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Writing Excuses 5.24: Author's Responsibility to the Reader with Kevin J. Anderson

Writing Excuses 5.24: Author's Responsibility to the Reader with Kevin J. Anderson


Key Points: It's all writing-related, but the core is words on paper. Treat it like a job, put in the time, and meet your deadlines. Be professional. Use the mathematics of productivity to be prolific. Set aside working time, and take it seriously. Readers, don't hound writers. Writers, get to work.

[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses Season Five Episode 24, Author's Responsibility to the Reader with Kevin J. Anderson.
[Howard] 15 minutes long because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Kevin] And I'm your guest, Kevin J. Anderson.
[Brandon] Kevin is many times New York Times best-selling author, known for numerous things. The Saga of the Seven Suns series, of his own. He's worked on the Dune books, co-writing those with...
[Howard] Brian Herbert.
[Brandon] You have 100 books in print.
[Kevin] Well, actually I have more than 100 books in print. There's a lot of them, but there are 100 different titles, we'll put it that way.

[Brandon] Okay. Today we want to talk about... when we have a guest star, would like to ask them specific questions. We've all answered these questions before. Kevin, what's your workday like?
[Kevin] I work all the time. That's about my day. I get up in the morning... but as a writer, everything you do is writing related. When you're reading something, when you're reading the newspaper, when you're watching the news, that's writing related. When you're reading a book, or plotting something, when I'm researching sailing ships, when I'm buying a Bobba Fett action figure, that's all work related. But my writing day... I'm a morning person. I get up and I have my coffee and I'm all fired up. I write with a digital recorder. I'll go out with my notes, and I'll walk for a couple of hours and come back with maybe 15 or 20 pages dictated. That's my morning. I've written two or three chapters in the morning. Then, over lunch, I'll usually have a meeting with my wife, who's my co-author on many things, or with some of our employees to do business stuff. Afternoon, I'll answer e-mails, I may do some interviews, and then I will edit chapters that I have written on a previous day. Then, in the evening, after I cook a lovely dinner for us, my wife and I might brainstorm a project we're doing. Then we could be watching say Caprica or some science fiction related movie or TV show that I might work for. Then, when I go to... before I go to bed, I'll often take a bath and I've been reading slush pile stories for an anthology I'm editing. Then I go to sleep and get up the next morning.

[Brandon] Okay. So... you noticed the title of this podcast was Author's Responsibility to the Reader. This is actually one that Kevin suggested to us. I ask for your day first off because you are known in the industry as a very reliable writer. You meet your contracts, you turn things in on time. This is an industry where that's not necessarily common. We've all heard stories... I don't know, listeners may not have, but I've heard a lot of stories. Authors are pretty notorious about not meeting contracts. In fact, this surprised me the first time when I had a contract, because I was working really hard to meet my deadline, and I got it, and I sent it in. My editor was surprised. I'm like, "But this was the deadline. It's in the contract." He's like, "Yeah, yeah. No one pays attention to that." Have you had that experience, Kevin?
[Kevin] Well, I know a lot of other authors who seem to think deadlines are a suggestion instead of a contract. I remember how uptight I was when my contractor was building our house, and we were supposed to move in on October 1st. October 1st comes and he says, "oh, I might be done by December." Well, I grew up that you are a person of your word. If you said you were going to do it by a certain day, you do it by a certain day. When I was in college, and I had a deadline for a term paper, my professor didn't want me to turn it in a month late. It was on time. But I worked so hard to become an author, that when I finally became a professional author, there was no way I was going to blow it by just not fulfilling my responsibilities. It's a contract, it's a legal contract with the publisher, and you sign your name on the bottom of it that says I promise I will turn in this book by this date. I take it seriously. I think the readers were reading a series because they want to read the next book in... oh, say, The Wheel of Time series or something like that. They want to know that it comes out when they're expecting it. I've done the Saga of Seven Suns which was seven volumes long, 700 page books. I turned those in every year on time, and they came out every year on time. People could rely on that. I think that writers... too many writers don't treat their job as a writer is a job. It's a job. Most people have to go to a job at eight o'clock in the morning, they have to clock in, they have to work a certain number of hours before they get to go home. For writers, they don't get a pass on that. That... if you're a lawyer, you're expected to be in so many hours per day. If you're a doctor, you put in so many hours per day. If you are managing a restaurant... if anybody you know... any of you know people who manage a restaurant, that person's they are like from the early morning until midnight when the restaurant closes. Being a writer... a successful writer is no different from that. You should put in your time, do your work, and meet your deadlines.
[Howard] You know, I had the same attitude, Kevin, when I first started cartooning. There were a few comic strips that I followed online, and all of a sudden, they went on hiatus because the cartoonist had some life issue or another. I felt betrayed. I told myself all right, I'm starting my own comic. That thing that just happened, never going to do that. So for 11 years, Schlock Mercenary has updated every day without fail. To the point that fans of other comic strips will sometimes yell at the creators of those comic strips and say, "Why can't you be more like Howard Tayler?" I don't get a whole lot of love from the other creators for being that guy, but my fans... I get plenty of love from them. I'm glad I made that decision. It's the same thing. I treated it like a job. I decided this is my job, I'm going to act like a professional.
[Kevin] Your responsibility really is more towards your fans and your readers than it is to your fellow writers who might be annoyed at you for meeting the deadlines you agreed to do in the first place.

[Howard] Yeah. It's the factory floor, union worker scenario. "Hey, slow down, kid. You're making the rest of us look bad."
[Brandon] You know, I've actually had this a little bit. People come up to me and say, "You're so prolific. How do you do it?"
[Kevin] By putting in eight hours a day, like most other people do.
[Brandon] I mean... every writer's going to be different. Some people are not going to be able to produce new fiction eight hours a day. I actually can't. I usually can produce new fiction for about six hours of the day. But I can fill the rest of my time with other things. Beyond that, when people come up to me and say, "Brandon, you're so prolific." I say, "Let's break it down. How fast do you... if you have... how many words do you write in an hour, when it's working for you, when it's going really well?" They'll say, "Oh, you know, yada yada..." Low end people will say 200 words in an hour. I'll say, "Well, if you wrote four hours a day, and you did that every day, every week... you know, five days a week. You're only working four hours a day. But you're producing 1000 words a day. That's 200,000 words a year."
[Kevin] That's two average novels.
[Brandon] That's two average novels. That's not even very... not even working very hard, honestly.
[Howard] Well, one and a half when you finish editing out all the... killing the darlings.
[Brandon] Yeah, it might...
[Kevin] I did some of these numbers when I did a blog post... I should mention what my blog is... but I had a mathematics of productivity. [Starts over here] When people were saying, "Kevin, you're a hack because you write so much. You're so prolific." I said, "But wait a minute. Most writers don't write full-time. They have a regular job full-time. They write in the evenings for an hour or two, or they work some on the weekends for an hour or two. So the number of hours that the average writer puts in a week... or can put in a week because of other commitments is five hours or six hours or something like that. Okay, I put in 6 to 10 hours a day, seven days a week. So you multiply that out, I'm spending as many hours per book as any of these other non-prolific writers are, I just put in more hours." I mean, I can put... if... a writer who does one book a year because he's working a full-time job and then writes in the evenings or on weekends, somebody who writes one book a year which is an acceptable rate for the people who complain that you write too fast. One book a year, nobody's going to complain that you're writing too fast. Well, that person has put in whatever the math works out... and I worked out before, but... that number of hours per book, I put in that many hours per book in five weeks. I spend that many hours writing in five weeks that a one book a year author spends in a year. That doesn't mean I spend any less time on my books. I just put more time into writing.

[Brandon] Let's go ahead and pause for our book of the week. We're going to have Kevin tell us about the Crystal Doors... tell us what the first book is and tell us a little bit about it.
[Kevin] YA fantasy trilogy that my wife Rebecca Moesta and I wrote called Crystal Doors. The first book is Island Realm. It's a group of modern teenagers that get thrown to a place a lot like Atlantis. So they're on an island where magic and technology work, and they're being trained in how to use their abilities, and they're at war with an undersea... the island is at war with an undersea kingdom. So it's fun for... the people who loved our young Jedi Knights books would be a great audience for that.
[Brandon] Excellent. You can go to Download a free copy of it, start a 14 day free trial, details are on the Writing Excuses website if you want to look there.

[Brandon] Okay. Let's try and take this and point it specifically at our listeners. Our listeners are listening and a lot of them are saying, "Okay, that's great for you guys. But I've not sold a book yet, I don't work full time. How does this apply to me? What you're saying, how does it help me? Or what does it change about me?"
[Kevin] Well, the attitude of being professional and taking your writing seriously as a job is applicable if you've got two hours a night or if you've got 10 hours a day. If you decide you want to be a writer, you need to carve out time for it and think of it like you're going to a second job. So if for instance... like you did, Brandon, having a job at a night desk in a hotel, you've got hours to work on it. If you're somebody who works at a bank and you go in from 8 to 5 and you come home after five... try to set up yourself from 9 PM to 11 PM, that's your writing workday. So go to your writing office and you clock in at 9 PM and you work for two hours and clock out. If you take it seriously, and think of it as a job rather than well, when I get around to it, but there's a football game on tonight and I'm a little bit tired so maybe I'll just skip it... You don't get to have that attitude going to your banking job. You can't have that attitude going to your writing job.
[Howard] One of the things that I found when I was working at Novell, and I was in middle management -- salaried, putting in 60 hours a week for 40 hour a week salary, and still putting out the comic. One of the things that I found is that by blocking out time for myself in the evening when I knew I had to work on the comic, I got home, I got to my desk, and I hit the ground running. Nowadays hitting the ground running is a lot more difficult. I wake up in the morning, and I think okay, sometime this morning, I've got to get started. It takes a lot more time to get the engine running. Except on days... like this Wednesday, we were going to have lunch with Mary Robinette and I realized I've got to get a whole week of comics inked between now and lunch. So I sprang out of bed, and was at the drawing table, running, and got it all done. So that attitude, where you are setting off a portion of your day, and you are going to get as much done as you can right there, that will serve the new writer well, who has 12 hours a day of other commitments.
[Kevin] And you'll be amazed how much you can get done in a limited time. You might think, "I've only got two hours, how can I get anything done?" But if you've only got two hours, that's all the time you got, and you get things done. One other thing to help with this is to make sure that your family is on board. Because if your spouse or your kids or whoever know that from 9 PM to 11 PM is Howard's thinking time or writing time or whatever it is, that's sacred territory. It's just like you're in your office at the bank. The wife doesn't bother you in the office at the bank, the kids don't bother you in the office at the bank, because you're at work. Well, if this is your two hours of writing time at home, you're at work. It's your job, you're in your office, it's just like you're in another building.

[Brandon] I often say to writers... something that I don't think they really understand, new writers, is... for me, there's a difference between writing time and pondering time. Dan and I have talked about this before, that there's a certain amount of... I don't know what you call it, going to the creative well inside your head? We've talked about it, a little bit, on the podcast. When my time was shorter, I actually got more done in a small amount of time per hour than I sometimes get done now. I think it comes down to the idea that there's a certain amount of creative energy, and if I spend all day waiting for that moment to write and go over it in my head, over and over these plots, when I sit down, it's easier for me to take off running. In some ways, I envy the younger me who only had... who had a definite time resource that was precious, because it turns some of that concentrated writing time into some of the best writing sessions I've ever had. I still have those occasional, but the external pressure isn't quite there. I also have, you know, the whole going back to the well sort of thing. Anyway. What I'm trying to say is, listeners, not having a lot of time is not a very good excuse. There are some good excuses, but time is actually not that good of one.
[Kevin] In fact, I know of another... well, he was a fairly popular science-fiction author who came up with one or two books every year working a full-time job and writing in his spare time. Then his wife got promoted. Their household income increased dramatically, and she said, "Honey, you've always wanted to be a full-time writer. You can quit your job now and just write all day long." He did, and he's published one book in 10 years since he became a full-time writer. Sometimes being hungry makes food taste better.

[Brandon] Yeah. I often suggest to new writers is find a time that is going to be your thinking about your book time. Go work out. I love what Kevin does. He... I've mentioned it before on the podcast because I think it's so awesome. He dictates all his books while hiking in the mountains in Colorado. Which just seems like partially a dream job, but also...
[Kevin] It's my office.
[Brandon] When you're moving, when you're walking, something happens to a lot of our brains, the way we work, and it helps you actually construct things. I know that a lot of my best thinking time is when I'm working out. So... the other...
[Kevin] I used to have a job... not at the hotel night shift, but I used to clean and water 50,000 white lab rats in a lab rat farm. I would spend all day long with Muzak playing because the soft music made the rats happy. All I was doing was hanging water bottles or scraping crap off the bottom of the cages all day long. It was the most mind numbingly boring job you can imagine, but boy, I plotted so many novels during those days. I just thought of my scenes and the characters so that by the time I got home, the words were ready to come out.
[Brandon] I do want to say one thing to close out this podcast. The reason I called it what I did, Author's Responsibility to the Reader, is because... a lot has been written about this. I don't want to contradict any other authors. Everyone has their own way of thinking about it and way of talking. Neil Gaiman has a very long, brilliant post regarding author's responsibility and reader responsibility to authors. But I've always looked at this as I am making a contract with my readers. When I say I'm going to release a series of books, I believe that I have an obligation to continue that series and put them out in a timely manner, because when you buy the first one to support the project, you are buying into my offer of a contract to you. Now, different authors approach things different ways. But I really want to say to you, listeners, try and think of it more that way. Think about the privilege it is to actually be writing these stories and sharing them with people. Treat it like a responsibility.

[Howard] I think the duality you're looking for here, Brandon, is the difference between the writer's attitude and the reader's attitude. If you are just a reader listening to this podcast, please don't talk to your favorite writers and say, "You have a responsibility to me. Sit down and write a book." Just... why don't you just go and enjoy some books that have been written, and just keep reading? Writers? Know that there are readers out there who are sitting on their hands quietly expecting you to be more responsible than you are and get to work.
[Brandon] All right. I think that's a great way to close it out.

[Howard] Do we have a writing prompt?
[Brandon] Dan! Writing prompt us.
[Howard] Oh, dear.
[Dan] Writing prompt. Okay. You're going to write a story about a world in which writers are subject to the whims of their readers on a pleasure-pain system in real time. So as readers are reading your books and enjoying them, you are happy. If they start to dislike them or if they start to get impatient, then you experience physical pain.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.
Tags: author's responsibility, deadlines, job, mathematics of productivity, professional, prolific, time, working time

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