Today, 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.
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.