Help Wanted: Hiring Fiction Writers Now

This is the opportunity of a lifetime.  Write novels and screenplays for money.

Publish your books and get invited to all sorts of book signings and conferences and bookclub gigs.  Quit your day job and live your dream.  Have cocktails with John Grisham and Nora Roberts at the National Book Awards banquet.

Hiring one out of every 1000 qualified applicants.  Of those (the one out of 1000), you may become one out of about 10,000 who will make a bestseller list.  Or one out of every 100 (of those one out of 10,000) who do make a bestseller list twice.  Feeling lucky?  The odds of a David Baldacci-like career: a conservative one out of about 5 million.

You have to be VERY good to become very lucky.

Must be willing to invest 10,000 hours or more of your time in an apprenticeship.  And if you still think stories arrive on clouds and characters talk to you after those 10,000 hours, we have a filing job for you that might be more suitable.

Must be willing to spend many thousands of dollars and hours doing the promotional work that you’d hoped your publisher would do, without access to the resources (major reviews and distribution buyers) that they have.

Quality work is essential, anything less will not be considered.  Once in, though, quality doesn’t guarantee anything, which means your work stands as good a shot as anybody’s.  Read 50 Shades of Grey to wrap your head around this.

Then again, don’t.  It’ll just piss you off.

Just like J.K. Rowling and Kathryn Stockett, spend a year or three of your life finding that one out of 50 agents who will recognize your work as being worthy of their representation.

Never mind that Barnes & Noble will never stock your book.  Be assured and content, though, that they’ll happily order it for your cousin when they come in and ask.

Hang with other cool, like-minded people.  Tens of thousands of them, in fact.

Great upside potential.  Publish your own book and you’ll make as much as $500 (that’s gross, not net, after you spend about $800 getting the book ready for Kindle), far above the $200 average.  Publish with a small press and you may make as much as $2500 or as little as a box delivered to your doorstep containing 25 copies of your work.  Become that one out of every 100,000 writers who actually make more than that with a larger publisher, even a Big-6 publisher, who will most likely dump your when you don’t make back your advance, which hardly ever happens.

Thrill in the knowledge that half your family and friends will read your book.  And the other half won’t.

Must be willing to work the first two to 20 years without pay.

Know that of your 1000 Facebook friends who are writers, three of them will read your post containing your notice of publication, and two might buy the book.

Must be willing to let go of fairy tale belief systems about how the business works.

Must tolerate internet trolls who will scorch you in an Amazon.com review.

Be your own boss.  Work your own hours.  Everybody wants that.

Serious applicants only.  Get in on the ground floor today, while you still can.  Because it’s getting really crowded in there.

50 Comments

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50 Responses to Help Wanted: Hiring Fiction Writers Now

  1. MikeR

    Beautiful, beautiful … a wonderful “Writer’s Digest slap-in-the-reality.”

    Most of all, I think that this is really a wake-up call about just how much “the publishing business” has changed. “Barnes & Noble,” for example, is barely surviving; “Borders” is already dead. (Exactly what the shopping-mall industry plans to do to replace this “just slow-down the shopper” anchor-store, is not yet clear at the moment.)

    The good news is: “there are no barriers-to-entry between millions of people and ‘the dream of publishing your book.'”

    The bad news is: “your book now has millions of competitors, all of which are crap.” The poor, beleaguered customer who’s about to board a five-hour flight full of Valley Girl teenagers HAS NO IDEA what novel to buy.”

    Welcome: “Marketing.” The Internet has completely removed the “physical paper required” element from the book-distribution equation, but in so doing it also removed the never-before-acknowledged quality-control element (the “editor”) which filtered-out the junk product that never had a chance. Hence, our already-harried “Southwest Airlines C-Group passenger” is now more likely to buy “a trashy magazine” than “a new book for her iBook/Kindle.”

  2. For the brief instant it took me to click on the title, I fell for it. As I waited for the page to load, I recognized the truth.

    Nice article. I want to be a published author. I even dream of the financial freedom to cut back my teaching hours. I enjoy teaching too much to drop it entirely.

    And, speaking as a teacher rather than a writer, nothing is given to us. We have to work hard and earn it. This message is important in fields far beyond writing.

  3. In other words, do it ’cause you love it and to pour your heart into anything less would be meaningless. Peace – and good writing. LL

  4. Jeannie

    Way to kill a dream, dude.

  5. Wow, that was really depressing.

    Not that I have any (well, not many) misconceptions about the difficulty of publishing, but still.

    I comforted myself by checking out the junk that’s presently garnering 200 reviews or more on Amazon – mostly in the YA genre. If they can sell that, then there’s still hope for little ol’ me.

  6. Sofia

    did you read a bad review of “Deadly Faux” somewhere?

  7. Why do people buy lottery tickets? It’s not because they ‘might’ win–no, it’s because before the winning ticket number is announced–they can DREAM about the new life (with the money they will win with their ticket).

    Lottery tickets and anything that has low odds of success, are not pursued for the prize. It’s to have a license to dream of what could happen IF you win–and-or what it makes of you AS you pursue this lottery-dream.

    My goal is to create something that a total stranger would experience and say, “WOW…that was just great! Thanks for the brief diversion from my unsane yet normal, soul draining life.”

    Surviving in society today can feel just like Larry wrote, and yes–the cynicism IS accurate (unless you play the ‘denial’ game and you have enough material wealth to ride out what’s left of your life).

    Writing FICTION–you can create what you want to see in your life. You are the master of your dreams. You can punish the bad guys, and create justice. Or go after the dreamy romance…or write some laughs. Create some escapism.

    However, WORDS limit your ability to transfer your dreams and ideas to a medium, be it paper, the screen, movies or audio.

    These words are ‘language’, and just like a computer or phone App (application), the programming language the App was written in–has RULES and structure. A poorly written App–fails–to launch the dream you have in your head and feelings.

    You MUST understand how to write proper computer programming language code–so your App will WORK like you want. Better yet–others will enjoy it! You can’t skip any part of the App code that is required to make it work. You must understand how the language works, the structure, and the rules–yes Apps have Physics–everything does.

    In closing, yes–we write Stories to bring our dreams to life to nurture our Soul–BUT, we must master the “programming language”–these Dreams are composed of (it’s not fairy dust).

    PS: My hunch is that most writers skip understanding and thus mastering the programming language of Dreams (it’s the language you think in; belief systems—google NLP). It’s no wonder there’s so much crap out there in story land…it’s like looking at tin shacks put up with duct tape. LEARN the CODE.

    **I just can’t underestimate the power you can have IF you know the structure of using words…difference between a Magi and a mere mortal.

    Check out: http://www.njcu.edu/cill/vol6/love.html

    From above URL:
    “Re-program,” insists NLP, and here’s a story about someone who did:
    The Priest and the Thief:
    One evening as the Buddhist priest, Shichiri Kojun, was reciting his sutras, a man with a knife crept up behind him.”Give me your money!” the man threatened. Without turning his head, Shichiri answered, “Do not disturb me. You will find the money in the cupboard near the wall.” And then he resumed his recitation. A few moments later, Shichiri paused and called: “Don’t take it all, though. I need to pay my taxes tomorrow.” The man returned a few coins to the cupboard and started towards the door. As he opened it, he heard Shichiri say, “Thank a person when you receive a gift.” The man called over his shoulder, “You are thanked,” and he fled into the dark night. Within a few weeks, the man was arrested for theft. At his trial, Shichiri appeared with many others who claimed that the man had stolen from them. When it was Shichiri’s turn to testify, he was asked if the accused man had stolen anything. Shichiri replied, “No. He entered my house. He asked me for money. I told him that it was in my cupboard. He took some. And then he thanked me for it.” When the man finished his prison term, he went to Shichiri and became his disciple.
    Japanese Folk Tale

  8. Donna Dillon

    So…you’re saying there’s a chance…

  9. @Jeannie — every dream about anything as challenging as writing ficton has had to face and overcome these odds. If this kills your dream, then you were only dreaming after all, the idea is to wake you and help you get busy on being one of those.

    I don’t think I’m better than you or anyone else here, and yet I’ve published six novels and two non-fiction writers. Because I refused to let these odds kill my dream, and I positioned the dream as a challenge. I hope you do the same.

    @Donna – there is a chance. Craft increases those chances. In the face of odds like this, craft is our best and only strategy.

    So by all means, dream on. Just we wide awake when you do it.

    See Kerry’s comment, he says it really well (as he always does here).

  10. Larry’s not trying to dash anyone’s dreams; he’s just telling it like it is. We could study hard and write the best book out there, but unless it’s extremely unique and outstanding or marketed well, the world will never know of it. “The competition is fierce.” You’ve heard that before, right? You HAVE to market your books, and most writers don’t want to. Not only that, you have to continue writing, and writing, and writing to keep any kind of money flow. Very, very few books – even relatively successful ones – make enough for their authors to live on without writing more books. Out of about 200 writers I know personally, I think only three of them live on their “writing” income. All are writing quality books. Two, who are very popular in their genre, have written 25 books or more, and they’re still writing. The third one – also popular – has ten books published so far, but she supplements that with teaching writing. And she’s still writing. They realize the volume of work you write has a huge bearing on your income – the older books gradually fade away to a small return. The older ones don’t die, because as a new reader finds the books and likes them, they’ll often buy the old ones, too. But it’s a diminishing process.

    I’ve always written for the satisfaction I get from it. I never dreamed of big money, and I still don’t. I think it’s very difficult to be a part-time writer and be successful. Marketing your books properly takes loads of time. Time that a lot of us don’t have. But “reality” won’t stop those of us who dream of being published, having a best-seller, seeing a movie made from our story. We write because we must. We’re driven. We’re the astronomers of writing who keep searching the skies for that elusive, unique find. And we’ll keep searching until we’ve put down our last word. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the prize.

    Larry’s here to help us focus our telescopes.

  11. Martha

    It’s not the destination. It’s the journey . . . the old cliche goes. And on this journey I hope will someday end with the story I HAD to tell showing up on someone’s bedside table with a colorful book jacket on it, I have seen the most glorious sights and met the most interesting and incredible people. Although my agent LOVES my story (her caps) she hasn’t yet been able to sell it. But still, it’s a thrilling and satisfying ride toward whatever the final stop will be.

  12. I think I’ll stick to volunteering my words to the world. That way I stay in control of them. And I can stick to what I believe and am comfortable with.
    Godspeed to anyone applying themselves to it.

  13. I’ve always considered myself lucky. We all are if you consider the odds of conception. Out of 280 million little swimmers, the one that created me won the race! That’s not even taking into consideration the other half of the equation.

    But, unlike conception, I can improve my chances of succeeding as a writer. Learning and applying the laws of Story Physics is as essential to publishing success as sex is to reproduction.

    Thank you for the great post, Larry! And for sharing your wisdom through this blog, your coaching services and your books. I’ve read “Story Engineering” from cover to cover three times, learning more each time.

    I’m grossing about fifty dollars a day on Amazon with my self-pubbed books. It’s not enough to retire on, but I actually had to pay taxes last year.

  14. Olga Oliver

    I often wonder why there are so many aspiring writers. Seems there are millions wanting to write, be published, make a fortune. The 3-letter word WHY lights up, flickering on and off – WHY, WHY, WHY?

    I’m almost as old as god, and have been dreaming about writing stories since reading my first reader: SEE SPOT RUN! Dreams are grand stuff, but can also be misleading. Could there be secrets hiding in and around the corners of our dreams? For thirty years I’ve dreamed of the perfect interview with agent Donald Maass. I’d get author Ken Follett’s praise in his delightful words to grace the back cover of my publication, I’d make money, honey. I’d have a wee little place in the Caribbean for writing. Ah! Such beautiful dreams. But I’m still unpublished. One of my favorite writers, Alice Munro now 82, has just won the Nobel Literature prize. Ms. Munro said winning the prize was certainly a surprise because she still had so much to learn about writing.

    Perhaps the top secret then is to dream of learning instead of getting published. With my longevity and experience, my dreams of meeting Mr.Maass and Mr. Follett and Alice Munro and Mr. Steinbeck and Colleen McCullough and a few dozen others have faded. This learning secret opens up a new spacious feeling that vibrates with all the good stuff I have yet to learn – like how and when did Mr. Steinbeck learn how it is for a man to truly love a woman as he expressed in EAST OF EDEN. I didn’t know a man could love a woman like that until I read his book. I’m now feeling satisfied with dreams of learning how to write a story that says something worthwhile. There must be a just reward in simply learning how. To heck with publication! To heck with readers! To heck with a million other writers!

  15. One in 5 million? Gee, better than I thought. But when I write a paragraph that brings tears to my eyes or causes me to laugh out loud – even on the tenth reading, then I am paid very well.

  16. Sara Davies

    For me, the only reason to create anything is the pursuit of excellence for its own sake. I don’t settle for less than what I want to achieve. I don’t call it done until I get the results I want. I wouldn’t be happy with recognition for anything I write that falls short of my own standards. Beyond that, whatever happens is icing on the cake.

    Plenty of stuff does get published that is so bad, there’s no explanation for its success. That can be discouraging when you’re writing your heart out, trying to get it right – if you pay attention. You might be better off ignoring that stuff. What’s it worth? What’s even going on when, for example, badly written pornography becomes wildly successful? (I bet someone could make millions on a series about a crime-solving dominatrix named Wanda who’s got magical powers. Ain’t gonna be me).

    Being skilled and getting published are two different things. If you don’t love it for the process, I can’t think of any good reason to write. It is not a practical activity or life orientation. Artists are idiots who don’t know how to survive, and we’re really good at it. The perfect training in low expectations for the equally impractical writer’s path. If you want money, become an insurance underwriter. If you want respect, sorry, but there ain’t a career on this planet that confers it. I do what I do because that’s who I am.

  17. Yes, writing is a brutal, heart-breaking business. So why do we do it? I like what Dwight Swain says in TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER:

    “The writer seeks a larger world for himself. Because The World That Is can never be quite large enough to suit him. Hemmed in by reality, he feels restive, no matter how ideal his situation may appear to another eye. A rut gilded, to him, still remains a rut.

    So a writer seeks a way of life, and that way constitutes its own reward. Once let a writer recognize this and understand his own dynamics, uncertainty and self-doubt fade. He won’t have to kid himself about fame or money or independence. He’ll build larger worlds of his private choosing and live content.”

  18. Olga Oliver

    @Sara Davies – your Wanda with magical powers gave me the chuckle of the day – you’re so right, the crime-solving dominatrix would make her author a fortune!!.

  19. I agree with the “Serious applicants only” part of your post. I get it’s tongue in cheek, but wow, am I glad I didn’t read that before I published my books. Talk about depressing! Instead, I read Joe Konrath’s blog back in 2010, and got to thinking that I could self-publish my book and maybe get some readers and make a little money–and I was right! It’s been a great journey so far! I’m nowhere near as successful as the top tier of indie authors, but I’m doing okay and I get the letters from readers who loved my book (mentioned because someone else commented up there that they would be happy to have a stranger tell them that they enjoyed their book.)

    The only thing stopping anyone from having at least some success is lack of trying. They may not make the bestseller lists, but with some effort and good writing, getting readers is certainly doable.

  20. The student’s suspicion. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach.”

    If you really want to check out Larry’s structure ideas, drift back into the B&W movies c.a. 1962. Pick “Thunder Road.” I did and got really depressed. After a few more random movies from different decades it got harder– not — to find “Larry’s Structure”.

    Why? Because it is not his structure. It is native to Story.

    My thing: To successfully challenge an idea I must first fully understand it. Then, find examples that support the counter conclusion. Opinions don’t matter. I had a real hard time. Try Anne Lamott’s “Joe Jones.” Does she use a 2X4 to hit you with her structure? No. Is it there? Is it a published book?

    Really push it. Give Heller’s “Catch-22” a ride. Couldn’t be anymore off the wall. Even Cliff’s Notes found the structure. Darn!

    Well, as you can tell, a funny thing happened to me on my way to dismantling story structure. I really wanted to hide behind the, “Well, you found what you were looking for.” Nope, If I had a bias it was NOT to find it.

    P.S. What chapped me. I even dipped into the 1930’s, the first decade of the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” It is what it is.

    Have fun.

  21. If getting rich is your first reason for writing fiction, you’re most likely barking up the wrong metaphor.

  22. here’s a short one: If you have a great story (product) and it’s not being sold, then it may be just a question of marketing.

    the Internet has changed a LOT in the last 8 years, and is changing as I type. I believe you have to market your story (product) via it’s Theme (or what people can relate to about it) to websites that are interested in such a Theme.

    Sticking your book on Amazon, to me is like putting a for sale sign on your car in a parking lot with millions of cars. Why does anyone ever notice your car or book?

    You have to bring people to your site by taking your book to sites that would be interested–these sites are NOT publishers or book sellers.

    I write about “conspiracy”, “ancient aliens”, the “occult”, “atlantis”, “post humanism. Lots of websites into that stuff, and those kinds of people are very thirsty for information–either nonfiction or fiction: alexJones; rense.com; david icke;

    The Help could have been marketed to human rights websites. Harry Potter could have been marketed to “Gamer Sites”.

    Consider Comic-Con in San Diego. It is NOT about comics! It’s about fantasy-science fiction, zombies, you name it–and any Game, Comic, Book, Movie, TV Series that’s COOL–is there. Jim Butcher is there with his book series The Dresden Files.

    The Internet is WAY different than it was 8 years ago, and even 2 years ago. If you have a great story and can prove it–you don’t have a problem because nobody wants to publish your book. Your problem is “exposure”. Use Youtube to do a viral video on it…do something outrageous.

    It’s like this (yeah thought this was gonna be short): you can’t expect to get a job in this economy by just answering ads on Monster or CareerBuilder (lethally low percentage of success with that). In the same reasoning, you can’t expect to sell your book by waiting for a publisher to read it.

    Everything is changing rapidly. Including publishing or getting your book out.

  23. Sigma Male

    How’s this for dedication …

    I quit my full-time job, where I made a comfortable living, to work part-time in an effort to maximize writing and get deadly serious about pursuing a dream. I have about 90k in student loan debt, no real assets with the exception of my 2007 Honda.

    I despise both the left and the right, but thanks to Obama, I don’t have to pay my student loans back if my payment per month are more than I make in a paycheck, a great bonus because I would have purposefully defaulted. Because well-fare is so easily accessible now, I plan to take full advantage to make my life as comfortable as possible while I do my best to get published.

    I just turned 35 and I have a 23 year old girlfriend whom I can replace easily if she at some point – which, eventually, she will – protests my choice leave the rat race and write.

    I do not know if I’ll be successful, but I don’t care. I so happy because I have direction in my life at long last! No more wage slavery.

    I’m a free man.

  24. Tessa Apa

    Gosh this did make me laugh……and feel strangely grateful I never gave up my day job xx

  25. MikeR

    My own “curious little however-brief claim to Financial Fame,” which did not last forever but which by-gawd DID last for about twenty years (and counting) … was to create a database-repair utility for an equally-obscure database that was available at the time.

    I can positively claim to you all that, at the time I created this “little thing,” I had NO IDEA that there was any “money” whatsoever to be made from it. I only knew that I urgently needed such a thing at the time, that I would gladly have paid good-money on the spot for it had it existed, and that I was glad to “share the wealth.”

    Okay, okay… full disclosure: I =AM= =NOT= today driving around in a Porsche. Nevertheless … I did (and, heh, from time to time still do…) “connect with” people who still appreciate, and who still benefit from, “what I did.”

    A-N-D … at no point did I have to engage the services of “people who would (have to) GAMBLE UPON (the odds of) my success.” I never had to borrow anybody’s money. I never had to ask any of them for “an advance.” Instead, I found that a =very= =direct= financial path now existed between “me, with a thing to sell,” and “them, with a need/desire to buy it.”

    So, what did I need to do? Well, I had to create “a rock-solid computer program.” One that would never entice anyone to demand a refund. A =thorough= solution to “the problem that was there to be solved.”

    In the present context: “a thoroughly satisfying, absolutely worth the price-paid, BOOK.”

    Today, all of us live in “a world in which NO TREES need be sacrificed … neither in the process of the actual sale nor in the contemplation thereof …” to achieve the Business Objective to which we all Attain. This, by the by, is something that has never been remotely-possible since the days of Gutenberg. Let us make the most of it.

    “The interval between Us and Gentle Reader” is, quite frankly, “Zero.” Let us make the most of it. The competition is still there: we must strive that OUR novel somehow is “the one that gets read.” And, when OUR novel IS the one that gets read, it must be “the one that is Recommended.” (Heaven hope, that “Goes Viral.”)

    “Let this be The Game as We Must Play It.” “Let this be The Game That We Now Play.”

  26. MikeR

    @Kerry –

    I think that you have hit a HUGE “marketing point” here, which is very-well worth emphasizing:

    “There are, today, no ‘Generic Markets’ (worth pursuing …) for ANYTHING.”

    Why? Because they aren’t worth the Buyer’s time.

    Most of the sales of my “obscure” software product have originated from Usenet newsgroup-postings that are frequented by the geeks (full disclosure: “like me”) who were concerned about “what it does” and who therefore “needed it.”

    “Fiction books,” likewise, are most-likely to be discovered by people who already have expressed an interest in the subject/genre to which the book is slanted/pitched.

    From that point on, of course, “the product must sell itself.” It’s got to be good enough, on its own merits, both to satisfy the Gentle Reader but to prompt “word-of-mouth” conversation. It’s got to be THAT GOOD.

  27. Daniel Azander

    Odd as it sounds but I am kinda encouraged by this post.
    Finding Larry’s sight was what made me first think I could write a book. What I take out of this post is that if I want to be the 1 in 5 mil then I had better read every post on this site and others like it and make damn sure I apply what I learn.
    I only have a work in progress nothing published but I can clearly see LB’s principals in the books I read and the movie I watch. I think before a persons start to write you have to decide who are you writing for. If your writing to sell then that changes or it should change what and how you write because if your trying to appeal to the mass market you have to appeal to the mass market. 50 shades did just that, Potter did it and so did Hunger games. We cant ask the authors but probably a lot of compromise went on to make these books for mass appeal.
    if your writing for yourself or the art you are less likely to compromise on your art because then your writing for one person, you.
    AND we all have to remember the fact that having Larry on our side has to shorten the odds a bit 🙂

  28. Pingback: News and Notes on Writing and Publishing | Sally Apokedak

  29. I’m actually okay with this one. It stung a little bit, but then I realized. I’m not writing because I think I’m going to BE Nora Roberts. (Of course, if I met her I’d be thrilled to bits). But, I write because I have a perspective that I think other people would like to read. A Best Seller amount of other people? Don’t know. But in the end it doesn’t matter if it’s a million or a hundred. We all have that number. The number of readers that equals: it was worth it. I have mine. If I don’t reach it with the first book then I’ll keep writing books until I do.

  30. MikeR

    @Shelina – “Keep writing books.” Keep trying to write better ones. There is a value in “writing, itself,” no matter what is written.

    If you are Meant To Write, then Write is what you will do. If you Love To Read, then it’s also natural to want to “give back to” the community that brings you so much enjoyment.

    The electronic-book (and print-on-demand) also gives to all of us something that literally never existed before: “no-cost writing.” “Cost of Goods Sold = Zero Point Zero Zero; potential market: Earth.”

    My software product is distributed electronically, and I have a globe covered with push-pins for the places it’s been sold to. Distribution to all of those far-flung places never cost me a dime. My first and so-far only (non-fiction) e-book, well, as Larry likes to say, “not so much.” 😀 But even -it- surprises me: selling in fits-and-starts, maybe gaining-momentum, dunno yet. Admittedly, I’ve done nothing so-far to market it.

    But once again, the cost to me is “nothing,” and I needed to do it if only to master the technology (which I use in my consulting practice with companies who use it to distribute internal documentation and training materials, at a tremendous cost-savings to themselves).

    In all of human history … literally … it has never been possible to do, let alone to do so very easily, what is now available to EVERY writer. So, write. As very-best you can. Give back.

  31. Newguy

    I have a question that would be cool if Larry answered because I think a lot of new writers feel this way.

    I don’t believe I have the “intangibles” when it comes to writing professionally or even amateur. This is sort of like the idea that Tim Tebow may actually be a decent QB stats wise however he doesn’t have the intangibles that allow him into the NFL, whatever those intangibles might be.

    Are there “intangibles” in writing that cannot be learned? Because honestly I don’t want to spend years writing without ever having a decent size audience. I am a musician. One thing I believe about art is that an audience is integral to art, any art. Any art that is done without an audience to appreciate it reminds me of the saying, “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, did the tree really fall?”

    Art wants to have an audience and art for its own sake or even just for itself feels lacking. If a lack of talent or grasp of “intangibles” causes my writing to lack the quality required for people to enjoy it I don’t think I want to write.

  32. @Newguy – thanks for posting that question. It might be the best, most useful, most cut-to-it question I’ve ever been asked on the site. I will definitely gather some thoughts and write a post on this, and soon.

    Not that there IS a magic pill… but there are combinations of ingredients that can come close.

    I do think about, and have written about this, too. My latest writing book, “Story Physics,” discusses the fundamental forces that make a story work (at all, and/or better than others), and to some extent what you’re asking about is the degree to which the writer understands and explores each of those six “realms” (forces, each separate, yet contributing to each other). To review, they are: compelling premise; dramatic tension; strategic pacing; vicarious reading experience; hero empathy; and… here’s the one that may be have the most upside, while being the most nebulous and vague and challenging, that being “narrative strategy.”

    All of these, especially the last one, is what I call “story sense.” Larry Bird had it for his game, yet he wasn’t as gifted as many of his peers, that one thing elevated him above the crowd. Same with storytelling… that special “something” that makes a story, and a writer, soar.

    More on this, but I hope this starts the conversation. Thanks again for pulling us into it.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  33. Sigma Male

    Talent can’t be taught … certain skills can, but, talent, not happenin’.

  34. Newguy

    I don’t like the idea that there are even things that are “intangible” so I don’t think I’m going to give up on writing. All advancements of mankind have come when people stopped resorting to miraculous explanations for things and started looking for why things are the way they, the Scientific Revolution etc. I want to make the “intangible” tangible. I won’t resort to miraculous explanations the same way our ancestors did when there are clearly principles that explain how things work, including storytelling.

    The four act structure is one secret. Another is the technique of having your character talk about the way he or she feels about their quest. This helps to draw us into the character.

    For me the biggest way to illuminate the intangible is setup. All my favorite books hook me in within the first pages.

    The Dark Sun fantasy series starts off with a gladiator slave named Rikus stuck in slave pens. There’s a tension already in this setup that I want to see resolved. I want to see him escape and get revenge and Ill stick around until the end. There’s even more tension when we find out that evil magicians have destroyed the world. We want to see this resolved too and that’s why I stick around for 4 more books.

    Military Sci fi author David Weber sets up his book On Basilisk Station with leaders of an interstellar government deciding they want to take over the Basilisk Station, a space station owned by the Manticore interstellar government. The next scene we are introduced to our Manticore navy heroine. She has just been promoted to the Basilisk Station and now is responsible for an entire battle ship. Will she be too much of a noob to handle the attack? I’m hooked already.

    The tension in the setup comes from correctly setting up the story structure and elements. They key word is tension.

    So this is my contribution to explaining what the “intangible” is. One difference between a writer and a football pIayer like Tim Tebow is that writers are not bound by the will of coaches. If a football player does not have the skills that a coach is looking for to complete his team strategy then that player doesn’t have a chance. Writers are not at the mercy of coaches. We call our own plays and follow our own principles.

  35. Sigma Male

    @Newguy

    Aristotle had a talent for philosophy.
    Shakespeare had a talent for story.
    Darwin had a talent for discovery.
    The Wright Brothers had a talent for engineering.
    Einstein had a talent for physics.

    Most rational actors will agree that the MEN noted above possessed intangibles their peers lacked.

    Just because you reject the intangible dimension of creativity doesn’t mean it does not exist. It is a fact, a reality, a finite quality in humankind that expresses itself in the real world, regardless of protestations to the contrary.

    Your attitude toward writing already, in my opinion, suggests defeat because it’s outcome dependent. Psychologically, you’re in a defensive crouch which will, ultimately, stifle your creative algorithm. You should be focused on producing a story well told, not potential consumers of a work, I’m assuming, not even created yet.

    I want to focus your mind, so I’ll reword a sentence you wrote: “If a [writer] does not have the skills that an [agent or publisher] is looking for to complete his team strategy then that [writer] doesn’t have a chance.”

    Outside the vanity press, the above rewording is true.

  36. Newguy

    @Sigma

    I don’t agree with the analogy that agent = football coach. A writer brings nearly everything to the agent, story strength etc. The agent may be looking for a certain genre of stories, however beyond that they are looking for well written stories and storywriters who need little to no coaching or editing. A football coach has a vast amount more input into the team concerning strategy.

    Most rational actors would believe that the people mentioned above had certain brains that maybe gave them predispositions to certain talents. If we are going to resort to explaining their achievements with intangibles then there’s no need to try to understand anything else regarding the world.

    Here’s an interesting idea regarding writing. There are only a certain number of possible strings of letters of the alphabet that can be put together to equal the length of a modern fiction book. If we had a powerful computer program simply add one letter of the alphabet to another for a total of 200 to 1000 pages of text for a long enough period, eventually we would have written every story that could ever be written, from a story 200 pages long all the way to a story a 1000 pages long. In fact this program could write every possible story that could ever be written, including all of the New York Times bestsellers. Does this computer program possess the “intangibles?”

  37. Sigma Male

    @Newguy

    Predispositions to intelligence (yes, intelligence is biological in nature) or lack-there-of, talent remains intangible, no matter where it is born. So, yes, Einstein had A LOT of cognitive horsepower, which enlivened his talent for hard science. There is no doubt he had talent for his chosen discipline.

    I don’t think Shakespeare could have created general relativity, or, its precursor, based solely on his endowment of raw intelligence, which, you imply. The expression of Einstein’s and Shakespeare’s intellect differs greatly, the products of which fueled their respective gifts, or talents, or intangibles.

    I can read and memorize every book on craft ever written and master the teachings, I can study the greats from antiquity to modernity, but if I do not have a talent for creating fiction it’s unlikely I’ll find broad readership.

    Your thought experiment regarding computation is somewhat burdensome because it requires an extraordinary degree of mental masturbation.

    Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I feel you desire magic beans of some sort, beans that can be thrown on a blank page, sprouting high drama and guarantees of success. If the prerequisite to success is rote memorization of craft, everyone would do it, everyone would produce stories well told.

  38. Sara Davies

    @ Newguy

    I love your comments about the meaning of art that doesn’t have an audience. When I was making art, I didn’t want a bunch of people in my head. If I hadn’t blocked them out, I wouldn’t have produced anything. Please yourself first is my strategy. Look for an audience after you say what you want to say. A wise man observed that writing is a process of self-discovery. We learn who we are and what we think through the creative choices we make.

    My guess is that the number one “intangible” with writing is story sense – but I’m farther along than where I started. That proves it can be learned. To what extent? Love the process and find out.

    Too often, the concept of “talent” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Writing and other skills may come more easily – faster and better – for other people, but hard work, persistence, and learning make a difference. If innate ability determined outcomes, no one would overcome obstacles or handicaps. I’m convinced those who do, make it because they bust their butts trying. Forget talent. Hold to a vision of what you are striving for.

  39. MikeR

    @newguy – You’re a musician. Okay, Larry’s books (both of which I sincerely recommend) are “books on music-theory.” They are both books which look at the theoretical underpinnings of, specifically, “marketable” story.

    Okay, sometimes success (in music) IS “just dumb luck” … “Macarana,” for instance. (Yes, close your eyes now and imagine Newt Gingrich doin’ it. Yuck.) But, usually, there’s a lot of understanding going-on there which does not beg for the listener’s attention. There are choices that the writer, the composer, the orchestrator made which “they just knew” how to make. Except that it wasn’t “just knowing.” They had a firm grasp of applied theory. You write songs… so, you too can relate to this at some level.

    There was no point at which their work “just popped up out of a giant clam-shell, fully formed (and totally starkers!), just like Venus.” You never saw the process that led up to the finished song, but when you heard the finished song, “it was good.” These people EARN THEIR MEALS this way, so they’ve paid close attention not only to “the creative muse” but also to the entire PROCESS that will reliably get A PRODUCT done.

    Sure, “the only way to create something is to get into the water and swim.” The creative magic whatever-it-is stuff is OUT THERE (and nowhere else) and you’ve got to get out there and gather it up. But, you don’t have to set out to “swim from London to Paris and hope that you make it.” Sure, you’d make the papers if you managed to do it, but there is a smarter way to try to make money in the water. Guidance, direction, learning from others’ experiences, strategy.

    (P.S. If you’re ready for a musical mind-blowing STUDY experience, get the book “Tunesmith” by Jimmy Webb. Yeah, -that- Jimmy Webb. College is now in session. My first read-through took two happy but exhausting months.)

  40. Daniel Azander

    Art or a humans creativity is always subject. I love to read books it’s like I am thirsty but no amount will quench it. But there are a heap of best sellers that I will never read 50 shades is a good example although I did encourage the wife to read it :-).
    All we can really do is set ourselves up for success
    First thing I guess we all have to ask ourself is “does any one want to read about this?” If the answer is yes then get your self a great concept and premise, a well laid out story, good characters, a nice hook at the start and a few OMG moments along the way.
    Not every one can make a Black album but there are a lot of bands that do still make a living off there music. Same goes for books not every one can sell 60 mil books but a lot do make some $ off the books they have written. As for me I plan to sell 70 mil lol see you all at the top 🙂

  41. Good exchange going on as the result of a question per NewGuy: “I don’t believe I have the “intangibles” when it comes to writing professionally or even amateur.”

    I’d like to take a stab at answering NewGuy’s question, but I can NOT answer it in a short, generalized fashion that everyone has been conditioned to as in a short TXT or TWEET. Actually I almost can but it won’t be understood.

    The TXT version is: We have repressed our ability to connect with our Talents in order to go along with the collective society we live in. This occurred during our transition from child to adult and was enforced by the members of our peers and Education Schooling (teachers and classmates). Alas, we have dumbed ourselves down.

    Slightly more information: due to intentional repression of our natural Intuitive faculties that connect us to our Spirit-Soul…we have lost our abilities to understand and process the “intangible” and have become Left Brained Sheldon Coopers that are clueless to anything that can’t be explained by “numbers” (Science) and this includes–Talent. “If you can’t measure it, it’s not real”—this is what we have become—an unbalanced Left Brain gone amok. Writers and artists run into the WALL (Pink Floyd) trying to rebuild their connection to their Spirit-Soul.

    For anyone wanting even more information, read on:

    Talent comes from the wellspring accessed first via the Right Brain and connects to the deeper, inner part of an individual. This deeper part is the Soul or Spirit, and is accessed via an Intuitive action that you induce, literally in your head. But how do you do that? A child that can still do it would tell you that you do it—“inside”. I can do it, and I feel it from my head to my heart along my spine. It’s energetic along the Chakras. However, it’s important to understand why Adults have difficulty accessing their Intuition—you chose to repress your ability to do it (Pink Floyd).

    A child is born naturally Intuitive, but due to the process of “growing up” and “schooling”, the Intuitive natural abilities are intentionally repressed to “go along” with the majority of fellow children–and the ADULTS. This is what comprises our “society”—individuals who have repressed their Intuition and don’t even know that they have. This was done in order to be “accepted”, or was just beaten out of us. We “gave in”.

    Consider Pink Floyd’s “We don’t need no Education, no Thought Control” song. THIS “Self-Repression” is what Pink Floyd is singing about. The system of conformity that has repressed or choked down our Creativity, our ability to Intuit with our Self or Soul. This repression cuts us off from Nature, our planet, and look how we treat it as a result…everything is a “resource” that is quantifiable into numbers—the religion of the Left Brain. (Left Brain is good, but when you are out of balance, you create a world that is out of balance). Don’t get me started on the wanton destruction the repressed person will do as a result of repressing the inner “child”—our connection with spirit…

    So what are we missing as an individual when we repress our Intuition, our natural connection to our Spirit-Soul? It’s like being unplugged from your source of internal knowledge that comes from your Spirit-Soul that is plugged into the Tao, or Universe (all that is).

    What do we gain from access to our Intuition? “Common Sense” is the short answer, and ironically common sense is not common at all. What is common is the collective status quo behavior (this IS zombie-land) that is repeated everywhere, from the Adults to the Authorities (Pink Floyd). Sorry, I’m doing my best to keep my rant out of this, LOL.

    The long answer? You are the grasshopper and now have access to your mentor, your Spirit-Soul. You talk to it (your Self) in your “mind”. This is where “hunches” and “ideas” come from (creativity). Those things that “pop” into your head. Amazing things happen when you are connected Intuitively, and it’s just magical. The challenge is the “voice” is not loud but subtle. You have to listen for it, like speaking and waiting for the “echo” from across the valley. Also the voice may not sound like you expect—hence you may be talking to it without even realizing it. Finally, you will discount the voice and toss it away, due to your conditioning and beliefs on “what is right and real”. You must develop the art of discerning the difference between your ego mind chatter—and what you are “intuiting”. Intuiting my Spirit is like having a seminar from the wisest being I have heard. This is why the child is wiser than the adult in many cases—and it pisses off the adult, because they “gave that up”.

    All of this is relevant to answering NewGuy’s question, as his question can NOT be answered via an explanation from the “System” (what we’ve been educated or schooled in). The first Matrix Movie was all over this and that was its huge appeal and success (the lack of that aspect in the next two sequels = their epic failure).

    If you can grasp what I’ve shared, consider that to recognize your own talents, and to cultivate them, requires that you look for them “sideways”. Instead of looking to see what you want, let that go and look for what is already there. (Your talents exist but may be different than what you wanted or expected). Yoda in Star Wars spoke about these sorts of things.

    This is like watching the Wind. Nobody can see the wind, but they can see what the wind blows around. Trace back the source of the wind. Talk to it with an expectation of an answer—then shut up and listen for what “feels” like an answer. Tip: the answers may seem like something you could never have come up with by yourself.

    Realize that your Spirit-Soul is not of this world so to speak, and as a result is not “attached” to human collective beliefs or the status quo. It’s like a Honey Badger—it’s doesn’t give a sh—about what you believe! In other words, don’t let your personal bias, religion, and other beliefs get in the way of this communion or Intuition with your Spirit-Soul. Act like a Child! The Child cares not for what the Adults believe…because the child is OPEN to anything.

    Pink Floyd
    “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)”

    We don’t need no education
    We don’t need no thought control
    No dark sarcasm in the classroom
    Teachers leave them kids alone
    Hey teacher leave them kids alone
    All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
    All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

    PS…this can be done. I did it through perseverance. And I never totally repressed it during childhood. You could say I wasn’t the ideal student of “school”.

    Kerry

  42. Daniel Azander

    @ Kerry

    I love you post can’t say it any better than that.

    I am an Aussie and recently here there was a show on called redesign my brain in the second episode the presenter Tod Sampson has a “Make me creative” it all about using that other side of your brain its worth a look. and I have been brushing my teeth with my left hand ever since
    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/redesign-my-brain-with-todd-sampson/

  43. Ray Wilson

    “Listen to the MUSTN’TS child.
    Listen to the DON’TS
    Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
    The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
    Listen to the NEVER HAVES
    Then listen close to me–
    Anything can happen,child,
    ANYTHING can be.” ~ Shel Silverstein

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  45. Kerry Boytzun

    @ Danziel…thanks.

    I like that poetry.

    I also liked the lyrics of The Logical Song by Super Tramp:

    http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-logical-song-lyrics-supertramp.html

    “When I was young
    It seemed that life was so wonderful
    A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
    And all the birds in the trees
    Well they’d be singing so happily
    Joyfully, playfully watching me

    But then they send me away
    To teach me how to be sensible
    Logical, responsible, practical
    And then they showed me a world
    Where I could be so dependable
    Clinical, intellectual, cynical

    There are times when all the world’s asleep
    The questions run too deep for such a simple man
    Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned?
    I know it sounds absurd but please tell me who I am

    I say, “Now what would you say for they calling you a radical
    Liberal, fanatical, criminal?”
    Won’t you sign up your name? We’d like to feel you’re
    Acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable
    Oh, ch-ch-check it out yeah”

  46. Kerry Boytzun

    @ Danziel

    I used the Brain HQ exercises back in the spring. I used them for about 60 days straight and they improved my memory a lot, plus the speed of my thinking. However, I got busy and am back into using the exercises again.

    It’s one thing to have a fast brain, and another thing to have a fast ‘answer’. Answering a question, say a philosophical or moral question, may have multiple answers or permutations. To run through multiple scenarios takes time, and will slow down an answer. In other words, many questions that should require some deliberation–are producing the shallowest answer by those answering the quickest–because they didn’t really mull the question over. They just repeated either their own belief, or more likely, what they’ve been told.

    I’d rather have someone slow but with strong cognition, than a fast shallow repeater.

    I recommend the Brain HQ exercises to anyone, and not just those who think they may need it. It’s very likely that we all need it.

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  48. OMG, Larry, you got me. I was looking for possible free lancing jobs as a writer, and I google some keywords and got to this blog. LOL.

    I started reading and my focused began to collide with your meaning, until I burst out laughing.

    Then I continued reading, shaking my head. Oh, boy, this guy is harsh. What a cynic. Ujum. But true. That hurts even more.

    But as I read and wriggled in the chair, I also began to nod. Ujum. Because that’s what distinguishes the writers who make it as a writer from those who have a day job and then publish for their friends as a hobby. (No judgment to either. It’s a choice.)

    This brought up my frustration with some friends who are always complaining that they have to do a day job, but refuse ~no battle against any of my suggestions or my bits of shared information on how to self-publish, place books in Kindle, do ebooks, market their books, create a blog, do a blog tour and on and on.

    At the end, I’ve settled for a phrase. “If you want to be a professional writer, you need to promote your books, learn how to sell and be an entrepreneur. If you just want to write, you have a hobby.”

    But my heart goes out to them. I just realized that it takes a LOT. Like Kerry says. It’s not just about learning the craft, but about learning the language of dreaming, of manifesting; knowing its architecture and dreaming hands-on.

    And it’s funny you use that example, Kerry, about lotto tickets, because that’s part of my musings. Many of the peers that complain about not making $ from their writings buy lotto and go into pyramid schemes and other stuff and invite me, and I’m pulling my hairs trying to understand them. They are willing to take a loan to join a pyramid, but not willing to pay a book blog tour service or a book coach to get some strategies to expand their platform. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?!

    So I’ve been having an emotional monologue as I read the post and comments. And that’s the purpose of art. To slap, shake and hug us awake. So thanks. I’ll continue to read the thread now.

  49. Newguy,
    If you have the passion, then you have the purpose. If you have the purpose, then you are called to do it. And if you have the perseverance, you will succeed.

    In my experience teaching actors and writers, talent comes in two flavors. There is a talent that is obvious, in the foreground, flourishing early. This is what prompts a teacher to say: “This kid has talent.”

    But there is another talent, a talent that is latent, like the seed buried deep in the soil, wanting to burst out, longing for the sun, calling the waters to it. This talent has probably been denied fertile ground from early on; so it does not believe itself. It has gathered layers of wounds that cripple its manifestation.

    The first talent is what everyone calls talent, and gets the kid chosen to play the lead character early on.

    But it’s not nearly enough. If that kid does not have discipline, dedication, passion, stamina, strategy and the humility to learn from the master as well as the self-intimacy to understand himself better and know what his soul wants to express, and how; then that kid’s talent will soon wilt or even turn destructive. We’ve seen it in early-rising stars that kill themselves shortly after.

    The second type of talent, if the kid feeds his passion and perseveres, if he finds the right teachers and learns and grows, if he heals the wounds that cripple his belief and trusts his soul’s longing; that talent creates a master ~one that not only shines but that can teach others to shine. A master that blossoms late, but is evergreen and ever blooming and whose fragrance moves us to our brightest potential forever.

    Go for it. Don’t ask about intangibles. Listen. Let them guide you. I can hear yours loud and clear. If you listen, you will too.

  50. On intangibles. I think a writer must have an innate love of humanity in order to write a good story. By love, I don’t mean affection. I mean a true belief in who we are. Through all the clatter, chaos and disgrace of what we do as a cognitive collective, you have to understand and believe that, without us, there is no meaning in the universe.

    At the heart of every good story is a meaningful struggle for something worthwhile. The postulate of worthiness is humanity itself.