WriteTip: Diligence Pays Off-Success Equals Talent Plus Work

Okay, this isn’t the usual steps process for sure, but I still think it’s appropriate for a write tip. A few months back I posted about the power of diligence quoting from a Steve Martin interview with Charlie Rose where the comedian/actor talked about how importance diligence has been to his success. Pretty much everyone in the entertainment/media business I’ve met who’s had a career of more than a decade has mentioned the importance of diligence to me, and, in an age where e-publishing has become the rage and feeds our cultural fixation with instant gratification, I think a reminder about diligence is important. In fact, the key lesson is in bold later in this post, but first a little about how diligence has paid off for me.

I started writing fiction prose in summer 2008 with a love story about a divorced couple who fall in love again. My first novel started as a novella then grew. I finished it at around 65k words but it sucked. Or at least, it was’t ready for prime time. So, I went back to school, reading, studying craft, learning, practicing, and about a year later, I started writing my first science fiction book–a Moses-inspired space opera I’d dreamed up as a teen. The Worker Prince, as it’s called, was my debut novel, released in October 2011 and made Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011, quite an honor for a micropress book. Sales are steady but slow and I’ve earned back my advance or am close at around 650 copies. Book 2, The Returning, came out last month and now I’m writing Book 3.

But those novels are far from the only thing I”ve had going on. In 2008, when I started writing fiction, I knew no one writing books besides an old friend, a historian named Leon C. Metz. Now Leon is no slouch. He’s published over 20 books on history, his most famous being a biography of John Wesley Hardin, famous gunfighter. But I didn’t know anyone in science fiction, had never been to a convention, had not taken writing workshops and no one knew who I was.

Now, to be fair, I had been writing nonfiction, screenplays and plays for twenty years, since high school. I’d had some limited success with a script in development at Disney that never got made and a couple of co-written produced plays. I’d sold some nonfiction articles to magazines and such. And I’d had devotionals published. But still, I was unknown in most regards, particularly in the area of fiction books and especially in science fiction and fantasy.

But as I met writers, Ken Scholes being one of the first and I met him on Facebook after reading his wonderful Lamentation,  they always talked about how important it was to write every day. If you get stuck, write anyway. If you’re frustrated, try something else i.e. switch projects for a bit or give yourself permission to write crap just to get words down and exercise the writing muscles. As my friend and fellow novelists John A. Pitts says: “Concert pianists at the height of fame have to practice every day, why shouldn’t writers?” And that’s the truth of it.

So I wrote. I worked on a few novel ideas. I wrote a lot of short stories. And I rewrote The Worker Prince, also starting two fantasy novels, including Duneman, which is in beta reading right now and will hopefully land me an agent and traditional publisher later this year. The main thing was that I wrote, continued studying craft, read a lot, and started going to Cons to meet writers and others. Now, I have a huge network of contacts and friends, and looking at my Goodreads and Amazon author pages, there are 7 titles listed. By the end of the year, there will be 8 and maybe 9. Of those, only 2 are self-published: The North Star Serial, Part 1, which collects a series of flash fiction episodes I wrote for Digital Dragon Magazine and Rivalry On A Sky Course, which is an ebook only release of a prequel story to The Worker Prince which first sold to Residential Aliens before I released it as an ebook. Everything else has been paid for by a publisher and put out, including the anthology I edited and others in which I have stories appearing. (Wandering Weeds comes out any time now.)

What’s my point? Well, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to writing. I’ve treated it like a job, even though it doesn’t pay the bills yet. And I’ll tell you that my total income for writing expenses last year was close to $2000 when you add print cartridges, Cons, travel, paper, supplies, postage, etc. But this year, my expenses are going to be less, but my income should be close to $3000. It remains to be seen and that estimate encompasses four book advances (two pending) and some sales income (still coming in), as well as a few sales, but it’s definitely progress in the right direction. And last year I only attended 3 Cons and 1 Workshop. This year I have attended 4 Cons with 2 more planned, done 4 signings so far and have 4 more planned–all of which involved at least some travel (shortest 10 minute drive, longest airplane, including a couple 6+ hour drives). What’s my point?

I am acting like a full time writer even though I am not one. I am also spending several hours a week on blogging, social media marketing, networking, promotion and reading and running #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat, Wednesday at 9 pm EDT on Twitter). I typically spend 2-3 hours a day writing, 2-3 editing (mostly for other people) and 2-3 on blogging and social media, plus any other work I need to do. (I am seeking full time employment and do freelance gigs from time to time.) Once I get a full time job, my goal will still be to do the 6-9 hours a day devoted to my writing career.

Why? Because I am getting somewhere, not just with the earning income progress but with the amount of material published. My third Davi Rhii book will come out sometime next year and I hope to sell a couple more novels, including Duneman. My first kid’s chapter book is going to come out this Winter (late 2012 or early 2013). I just got asked to do more joke books after my first released today which means nice advances, and I have a celebrity bio contracted, two half novels done, and several short stories, including 10 more North Stars to finish the cycle left to write.


Diligence matters.


   [dil-i-juhns]  Show IPA



constant and earnest effort to accomplish what isundertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.
So if your passion is writing, storytelling, etc., be diligent. Make the effort to do what you love and follow your passion. Treat it like work, without discipline it won’t happen. But know that if you have the talent and you apply the work to it, things will happen. After all, talent is like 2×4 boards, it takes some tools, nails, effort, etc. to build something with it. But it can be done and will be done if you’re diligent. You may not get rich. You may not become that famous. But you will become very satisfied and you will have a body of work that shows you’re more than just a person who dreams of being a writer. You’ll be a real, published writer, and whether that ever pays my bills fully or not, to me that’s saying something.
For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tips: The Power Of Diligence

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Steve Martin talks about how important diligence has been to his success. And the website Study Hacks, which explores how some people succeed and others don’t explores his comments. I also recently read that a high percentage of Robert Frost’s most acclaimed poems were written after he’d reached the age of 50. That got me thinking how important diligence is to the writer’s journey.

If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, the writing life is a lifelong journey. The day you stop learning new things or striving to get better, you might as well close up shop because that’s what it’s all about. Through all the rejections, all the bad reviews, all the starving days, all the tribulations of artistic life, only one thing is sure: you can always get better. You’ll know know everything.

That’s why diligence is so vital for success as a writer.

If someone as respected and famous as Robert Frost did his best work in his later years, if someone like Steve Martin values diligence, how can we not ask ourselves to be diligent too?  You can only be the best you can be at any moment. But if you continue to grow and learn, i.e. through diligence, you can get better and better. And, like Frost, the highlights of your career can come later in life. Martin won two Grammys for his banjo albums, both well into his career as movie star, post-career as standup comedian. He’d been playing banjo for 50 years when he won one of them. Now that’s diligence.

How successful do you want to be? Do you want a career or just a hobby? One requires diligence, one doesn’t. Period. To do anything artistic well, one must constantly reexamine and strive to improve technique, craft, etc. No one’s perfect and there’s always room to grow as an artist. There’s a reason writers talk about the “writer’s journey.” There’s also a reason you don’t hear successful authors say “the journey is over.” In fact, many would say “my writer’s journey’s just begun.”

Think of writers like George R.R. Martin, who is writing a 7 book series but taking more than a decade to do it. The gaps between books are years, not because he intends to drive readers and his publisher to distraction, but because he’s diligent. He wants to get it right. Would anyone begrudge him that? To me, there’s something to be admired in that kind of dedication. It’s a level of intensity I sometimes wish I could match. On the other hand, GRRM has more financial security as a writer than I do and I wonder if I’d survive such long periods between paychecks. Still, I admire his dedication and diligence in writing it the best it can be and doing it the way he needs to in order to get there.

To do anything well, one must be willing to work hard. Some times working hard means different things for different people. For some, certain things come more easily than for others. I have writer friends like Jay Lake who turn in what they call “clean first drafts.” Others of us spend days going over copyedits. I think these are things one can improve on with time. I know some who struggle with POV and description, while others roll intricate flowery emotional prose off their keyboards like breathing air. (I hate them for it, don’t you?) Some are stronger on science than character. Some are stronger on dialogue than plot. Part of being human is to be imperfect. It’s not a crime. It’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome with diligence.

It’s a cliche, I suppose, to say anything worth having is worth working for, but in a sense, that’s just truth. The writers whose careers last decades are known for diligence: Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc. All have worked hard to perfect their craft. All write with great discipline and take advantage of every opportunity. All produce multiple books and stories every year. And all will tell you it’s hard work and that they are always seeking to improve.

For me, part of following their example is modeling myself after their efforts. I am diligently blogging, writing, and networking. I am diligently educating myself about this business. I am diligently reading to be aware of what’s come before and who’s writing what. And I am diligently studying storytelling, craft, prose, etc. to understand how others do it well and improve my own work in the process.

How’s your diligence? Is it a priority for you? Are you in it for the long haul or short run? Good questions to ask, I think. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.