as a modern-day AA member. I’ve written about a nurse with OCD and a child who was the reincarnation of Peter Pan… Ideas are everywhere. Go on line, find prompts. Read the newspaper. Watch people. Read. Think about what makes a good story—a character you care about, an impossible situation, high stakes, dynamic growth. And give your brain down time to think and daydream (walking the dog, in the shower, at your kid’s soccer game—don’t look at me like that it’s okay to zone out for those once in a while too). Play with the What-If and don’t self limit.
Also—buy a small notebook and a pen (or you could use your phone, ugh) and write down things you notice, articles that were interesting, conversations you overhear, even the strangest ideas from out of nowhere. You never know…
How many hours do you write a day?
Pshhh… Listen, if all I needed to do in a day is write, I’d probably say at least 4 to 5 hours or more. But I don’t know any of us who don’t have some other job, a family, or otherwise adultish tasks to complete. So, I’m going to be completely honest and watch die-hard writing theorists gasp in shock.
Somedays I don’t write at all.
*gasp! How does she even call herself a writer!?*
Somedays I’m so plagued with class planning and familial obligations and oh-my-god-whats-growing-in-the-bathroom-sink, and teaching, and making dental appointments that I don’t get to sit down at my computer until late in the evening when my brain is effectively mush.
But it’s not always about the quantity.
Because sometimes on those nights, in the span of twenty minutes before bed, I can bang out three or four solid pages. Sometimes I only stare bleary eyed at what I wrote earlier in the week. The point is, it isn’t about the hours and hours of singularly devoted time you put in. It’s about concentrating and working with focus for every minute you do get and making it impactful over time.
So—on average in a week, I maybe write 1-2 hours a day. If you factor in editing and rewrites and marketing and advertising my stuff, that probably gets bumped up to about 3. It’s not as much as some…but for now, it’s what I have to work with and I capitalize on all the moments I can.
What are you working on now?
I’m not like other writers. I’m a goddamn, flighty scatterbrain. So my answer is…complicated *wheels out an old chalkboard packed full of a complex theory, diagrams, and stick figures*.
At any given moment I’ve got multiple projects and I’ll tell you why.
Because I get bored. And sometimes I’m tired. (hahahahaha—ah…that’s funny because I’m ALWAYS tired)
I’m not saying I can’t sit down, focus, and write a novel, end to end in about a month. I can. I have. I usually reserve all of November to do that. Or on projects with co-authors as there are expectations and deadlines to meet.
For me, having multiple projects that I enjoy helps to keep me engaged and inspired and lets me cater my writing to the state of my life that day.
Maybe I only have twenty minutes. So I write a poem, or submit a poem. Or both
Maybe I have an hour, but I’m not feeling very fictional—I work on my weekly blog or catch up on emails from other writing projects. Or get a solid chunk of editing done.
Maybe I have an uninterrupted afternoon, I’ve been daydreaming about my characters and what I can do to torture them…I’ll bust out a few chapters on my novel.
Being a writer is a career best done when diversified.
One, we learn how to write better when we give ourselves more variety.
Two, we will burn out less often when we can take breaks from something that’s got us stuck—AND, AND AND…sometimes being able to put down ‘stuck’ projects and work on something else will lead to that magical AHA moment of unstuckness, because your brain has stepped back and can look at it without so much intensity.
Three, in terms of getting paid? You might love your novel, but its your magazine articles that are paying for your PB and J’s while you wait for the next publisher to realize how amazing you are (and you are amazing)…so have something more lucrative if you want.
Four, I hate to say it, but marketing, editing, and submitting count as writing. It’s the new and best chance way to really make it as a writer these days.
So—what am I working on?
3 novels: one in first edits with a cowriter, one is the first in my new urban fantasy/romance series—heavy rewrites but mostly formulated, one is my Kindle Vella romance that I’m writing, frighteningly, chapter by chapter (I’ll plan that out better next time)
A weekly Blog post
3-5 Poems a week
The new Beautiful Stuff anthology
1-2 Submissions a week (leading to new poetry and flash fiction pieces)
Edits for some accepted short stories
Soon: Edits for my first novel coming out with 5 Prince Publishing
You make any money at that?
Not at all.
After editing, marketing, and website fees are factored in, I’m actually, constantly, in a hole. In fact, I love writing so much, I started working a part time job just to afford it.
But this is important to know about yourself as a writer. Why do you write? For the money? Because there are ways to do that—freelance, magazine articles, content writing, textbook editing. But you should also know that getting published right away, with a good book deal and royalties is not common. It isn’t impossible but you’re going to have to work for it.
My suggestion is to write because you love it. Because if you do that, and you throw it out into the world to see if it lands with someone, and it doesn’t get picked up, then at least you loved what you did, enjoyed what you made, and created something that was meaningful. And that’s not nothing.
If you don’t enjoy it and try to meet a trend, or publish some MFA tome that you hated every minute of, I honestly believe that the chances of it ‘landing’ and being picked up, are less.
Stories with heart and passion behind them, are just better stories.
Do you get writer’s block?
I go back and forth about those two little words. Yes, I believe that writers can get blocked. but I prefer to call it “Life Blocked”.
Writing doesn’t get blocked. We block ourselves. We get in our own way. Life gets in our way. The other worries, concerns, judgments, conflicts, and comparisons surrounding us get in our way. The writing is always there, just waiting to come out. It’s not beyond our reach. Until we put up walls of insecurities and excuses in our own path.
Somedays the inspiration isn’t there. Write anyway (see my answer from above about switching up projects, doing something that is still writing but not what’s got you puzzled). Somedays you are burnt out. Take a day off. Watch stupid movies. Take a nap. Keep your hands off the computer until you’re gnashing to get back to putting words down. Writers forget that inspiration is always there, you just sometimes have to clear out the path before it will flow. That might mean writing that scene you’ve been dreading until it turns into one of your favorites. Or sitting in the chair, writing the worst shit you’ve ever written nonstop for thirty minutes via a timer until you realize that it’s not all bad and that you were just afraid admitting that we all write shitty stuff sometimes.
Don’t believe in writer’s block. Believe in normal human emotion and limitation, give yourself grace but don’t give yourself excuses.
Where can I find your work?
Always know this answer and, if possible, have a card with your info on it. You can find my work on Amazon, libraries, in some journals and newspapers as well as on my website. www.sarahreichertauthor.com (and yes, get a website)
How do you finish a book, I just can’t!
How do people climb Mt. Everest? How do people raise children? How do people retire comfortably after 45 years of work?
One step at a time. Always forward. Never giving up. Pause if you need, catch your breath, remember why you’re putting in the work, eyes on that distant horizon and keep moving. You will get stuck. You will want to quit. There will be stories you do have to quit or rewrite completely. Just don’t stop writing. One page a day. One sentence. Six chapters. It doesn’t matter. People who don’t finish their books have let the world win. They let their doubt win. They let the aspect of editing and cutting out what wasn’t working win. They let the fear of finishing a book and what that might mean for expectations on them win.
Don’t let fear or hard work stop you. Just write. Because you love it. Because you love the character. Because you love the journey. Because you love being lost in that world. When it gets hard, shift course, skip over the dark and come back after you’ve written through some light. There are a million ways to quit. But there are at least as many to persevere. Find what makes you keep going and do that.