Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer

Writers aren't generally known as the happiest lot. As a recent Guardian survey of some top writers shows, even the best ones don't particularly enjoy it all that much. And in case you think this is a new development, an 1842 letter from Edgar Allen Poe to his publisher recently surfaced in which he was found apologizing for drinking so much and begging for money.

But believe it or not, writing and happiness can, in fact, go together. For our Thursday entry in Positivity Week, here are ten ways for a writer to stay positive:

1. Enjoy the present. Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellerdom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the "if only" game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I'll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I'll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you're actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It's found in the present. Because writing is pretty great -- otherwise why are you doing it?

2. Maintain your integrity. With frustration comes temptation. It's tempting to try and beat the system, whether that's by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir. This may even work in the short term, but unless you are Satan incarnate (and I hope you're not) it will steadily chip away at your happiness and confidence, and your heart will shrivel and blacken into something they show kids in health class to scare them away from smoking. Don't do it.

3. Recognize the forces that are outside of your control. While it's tempting to think that it's all your fault if your book doesn't sell, or your agent's fault or the industry's fault or the fault of a public that just doesn't recognize your genius, a lot of times it's just luck not going your way. Chance is BIG in this business. Huge. Gambling has nothing on the incredibly delicate and complex calculus that results in a book taking off. Bow before the whims of fate, because chance is more powerful than you and your agent combined.

4. Don't neglect your friends and family. No book is worth losing a friend, losing a spouse, losing crucial time with your children. Hear me? NO book is worth it. Not one. Not a bestseller, not a passion project, nothing. Friends and family first. THEN writing. Writing is not an excuse to neglect your friends and family. Unless you don't like them very much.

5. Don't Quit Your Day Job. Quitting a job you need to pay the bills in order to write a novel is like selling your house and putting the proceeds into a lottery ticket. You don't have to quit your job to write. There is time in the day. You may have to sacrifice your relaxation time or sleep time or reality television habit, but there is time. You just have to do it.

6. Keep up with publishing industry news. It may seem counterintuitive to follow the news of a business in which layoffs currently constitute the bulk of headlines. But it behooves you to keep yourself informed. You'll be happier (and more successful) if you know what you're doing.

7. Reach out to fellow writers. No one knows how hard it is to write other than other people who have tried to do it themselves. Their company is golden. If you're reading this it means you have an Internet connection. Reach out and touch a writer. And plus, the Internet allows you to reach out to writers without smelling anyone's coffee breath.

8. Park your jealousy at the door. Writing can turn ordinary people into raving lunatics when they start to believe that another author's success is undeserved. Do not begrudge other writers their success. They've earned it. Even if they suck.

9. Be thankful for what you have. If you have the time to write you're doing pretty well. There are millions of starving people around the world, and they're not writing because they're starving. If you're writing: you're doing just fine. Appreciate it.

10. Keep writing. Didn't find an agent? Keep writing. Book didn't sell? Keep writing. Book sold? Keep writing. OMG an asteroid is going to crash into Earth and enshroud the planet in ten feet of ash? Keep writing. People will need something to read in the resulting permanent winter.






232 comments:

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Yat-Yee said...

Nathan, you're really digging this positivity thing, aren't you? :)

Thanks for these practical tips. I especially like:

About to lose a friend? Stop writing and pay attention to what's really important.

Asteroid coming? Keep writing.

Dara said...

I'm so going to print this off and put it in my study :)

Thanks for these ten commandments!

BarbS. said...

Nice, Nathan. Definitely a keeper. Thanks!

BookEnds, LLC said...

One of the best posts I've seen in a long time. This should be on every writer's board.

--jessica faust

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Excellent post, Nathan! And these commandments can be applied to everyone, not just writers.

Thank you for all the work you put into maintaining such an interesting and informative blog.

Davin Malasarn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ink said...

And when Permanent Winter arrives books and manuscript pages will make great kindling. Survival of the wordiest.

Vancouver Dame said...

Nathan, this is the best blog post this week, and you say it so well. I plan to post the 'Ten Commandments' in my writing spot to keep me in focus when doubt creeps in. I like the tenacity that you encourage, and the way you don't condescend to your readers like some writing blogs do. There's a very good reason that you have a great following - you give back to us, the readers.

I liked the link to the E.A. Poe article, one of my early favorite authors. It must be that sensitive, creative nature in writers that brings out the worst in us when things get us down. Thanks for giving us the 10 reasons we should believe in ourselves. Hope you have a great Thursday.

Peter Gajdics said...

Mr. Bransford: I have to say that aside from being wildly informative, your site manages to always put a smile on my face. You are witty beyond belief. Thank you for all you do to help writers.

thumbtack4k said...

I'm about to graduate college and every day for me has been a struggle lately because I keep getting pounded with news about publishing and journalism going under or dying out or whatever everyone is saying now. I find that I've been beating myself up a lot about things I can't control like getting ignored when I send out a resume or submissions. Things like this really brighten my day and give me some hope.. or at least make me stop berating myself. Thank you for your posts! I've been reading for a while and not introducing myself even though you said I should so...
My name is Lisa Kilian. I am a soon to be alumnus of the University of North Texas. I love everything about writing, literature, and publishing. I was heartbroken when John Updike died but when I read the obit in the New York Times, it made me get up and start getting ready for my life in the publishing industry.

Thomas Burchfield said...

Thanks, Nathan.

An addendum to maintaining integrity; whether your pursuing high-minded literature or the next genre bestseller, always be sure it's a book *you* would want to read. Don't bother chasing the marketplace; they may want vampires this fall, but by next spring, it may be mummies.

JohnO said...

Another fine post, N. I'm digging "Up with Positivity Week" here on the NBLA blog.

But as usual, I want recompense for feeding you your news peg!

selestial-owg said...

Love, love, LOVE this post!

Thank you :D

Anonymous said...

Nathan, you're a peach.

Lisa Mantchev said...

Yes, yes, a thousand times YES.

David said...

Those are wonderful, Nathan.

What? Mummies?! Thanks, Thomas Burchfield! Wait! The Vampire Werewolf Zombie Mummy Wars! Wow! That's it! (Oops. I've run out of exclamation marks.)

Robert A Meacham said...

Nathan,

Your tips are spot on. I have experienced the time thing but have not been de-railed by selfishness. Balancing time with family , friends, work, and then writing, makes for a healty life. One thing I have discovered, and you said it well, is to keep writing.

Brian F. said...

Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Yat-Yee,
Or write that ass - asteroid - right into the next scene!!??

lotusgirl said...

Positivity looks GREAT on you. Everyone needs to read these 10Cs.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

In a VERY tough personal week,

Thank You for presenting

Positivity Week.

(whew)


(word verification was gonshi:
translation gone she or otherwise a gonner who is also female)

Jen P said...

"Maybe it’s similar to the idea that some people want to have a wedding and some people want to get married."

I love it. So true. Thank you for an uplifting week. And Marley & Me out in Germany today - positive posts AND puppies all in one week!

T. Anne said...

Geez Nathan, you've thought of the upside to a permanent winter! You really are on a roll!

Purple Potato Chip said...

Nathan--The only one I disagree with is the last part of #8. People whose writing sucks have not "earned" success if it is given to them. Sorry.

Otherwise, these are great.

Anne Whitfield - author said...

Very well said.
Sometimes while striving we do lose sight of other things.

Thanks for the reminder.

Marie said...

And one more:

Read.

When I start dreading the empty page, I read. Reading something amazing reminds me why I torment myself so.

Robena Grant said...

I love these writer's commandments.
Thank you.

Brian Buckley said...

Amen to #9. When writers complain about how hard writing is, they're really just venting. Writing is hard compared to, say, eating potato chips, but if writing is the toughest thing in your life right now, I think you're doing okay.

Nathan Bransford said...

Purple Potato Chip-

Yes, they do. Chances are they worked just as hard at it as any other writer. If they happen to catch on with the reading public: good for them. Even if you personally think they suck.

Success isn't "given" to anyone in this business.

Satan Incarnate said...

How did you know I read your blog?

Also, would you be interested in repping my memoir?

adrcremer said...

Nathan,

Positivity week is saving my life here in Minnesota, where March (and sometimes April) lead you to believe that asteroid did hit somewhere and we truly are stuck in permanent winter.

Now I know I should keep writing.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Good answer Nathan. I was about to be not so diplomatic to the snack food

-Alex

Kiersten said...

Yeah, I learned the whole be happy now thing back when I was desperately querying and then almost died (the near death was not related to the querying, fortunately). Not having an agent kind of paled in relation to not seeing my kids grow up.

And then, hey, got an agent a couple of months later anyway ; ) Plus I still get to see my kids grow up. Things work out.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Amen!!!

Awesome list - people get so caught up in it all and I love your reminders to keep it all in perspective.

Now, I have to get back to work, because I still have that damn, I mean wonderful paycheck-giving, day job.

Dawn said...

It's amazing that whenever I come here, I find something I NEED to read, know, and learn.
Thanks.

Jo said...

Bless you!

Lucy said...

This is a fantastic checklist for any artist. You've got to find a way to be happy in the now~ awesome!

Dawn said...

But just to add a note: I don't like most of my family. *wink*

Heidi said...

AMEN!! I'm happiest when I'm writing, which is why I do it.

Not that there aren't times I'd like to drink and beg for money...

And you just about lost me on the giving up reality shows.

Mary Cunningham said...

I'm speechless! You've nailed it.

http://www.cynthiasattic.blogspot.com

Susan Gabriel said...

Just found this blog from someone posting a link on Twitter. This is a really, really good post. Well-written, clever, witty. I will visit again. Thanks!

Stephanie Faris said...

Okay, but if an asteroid is heading to earth, I'm going to take a break from writing...

Ann Victor said...

The asteroid is my favourite!

Sarah said...

I'd like to add my thanks to the rest; this week's positivity has motivated me to de-lurk, as I missed the last opportunity. Keep up the inspiration and valuable information!

Justus M. Bowman said...

"They've earned it. Even if they suck."

Ha ha. This is quite funny, but you have a point too.

Mira said...

These are really good, Nathan.

I'm going to re-read them from time to time for the reminder.

And I'm not just saying that. This is a good list.

David said...

Nathan,

Delightful post--and I've been surprised all week that you have come up with such authentically positive points.

I'd add another positive thing: having family and friends who support your writing, give honest criticism, and then happily read your revisions. And who hang in there a long, long time.

ryan field said...

Well done, Sir.

MaLanie1971 said...

Thank you Nathan, I needed to hear this. As I have forgotten my "be totally present and in the now" mantras.

Oddly enough before reading your Ten Commandments, I just posted on my blog about my obsession with my book.

I was poking fun at myself on my blog but the truth is that my little inner voice has been whispering MaLanie, slow down take care of your family first and enjoy the writing experience.

Thank you again, and by the way your blog has been extremely helpful to me.

Jackee said...

Thanks for this beautiful list, Nathan. You are awesome and I think you've made all our day!

Hurray for positivity.

L.C. Gant said...

Wow, Nathan! This might very well be your best blogging week ever. Each post has been better than the last.

Considering you aren't a writer yourself (at least, not that I know of), you've got the craft of writing down to a science. Every one of these commandments is spot-on.

I love this post. I'm linking to it on my blog today. Then I'm printing it out and posting it on my wall. I think the publishing world would be a much happier place if every writer knew this list by heart. Thanks for sharing!

P.S. Can we have Positivity Week again? Like, really soon? Once a month, maybe?

Ulysses said...

Stephen King said, "Life is not a way to support your writing, writing should be a way to support your life." (or words to that effect).

On the other hand, we have Asimov: "If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster."

I figure, if you're not happy, writing success isn't going to change that. Happiness comes from something other than riches, or accomplishments or laurels. Happiness comes from seeing the beauty in just being who and where and when you are and enjoying that. Everything else is just a way of having fun.

... this from a man out of his depth in a parking-lot puddle.

Joann Mannix said...

In the karmic order of the universe, you are a soul of light, Nathan. I do so believe that. Your positivity week has bolstered my waning confidence and given me that gentle, kind-hearted slap on the tush to keep going.

And as for the moroseness of writers, it is why we can tell our stories the way we do...our hearts bleed like no others. That's why my family rolls their eyes at me when I'm really feeling the moment, weeping away on Christmas morning or cuddling with a kitty or watching green frogs sing about rainbows....It's all about feeling it.

Rick Daley said...

Nathan,

I recall in one post or comment, you said you didn't consider yourself to be a writer. I beg to differ with you. I think you are a talented writer, and you're not too shabby as a philosopher, either.

WORD VERIFICATION: rerru. What Scooby-Doo says when he's in trouble.

Windy said...

I love it! Thanks for helping to keep things in perspective!

Rachel said...

Great post. I really loved #9 and #1. I think if you enjoy the present and realize how incredibly lucky you are to have a home, food, and friends, everything else will fall into place...appreciation of your friends/family, hard work, enjoyment of others' success...

Bane of Anubis said...

Excellent points.

"They've earned it. Even if they suck." - priceless :).

Marilyn Peake said...

Thank you so much for today's post, Nathan. This past year, when the economy went south and publishing businesses cut way back, I suddenly discovered and have been living by those same ten commandments. They work. I'm finally happy exactly where I'm at with writing. Sure, I hope to make more money at it someday; but writing is a pretty fun gig even without huge advances and major contracts, and it's never worth sacrificing too much of the other important areas of your life.

Your sense of humor cracks me up. I read part of your blog post outloud to my husband today. You have an amazing way with words.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Positively nice post.

Scott said...

Thanks, Nathan, great advice!

What about the 11th Commandment: have plenty of wine or other 'adult' beverages on hand when the rejection letter comes in!

Kidding. This post will definitely make it to the corkboard next to the computer.

Okay, word verify is 'itigater' - is this someone who uses the word 'it' inapproriately throughout their writing?

S

Lynn Raye Harris said...

I've never commented here before, but this was awesome. I've been having a good week, actually, and feeling quite happy with the state of my career. But good days can be followed by bad, so very good advice for every day. :)

Kristi said...

Nathan, positivity suits you. You'd make a good psychologist. Seriously, my day job is working as a clinical psychologist and I'm forever reminding people "Wherever you go, there you are." Happy people tend to be happy regardless of the details of their lives, and unhappy people who tell me they'll be happy as soon as they change jobs, win the lotto, etc. don't realize that happiness is not an external event but an internal one. If you live in the present, that takes care of many things on your list anyway (spending time w/ family, etc.)

As always, thanks for the great post and hope everyone has a great day!

Stephen Parrish said...

You earned your blog pay today.

Donna Hosie said...

LOL @ number ten!

sylvia said...

This is lovely. I want to see it framed.

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

Authors are dramatic people. How could we write if we weren't? Still, sometimes I need to remember "it's no big deal." I repeat this to myself constantly in the hopes that I will eventually believe it. :)

Laraine Herring said...

Rock on, Nathan. :-)

OK, I'm a little late on coming out of the lurking closet, but I'm here. I share your blog w/my novel writing students. You pull no punches, and I (and they) really appreciate that. (I teach creative writing.)

I do have an agent and I am published, and none of it matters in the big scheme of things. I wish I'd found your blog 20 years ago (not that it was around!) when I was looking for said agent, said publisher, said career :-) -- your advice and humor are gifts to the writing community. Your blog has helped ground me in all this current upheaval. Thanks for the efforts.

Cass said...

I realy love this positivity week.

These Ten Commandments are now going to be posted on my wall above my computer.

Thanks

Craven said...

I'll add one more piece of e-litter to this mounting pile.

Thank you. Especially for #4. It's a little too easy to become consumed and forget what's really important.

bachi said...

Well, 7 and 8 have generally made me a less happy writer. But good advice all around.

Anonymous said...

As an experiment I went outside one summer night and found I could read in the back garden at half-past ten at night. Now I shall have to go out and look out for asteroids as they could be featured in the next novel.When the world comes to an end, I shall positively be taking notes......

Marilyn Peake said...

Discovered some huge news today regarding eBooks. Apparently, Barnes & Noble has purchased Fictionwise and may have plans to open their own e-Bookstore: news announcement.

Fictionwise has an announcement on their website.

Jen said...

To fit in with positivity week I stopped watching the news in the morning and started watching Spongebob Squarepants. I highly recommend this - I have been in a much better mood every day without all of the doom and gloom of the news in the morning!

You can get your doom and gloom in the paper at lunch, or on the 4pm, 5pm, 6pm, 10pm or 11pm news (or, on one of the 10 news channels).

But I digress... Love the commandments. And just think, if you survived the asteroid hitting Earth while half the population got wiped out, you'd have a much better corner on the book market...

Steve Fuller said...

11. The delicious nectar of alcohol. Sweet, sweet alcohol.

nancorbett said...

Happily, these are things that I try to practice. I'm enjoying the journey for the most part. I don't ever want to forget that I write because I love to, not because I want to be published. I do want to be published. But that's not why I write.

But, when I saw the word, Commandments, I shuttered. That word makes me feel like a lightening bolt is poised for my head.

Charlotte said...

Thanks, Nathan, for warming the cockles of this writer's heart. I especially love #10.

Griffin Asher said...

Ooo, this is a great list to keep at hand.
Thanks for posting them.

Purple Potato Chip said...

I still respectfully disagree, Nathan. People who have not 'earned' it are successful all the time in all ventures, publishing included.

I think the commandment about not being jealous of the situation is a good one, but it should be revised to not let this fact of life make you look over your shoulder and corrupt your work.

People succeed without earning that success all the time. We just have to get over that fact and move on--unless one wants to be one of them.

Nancy Coffelt said...

The first 9 should be givens if you're a thoughtful, balanced human being - oh wait - we're talking about writers here!

But seriously, take number 10 seriously.

I mean that seriously.

pjd said...

the fault of a public that just doesn't recognize your genius

You mean that's not it?

Regarding #4: Did you recently get married or something?

Oh, yeah, by the way: Good advice, every one. The type of advice that people will ignore until they learn it for themselves through experience.

Kate H said...

Thank you, Nathan.

A friend of mine likes to say there are three common things that are not so common any more in our world: common courtesy, common decency, and common sense. You display all three to an uncommon degree, and thus are a credit to your generation and to the publishing industry. Again, thank you.

Toni said...

This is better than Prozac! Your commandments keep everything in perspective.

Horserider said...

Thank you for posting this Nathan. :) I'm going to copy/paste it into a word document. I think everyone needs to read #8. There's been so much bashing of Paolini, Meyer, and Rowling lately. (not saying they suck. I love them)

Friends...friends...all my friends are writer type friends. Writing didn't come between me and my best friend, moving did.

rightonmom said...

Ah, you're the writer sage to my writer grasshopper...thank you thank you.

Seriously, well said.

Michelle Miles said...

My two favorite: #5 and #7. You are SO right!

Jen said...

Purple Potato Chip said...
I still respectfully disagree, Nathan. People who have not 'earned' it are successful all the time in all ventures, publishing included.


I agree, in some instances - does Paris Hilton, with her ghost-written book, deserve to call herself a published author? I think not.

Word Verification - Corgis. Cue the Queen...

Nathan Bransford said...

I don't even think it's worth begrudging Paris Hilton. If you want her success and everything that comes with it (including that book deal).... uh, more power to you, but it probably says more about you than her.

Anonymous said...

Purple potato chip-

I will dare to say I could rip apart at least five of your top ten favorite bands. It's a gift and I'm a music snob. Does it mean that the bands, for the most part, didn't put time and energy and more time into that album? No. They worked hard on something that they knew the radio stations would play.

But I'm just being mean now and perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps have as much taste as me when it comes to such things so I am wrong. All I'm saying is Nathan's probably right.

Even the celebrities had to work their brains real hard to think of something interesting that happened to them.

-Alex

Alexa said...

Excellent ideas for writing and life. Especially number 1, I only recently got that and started enjoying the present rather than looking to the future!

Merry Monteleone said...

I didn't read all the comments on this one, but can I print it and put it on my fridge?

I like you on the happiness wagon, Nathan.

Thanks for the smile today.

Purple Potato Chip said...

Alex--

I must not have written that clearly enough. It's not a matter of taste. People like different things, and who knows what will strike thousands of people's fancies all at one time. We agree on that.

I'm talking about people who have success with books (get a book published, sell thousands of copies, etc.) who have not earned it because they did very little to nothing at all in terms of writing it, or something similar to that.

Most of us knew a "golden" guy or gal in school for whom everything seemed to go their way without any effort on their parts whatsoever. That's what I mean. It's just a fact of the universe that this happens. It happens in publishing like everywhere else. Maybe you have to live a lot of years and see this enough to come to terms with it.

I totally agree with Nathan, though, that 'happy writers' don't waste time shaking their fists at the sky over the injustice of this situation. All I'm saying is that there are people who don't earn their success but still get it, and that happens in publishing like everywhere else.

Jovanna said...

Good advice, Nathan.
...and the ants come marching in... there's this annoying song in my head. :)

Litgirl01 said...

True...many creative people aren't the happiest. Seems that sometimes creativity comes from passion and angst.

The best advice is to seek company with other writers. It really helps!

I don't put much stock in being published or finding an agent. I will keep writing because I love it. If I publish, great! If I don't,that's okay too. At least I accomplished my own goals. That's all I can control.

Anonymous said...

Okay purple potato chip.

I concede only because something in my comments told you know that I was a feckless youth. I just have a hard time seeing how the golden boy got plucked from his obscurity selling stocks and became a best selling author. But if you've been doing this awhile, you know better than me.

And I did think the word "sucks" implied taste, but I get what you're saying now and will stop arguing.

-Alex

Phil Ruggiero said...

Great advice - especially keeping your day job (is you happen to have one in this economy).

Where does one find publishing news?

So, how do you read every query within 24 hours, maintain a very useful blog, and represent writers?

Dan Krokos said...

Reading what those authors had to say was depressing.

robinellen said...

Thank you.

Em said...

Beautifully timed!

I have blagged myself a ticket to a very prestigious event & was second guessing my cheeky manoeuvre. Now I'm going to stand in the room among 39 much-more-successful-than-I-am authors and think positive. I shall fake it 'til I make it!

Scott said...

Steve Fuller said...

11. The delicious nectar of alcohol. Sweet, sweet alcohol.

Well observed, sir. Might I add...

12. A sexy desktop picture. Or two.

Richard Lewis said...

Getting published is a great validation of hard work and cultivated talent, but it doesn't who you are or your life. Nothing magical happens on the other side of the Great ISBN Divide.

So I'd like to add, that when you get published, these same ten commandments still apply.

Great post, Nathan.

Maria Schneider said...

Wow, there must be something in the San Francisco air.

Denise Eagan said...

Nathan, thank you. For the list and Positivity Week. I think a lot of us really needed it.

irishoma said...

Excellent post! What wonderful and uplifting advice; you should write a book.

Em said...

My previous comment makes it sound as though I'm going to ignore your advice & tell big fat porkies about my success. I haven't, honest. I'm polishing the final draft of my MS as we speak/type and then off it will go with a shiny query to the agent at the top of my list. I RSVP'd to the event on the off chance that they would take pity on me...and they have. Hence the freaking out.

The event is about making connections in the industry and the stepping stones to success and a publishing deal. So far so good, only it is being held at a very swanky venue and half the attendees share space on my bookshelves! Scary stuff.

Lupina said...

All so very true. The ones I second most heartily? Keep the freaking day job, and do not neglect family and friends. Both will support, sustain and nourish you through the inevitable hard lumps on the road to your own rainbow connection.

Tricia said...

Commandment number 13.
Don't write on the 13th--it's bad luck.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Great post, and useful for both writers and their non-writing friends. I'm a big advocate of #1. Yes, my goal is to work toward publication one day, but it's nice to be able to still enjoy writing as a hobby right now, one I could choose to engage in as much or as little as I wish without worrying about deadlines or rejections or reader reaction. #3 and 5 are great for dealing with friends and family who think I should submit now and become and instant bestseller, and #6 is one of the best things I've done since deciding to pursue this path.

zasus said...

Commandment 13 exception:

Always write on Friday the 13th if you are a Horror writer or one of those special people who sneers in the face of superstition!
(some of our BEST writers!!)


(zasus)

m clement hall said...

Nathan, I took the liberty of putting an abbreviated version of this on the Authonomy Forum, together with your url and a strong suggestion anyone seriously interested in writing should follow your blog.
I hope that's okay.
If not, I can wipe it.
best wishes,
mch

Whirlochre said...

Oh you great big hairy orange throbber, you.

Humungoids cast into voids.

Jen said...

Nathan Bransford said...
I don't even think it's worth begrudging Paris Hilton. If you want her success and everything that comes with it (including that book deal).... uh, more power to you, but it probably says more about you than her.


Whoa! I don't begrudge her, nor would I want her life. I like my own life! I probably should have read all the comments before commenting, but I just picked up on the potato man's comment and agreed that not everyone who has a book with their name on it actually wrote it.

*backs out of the room cautiously*

jil said...

Nathan= Thank you for making even me think that publishing on-line might not be the horror I thought it was. Also showing us that an agent can have a heart! And making us smile...

Why does your message come into my mailbox so much later than into everyone else's?

Marjory Bancroft said...

Nathan Bransford, your post offended me.

Deeply.

In the midst of positivity week, no less.

Some of us consider ourselves persons of integrity. Not perfect but real. Road-tested. Put to the flame. And in this post you equate writers who dare pay someone to write a query letter with Satan incarnate. (Well, technically you write: "2. Maintain your integrity. With frustration comes temptation. It's tempting to try and beat the system, whether that's by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir." THEN you mention Satan incarnate.)

ARGH! To be associated in the same breath with inveterate liars and memoir fakers! (Never mind Satan.)

I respectfully ask you to apologize. As a loyal reader.

I am the Satan-ette who once dared post here, under my real name, about paying a professional years ago to rewrite a query. It took a bit of courage by the way, to say so in a public forum. Your comments and personal response piqued me into deciding never to borrow from that rewritten query again (and the YA agent I’d hooked for another book was from a transom query I wrote myself). But the lessons learned from the pro, years ago, taught me a lot that my writers' groups didn't. For example, keep the query lean. And as you say, spend less time talking about us and more about the book. (The pro was right, as you are.)

Nathan, rescue my good name from the muck. No integrity! We wonder what's next. Perhaps having feedback on one’s query from a writer's group will be deemed unethical. Or using knowledge gained from a fellow writer to recraft our proposal package will be condemned. Or—may the sensitive avert their eyes—having a PUBLISHED WRITER refer us to her agent… Heavens forfend!

At least agents are the bastions of integrity.

I will now withdraw to the ranks of the lowly and unwashed. Those naked among us, stripped of our integrity.

GuyStewart/DISCOVERCHURCH said...

Thank you.

Lucinda said...

By now, Nathan, your hat should be fitting a bit tight. But it is all well deserved! I have enjoyed this week's blogs the most since first lurking around these parts.

Your points are very valid.

It is not always easy in this modern world to be content, but content is where we should be when we are writing.

One thing...it is often the times we think our world is falling apart, things couldn't be worse, or that the "end of the world isn't coming fast enough," that we can find new perspectives and understandings that the blue skies could never give us. David Morrell said that a bad childhood is a goldmine. It can be, but only if we make it a positive, not a negative thing.

Thank you for all the news, great ideas, inside perspectives and your witty humor, too.

Nathan Bransford said...

Marjory-

I've never said that people can't or shouldn't get help with their query, whether that's feedback from a support group or a paid service. I just want to hear from authors in their own words and don't believe authors should misrepresent their work.

Nathan Bransford said...

Jen-

Oops!! I didn't mean "you" in the sense of "YOU clearly want Paris Hilton's career," I meant "you" in the hypothetical sense, as in, someone else "if someone wants, etc. etc." Sorry. That comment wasn't directed at you personally, just making a general point.

Cassandra said...

If we didn't have these bad times, how would we have the appreciation of the good times? The only way we can go from rock bottom is up!

Laura D said...

Great post, Nathan. I'd add keep the old chin up and plug on in my personal list.

Jen said...

Nathan Bransford said...
Jen-

Oops!! I didn't mean "you" in the sense of "YOU clearly want Paris Hilton's career," I meant "you" in the hypothetical sense, as in, someone else "if someone wants, etc. etc." Sorry. That comment wasn't directed at you personally, just making a general point.


Haha, that's OK. I was just thinking OMG am I giving off some weird Paris-wannabe vibe? Is it all the OMGs?

All's well that end's well, though! And, I don't think you should retract your statment about writers having integrity. I wholeheartedly agree.

Marla Taviano said...

This is delightful.

Kathy Kulig said...

Excellent advice Nathan. We need that positive slap up side the head now and then. Thank you!
Best, Kathy www.kathykulig.com

a kelly said...

Thanks for the encouragement and the reality check. This sometimes negative writer thanks you!

Writer from Hell said...

Wow! Those are the ten commandments really! Point no. 9 really puts things in perspective. Your writing is like rushing gurgling water refreshing and energising all around!

You are superb....Mr. Brown (yours truly, WfH)

James said...

That was well written and very good. Maybe you should forget the day job and become a writer yourself. lol You'd be a good one.

Anonymous said...

I suggest rewriting rule 5 to read:

Rule 5) Expatriate. Leave the country! By living overseas somewhere cheap, you can devote all your time to writing, plus the foreign landscape will give you something interesting to write about.

D. Michael Olive said...

Nathan,
Very insightful. I never wanted to be Hemingway, just wanted to have some fun and entertain. My wife calls it my midlife crisis but she loves it. She told me some men by expensive cars, some have affairs, I write. And she knows if I disappear for a while, I'm in my office creating world disasters to be solved by my protagonist. My kids tell me as they read my books, they can tell when I've had a bad day because I usually kill off somebody violently. For me, it's a great stress reliever. Thanks again.

Mike

D. Michael Olive said...

Nathan,
Very insightful. I never wanted to be Hemingway, just wanted to have some fun and entertain. My wife calls it my midlife crisis but she loves it. She told me some men buy expensive cars, some have affairs, I write. And she knows if I disappear for a while, I'm in my office creating world disasters to be solved by my protagonist. My kids tell me as they read my books, they can tell when I've had a bad day because I usually kill off somebody violently. For me, it's a great stress reliever. Thanks again.

Mike

Carolyn Matkowsky said...

Thank you, Nathan. This is a great post and just what I needed to yank me from the writing doldrums.

candicekennington said...

Hear, Hear!

Thomma Lyn said...

*grin*, these are wise, wonderful, witty, and true. Thanks!

Moose said...

Nathan, I'm sorry for drinking so much. Could you please send me some money?

Renee Collins said...

Love, love, love this post, Nathan. Thanks so much!

I am totally a fan of this optimism week idea of yours. You rock!

TERI REES WANG said...

This is right up my alley of the "Be the tree you want to Be" ...
"Grounding" meditation I just posted.
We could all use a little toes rooted in the soil, and fingertips reaching high in the sky, ..to get us back in the swing of things. Feel free >
http://terireeswang.blogspot.com/

Karen said...

Fantastic commandments. We should all give them a try. Linking to pass on the good news.

Maripat said...

Wonderful. Thank you.

Marjory Bancroft said...

Nathan,

Thanks so much for the clarification. I'm now bemused.

You write: "Marjory-I've never said that people can't or shouldn't get help with their query, whether that's feedback from a support group or a paid service. I just want to hear from authors in their own words and don't believe authors should misrepresent their work."

In part I THINK you are distinguishing between ghostwritten vs. rewritten queries. Is that the case?

And if you are using a rewrite (as opposed to feedback from) a paid service, are you then supposed to announce that in the query? We can hardly, in a query, distinguish between sentences we wrote and sentences that a paid service wrote... So you're saying we cannot use said paid-for sentences without sacrificing our integrity? (I swear--beats her breast--that these are not rhetorical questions.)

Feeling befuddled.

Steve Fuller said...

Scott,

It's like we share a brain. If you're ever in Cincinnati, drop me a line and we'll share a pint or two.

Rowenna said...

Love it! And a nuance to #1--enjoy the fact that you can write! There are plenty of people who love to read and have beautiful ideas but aren't granted the gift of expressing them. When you think about it, the ability and desire to put words down on paper is pretty mind-boggling.
verification: chiestio. Is this the new Cheetos brand tortilla chip hybrid?

Anonymous said...

Like lots of other writers, I waste way too much time reading blogs that are often info-lite and unredeeming. Or even worse, downright nasty, leaving a sour aftertaste (agents who reveal what they really think of the punters, e.g.).

Thanks for writing this and redeeming my trip through blog-land today. If I ever teach another creative writing class, you will bet that the kiddos get a copy of this (with credit to you, of course).

lkmadigan said...

Why are you so awesome?

:-)

Lisa

Lady Glamis said...

Oh, wow, what an awesome post, Nathan! Thank you. :)

Damyanti said...

This is a great post. Linked to it from my blog, hoping to pass the good word.

Scott said...

Scott,

It's like we share a brain. If you're ever in Cincinnati, drop me a line and we'll share a pint or two.


Will do, Steve. And if you're in Jersey--southern part--give me a shout. In the meantime, I'm planning on getting our brain very drunk tonight so I'd be careful if you're planning on operating any heavy machinery.

Cheers!

Ellegant said...

I just came across your blog and am completely inspired. My day job is the furthest thing from writing, but words are where my heart lies, even if it never brings me money. These are a great reminder that writers start writing because they need to express themselves creativity. Somewhere along the line, however, some lose that passion.

I look forward to reading more of your blog.

Damiena said...

Fantastic post!

Kerry Gans said...

I love these 10 commandments!

I especially believe in not sacrificing friends or family. They ground you in the real world and--if they are like my friends and family--also provide a great deal of fodder to use in your books! Also, having lost people I love, I realize that I can live without a published book, but it is very hard to heal after losing a loved one.

I also advocate reaching out to other writers. My "serious" writing career didn't start until I met up with the vibrant writing community in the Doylestown, PA area. Being with others who share my passion, and learning from others farther along in their career and craft (and who generously share their knowledge), energizes me. I always leave workshops and meetings there eager to get back to my writing!

Great post - I am enjoying Positivity Week!

Kim Stagliano said...

Nathan, hurry up and become a Dad. You're going to be a damn good one.

Kim

Marwa Ayad said...

Your posts are always insightful, Nathan. Keep writing.

I have a question for you (and I would very much appreciate your answer). I'm now a published author, and I live outside the US, so is it easier now for me getting a literary agent for my current manuscript(s)? Just wondering.

Feel free to email me at: mail@marwaayad.com

Thanks again.

Susan Fine said...

Thanks so much for all these insights. I read an interview with Michael Chabon a few years back, and I try to keep in mind and apply to my own work what he said about writing. It went something like this, "Writing takes luck, discipline, and talent, and the only thing I can control is the discipline, so I try to be very disciplined." I really enjoyed hearing that from a writer who I think has lots of talent and yet is modest and wonderfully human and also made clear in that statement the work behind writing. I greatly appreciate your encouragement not to be jealous of others. I'm in a group (classof2k9.com) of debut middle grade and ya authors, and it's been a wonderful experience to collaborate, the 22 of us, on getting the word out about our books. Thanks so much for this post!

lettersfromlordship said...

Re No. 2 -- I just bet you'd sign up to rep Satan incarnate, if he queried you with his memoir!

Great commandments. Thanks.

Marc Vun Kannon said...

You realize, I hope, that number 3 and number 8 are sort of mutually exclusive. If they earned it, then there's an element of non-luck involved. If it's luck, then they didn't really earn it. Some success is just too big to believe that anyone could ever 'earn' it.

giddymomof6 said...

This is awesome! I run a blog for a group of mommy writers, do you mind if I post this on there, with credit to you of course? Jenni

Nathan Bransford said...

jenni-

Definitely. I just ask for a link back. I appreciate it!

giddymomof6 said...

Thanks! You're the best. There already is a link to you on the site, but I'll make sure it's in the post too. Jenni

C.L. Coons said...

BEST. POST. EVER!
Awesome, Nathan!

austere said...

Will try.

Anonymous said...

Dear Nathan,

I got very useful tips thru this. its a very informative blog.

there are certain things in life that we cant recognize and we have to be...

Thanks...keep writing for us...

Josephine Cameron said...

thank you! this is so refreshingly grounded.

DeborahB said...

It's going to take me awhile to chisel this onto the stone tablets.
Thanks.

giddymomof6 said...

Done.
http://mormonmommywriters.blogspot.com/
Thanks again, for the use of your article! You're awesome! Jenni

Edith said...

I'm a little late, but thanks for the great list, Nathan. I said a little Amen after each one. ;) Re: Asteroid comment, I'm also thinking you read Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Love that book.

Monica said...

Found this through Writer's Digest and glad I did. Was frustrated that I might have to go the agent route and have no clue where to even begin. This helped me relish in the milestones I've already encountered.

Thanks!

Mitali Perkins said...

Man, your parents did a good job. Pass on the praise.

Kae and Jon said...

Nathan:

Your positivity week is fabulous! And the Ten Commandments should be tattooed on every writer's forearm. Thanks!

Kae, KT Public Relations & Literary Services

Rachel Cotterill said...

I believe I'm a naturally happy writer. I write, I enjoy writing (if I wasn't writing I'd just spend that time reading!), and if I'm lucky I get paid. Sounds pretty good to me :)

David Macinnis Gill said...

Man, I needed to read that. Especially #1.

Boni Ashburn said...

I'm guessing that if I just got around to reading this post from March 5th in my blog reader and it's now March 31st that I'm probably in violation of a bunch of these Commandments, but I'm going to start out April with a new, fresh perspective thanks to this post. So thanks, Nathan, for reminding us of the things we forget :)

i love you said...

I needed to read this at this exact second. My work was blatantly copied twice this week and I was letting it affect me.

Thanks very much. It takes great awareness to write with such clarity.

Sharon

Janette said...

Whoops, only just found this but the timing is perfect anyway! Thanks Nathan, I'm hooked.

And re #8 - I LOVE it when sucky writing gets success, especially if the reason it sucks is poor structure, weak story, unclear narrative, boring characters or any of the other writing flaws.

That way, the little voice of paranoia in my head that says everyone in the world writes better than I is, for a time, silenced.

After all, if THAT got published, there is still hope for me! :-)

gillian said...

Thank you, Nathan.
This has been the worst day. My first time to your blog. I don't generally do blogs. This was truly a gift. Sometimes all one needs is simply a kind person to wave along the way.
Thank you for the wave.
Gillian

Kirsten Wallace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirsten Wallace said...

Sorry, I had a huge typo in the last comment.

I'm glad I found this today. It was exactly what I needed to read.
Thanks for the positive words, Nathan.

JustineHedman said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm glad to see that there's possitive influence at work here. I'm totally going to be hooked to your blogs you know... if only you were into fantasy. {sigh}

Justine

Trisha Lee said...

Nathan, do you have any idea what a gem your blog is - especially to an aspiring author, who has had no formal education in writing (double-majored in chemistry and mathematics in college), and did not speak English until she was fifteen years old? In case you did not know, IT IS! I have learned so much from your blog. Thank YOU!!

Ames Plaza said...

You just made my day. I was deeply afraid that I was turning into another Sylvia Plath at the age of nineteen, minus the gas stove incident.

Chris said...

Just found your blog today. I appreciate your candor and experience... so helpful. My name's Chris and it's nice to meet you.

Bobby Nash said...

This made my day, Nathan. Absolutely true on all counts.

Bobby

Anonymous said...

That is the best advice I have ever recieved as a writer. Thank you. And thank you for the prompt reply to my query this morning.

Best of wishes,

Jael

Donna said...

Nathan, you are the best!!!!!!

Hillary Hujanen said...

Thank you for this! I recently sent you a query (which you very immediately but politely rejected) and it's so easy to take these things personally, when really, a large amount of chance and lucks goes into the process of getting published. Having read other agents blogs as well as yours, yours is the one I check almost daily because you truly seem to care about writers as opposed to implying that they are a necessary evil.

Louise Curtis said...

*great sigh of delight*

Excellent positivity and perspective. I'm one of the 49% of mentally ill creative types out there (still JUST in a minority, though, which makes us special. . .).

Writing is a weird career with a lot of failure - but it's just so FUN I can't stop :)

want more fun?
follow my two month pirate story written just for twitter (preview post is there, but it doesn't start until August 1 2009):
http://twitter.com/Louise_Curtis_

Udayan Das said...

The strange things is that in a sense, writing, being a spiritual vocation (or at least it should be) should cause those conclusions to emerge naturally.

It seems that it has become fashionable to talk of the writing being a hateful business for a number of contemporary writers. It may be that this is true for some, but the whole bandwagon effect makes me suspicious. Writing is not easy, not by any means, but that and hating it is not the same thing. Among the many other reasons why one writes is a key reason and that is that one depends upon it. For happiness and for sanity. If it is so bad, why do it?

Of course none of what I say is meant to detract from your excellent post. Kudos.

kerry said...

this is fantastic - found via twitter. read number one and found myself laughing and nodding in agreement.

Anonymous said...

What a shameless load of butt kissers.

MJ Smith said...

Hello
I'm a new writer, and these commandments are something I will read often.

Thanks Mr. Bransford

MJ
http://mjsmithbooks.weebly.com/index.html

jenniferann27 said...

I do have coffee breath...

angelicajulia said...

"OMG an asteroid is going to crash into Earth and enshroud the planet in ten feet of ash? Keep writing. People will need something to read in the resulting permanent winter."
-- absolutely loved it :]

Thanks for this post. I've been having problems with remaining optimistic.

Jill H said...

Nathan, Thank you for the reality check.

D.M. SOLIS said...

Dear Nathan,

What can I possibly add? This is so good, I wish I'd said it.

Peace and continued good things for you.

Sincerely,
Diane

Marta said...

I've just visited your blog for the first time. Great commandments :)!

MG said...

Nathan, this is off topic: new format looks great, but I'm a bit dismayed to see there's no longer a search window for us to pull up posts about particular topics/key words... Any chance of changing that?

annie diamond said...

I agree that aspiring writers should reach out to other writers. Especially those who’ve written books they hated.

I read a book I didn’t like and I contacted the author to let him know and to also say that his tedious, philosophical novel actually inspired me to be a better writer in that it showed me how I should not write. He replied to say he was happy that at least his book was good for something. I thought it was nice of him to reply. But when I tried to reach out to him again he didn’t respond. Too bad. I knew there were a few things I could learn from him. I was even going to ask: when you receive negative comments like mine, do they make you want to reach through your computer and slap the persons who send them?

Clara Rose said...

Nathan, you make me laugh, thanks!

The writers profession is a solitary endeavor but it doesn't have to be lonely :) we are all in this boat together.

I LOVE positive people!

Kate said...

New to your blog, but finding all of the information tremendously helpful. The commandments are terrific!

Limari Colón said...

I decided to stop here as well, since I was already in the neighborhood.
Don't panic. I rarely wear hats and lost my sunglasses in Europe.

You are the person I choose to thank today.

I have heard/read many times over that publishing is a ruthless business.

Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge. Your posts are extremely enjoyable and helpful. Really helpful (If I knew HTML, "really" would be italicized).
You distinguish yourself from other agents, and I thought you should know. :)

Secret Love said...

Now this is why being a writer is so cool. Other people, mere mortals, are forbidden from lying, stealing, killing and committing adultery; all writers have to do is stuff like keeping up with publishing news, reaching out to fellow writers, and parking their jealousy at the door.

Despite this I still find that I have sinned. I quit the day job and neglect my friends and family - I moved to Thailand to write. I'm doing ok with 1 thru 3, 8,9, and 10, especially number 1.

I feel number 10, keep writing, needs amending to: keep writing on one project and do not start more than three other projects until you have finished at least one.

My curse seems to be pushing a rock up hill, once I overcome inertia and actually get it moving I spot another rock that desperately needs pushing to the summit, I switch rocks. Rock number one doesn't roll back down but it does lose all momentum. Once rock two is moving all of a sudden rock 3 appears far more pressing...

I find it very hard to understand writers who say they are stuck for inspiration. It's not that I wish I had less, I just wish I could impose some kind of order on it. Maybe a kind of idea traffic control system, where highly skilled individuals could keep ideas in a holding pattern until they can safely be handled, all the while keeping an eye on their fuel supply, ensuring they don't fall to the ground prematurely.

I have this fantasy that one day I will actually finish a book and I will enjoy the feeling so much, I will have this surge of directed energy, finishing all my other projects, amazing and astounding my agent and publisher not just with the quality of my work - they will already be in awe of my genius from reading my first completed piece - but with the sheer quantity of completed projects I am able to deliver...

But back to a reality. Time to go for a foot massage (one hour $4 inc tip) before settling down to my 6 hour writing day.

Enjoy your day jobs. I enjoy not having one even more now I know its against the rules.

Anonymous said...

About number 8, I often haterize people but I dont think its jealosy, but genuine disdane for some of the absoute rubish that finds its way inside my house via the aqueducts known as my wife and daughter. Twilight...GAG.

Doreen McGettigan said...

Very positive!! Except the asteroid part...I guess I better write faster!

Notanaturalmartyr said...

Hi, I self-publlshed through Amazon's print-on-demand program, learned a lot and discovered I could promote more than I'd thought. I ended up enjoying it and would do it again.
All it cost was the $39.95 that allowed me to price my book low and the cost of the books. I recouped all this from sales with minimal marketing. I still get unsolicited, overwhelmingly positive, feedback, to the point where I'm about to start looking for a traditional publisher.

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