When I started writing seriously, just before I went to the Odyssey Writing Workshop (where, incidentally, I’m going to be teaching this summer), I imagined that my writing life would go something like this: I would write. What I wrote would be published.
But you know, there’s a whole lot of other stuff you have to do as a writer.
I’m not talking here about what everyone’s discussing nowadays, building your author platform (an imprecise metaphor, I think), publicizing your work, all that. I’m talking about stuff.
Let me tell you what I was doing today. First, I was revising a manuscript. I should say making final revisions to a manuscript, because that’s actually quite different from revising. When I’m revising, I’m still changing significant portions of the story, still making decision about how the story is going to go. By the time I’m working on the final revisions, I’m deleting commas. (I have the bad habit of using too many commas in my writing, particularly before conjunctions that don’t separate independent clauses. As I tell my students, commas aren’t pepper. You can’t just sprinkle them into your writing. I don’t quite do that: I do teach grammar after all, and I know the comma rules. But I usually have to go back and take some out. And I can agonize about commas. For hours.)
Once I had made my final revisions, I sent the manuscript to the editor. And then, I focused on stuff. First, I went over a contract. When I’m going over contracts, I’m actually grateful that I was a corporate lawyer, because at least I know what the various parts of the contract are for. How do people who aren’t lawyers do it? A publishing contract can be confusing, and you may not have an agent to explain it to you. The contract may be too small to make getting an agent worthwhile. So it’s a good idea for writers to understand the various contract provisions and what is standard. I suspect that most writers don’t. But there are two instances in which you absolutely need to think of your writing as a business: when you’re signing contracts and when you’re handling taxes.
Then I proofed a story that will be coming out later this year. You always have to proof stories because although editors and copyeditors are wonderful, and I would certainly not want to live without them, there are times when they don’t know specific usages that you’ve incorporated – in my first published story, for instance, a copyeditor suggested that a backboard (which is tied to a Victorian girl’s back to keep it straight) should be a blackboard (awkward to tie to a girl’s back, at the best of times). Proofing takes time, but it’s absolutely crucial, and it’s one of the things that writers usually have to do quickly because of publishing deadlines.
Then I sent an editor my biographical information. It’s a good idea to have a paragraph of biographical information written and readily available, and if you’re going to be asked for biographical information often, you might want to have several paragraphs of various lengths. And you need to keep them updated. (Also have a current author photo. That’s another thing you’re going to be asked for often.)
And then there were emails: requests for interviews, requests to reprint stories, that sort of thing. Each of them needing to be answered, and a pleasure to answer because who doesn’t want to have those sorts of opportunities? But again, stuff that isn’t writing.
One of those emails told me something I’m completely thrilled about:
Evidently I get a certificate, which I’m going to hang on my wall because for me, that’s what writing is all about: communicating with readers. And if the readers liked my story, that’s what matters to me, more than awards or right up there with money. (Don’t get me wrong, awards are awesome too. And I cannot exaggerate the awesomeness of money. Although I have to admit that I would write even without the awards and money. But don’t take this as a reason not to pay me . . .)
I guess the message of this particular post is that if you’re writing regularly, you have to start thinking of your writing as a business – probably earlier than you thought. Even if you’re only publishing a couple of stories a year, you’re going to have to deal with the other stuff. But you know, that’s good. That means you’re having a vital, exciting writing career. And that’s what most of us want, I think.