Part-Time Madman, Full Time Writer
Where the truth of being a full time writer is often revealed to be a form of madness…
When you call yourself a full-time writer, people expect you to report that you have published books, appear on the best-sellers list and have a collection of the most prestigious awards, with your name on them, at your fingertips. Yes, those are full-time writers, with names like:
- Nnedi Okorafor, PhD (Awards: World Fantasy, Hugo, Nebula
— Occupation: Professor, Author)
- John Jennings (Awards: Glyph, Eisner-nominated
— Occupation: Professor, Author)
- Brandon Easton (Awards: Glyph, Eisner-nominated
— Occupation: Former Teacher, television and comic scriptwriter)
- N.K. Jemisin (Awards: Hugo [3x], Nebula, Locus
— Occupation: Psychologist, Career Counselor, Author)
- Ta-Nehisi Coates (Awards: MacArthur Fellow, Kirkus, Dayton Literary Prize, Eisner
— Occupation: Journalist, Author)
Each of these famous writers started their careers writing something other than award-winning work. A number of them worked for decades before acquiring any of the fame they are known for today. This is the avenue I consider every day when I get up to do whatever is passing for work while I call myself a full-time writer.
While I write everyday, not everything I write pays me a writing dividend up front. In fact, much of what I write I consider seed materials I create to assist me in building my writing career, demonstrating my competency as a writer, expanding my experience and spreading my work online to help with my platform.
In today’s writing climate, writers are told they need to consider creating a platform, a body of work, a website, an online presence in which they develop a relationship with their readers. This relationship used to be a thing handled by a writer’s publishers, but with the world of writing experiencing an transformation in recent years, including the magazine market expanding (but paying less) and publishing options becoming more selective, writers are in the unenviable position of having to make their own way to success, often without the support of publishing agencies, as they may have in the past.
Part of this means a modern writer has to be able to do more than just write well:
- They have to be able to do more than craft a well structured sentence. Yes, writing techniques, craft, creativity are all part of writing well and to be a writer of note, this part has to already be nearly-mastered, no less than 2 million words lovingly crafted, critiqued, edited and presented to the Universe as finished work. If you didn’t finish it, it didn’t happen.
- They have to be able to find a perspective which is different from the norm and create a story or framework which casts this perspective in a new form. More than just using the expected genre tropes or presenting well-worn narratives, you must be creating something uniquely yours. In your voice, in your style, in a fashion which denotes only you could have written this. Until you find your voice, you are just repeating the words of writers better than you.
- They must be able to make this novel idea consumable to the reading masses (as well as getting it past the jaded gatekeepers of modern publishing). Some ideas appear ahead of their time. Others, arrive too late, the wave of whatever made those ideas popular has already reached the shore and you weren’t there when it did. Creating in a timely fashion, your work arriving in concurrence with the narrative surf, is a talent unto itself. If you choose to swim against the tide, to present ideas against what is considered good taste, please understand, it can make you an iconoclast or an outcast.
- They cannot just write well, they have to write analytically, persuasively, critically, humorously, with craft and guile, teasing readers with novel takes of previous story ideas, which don’t betray those ideas, but expand them. Betrayals of storytelling norms can gain acceptance but they often have to be even better than stories which amplify what we expect from “good” writers.
Writer are not expected to expand their own audience:
- Using social media in whatever form a writer can handle, they must communicate with their readers, make connections to those readers, establish relationships, often in real time, with people who consume and proselytize their work.
- For many writers, this element can be overwhelming and depending on the medium, it can even backfire, harming a creator’s career if they haven’t mastered the intricacies of their social media environment.
Keep up with the changing landscape of publishing. Once upon a time, your agent would keep their ear to the ground learning about what was hot and what was not. They kept you aware of when and where you needed to be. Today, that’s also your job…
- The publishing industry has experience seismic shockwaves in recent years, with only a tiny segment of the people who want to write, are good enough to write, are well-established enough to write and have the support necessary to have the means, economically, socially and personally, to pursue writing and keep a roof over their heads, getting the fame, notoriety and paychecks associated with being a writer.
- Each writer deals with these challenges in different ways and every writer can probably regale you with tales of their darkest hours when they considered “cat herder” as a viable occupational choice over ever writing another goddamn word for an ungrateful audience.
- Each handles their choices differently and each waits with varying degrees of optimism for that moment which transforms them from a person who writes to a NAME people recognize. Fame isn’t necessarily a component, and a few writers tell me they don’t seek fame, they seek cash-flow and the ability to go to the store without a disguise. Keeping it real, should I become so famous I can’t go to the store without a disguise, I will adjust.
How do you know when you have become a good writer?
- You don’t. You never arrive. Your work evolves. You are transformed by your work, your life, your experiences.
- Expect to surprise yourself. If you can, if you can see your work and not experience a moment of existential angst, if you can laugh at it, smile at your corny jokes, and walk away honestly assessing its strengths and weaknesses, understanding why it is good or not, you may be a writer worth a damn. Remaining critical of your work is how you grow.
HOW DO I DO IT?
I am a full-time writer. This means, to me, that I write daily. I write with the intention of using whatever I write to further my career as a writer, with the goal of one day, because it is my choice, to write exclusively for my bread and butter, without having to wonder where my next meal is coming from, how the mortgage is going to be paid and how I will find the time to clean up my backyard without wondering which editor I am not going to send something to, this week. Okay, that last one is fine with me. Better editors clamoring for work than an empty email folder with no requests for new projects.
I write for anyone who can appreciate my facility for language. I write as:
A freelancer: when people request articles about a topic I am well-versed in, they request a range, parameter or topic and the kind of article they are looking for, and I give them back a viable article.
- As a ghostwriter: Most times, my name is on the work, but occasionally I have written material that no one but myself and the client know the truth. This work pays well and I am getting more attention for this work as I do more of it.
- These clients tend to be website content providers, online publications, and even video game companies seeking writers to expand their website content usually through creating stories or background content. They have the ideas but not the words to explain them narratively. I love doing that kind of work.
As a journalist: I write for a number of online publications, some regularly as a pop-culture journalist, movie and book reviewer, media analyst, and social justice activist around autism, technological trends and our ever-impending climate crisis.
- One of the things I enjoy about being a journalist is the research into new topics or ideas I have no previous knowledge of. At last count, I have covered over 295 different topics in varying degrees.
- One of the other benefits of being exposed to new ideas is my ability to add to my knowledge as a fiction writer. When the real world and my creative one overlap, I feel an increased degree of verisimilitude appearing in my fiction, making it more real to the reader.
- I’ve appeared as a speaker on media broadcasts and podcasts including the BBC, Krypton Radio, #BlackComicsChat, Genesis Radio, The Black Science Fiction Society, Polygon, The Good Men Project and Panel and Frame to name just a few.
As a self-employed writer: I submit my work to online publications, literary magazines, writing contests and fellowships hoping to create work which can expand my readership, expand my opportunities, win prizes and in the case of fellowships, connect with other writers whose company I hope will improve my talent.
- My work has appeared in twenty anthologies, domestic and international, and I have published two books of my own, a collection of speculative fiction stories, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ and a paranormal investigative series called ‘Broken Glass.’ I am still working on producing new works, both fiction and now a number of non-fiction publications as well.
- I also maintain a Patreon account in which I provide samples, short stories, articles and podcasts I appear in to a dedicated audience who support my work through the subscription service.
- Patreon is a challenging economic avenue because until you gain a bit of notoriety, fame or infamy, people are taking a risk on your work. Visual art prospers in this medium but there are plenty of writers who are making a name for themselves here as their work takes off.
I established my cred as a pop-culture writer creating content on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange and now on Quora.com. I have written over 2,400 articles between the two sites. These audiences have exposed my work to millions of readers and between the two I have been read over 25 million times.
- I write articles as the self-styled Answer-Man, on pop-culture, primarily comics and superhero theme content, but I also write on politics, social justice, autism and cats (in my secret identity as the Cat Sage). I have been awarded Time Magazine’s Site of the Year on the Stack, and have won Quora.com’s highest writing award, the Top Writer Award, three years in a row in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
- I also use Medium.com to promote my articles and my short fiction. The service has also paid and featured my writing in the five years I have created stories there.
- I utilize social media as both a way to share my work, talk about writing and the creative process, and as an opportunity to collaborate with other writers on the mutual improvement of our craft, ideas for publication, open calls for submissions and writing challenges designed to inspire us to improvement through the use of writing prompts.
- I have used Twitter to promote my writing, meet other writers and talk about comics with other comic enthusiasts. I have also listened to famous writers talk about their techniques and have even dared to speak to writers I have admired all of my life. It has been an inspiration to meet such writers as Richard and Wendy Pini (of Elfquest fame), hear the wisdom of Neil Gaiman (whom I hope to be able to meet one day) and geek out completely with the likes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson (who works in the museum which inspired my love of science.)
- On Facebook, I have many writing groups, some I lead, some I just follow, where conversation about writing is fast and furious. Where we work together and I have helped create anthologies, collections and forums where writers bang out quality writing in the loving presence of other writers who support their growth. There are a famous writers I follow and even interact with on a regular basis such as Daniel Keys Moran (author of of my favorite books, The Long Run), and famed speculative fiction couple Steven Barnes and his wife, Tananarive Due.
- The relationships I value most on social media have been the ones where I have met the writers online and watched their careers blossom in real time. Television and comic writer, Brandon Easton, comic writer and long-time comic reviewer, Hannibal Tabu, book publisher, writer, and game designer, Milton Davis, speculative fiction author, Valjeanne Jeffers and a host of other artists and writers, I consider contemporaries, creators I have evolved with and feel a strong fellowship as we make our mutual paths in our pursuit of a meaningful career as creators.
As a Public Speaker:
- I have appeared as a guest speaker at colleges, conventions, libraries, writers groups, podcasts, live-casts and any other kind of opportunity which features my career as a working writer; the challenges, pitfalls, the heights of glory and often the folly of being a writer and the craft of writing.
- I am completing a non-fiction publication on writing based on those engagements, the articles and the topics covered in them called: Writing Craft — Mastering the Urge to Write.
Is there a single path to being a paid writer?
- No. Most writers who become famous writing books, started writing something else, or worse did an entirely different career before they became writers. I am no exception.
- I worked in information technology for 25 years BEFORE I started writing creatively as a career choice. In between writing, I still consult on computers, appear on podcasts, my own or those showcasing me and my work, and operate as a caregiver, teach my son with autism how to manage the challenges of a non-neurotypical diagnosis.
- I contend being a writer and doing a job don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In the right career, it may even inform your desire to write, giving you characters, relationships, ideologies even becoming part of the background of your world.
I write every day.
- Not everyone can or should. I found writing daily to be the mantra I use to maintain my commitment to the art. Everything I write pushes me forward. I am no different than any other writer who struggles against a world which has devalued art, creativity and writing. None of that matters. The only thing that matters is the writing.
- The creation of the new, the different, the subverted, the transformed and even the darkest corners of the Human experience. Writers seek this out and if they are good, if they are dedicated, if they are talented and often if they are lucky, they get to do it, be appreciated, be recognized and most importantly, make their mortgage doing this thing they love so well, they often spend a decade of their life or more, doing it without any recognition or cashflow at all.
Writers aren’t seeking poverty as a lifestyle choice. We are hopeful our work, our words will have meaning to you. Support a writer you love, by buying their work, sharing their work, reviewing their work and letting them know. Nothing inspires a writer like the words of someone who cared enough to light a candle in their darkness.
In his secret identity as the Answer-Man, he talks about comics and pop culture as a scholar and historian of the many genres, highlighting the best and worst comics has to offer. He has over two thousand essays covering the eighty years of narrative storytelling created by DC and Marvel Comics. He is also quite knowledgeable about the many independents who have come to life in their shadows.
He is also a freelance journalist for Polygon.com and Panel & Frame magazine. Thaddeus is the co-founder of Futura Science Fiction Magazine and one of the founding members of the Afrosurreal Writers Workshop in Oakland.