A Day in the Life of a Self-Made Novelist

Okay, so I suppose the first question would be, what do I mean by “self-made”. Well, technically I’m still in the process of “making”, but generally it refers to the fact that everything after High School English classes that I learned about writing and storytelling I taught myself from simply reading. And having an imagination that just refuses to quite doesn’t hurt any either. It also refers to the fact that, to put it quite bluntly, I’ve had no frickin’ break, no one to help me that didn’t vanish on me, nothing. Which leaves either “failure” or “self-made”. I prefer the latter.

The next item to be explained is the use of the word “novelist”. I tried “writer” and “author”, but the problem with those would be the definitions I came up when I was actively trying to find an agent. “Writer” became “One who knows how to get published”, while “Author” became “A successful writer”. Anything else I viewed as being “Hobbyist”. Well, three book series and about 8 million words later and by my definition I’m still a “hobbyist”, even though I’ve hit Steven King levels of productivity (but without the drugs).

But wait, there was that blip on the radar of publishing events known as my time with Publish America… yeah, that could be a rant article all by itself, so moving on. Anyway, one day rather recently someone said, “Oh, so you’re a novelist?” Hmm, no self-deprecating definition in my head against that, so why not? “Novelist” it is.

Now that that’s established, let’s get on with the “day in the life” part. There’s actually two types of days… well, three really. The first is when I’m working on my own stories, the second when on a ghost writing project, and the third is when I’m not working on anything.

Let’s take that third option first; it’s the easiest. It goes something like this:

“HHHHHEEEEeeeeelllllppppp mmmmeeeeeeeee…”

The only difference between this and the original “The Fly” is that I don’t have a large spider crawling across the web to put me out of my misery. Me not working on something amounts to me feeling guilty, thinking about everything going wrong, oh why am I not selling, how the heck do you sell anything, why don’t I have a girl friend, and generally alternating between wanting to crawl into a hole or looking for a miracle to pull out of my sleeve.

Yeah, let’s not go there. Moving on…

Second are the days when I’m ghostwriting stuff to keep the bills paid and money flowing in so I can flow it out to something resembling book promotion. This can be divided up into two types of days: when I have a nonfiction project versus when I have a fiction project. First the nonfiction day:

“Oh God, shoot me now, my brain is turning to mush!”

Usually I have to dumb myself down enough to get through it. You know, tie half my brain behind my back so I can manage the finance, legal, cookbook, alternative medicine, or other whatnot I’m being paid to do. I get up in the morning, procrastinate for a bit until it’s about 10 AM, then get the next chapter done in time for lunch. This is usually followed by self-flagellation as I berate myself on why I can’t seem to get anything else going. That and grocery shopping.

Then there are the rare fiction ghostwriting assignments:

“At last! A chance to show my talents. Now I can ride the epic rim of– Wait, this isn’t one of my own books; it could become a best seller and no one will know I wrote it. WHHHYYYYY…”

Followed by an alternating mix of sobbing and leaping for joy that I at least get to do some fiction. Of course this alternates with frustration when the client won’t listen to my own instincts on which way to go with the story. “Yes I know this is your first story, and I WILL keep it in your voice, but I’m the guy who wrote a thirteen-book epic, so I might have picked up a few things in that time.”

Oh yeah, if you’re going to be a writer or ghostwriter, be prepared for all those emotional ups and downs; it comes with the territory of being able to transcribe emotional content into your scenes… that emotional content ends up showing up in your life.

Okay, so you’ve seen the frustration, the highs and the lows, but what happens when I’m working on my own stories? Well, I can’t speak for any other author, but for me it goes something like this:

“I am GOD!”

The night before a new chapter I can hardly wait. Monday? Best day of the week because it means a new chapter. I wake up a minute before my alarm goes off– Hmm, maybe tomorrow if I go to bed 30 seconds earlier I can beat that alarm by another five minutes; that’s an extra five whole minutes I get to write! I have a contest with myself to see how quickly I can get through breakfast and what not and get to the keyboard. 7:25 AM I’m there– hey that’s five whole minutes off my old record, maybe this means I’ll break 6000 words by lunch.

I start to write, the keyboard growing hot beneath the passage of my fingers. The scenes are exciting, drawing at me. I can feel the emotion of the scene as I try to channel that feeling directly down through my fingers into words.

Wait, email? Ignore it. The phone rings? Let it ring, I’m in the zone here.

One of the characters wants to go in its own direction now. Well, okay but only a small excursion; just stay within the general plot outline that I’ve– Wait, no too far! Come back here, you little–

Phone rings again. Keeps ringing. Grumble, okay what’s the caller ID say? Hmm, a friend. Grrrr…

“WHAT?! I’m writing!”

“Oh, well then you have time to talk.”

“Growl!”

Click.

Back to my feverish writing state.

The keyboard is starting to smoke, lightning from my fingertips. Oh, this is one of the best– Wait, frozen? Why is my screen locking up? AAAA! Quick, memorize that last paragraph being displayed before hitting the reset and hope the autosave is functioning this time.

Rebooting…

Oh, hurry up you bloody–

Ring…

“Not NOW!”

Ah, it’s back up. Quickly, reconstruct what I just memorize and… There, got it back. Calmer now. Back to what I was doing.

The scene is racing by, I’m averaging some 1500 words an hour (not great if you’re a secretary but pretty fantastic for a writer creating on the fly), I can feel the tears running down my face, but no time to break for the emotion of the moment, just get it down!

“Lunch? I don’t need no– Okay, but quickly.”

After inhaling a sandwich and nearly intravenously injecting a glass of milk, it’s back to the passion. Hours go by, and my “F” key is starting to wear out. May be time for another new keyboard.

Back when my mother was still around, this would be about the time when she’d pause to lean forward from across my bed to peak over my shoulder at what I was doing. She’s smiling, of course, but I can’t work with someone looking over my shoulder.

“Mom, please!”

More impassioned hours of writing later, I’ve finally managed to corral the errant characters, the sweat is coming close to shorting out that “F” key completely, but I just can’t stop. It is physically impossible for me to–

It’s my mom again, this time holding out a small bottle of water.

“It’s 3 o’clock, you need a drink.”

My fingers vibrate in place as I’m caught between reaching for the next key and the bottle. I come close to short-circuiting but finally engulf the water and get back to it.

Finally, five or six o’clock rolls around and the chapter is finished. I lean back in my chair, steam coming out from my ears and off the keyboard, a smile on my face. Never had sex but the afterglow can’t be much better that this. I take a look at the word count: nearly 13,000 words.

“Not bad.”

Lots of editing to do that evening during dinner, of course, but it’s a rival for anything Tolkien did. I feel great! Top of Cloud 9.

Then it hits me.

“B-but, who’s going to see it? I don’t have a real publisher, I stink at promotion, what am I going to do?!?”

Aaaand, it’s back to crying. At least until the next day when my own private little world once again distracts me from reality. That is the goal of a novelist, after all: to get paid for distracting yourself from other concerns.

Much like this article.

Well, the day ends when it’s close to Midnight and I’ve finished editing stuff and ready to charge into it the next day. I have no life, social or otherwise, and some friends might point out that maybe if I stopped the writing long enough to– Well, they’re not friends anymore so I never get to hear the last part of that sentence.

Nights, of course, are spent dreaming about finally “making it”, because after all any creative soul, no matter how much he wants to say about it being “for the art”, he needs two things. First, an appreciative audience so they can share what he feels about his creation; feel the joy and awe radiating from them as they examine what you have done. And second, money, so he can get the bills paid and the mortgage dealt with so he’s free to get off the ghostwriting train and get back to writing his own stories once again.

So what is the point is getting all these stories out of my head? Some might say it’s an addiction, but again being the great novelist who is so very bad at self-promotion, my answer usually amounts to this:

“J-just, read it. Please! Take my pretty and reads it now.”

Any resemblance at that point between myself and Gollum is probably not so coincidental, and for much the same reason.

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