Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Story of My Writing Life in Three Part Harmony, part two

Photo courtesy of Quim Gil


A little more than a year ago it was inconceivable to me that I could write a book in a month. My great Irish novel has been underway for fourteen years and counting, give or take. Yet, I published my first ebook on December 17, 2012, and today, January 23, 2014, I published my twelfth, Groundbreaking Murder. I also put seven of those books into paperbacks, and while I had already written the text so they don't qualify as new work, the struggle and hair-pulling to figure out how to format them and produce a cover qualifies as one book, in my book. So, let's say I've written a book a month, give or take. Five cookbooks, four children's stories, three of which I illustrated, and as of today, three cozy mysteries.

In the interest of honest disclosure, one "book," Liftoff, Amazon calls anything it puts between covers a book, would be considered in any quality writing program a short story. But since Amazon calls the shots, I'll call it a book, too. I had written this story approximately four years earlier, polished the heck out of it, sent it to a writing competition and didn't even receive the courtesy of a rejection letter.

I considered Liftoff one of my best short stories, which is not saying much since I don't consider myself a master of the form. However, I believe it tells a strong story and I am proud of it. It is a landmark story for me in one other respect. I wrote it three days. It was one of those pieces that just came pouring out. I keep trying to figure out what I did differently that day to become, for 72 hours, unnaturally prolific and I don't have the answer. Was it a new brand of soap, writing in front of a fireplace instead of at my computer, or are the 6th, 7th, and 8th of January particularly fertile days for me. Or perhaps I had some premonition that my marriage was going to end on January 9th, and not wanting to face that ugly fact, I allowed my creative self to take over. Not a clue.

About three years ago I had a brainstorm, an idea for a children's story. I'd never written one before but this one came to me whole and I couldn't get half of it down on paper fast enough. Then I took a break and never went back to it. In part, the boy I wrote the story for was outgrowing it and I didn't know what I'd do with the story if I finished it. If I couldn't publish the kind of fiction I'd worked at honing for 35 years, what hope did I have a publishing a children's book, which I knew at the outset was flawed anyway.

I number those two books among my first dozen. This month, out of the blue I sold two copies of Liftoff. I think that makes five copies all together since April. I have no idea where those two readers came from but they gave me hope in this crazy indie writers' world I've found myself in.

When Mikey Made the Rules came out on Christmas eve, motivated by my desire to finally give it to the Michael who inspired it for Christmas. It is currently my best seller.

There are many far more interesting publishing stories out there, of people on the edge, facing bankruptcy, not able to work because of illness, having five children to support and no means of earning money in a very bad economy, then taking a chance. They wrote a book of some kind, it took and today they are millionaires. I'm in Facebook groups with some of them so I know these stories to be true.

For the most part they wrote these books in a few months. They produce 12-20 books a year. They write in genres I never heard of or paid attention to a year ago. They write erotica, young adult, zombies, Regency Romance, cozy mysteries (my current genre)  and old fashioned romance. Are the books well written? Some are, most are not by my standards. But since I am so far from producing a million dollars a year that I feel I'm on a distant planet, I don't think my opinion counts for much anymore. People are buying those books, being entertained by them.  They have the same access that I have to Shakespeare and Alice Munro, yet they buy books they can read on their lunch hour and get lost in a made up world where people live some piece of dream they wish they they could share.

I was once scornful of those readers and writers. I have set the bar for my own "serious" writing very high. But why should they? According to the publishing records, most people are bored by what I choose to read for pleasure. If the publishing business depended on my taste, there wouldn't be any books left in the world, neither paper bound nor ebooks.

If I depended on my preferred writing genre, literary fiction, I would never sell a book. Well, maybe five. There is Liftoff. That is the writing, though, that is my passion, my art.

I took up writing as a business this last year because I needed the money and I'm too old and saddled with some health issues to work at a day job, which I did for most of my life. I started writing these books five weeks after open heart surgery when I could only sit in front of my computer for half an hour tops, before collapsing back in bed. Heart surgery is no walk in the park, let me tell you.

Yet, each day, I did it. I pecked away at a cookbook following the instructions of a internet guru whose course promised I would have a book on Amazon in four weeks. Due to my feeble condition at the time, it took me six weeks.

I earned twenty dollars the first month, eight-hundred the next and then sales started to slide. I wrote another book and another book. With each one the sales of all my books would peak, and then slide again until I wrote another book. I was averaging 600 to 700 dollars a month.

In June I heard about cozy mysteries from a wonderful woman and successful writer who was generous enough to share her secrets with me. Through a marketing Skype call for ebook writers I heard her tell the story of writing her first cozy mystery the year before. She wrote a thousand words a day and was producing a book a month, 30,000 words each. She was at that time selling 5,000 books a month. I almost dropped the phone. I'd never heard of a cozy mystery. How could she be selling so many books?

At the end of the call I googled cozy mysteries, bought one and knew I could write one. I knew that because I had been writing since 1973, sometimes consistently, mostly sporadically, until I found my writing practice when I began to write every day. It's now twenty years and counting. During that time, I studied what made a story work, how to write dialogue, characters, manage description and do everything in my meager powers to pull a decent, meaningful story out of an idea in my head.

Since I've been writing cozies my income has doubled, rising each time I put out a new book. My success is small compared to people in my Facebook groups, grand compared to many people I come across who are still trying to sell their first book.

I work long, hard hours, sometime from 7 am to 9 pm. I exhaust myself, I live a secluded life. That is the writer's lot. My eye is on the next sentence and the next page. I am lucky that when I found these mysteries, I knew how to write a story. I didn't know how to write the genre, however, and I am still learning. In the most recent book, for example, the reader only has to wait three pages for the body to appear instead of thirty.

Why am I telling you this story? Because I believe I am the poster child for a daily writing practice. I had no idea that my hours upon hours of writing, reading, class taking and writing group discussions would lead me to popular fiction. But because of my discipline, I can at least do this much.  I can write for hours at a time, every single day, weekends and holidays included. I have trained my attention span, my concentration, my commitment to my writing so that above all else, I write. It is why I have a dozen books in a year. Are they good books? Some are. A ten year-old boy in Australia left a review on The Adventures of Farty Arty that it was the best book he ever read. That ain't nothin.

I preach a daily writing practice and have for two decades now. When I started writing fifteen minutes every morning no matter what, I did it for myself. I vowed I would never show my work to anyone else anymore after a heartbreaking publishing experience. A tale for another time. At the time I didn't need my writing to support me, though I wanted it to, because I had a day job. Now I will write for food.

We never know where life will take us. Twenty years ago, having known for the previous twenty that I wanted to be a writer, I let go of all my doubts about my gifts, the interest the world had in hearing my stories and just sat down every morning and did it. Now, when I need my writing to be financially successful as well as personally fulfilling, I have that discipline to fall back on.

The moral of the story: If you want to be a writer, write. Every fareeking day!

Like all of the writers on Amazon, people love my books or hate them (only a few). But I am finding my readers, slowly, but consistently, giving the world a slice of a life they would love to live as they eat their lunch. I wonder if they know, I create the life I, too, would like to live. I hope they like my books. When they do, it makes the effort I've put into my writing practice that much more worth while.


  1. What a timely post. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. It was something I really needed to read.

  2. Does writing emails count? Miss you!

  3. Thank you so much, Delora. I'm glad it resonated.

  4. When it comes to writing, grocery lists count!