Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Becoming a Full-Time Author: Interview with Michael Warden

Michael WardenToday, I’m interviewing Michael Warden. Michael is a writer and coach. He is the author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and today we’re talking about publishing and transitioning into a full-time career as an author.

Jeff: How long have you been a writer (you know, for fun and stuff)?

Michael: Nerdy as it sounds, I actually starting working on my first novel in the sixth grade. It was a fascinating tale about five colorful and beautifully diverse characters who survived a massive alien assault on the earth, and how they singlehandedly retook the planet in the name of humanity.

To my dismay, however, after getting several chapters into the book, I realized that the characters I had created were in actuality the cast of Gilligan’s Island (just with new and more awesome names), and therefore I deemed the book totally unoriginal and trashed the whole thing in a fit of creative angst.

As I look back on it now, I regret not sticking with it. The whole thing sounds like a delightfully campy scifi romp–a sort of Gilligan’s Island meets Independence Day.

Despite that early setback, however, I kept writing–short stories, scenes from school, journaling my thoughts, and so on. For me, writing has always felt like something I couldn’t not do.

Jeff: How long have you been doing writing professionally?

Michael: I got my undergraduate degree in journalism and published my first article while I was still in university. About a year after I graduated, I landed an editorial position with Group Publishing in Colorado, and worked there for the next several years–first as a regular book editor and eventually as the managing editor for Group Books.

My experience with Group really taught me the ropes of the publishing industry, and during my time there I wrote dozens of articles and created scores of resources, as well as coached dozens of authors in their own creative process and edited their work for publication.

It was an invaluable time and really helped me hone the wordsmithing craft and learn what forms and styles of writing held the most passion for me.

Jeff: What was the process for you from moving into full-time writing? Did it hurt? ;)

Michael: Yeah, it did hurt–a lot! But it was worth the pain. I transitioned into writing full time on my own over a period of about a year and half. During that time I still held my day job at Group, but took on extra freelance assignments on the evenings and weekends.

I had almost no social life during those few years, but I knew that was the price to pay if I wanted to make the transition to full-time freelance work with as little financial disruption as possible. Once I had enough ongoing freelance work running through the pipeline to support me, I stepped away from the corporate world and officially launched out on my own.

Jeff: When did you know it was time to start writing professionally? How did you know?

Michael: Hmm. Well, here’s what I want to say to that. I think a lot of people are called to write; but only a small percentage of those folks are called to write professionally as their primary career. Just enjoying the act of writing isn’t enough to make a professional writing career sustainable. You also have to be competent at writing, and that means being an active student of the craft.

Beyond that, you have to be good at building and running a business, and that requires a very different skill set from writing itself. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.

For me, deciding to write professionally really came about as a natural next step in my own career journey. I loved writing, and I got to do a fair bit of it on my job, but the corporate environment really drained me after a while. I wanted to be my own boss, and starting my own writing business seemed like the next obvious step.

Jeff: What are some of your best practices as a writer?

Michael: Here are my top tips:

  • Maintain regular hours, just like you would any other job.
  • Tell your friends and family what your regular hours are and demand that they respect them. (The fact that you work “at home” often confuses friends and family into thinking you are never really “at work.” Dispel this.)
  • Set up a dedicated office space and use it as such. Don’t do anything else in that room except work.
  • When you leave your workspace at the end of the day, don’t go back until the next day.
  • Read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Best book every written on the real difference between an amateur and a professional writer.
  • Set up writing hours and keep them faithfully no matter what. This is your daily practice. Inspiration favors the faithful.
  • That said, write whether you feel inspired or not. The truth is, some of your best writing will happen when you don’t feel inspired at all.
  • Read really good writing. A lot of it. All the time. Don’t limit yourself to a particular genre or topic. Stretch yourself regularly.
  • Learn to love constructive critique. You can’t waste emotional energy being sensitive about your work if you want the writing to be the best it can be.
  • Don’t isolate yourself away from the world. Live a rich, full life. Take risks. Travel. Cultivate community. As Thoreau said: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

Jeff: Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? how do you overcome it?

Michael: Yes, a few times, but in my case it’s always been because I either didn’t know a character well enough to write honestly about his or her experience, or else I didn’t know myself well enough to write honestly about my own thoughts or experiences.

In either case, I overcome it by first of all not judging myself for it or getting frustrated about it, but rather choosing to get curious about what’s really going on.

When there’s a genuine block, I trust that it’s there for a good reason and look to it as a teacher. What is it that I need to stop and take a look at here? What am I missing? What is the book (or story or article) trying to tell me?

Be patient; the answer will come.

That said, from my experience working with many authors over the years, I think most of what gets labeled “writer’s block” really isn’t that at all. It’s just that we erroneously expect writing to always come easily, and are surprised and frustrated to learn it’s often very hard work, so we cry “Writer’s Block!” as a PC way of tapping out.

Jeff: Do you have any publishing tips for those who are just beginning?

Michael: The world of publishing is in the middle a dramatic transformation. The old standard traditional publishing model is an aging dinosaur and will not be around much longer, but what the new model (or models) will be is not yet clear.

It’s a wonderful time to be a writer, because the Internet has eliminated the distance between the author and the audience–a gulf that traditional publishing used to bridge.

There are now so many creative ways that you can bring your work to a larger audience via the internet. So don’t worry too much if a traditional publisher turns you down, and don’t be afraid to try a new or innovative approach to getting your work out to the world.

***

You can connect with Michael on his blog, his novels site, and on Twitter (@JourneytoFree).

Have you considered making the move to becoming a full-time writer? What’s stopping you? Did Michael’s experience resonate with you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://www.storywrought.wordpress.com Lizzie

    Great tips!  The last one on living is especially important.  All the published books in the world have nothing on a life well lived.  But fortunately for us, living and writing go hand-in-hand.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I liked that, too. We writers need to do more than write.

  • Anonymous

    Of your top tips, the one I struggle with the most is the second one. I have a hard time “checking in” and “checking out” of office hours. I find myself working too much.

    On the flip side it drives me absolutely crazy that people expect me to be available all the time – to help them with something, to meet them for coffee, whatever – since I work from home. Anyone out there have suggestions for (politely) quelling this attitude?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Have you tried writing prompts or sprints? I did a 15-minute exercise the other week and was surprised that I was able to write 1500 words in one quarter of an hour.

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    Excellent post! Thank you for sharing this interview. I really liked the insight into establishing a regular “work” schedule for writing professionally as well as calling “writer’s block” what it is.

    Sometimes I think we can be more creative with our excuses than we are with our actual craft (writing, music, etc).

    I’ve read “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield and since I keep hearing so much good stuff about the “War of Art” it’s time to put it on my Amazon wishlist. However, I have about 20 other books to get thru first. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Dude you haven’t read that?! It’s a must read.

      • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

        I know, I’m ashamed. Been reading most everything by Project Domino. I have
        read Stephen King’s “On Writing” though. Like I said, got a lot of books on
        my to-read list.

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          did you read do the work?

          • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

            See my original comment above. :)
            I bought it on Kindle and then picked it up in hardcover to share w/
            friends.

            • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

              Cool

  • http://bibledude.net/ @bibledude

    this is a great interview! as someone who aspires to make that jump into full-time writing, this is some of the best wisdom a dude can get. thank you michael for the valuable insight, especially as it relates to leaving the corporate world. and thank you jeff for continuing to provide great writing resources like this.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      My pleasure.

  • http://www.gospellab.com Gospel lab

    Great post!  I needed the part about his top tips.

    I have never considered myself a writer, but I am finding out though that this needs to change since I enjoy blogging.

    Maybe I need to jump start my writing with War of Art.

    Glad I found your site Jeff, I am sure I will become a better writer from your posts.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Yes, yes you do. I believe so strongly in this book that I’ll send you my copy if it means you’ll read it. It’s that good. Of course, I’d love for you to spend the $9 or whatever to support Steve’s work, but you NEED to read it.

  • MichaelDPerkins

    First I love where you are interviewing people like this.  It’s really helping.

    To write full time, I’m not so sure about.  I know I’m called to write, but I’m called to pastor. I would like to publish a book sometime.  And I’m about done with my eBook.  The thing that really stuck out to me was Michael’s hustle. I think that is sound advice for anything that anyone is pursuing. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Indeed

      • Phumuzile

        Jeff the interviews are a great help;What I need is the WAR of ART;

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Great article. I’m struggling most with transitioning from being the mommy to a writer. It’s hard to set regular writing hours at home with a three year old that aren’t between the hours 9:00pm and 1:00am. I would love to try my hand at some freelance and actually make a few dollars, but I find I write mostly for my blog and some guest posts and what time is left is spent on my novel and learning more about social media, publishing, writing etc. I don’t want to run so hard to a writing career I miss out on these precious years with my children. On one hand I think it’s easier for men to have the freedom to set working hours and goals for their writing career. On the other hand, in my case at least, I have the privilege of having the financial pressure removed. I write because I love it, I’m not dependent on a pay check.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Interesting thoughts, Beck. I never considered the differences between men and women writers. Fascinating perspective. I’ll be thinking about it.

    • http://deepfragilegrace.com/ Liz

      Turns out I’m 8 months late with this reply, but YES! Exactly what Beck said…
      This resonates with me too, as I have a small one and also a desire to write.

  • Brian B Baker

    Great post. Love seeing the insights of full-time writers. I am working toward that. My day job pays the bills for now until my wife gets a mega raise.  

    My problem is number seven on the list, writing whether I like the writing or not is hard. I have not read “The War of Art”, but after reading this will add it to my kindle wish list.

    Great post Jeff!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Brian, it’s a MUST-read!

    • MichaelDPerkins

      Definitely a must read.  And then follow it up with Do The Work.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        agreed

  • Pingback: How to Live an Inspired Life | Edward Paz()

  • Shelaughsblog

    I’ve recently been stepping up my writing game by reading everything I can on the subject. I don’t make a living doing it, but I finally realized I can’t live without it, and won’t settle for good enough. That said, I love your blog! It’s encouraging and insightful. Thank you. I look forward to reading the art of war!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks!

  • http://girlmeetspaper.com Jane Graham

    Love the list of tips and the Thoreau quote! A wonderful reminder that the best writing prompts emerge from a life fully lived. Thank you.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      agreed. thanks for the comment, jane!

  • Grace Whaley

    Hi, there. I have a question for you, do you believe that it is important to have a degree in writing? 

  • http://twitter.com/myblogguest Ann Smarty

    It is always interesting to learn about the struggles and the joys of that transition to writer.  And, it is encouraging to read about others reaching for their dreams and attaining that.