Writing My Novel: Becoming a Real Writer and Why the Internet Says I Can’t

Every now and again, the writing bug bites me.

Light Pen Writer Not the variety where I publish 7+ blogs in a week or the kind where I go on a mad dash and get my blog stockpile up enough to last me through Christmas or the kind where I sit up all night trying to get that one, fleeting idea on paper and working out its intricacies.

No, the kind that bites me is the kind where I realize that my life-long dream to be a published author is slowly (but surely) passing me by because I have no finished manuscripts.  None.  Nada.  Zilch. I don’t even have enough themed short stories to put together a chapbook, much less a collection.

And this time, that bug was probably fueled by the NaNoWriMo competition and Syp and other bloggers’ posts about their NaNo experiences. My getting married at the end of October and being in the middle of a very hectic time-and-a-half working semester kind of put a damper on any attempt I might make at crossing the 50k finish line in November.

So here I sit, writing, but still feeling slightly unsatisfied because it’s a blog and not a piece of fiction.  I love writing fiction and a few people (not even family and friends!) have said I’m kind of all right at it.  But I never do it because the Internet tells me I can’t.

Inkwell While I’m  not necessarily callow, I take it to heart (whether I should or not) when I read an overwhelming amount of blogs and articles from authors and agents discussing how only the tiniest fraction of wannabe authors get published, much less make any money at it.  To me, that’s the Internet giving me a big ole “don’t even try, buddy.”  Because after all, these are the professionals telling me this.

I shouldn’t listen because there’s no reason in the world that hacks like Stephenie Meyer can make it and I cannot.  Unfortunately, the reality of it is that they’re right.  Agents get hundreds of poorly written queries a day and slush them all.  Publishers and editors turn down well-written, unique stories every day.  Authors struggle to be the Next Big Thing and get looked over because they’re too far out of what’s “in” to sell.  The publishing world is hard and unforgiving, and I’m pretty idealistic and naive.

Sometimes I wonder why such authors and agents write and put out that kind of article.  Is it really to inform us wannabes of the perils and rules of a game we’re not yet versed in?  Maybe.  I can see how people like Christine Rose legitimately want to help fledgling authors get off the ground. She did it the hard way and learned a few lessons.  I’m still put off by how rough she makes the industry sound, but at least the information’s there.

On the other hand, I look at agents like Miss Snark, who ran a very successful “this is the way not to get published” blog for a very long time, and wonder if their motives aren’t a bitTypewriter more subversive.  Are they really trying to inform wannabes of the world that awaits them?  I don’t think so.  I think this is more of a “weeding out the chaff” maneuver.

I think that Miss Snark and the likeminded agents and authors who put out discouraging statements do it for that reason: because they’re discouraging.  They have to deal with a lot of crap every day and the best way to keep the worst of it away is to make them feel inadequate and not worth submitting in the first place.  The more people Miss Snark reaches, the more who are ultimately put off by the harsh realities she presents.  Only the strong will persist and query.  It’s like Darwinism for literary agents.

So now I’m at a crossroads.  I’m easily put off when I’m made to feel inadequate, which is what the Internet does.  On one hand, I know I’m a good writer.  I have the degrees, presentations, and job to prove it.  On the other hand, I wonder if all the hard work and energy I would put into a novel or collection of shorts is worth it if the end result never rises past a slush pile.

I know that seeing my name in print and on the bookstore shelf next to Stephen King (which would likely happen thanks to serendipitous alphabetical similarities) would be the single greatest professional accomplishment I could have.  Because of that, I will trudge on.

If nothing else, I do one thing well.  I write.  I know I’m good at it.  And if you’re reading this, I’m writergoing to wager you think I’m at least passable at it.  And that’s good enough for me.

Even though the Internet says my chances of ever having my life-long dream come true are slim to none, I have to try.  I have to.  I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t at least give it a shot.  I may never make it big, but I get bitten by this bug once too often to ignore it much longer.

Yeah, the Internet says the odds are against me.  So what?  Even if most authors never get to bring home a paycheck solely from their writing, that’s okay.  As much as I want to be a full-time author and writer, I understand the practical limitations of that dream.  While it might happen eventually (let’s remain optimistic), there has to be a novel first (or is that a first novel?).

And that’s my current problem.  I get bogged down by the might-nots and the snarky anecdotes that I freeze in my tracks and forget that I just might have something unique that someone else wants to read.  And I won’t ever find that out if I don’t sit my ass in a chair and just write my stories.

My goal, then, is to have a drafted manuscript finished (or at least close to it) by the end of 2010, which gives me plenty of time to work on other Writer and Book projects and, well, pay the bills.  In that goal, however, lies my next problem: I have three ideas I think are equally workable, two of which already have 10k words or so drafted.  I have to decide between them and that’s going to be difficult, as they are as different as night and day: Young Adult SF vs. mainstream paranormal horror vs. a post-apocalyptic SF/horror short story collection. Yeah, it’s genre, but I think I know how to add some bite to it.

I feel better now.  I really do.  I now return you to your regularly scheduled pop culture infused ramblings.


By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. This is the trouble with needing to make a living. If I didn’t have to worry about how to pay the bills, you can be sure I’d be writing and making more art. I have novel and picture book ideas that I’d like to see realized, even if I have to self-publish, but money is always a limiting factor, especially since I like having a roof over my family’s head.

    So, in the meantime, I have a “real job”, and work on stuff I actually *want* to do in what few minutes of spare time I get. I think that’s about all you can do, but if you’re having fun working on your dreams, while still keeping enough grounding in reality to keep your family safe, it’s a nice medium.
    .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Allod of Pictures =-.

      1. Me, too, Gordon. Me, too.

        And Tesh, I understand that. I have my “real job” and I love it. I do my blog in my spare time and keep up with what I can of the blogosphere during my even freer time.

        I’m wary of self-publishing, though. Once I get something workable, I’m going to try working for the publisher route, even if it’s a small publisher. There’s something a little elitist and pretentious about me that keeps me from self-publishing. Or maybe it’s idealism–I want to reach people with my writing and self/vanity publishing limits that a bit.

  2. (insert obligatory “long time reader, first time poster; love, love, love your stuff” here)

    Your post spoke right to my heart. I want to say thank you for sharing your thoughts and also to say that you are not alone.

    I too was excited about NaNoWriMo this year but due to real life circumstances could not participate. I’m feeling a little post-Nano angst as I read about all of my e-friends and their relief that it’s all over. I have a touch of OCD and so when I made the decision that I wanted to embark on the journey to a career in writing, I did what any self respecting ocd-phile would do, I made lists, lots of them, and scoured the web for resources to help me along the way. I wanted to make sure that the decision to fulfill my life’s ambition would be smooth and that I would be as informed as possible prior to getting started down that path.

    Sadly, about a year later, I have neither been published nor have I even started work on any of my many awesome (in my mind’s eye at least) ideas for novels. I am bombarded on a daily basis by negativity from all angles; writers worried about the future of publishing, agents scaring the crap out of people in an attempt to “tell it how it is”, publishers fighting amongst themselves, etc. It’s disconcerting and makes a person hesitate to enter into a profession when every corner is wrought with distrust and self-doubt.

    I realize that in the end it’s my own personal mental roadblocks that are keeping me from writing but at the same time I think some of the blame comes from those already in the business who are not setting the right example for newcomers. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of resources for new writers but when compared, I feel there are just way too many negative resources that over-shadow the positive ones. 2010 will be my year to buckle down and set more definite goals for myself but I’m going to start weeding out a lot of “helpful” blogs and filter a little more optimism into my rss reader in order to do so.

    (wall of text crits you for over 9,000! my bad)

    1. Glad to see you finally decided to comment, Tayluca. Hope you continue to do so. 🙂 (I love walls of text, so no worries, if you haven’t noticed yet.)

      The “tell it how it is” articles bother me, too. They dissuade me not because I think I’m not good enough, but because they make me feel as though I’m not even wanted. It’s the “cool kids table” syndrome. The distrust and self-doubt are the biggest inhibitors for me, though I’m going to make myself a goal that I’ll work through those.

      I’m doing the same thing. Over December, my RSS reader is going to be getting a little pruning done and the Negative Nancies are going away, while the legitimately useful ones will find new friends to hang out with in Google Reader.

  3. Yes, the financial obstacle of trying to get published is the biggest problem. Frankly, I don’t think you’re right not giving it a try at all, but I think the motivation is not to get published.

    I’ve found that the best writers (and it’s cliche) write for themselves first and foremost. So many people as the years go by (in trying to pursue their dream) get stuck on the business model and selling. Thus, art becomes like any other form of vocation. The best scrips I’ve written have been for myself, to please myself first, then to polish and save for my portfolio.

    I can tell you enjoy writing, but don’t get bogged down in the success story, but the happiness story. Write something that will make you satisfied first; chances are that piece of work will be one that you can FINISH since it’s in the right spirits. Then, and only then, will the next step take place.

    I think I will post an entry on this matter to share your feelings. It’s not uncommon and I fully empathize.
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..Desperate Housewives 6×09 ‘Would I Think of Suicide?’ =-.

    1. This is also why you generally *don’t* want to take your first love and make it your career. Working for money, making your hobby a vocation, has a way of sullying both.
      .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Allod of Pictures =-.

    2. I gotta do my day job, I know. And I teach the whole “write for yourself first” thing to my students, but taking my own advice is a little hard. Namely because I’m so eclectic and get on “kicks” where I like all of one thing and then move into another phase where I solely enjoy something else. It’s hard to stay motivated like that sometimes.

      It is good advice, though, Robert. Writing something I’d want to read. It doesn’t help, though, that the two novels I’ve started are both things I’d love to read from other authors. Doh!

  4. This post came in a right time for ME, and really made me think. (So much I might blog about it; there’s no need for a 300+ word comment here).

    I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I know the feeling. I am in a similar position right now; I want to write (and I have a specific story to tell), but sometimes obstacles seem too frightening.

    There are all those scary thoughts. Finding an agent. Making your novel marketable. (See, I have no idea if people would be interested in the story I want to tell). Plus, it could be labeled, I guess, as “edgy young adult”. How edgy is “too edgy” for publishers? And last, but certainly not the least- the language. My English is bad; good for an ordinary communication, but not good enough for writing. Which means I have to have my novel translated to English in order to publish it. Etc, etc.

    But at the end of the day, only one thing matters, and that’s the “writing bug”.

    I need to write. There’s something in me… It makes me want to write, or at least, to tell stories. And here they are, in my head, sitting and waiting. And I know I can’t keep them waiting for much longer.

    A writer must write. Yes, the idea of rejection sounds frightening. But the writing bugs are stronger.

    Back to your ideas… I guess you’re not asking for our opinion on them, but I must say I find anything post-apocalyptic really interesting. But then again, I enjoy novels more, so maybe I’d love to read a young adult SF or mainstream horror first. In any case, I find your blog amazing, and I love your style (the way you present your ideas), so I’d love to read a book written by you.

    1. I guess you need the same advice I keep getting: just write it. If my Twilight week was any example, there needs to be some good competition out there for the YA market. I, for one, would love to see some “edgy” YA fiction that doesn’t involve vampires and werewolves and eternal love. Because that’s not edgy.

      1. Did you ever read Sabriel? It’s not “edgy” in the sense of “flirting with disaster”, but it (as well as other Garth Nix books) isn’t the standard tripe that you see for youth.
        .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Allod of Pictures =-.

  5. I’d love to make a living out of writing too although I’d be just as happy writing for a magazine as I would writing a novel (maybe even prefer it). I know you’re struggle – I’ve started writing several books in my time but never finished any of them and it was a real shame. I still have that urge inside of me and just wish I had the time and tenacity to get it done.

    But that’s what it boils down to – tenacity. I have a couple of actor friends and they face a very similar situation to authors. Everyone wants to be an actor but the chances of it happening are very, very slim.

    And the thing that sucks the most? Usually “being discovered” just boils down to pure luck, nothing else. I guess the only thing we do is keep plugging away, never give up, and try to make our own luck 🙂
    .-= We Fly Spitfires´s last blog ..The Urge To Return To EVE Online =-.

    1. Gordon, I’ll tell you like I told Syp: write that book and get me a copy of it. I really want to read it.

      I worry about tenacity, too. I’m good for about 5-10k words at a spurt and then I peter out and give up. Because of the “tell it like it is” bloggers mentioned above. I always start to feel inadequate, even though I often read a novel and think “I could do this, and I could probably do this a little better.” Not with every novel, but there are so many mediocre ones out there I //know// I’d do better than.

      But I never stick with it. I should, though. And so should you.

      Getting a successful blog with faithful readers just seems a perfect place to, if nothing else, put out an eBook and start marketing ourselves as authors. Though it does make me worry since that’s a form of self-publishing and I’m generally against that.

  6. If you have a great passion for writing, I will say “Go on with your writing without thinking about the results”. Nobody can stop your creativity. If you are confident enough, which I feel you are after reading this post, why are you thinking from the context of failures of others?
    .-= John Samuel ´s last blog ..Twitter lists: Public or private? =-.

    1. I am confident enough; that’s true. The reason I think within the context of the failure of others (a phrase for which I really must commend you!) is because it’s shoved down my throat by those inside the publishing industry who actually take the time to share their insights. Negativity is the rule for most of them, and the optimistic blogs and articles and stories get lost in the shuffle.

      I’m terribly easily influenced when it comes to taking huge steps, and given that I’ve yet to have the tenacity to stick with a single novel long enough to finish it, the “you’ll probably never make it anyway” writers tend to cloud my judgement. Even though I know they shouldn’t.

      But you’re right. Nothing can stop our creativity. I’ve set my goal now, and I plan on sticking with it.

  7. Beej, writing a book is a Heroic Journey. Your book is a Boon, an Elixir of Immortality. To retrieve it from the Special Place you’ll have to go on a Quest. Right now you’re letting yourself get blocked by the Guardians. You haven’t even Crossed the Threshold, and you’re already thinking about the Return phase, of Mastering Two Worlds.

    What story is Calling you to Adventure? Can you hear it? Can you feel it pounding at the walls of your heart, begging to come out, more painful than swallowing a starless sky? That’s the story you must write. You can’t refuse the Call without living in misery, so you must write it. To write it, you have to be prepared to die for it, because you will be irrevocably changed by plumbing those depths. Like Charlie in the Looking Glass.

    Well, that’s how it was for me. I didn’t write a book because I wanted to, but I because I *had* to.
    .-= jane´s last blog ..Briar Rose Learns to Read =-.

    1. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond, Jane.

      But that’s the way I feel. I have studied archetypal theory for a while in school, and in a way writing a novel is like the call to action, the beginning of the monomyth. It’s one of those things that does eat away at me inside. Even when I’m doing other things, I feel the need/urge to be writing. I suppose that’s a good thing.

      You wrote a book? Published anywhere?

  8. “And I won’t ever find that out if I don’t sit my ass in a chair and just write my stories.”

    Great, heartfelt post. I think the line above is key. Unless you try, how can you win? The cost is time, and chunks of your heart for sure, but you have to win.

    I just wrote something similar–trying to map out my psychological mapping of my desire to write. Best of luck to you.
    .-= JT´s last blog ..Why I can’t stop writing. =-.

    1. It is a cost of time, and in the last few days, I’ve written about 4k words on my novel. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. I finally broke the 10k mark, too. I started with 8k, deleted 2k and reworked the intro plot, and then plowed my way into where I can start the meat of the novel.

      And all because I just sat my ass in a chair and wrote my story. 🙂

  9. My dream is to become a published writer. I can’t get anyone to look at my work and yet I have some things that I think would make good romantic films.

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