Writing Advice and Feedback #3

“You could be writing…”

I find the type of advice and self-flagellation about doing things when “you could be writing” to be toxic and often, untrue. If you aren’t writing, could you really be?

If I feel like writing, I am unless there is something more important or pressing to be doing. That’s probably because writing is still fun for me. As yet, I haven’t imposed unfun things upon it like deadlines, my livelihood, or sense of self-worth. Okay, a little of my sense of self-worth hinges on writing. If I’m not writing and I could be, I’m probably editing because I do have to get pieces edited in order to submit them. Because I want to be read. But likely, I’m doing my day job that pays the bills, taking care of my home or family, or other obligations that currently rank higher in priority than writing. (There are those who feel like those things could all be writing time. For me and many, that way lies burnout and breakdown.)

I also might be reading, which often reading and writing time overlap for me. But reading, whether it’s reading short fiction or novels to refill my creative well and know what’s currently be published or to give feedback, is a key component to writing.  This last leads to two other pieces of advice I’ll address in a different post, ie reading makes you a better writer and critiquing other people’s work makes you a better writer. (Short version is, these are both true and good advice. The latter I wish I’d been given well before *checks notes* late Fall 2022.)

If I’m scrolling social media, likely I could be writing. But I don’t honestly do a lot of social media scrolling and much of it is writing groups or in some way writing related. And if I’m scrolling social media, I probably don’t have a large enough chunk of time to write.

So, yes, in general, stop using “you could be writing” against other writers and against yourself.

What kind of writer are you? What are your end goals of writing?

This is another piece of advice I wished had been given as outright advice instead of in a backhanded judgemental way during a workhop I took online one summer. And I’m going to bring this up again in another blog post.

​When I ask, what kind of writer are you, I don’t mean what genre, form (short or long), style (discovery or outliner), I’m asking about your end goals. Do you write for yourself? Do you write for your friends to read? Do you write and go through the arduous process of getting feedback and improving? Do you write to improve your writing (and all the attendant requirements for improving)? Do you write because you want to be Published some day and get paid? Do you write because you want to be Published some day and don’t care about pay? 

Answering these questions will lead to the answer of what type of writer you are. People who earn all their income from writing, and professional speaking about writing, are considered Professional Writers. They classify anybody who isn’t making the entirety of their income from writing who writes as Hobbyist Writers. I implore you not to google those two for definitions unless you want to read a whole bunch of blog posts full of self-important judgement about who is and is not, essentially, a “real” writer. 

Reality check: most fiction writers cannot become Professional Writers if the term is defined as making all your money from writing. For example, I am a highly educated, specialized scientist and I earn an income one might expect for someone with a PhD who is an expert in their field. In order for writing to supplant that income, I need to win the lottery (and in this day and age, it is a lottery) of becoming a massive bestseller via traditional pub or put in the additional time and work for self-pub. But in either case, the people who get to that point have often taken years to get there. Many have support means outside of writing, either a partner or family of some sort. Strangely enough, I spent a lot of time and effort to become the scientist that I am. I love writing. But I already made the sacrifices to become a scientist. I don’t have the option to repeat those same sacrifices to become a Professional Writer where 100% of my income comes from writing. I’d have to time travel and make different decisions in my life to fit the definition of Professional Writer. Or I’d have to win the actual lottery to put in the years to make the entirety of my income writing. And if I won that lottery, does that preclude the definition of being a professional writer?

A Hobbyist Writer will generally write for the enjoyment of it, share with friends and readers through direct means, and likely not make any money or earn a pittance from it.

This is where I believe there is a middle ground type of writer. A writer who puts in the hours 20 or more a week, which is equivalent to a part-time job or more, with a goal of getting read by many people through indirect means and strives for pay at a professional rate (either by getting published at, for example, SFWA pro-rate paying markets for short-form genre or by getting a novel traditionally published or via a self-publishing strategy.) This writer improves their story-telling and craft through reading subject matter books, attending workshops, and reading critically. But they aren’t going to quit a day job, or can’t.

Knowing what your goals are leads into the next question.

What are you doing with your time?

I just listed above generally what I’m doing in those time periods I’ve been told “you could be writing” and my response is No, I could not. But, more, it’s important to understand what “counts” as writing and what doesn’t.

I’m not going to define that for you. I’ve got my list of what counts and doesn’t count for me.

But there are writing-adjacent items that probably don’t count as writing. These would be the business end of writing if you happen to be one of the people who want to get paid for their fiction writing. This is the querying and submissions portion of the process. I do not count sending query letters or submissions to short markets as writing. Emails and communication with agents and publishers don’t count as writing. Networking and attending conferences, much as I love it and would love for it to, don’t count as actual writing for me.

When I spend 3-hours in an online workshop or 3 days at an in-person writing conference, these don’t count as writing even though the goal is that my writing will be improved by learning the skills presented in those workshops and at those conferences. That’s possibly time I “could be writing.” 

Irony, the time I’ve spent writing this blog, I’m physically writing. But, it doesn’t count as writing. It counts as the business of writing for me.

Funnily enough, the more successful you are, the more time the non-writing business of writing will take up. Time you “could be writing.” But if you don’t do those things, it won’t matter if you’re writing, you aren’t commiting enough time to that other end of getting paid for writing.

My advice, decide what kind of writer you are and set aside your writing time and a distinct and different business of writing time.

And don’t get burned out on “you could be writing…”

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