When to go full-time writing? (Answer: Get yourself a plan.)

Quick note: I started writing this blog post last week, and then this week exploded on me, like even today. So rather than shoehorn everything into this post, just follow me on Twitter and you’ll get more up to date stuff that happens to me.

Or continue to follow me here…looks like I’m gonna have to start updating the blog more.

Also, if you look over to the right, you’ll see a new button called “Buy me a coffee!” I do talk about that in the post below, so read on, 🙂


A couple of weeks ago, the SFF community was going off on this article about a writer who had gotten a huge advance on her trilogy, quit her job, moved to New York, then was startled when her advances for subsequent books shrunk, which meant cranking out more books, and why hadn’t anyone told her something like this would happen? 

I don’t have time to dive too much into it, and anyway, other writers broke the post down better than I could

But I wanted to zero in on what happened when this writer received her first, then her second advance, because I’m pretty sure that, had if I sold my novel series and had gotten the same advances like that, I would’ve done the same thing. Not so much move to New York, or buy $15 drinks (I usually don’t do drinks at cons all that much anymore, and sorry NY, but I’m a south side Chicagoan through and thorugh), but quit my job? Absolutely. That’s the dream of all of us writers, right? That once we hit the big-time, we can say bye-bye to that nastything dayjob.  That’s why I got so excited when I finished my novel earlier this year. I was getting closer to reaching my dream. That’s means that one day, I could quit the dayjob and making this a full-time gig, right?  

But then, I started talking to my writer friends who have books out and are way more experienced in these matters than I am.  A whole lot of them told me the same thing: don’t quit the dayjob unless you have a plan. 

I also follow a lot of writers who write about the struggle of balancing writing with dayjobs, and post their yearly writing incomes to show what they’ve earned, because if there’s one thing we writers love to do, it’s talking about whether or not you should go full-time. And basically, what I got from those conversations were don’t quit the dayjob unless you have a plan.

And then, well, there was this article which talks about the decline in authors’ earnings, or even if I search “reality of becoming a full-time writer” in Google. Even the ones who are gung-ho about it say the same freakin thing: DON’T QUIT THE DAYJOB UNLESS YOU HAVE A PLAN HOLY COW IT’S ALL RIGHT THERE ALL SHE HAD TO DO WAS GOOGLE BECOMING A FULL TIME WRITER HOW COULD SHE NOT KNOW IT’S ALL RIGHT THERE AUUUGHHHHHH

Er, hm. 

It looks discouraging, true. It got me to wondering: is it even possible to make a living from writing? After talking to my friends and doing some research, the answer I came up with is: well, it depends.

Different writers have different ways to get income. For most, it involves having a dayjob. For others, it means freelancing. For even others, they have saved enough money to live on while they write, then do contract or freelance work when times are slim. There are several writers I know who do all three. There are some who do, like some who publish independently, but they have a whole lot of books under their belt and are constantly hustling to get their name out there. And then there are some full-time writers who had to go back to work due to circumstances that was no fault of their own. Being a full-time writer doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll stay a full-time writer. 

The point is, there are a lot of writers who do make a living from writing. But no one I knew was getting money from just fiction. They had learned to diversify their income streams. Some from teaching and doing speaking events. Some got their money from freelancing. Others got theirs from dayjobs. Which got me to thinking–what’s wrong with having a dayjob? What exactly am I thinking of when I say I want to be a full-time writer? 

So the real question I should be asking is not should I quit the dayjob, but am I ready to step into freelance writing full-time?

At this point, no. I haven’t sold a novel yet. I know that at this point in my life, I’m not making anything off my writing that I can quit the dayjob. I sold a couple of stories and a bunch of articles last year that netted me a whopping thousand bucks. Which…actually, is pretty darn good for someone who has a full-time job. But it’s not paying bills right now, nor does it account for other things like benefits or retirement. I still need the dayjob for that.

But it gives me a goal to work towards now. I can start planning on how to do that. I can make a business plan (shout out to Monica Valentinelli for talking to me about that). It means researching on what it meant to be a freelancer. Joining freelancing groups. Even taking a business class.  I’m blessed in that I have a partner who also works full-time and my kid is old enough that he does homework while I do writing. But we’ll have to do a lot of planning if I decide to move into full-time freelance.

And maybe that won’t happen. Maybe I’ll find that sweet spot of balancing the dayjob with the freelance job. The trick is finding the right dayjob. I actually really like the dayjob I have now–it gives me the change to move around, which is helpful for me for putting writing brainstorming on the backburner. But my ideal dayjob would be something that is flexible, even have some benefits like retirement and time off pay, and allows me to work from home.

One big thing I’m doing to generate more income is that I finally decided to create a Ko-fi account. I’m not at the point where I can generate content on a consistent schedule, but if you like what I do and if you want to support me in my writing, you can buy me a coffee! It’s not much (and I’m actually a more tea person except I’ve really gotten hooked on Nitro Coffee which is amaaaaaaaaaaazing), but it’s something, and it’s set that if I do find a way to offer content monthly, I can go the subscriber route if I want to. 

Also, I got an agent! I’m now being represented by Kristopher O’Higgins at the Scribe Agency. Looking forward to working with him to get my novel out to publishers.

So, as you can see, I got a plan. We’ll see if it works.

Last week, a woman who was attending a meeting in our building came to me and said, “By the way, I came across your website. Your stories are amazing. Why aren’t you doing this full-time.”

I could’ve just said everything I just wrote above, but what came out was, “I’m…working on it?”

She said, “I’m going to pray that you do.”

Well, alrighty.

LaShawn’s GenCon Schedule, and surprise—I’m the new editor of GigaNotoSaurus

So, let’s get the big news out the way. Remember when I made this tweet? Well, the title says it all—I’ve taken over editorial duties for the magazine GigaNotoSaurus. For those of you who don’t know, this is an online magazine who publishes one story a month, bigger than a short story, smaller than a novel. The last time I did editorial duties was back when I was an Associate Editor at PodCastle. Feels nice to dip my toes in these waters again.

That said, there’s a lot of backlogged stories for me to go through. If you submitted and you’re still waiting, please bear with me. It’s been a while since I read stories for publication. I’ll start cracking on those, starting with the oldest.

In the meantime, I’m going to be heading to GenCon this week and will be on panels at the Writer’s Symposium. Here’s my panel schedule, and feel free to come by and say hi!

Thursday, August 1

Writing About Places You Never Visited

10:00 AM-11:00 AM, Marriott Bllrm 1
How do you understand the vibe of a place well enough to translate it to your readers if you’ve never been there? Lucy A. Snyder, LaShawn Wanak, Seth Skorkowsky, and Corry Lee tell you how.

Work for Hire Writing: What Is It? How Is It Different?

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Marriott Bllrm 2
One way to make it as a writer is to have multiple income streams, and that could mean writing fiction for hire. LaShawn Wanak, James Lowder, Joseph Carriker, Jr., and John Helfers discuss this work.

Friday, August 2

Scrivener Demystified

10:00 AM-11:00 AM, Marriott Bllrm 4
So you’ve decided to ditch the notebook or Word to give this whole Scrivener program a whirl. Can this program make your process better? Come learn from LaShawn Wanak, A. E. Greenwood, and more

Capturing the Creepy: Getting the Details Right

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Marriott Bllrm 1
Horror and suspense writers want to captivate their readers without grossing them out, or worse, boring them. Lucy Snyder, Richard Byers, and others discuss how much detail is necessary.

When Characters Grieve: The Line Between Feelings and Melodrama

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Austin/Boston
LaShawn Wanak, Carol Berg, Devon Monk, and Jerry Gordon discuss how to show character grief without making readers roll their eyes.

A story a week? Maybe it’s time to look into Patreon

When I was in third grade, I used to make up stories from spelling lists. Granted, the stories made no sense; but it didn’t matter. It was a great way for me to learn how to spell and how to figure out the meanings for words, and to have fun doing it. I didn’t know it at the time, but that little game was preparing me for writing fiction.

Back when I was starting to write professionally, I used to do what I called “Happy Fun Freewrites”. It was similar to the morning pages concept Julia Cameron practices in her book The Artist’s Way, where you write three pages a day about anything. In my case, I found a writing prompt and then wrote about it for 15 minutes. They weren’t meant to be published, just something for my enjoyment, but every once in a while, one of them was reworked into an actual story. (My short story “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” came out of a Happy Fun Freewrite.) It was a way to practice craft techniques. It was a way to get my morning pages in. But then I became full-time at work, and the little time I had leftover for writing was directed towards the novel or major writing projects. So I ditched the Happy Fun Freewrites because I just didn’t have the time.

Now that my time is more open again, I don’t know what to do with myself. It feels a little scary knowing that I can basically write anything I want. So rather than being frozen on figuring out what to do next, I’m going back to my roots. I’m bringing back the daily Happy Fun Freewrites. I miss that element of play and joy and discovery. And, to be really honest, it’s been a long, long, looooong time since I wrote short fiction. When I was just focusing on the novel or the novelette, I would get story ideas, and I would write them down, but I didn’t have the time or the energy to dwell on them. And over time, those ideas grew less and less, although they didn’t vanish completely.

When I was doing a bunch of organization a couple of weeks ago, I came across all my old Happy Fun Freewrites, and was surprised at just how many I wrote. It was heartening, but also scary, because it showed me that I used to do it all the time. Do I have it in me to write those again? Can I write like that again?

I decided to do a trial run this week and do the writing exercises in Ursula K Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft. I kept the exercises short. 350 words. Easy peasy. what’s 350 words? A few paragraphs. Not even a full page. On the last exercise, I wrote 600 words. Mainly because I had become engrossed and wanted to see what happened next.

Ah. Now it’s coming back to me. The joy and fun of writing.

But you know what…I think I need to bring some more incentive to it. Something that will hold me accountable. So I’m going to look into doing a Patreon or some other income generation. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do forever. I just never had the mental space to look into it…until now. It will get me back into writing fiction on a daily basis. It will help me improve my craft. And finally, it will give you, my readers, a chance to get more stories from me. 🙂

(…which is something else I’m dealing with. People actually do want to pay to read my stuff. It’s thrilling and terrifying and well, that’s the whole job of being a writer, isn’t it? So that’s the real reason why I’m doing this. It will help me improve, which gets better stories to you, which gives me a little income so I can find ways to improve more…and so forth.)

I’m still working out details and gathering information on how I want to do this. For instance, I want to offer other things besides stories: writing tips, faith thoughts, etc. And I need to figure out what type of stories I want to offer and the frequency. If I did flash stories, I can definitely churn out something every week, a la Ray Bradbury’s challenge, but a longer story will take a little more time. And I still want to send out stories to markets, so there’s that to consider. For any of you writers out there who use Patreon, or another income generating service, advice would be appreciated!

And, of course, all of this will have to wait until I get the novel out on submission, which is my biggest priority right now. So let me work on getting that out in the next couple of weeks, and then…well, stay tuned to see what happens next!

Next steps and a friendly writing PSA

It’s been almost three weeks since I have finished the final edit of Weeping of the Willows. Since then, I haven’t played as many video games I wanted, but I did go down to Indy to attend Mo*Con. And if you’ve been on my FB, you’ve been seeing other ways I’ve been celebrating.

I’m now sitting down and looking at what I need to do to send this novel out. One of the first things I realized was that aside from get my novel out now now NOW, I had no clue where to start, how to do it, when to do it, or what I would be doing while the novel was on submission.

What I needed was to become organized. I needed direction.

I needed a submission tracking system.

Before I went full-time, I used to keep track of all my short story submissions in Outlook. It had been super useful. But then my job became more intense and my short story output sank so low so that I was only able to work on the novel and the occasional short story and novella novelette. Those I were able to keep track through Gmail, Submission Grinder and Habitica.

Now that I’m in my new position at work, I bring my laptop with me for writing, which means I don’t need to work across scattered apps. I also have more time to dedicate towards writing, and I have the headspace to actually plan things. With the novel being done, I need a new record management program, something more robust to keep track of queries and deadlines, and also help me get back into practice of writing and submitting short stories, as well as help me to brainstorm the next large writing project I have.

So I’ve decided to resurrect Outlook. Truth be told, I’ve always had it on my laptop for work related things, but I hadn’t opened my personal PST file since 2014. Initial impressions:

  1. I had a running list of over thirty short stories I had started but never finished. That startled me, because I don’t remember being that prolific in my writing. It’s a nice surprise, and it tells me that I can be that way again.
  2. It was also nice to see that I kept notes on the revisions of the novel. Granted the notes go back to 2014, but still that’s five years that I have been working on the final draft of my novel. It’s nice to have a record of that history.
  3. I’ve completely forgotten how much I changed Outlook to make it work for my needs. I made my own task forms, I created my own custom fields, I created my own views so that I can one click of a button, I could show which stories were being worked on, which stories I decided to trunk, which stories were rejected and needed to be sent out again, and which stories had been accepted. I was an Outlook wizard. Seeing that made me feel good….

…until Outlook saw that I had opened an old folder and rather than wait until I moved the old data to the new folder, it instead updated the folder and in doing so, wiped out all the tracking information and submission notes for every story that I’ve ever done, including the novel notes.

anime-freak-out-gif-8

Okay, so now here’s your friendly writing PSA reminding you that backups are more for just stories. If you use any project management or tracking software, be sure to back those up as well. So after I picked my beating heart off the floor, I turned off Outlook sync, went to my backup, restored the old files, moved them to the proper new folder, turned the sync back on, and now everything is backed up and fine again.

OH DEAR GOD FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY PLEASE BACK UP YOUR SOFTWARE I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH REALLY I MEAN IT BACK UP YOUR SOFTWARE BACK UP YOUR FRICKEN SOFTWARE GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

So Outlook’s up and running, and according to my novel’s task list, the next step is for me to start researching and compiling a list of editors and agents. How will I do it?

Uhhhh…that would be the next post. Although suggestions would be appreciated (hint hint)

Willow Update: THE LAST ONE (unless it gets picked up)

It’s done.

The final revision of my novel is done.

I’m all done.

I started writing this in 1994. On April 28, 2019, I completed the final revision of the novel. During that time, I wrote, rewrote, tossed out, threw away the novel entirely. Started over. Revised. Finished. Threw it out again. Started over one last time, revised, went through hell, came back, and now it’s done. It came out to 140K, which is a little more than I wanted (I was shooting for 120K), but overall, I’m pleased with the word count.

Second book should be easier now, right? Right? Hello??

Part of me is freaking out and going oh-no-i’m-done-what-do-i-do-now and running around in circles. But the writer me, the short story me, the one who has sent out hundreds of submissions and racked up sales, is grabbing the panicking me and saying, “Stop. You already know the next step. It’s okay. Take a deep breath, do some celebrating, and then, do the thing.”

So I’m taking a week or so off to recuperate. Clean my house. Play some video games. And then there’s some things I need to do:

  • I still need to format my novel, which means compiling it from Scrivener into Word, then spell check and format it.
  • It’s finally, finally time for me to start researching agents.
  • I need to put together a list of said agents. I also have a couple of publishing houses I plan to submit to outright, but it’ll be good for me to look for an agent who can negotiate well.
  • I have to put my synopsis together, which will also include doing one for the whole series. And yes, Weeping of the Willows is the first book in a series (I was hoping a trilogy but I had to split this book in two in the initial draft, so at the least, it’s a 4-book series).
  • Then, the query letter.
  • And lastly, start submitting my book!

I don’t know how long it will take. I don’t know if it will get picked up by a publisher. I don’t know if I’ll run out of options and publish it myself. I don’t even know if I just shrug and say, “well, it was a good learning experience,” and I just never make it public.

But I can honestly say I wrote and finish a novel. That’s a huge thing to celebrate in itself. For all of you who had stuck with me this long, thanks!

In the meantime, I can finally, finally, start considering my next project. Stay tuned!

LaShawn’s ConFusion 2019 Schedule

As Monica Valentinelli announced on Twitter, yes, I’ll be attending ConFusion 2019 for the very first time! When I’m not wandering around in a daze taking everything in, you’ll find me on these panels:

Project Management Software In Publishing
Friday, 3:00pm Ontario

Taking a title from manuscript (or idea) to the finished product requires more than an editor who polishes and enhances the story. Distributing the correct information to various channels can become cumbersome when relying on classic spreadsheet styles. Project management tools are plentiful in the market from custom software to free online organizers. How can strategies in project management help create a smoother product?

Panelists: Pablo Defendini (M), Geralyn Lance, LaShawn M. Wanak, Chris Bell, Natalie Luhrs

Wakanda and The Political Power Of Alternate Presents
Saturday, 11:00am Ontario

While The Princess Bride and Black Panther both feature fictional countries, Black Panther uses its alternate history to challenge common narratives about colonialism, centering political commentary in its worldbuilding and plot. How can Science Fiction best use alternate history and alternate present to center and celebrate people whose real histories bear the scars of colonialism, genocide, and/or slavery? How can alternate histories that don’t center on these themes avoid making light of, or reinforcing the inevitability of, these atrocities?

Panelists: David Anthony Durham (M), LaShawn M. Wanak

Reading
Saturday, 3pm Rotunda

Don’t know what I’ll be reading yet, but it will be something good!

Panelists: Cherie Priest, Cassandra Morgan, LaShawn M. Wanak

2018 Year in Review and Eligibility Works

2018 was a bizarre year for me.

In order to explain this year, I need to back up a bit to the year of 2016. There was a whole bunch of stuff going on that year that I couldn’t really talk about online. The only way I could cope with it was by writing. So I wrote. A whole lot.

One particularly bad day, I was checking the twitters when this thread from Rachael K Jones popped up on my feed. And then, she wrote this:

That tweet stayed with me through the craziness that followed: selling our house, buying a new one, day job insanity, the election of 45. And then 2017, where I continued my push to finish the novel and got back into publishing nonfiction. All the while, the dayjob got busier and busier, and I was coming home more and more exhausted, until in May 2018, I realized that that if I was going to write more, I needed to find another job. Either one that was less intense or less hours.

So I started looking. It took way longer than I thought, considering that I hadn’t really looked for a new job in ten years. But I’m happy to say starting in February 2019, I be starting a new admin position. Same place, still full-time, but I’ll get two afternoons off to write while keeping my benefits.

It’s a start.

Oddly enough, in 2018, as I searched for a job that will allow me to write more, I got a surprising amount of fiction and non-fiction written and published. In April, my short story “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” was published by Fireside Magazine. In July, my novelette “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” was published by FIYAH magazine (this was originally the novella I wrote in 2016 before I cut it down to a more readable length). I also wrote a third short story that will be coming out soon, but that hasn’t been officially announced yet, so shhhh! But both the two stories mentioned above are eligible for awards, so read, enjoy, share, etc.

I also wrote a bunch of non-fiction articles, including an exploration of Nisi Shawl’s Filter House on Tor.com, a review of Janelle Monáe’s album Dirty Computer in Apex Magazine, and…heh hehe, another article that remains secret for now, but will be published sometime this year. And all of that while writing cover letters and filling out job applications and updating my resume.

Of course, with all the above, my editing input on the final draft of Willow tanked. As of today, I’ve only managed to complete 68% of the final edits. Which, actually, isn’t so bad, considering that I worked on it on top of all the other things I worked on last year but still. I laughed out loud when I saw the deadline I had originally set for myself, which was March 2018. Yeah, that sooooooo didn’t happen.

But it’s now 2019. I got some time freed up. I don’t have any writing projects pending for the next couple of months. Well, one, but it’s a quick one. And, before 2019 ended, I fixed the last major chapter that needed serious fixing (chapter 27). So all the edits from this point on should technically go fast. I’m resetting the Willow Final Edit clock to March 2019. At 68%, I know I can do it. You can cheer me on at @tbonejenkins on Twitter. And then once I’m done, I can finally tackle the goals I had written for 2018.

Butt in chair, eyes on the prize. Let’s go.