The Most Important Thing an Aspiring Author Needs to Know

I've been giving a lot of advice on technique in this journal, an introduction to the craft and science aspects of writing a solid story. Now I'm going to briefly venture off into new territory. I thought I'd start by telling you the most important thing you need to know if you want to be a professional author: TANFL.

There Ain't No Free Lunch.

Nothing worth doing is easy. Nothing worth having comes free. That's as true in life as it is in your prospective writing career, but I think it's important enough that it needs to be said.

Writing is a LOT of work. Breaking into the industry is a torment worthy of the fifth or sixth circle of Hell. Face that. Expect it. Deal with it. It's going to be difficult.

It's difficult from the get go: you've got to work your tail off and give yourself carpal tunnel just to make it to the front of the rope-line outside Club Author. There's no guarantee that you'll ever get in. There probably aren't going to be very many people who are actively supporting your efforts. You'll probably have more than one person say or do something that crushes your heart like an empty Coke can. You'll probably, at some point, want to quit rather than keep facing that uncertainty

In fact, the vast majority of aspiring authors (somewhere over 99 percent) self-terminate their dream. They quit. Think about this for a minute, because it's important:


And a lot of you who read this are going to do it too. Doesn't mean you're a bad person. It's just human nature. It takes a lot of motivation to make yourself keep going when it feels like no one wants to read your stuff, no one will ever want to read your stuff, and you've wasted your time creating all this stuff. That feeling of hopelessness is part of the process. Practically everyone gets it at one time or another. Most can't handle it.

But here's the secret:

YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. *NO ONE* can make you quit. *NO ONE* can take your dream away.

No one but you.

If you want it, you have to get. You. An author can't help you. An editor can't help you. An agent can't help you. If you want to climb that hill, the only way to do it is to make yourself do it, one foot in front of another, one word after another. It will probably be the greatest challenge most of you have ever faced.

And here's the kicker: THAT IS A VERY GOOD THING.

If you stay the course and break in, you are going to acquire a ton of absolutely necessary skills. You have to learn to motivate yourself to write even when you don't feel like it: Discipline. You're going to have to learn the ropes of the business, and how to work with an editor: Professionalism. You're going to face what might be years of adversity, facing a monumentally difficult task and you're going to overcome it: Confidence. You're going to do it with very little active support, and when you look back at this time in the future, you're going to know that it was something YOU did all by yourself: Strength.

TANFL, guys.

Breaking into the business is a daunting challenge. But you aren't going to BEAT that challenge. You're going to transcend it. The very nature of the adversity is going to give you the strength and skill you need to overcome and succeed.

You want in? Here's what you do:

1) Make up your mind that you are going to protect your own dream. If you've got its back, your dream is invincible.

2) Cultivate patience. Prepare for the long haul. Building your skills to a professional level can take years. So can building your professional character.

3) Put your Butt In the Chair and start writing. Period. No excuses. There is no substitute for BIC time. It's part of the price you pay.

4) When you get done with a word, write another word.

5) Repeat steps 4 and 5 until your dream comes true.

Secret number 2-- THE PAIN IS WORTH IT. If it had taken me TWENTY years instead of nine, IT STILL WOULD BE WORTH IT.

Cause here's what you get: ding.

When it's all done and you're holding your first novel in your hand, you're going to look back at your breaking-in period and wonder what all the drama was about. All the things that wrenched you inside out during the torment will suddenly seem small and unimportant. Know why? Because much like Scott Pilgrim, you have leveled up. Ding.

You're going to look back at that time with pride, having overcome seemingly impossible odds against succeeding. You're going to look at upcoming challenges as if they were a bottle of champagne to be savored and then gleefully smashed.

The true reward of breaking into the industry against all the odds isn't money. It isn't fame. It it isn't respect.

It's you.

It's confidence. It's satisfaction. It's well-deserved pride. Suddenly, the other challenges in your life are going to dwindle as well, because you know you'll be able to handle them.


Ding, baby. Ding.

Go write.
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Published on November 03, 2011 01:20 • 9,558 views
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message 1: by HR (new)

HR Thank you so much for this blog. I will be printing it and putting it on the wall next to my computer. Looking forward to more BIC time myself.

message 2: by Dustin (new)

Dustin Bishop Damn. That is one heck of an inspiring post. Thank you.

message 3: by Priscilla (new)

Priscilla Awesome post, Jim. And fellow Butcherphile GoodReaders should note that "Ghost Story" is up for Best Paranormal Fantasy in the Goodreads Choice Awards. The nominee pool is fantastic, including the awesome Seanan McGuire and the wonderful Charlaine Harris. Vote for whichever book is your favorite!

message 4: by Bookphile (new)

Bookphile Thanks so much for the fantastic post! It's just the kind of inspiration I need as I'm tackling NaNoWriMo 2011!

message 5: by Becky (new)

Becky Hoffman This is a very encouraging post. I've been reading your instructional entries since your first blog, so thank you for another great addition.

message 6: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay Stalone If it only takes me four more years I shall be deeply relieved.

message 7: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Thank you for the wonderful post. When I struggle with procrastination, I will remind myself of this.

message 8: by Mark (new)

Mark Lewis Hey Jim, that's is great advice. I like, Honey, will be printing it out and putting it next to my computer. My "office" moves," so will the printout.

message 9: by Alex (new)

Alex Telander A great inspiring post that fits so well into my constant adage: never give up!

message 10: by Jenn (new)

Jenn I thought you were amazing before, but this is just one more example of your amazing amazingness! Thanks.

message 11: by Texasjunejw (new)

Texasjunejw A reader and friend just now sent me your way. He was right, your words were exactly what I needed! I'm devoted to BIC, but sometimes an outside reinforcement of the path is the best companion. I too think you're awesome!

message 12: by W. Jason (new)

W. Jason Allen Good words! I had the dream of being a writer when I was in college, but I didn't stick with it. I regret that now, but it's not too late to start!

message 13: by Liz (new)

Liz *ding* indeed. :)

message 14: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy A good lesson to Occupy protestors. Most of them probably gave up their dreams. :P

message 15: by Gil (new)

Gil Hough I love his books and love his advice on books, they have both been critical in my writing of my own first book Celestial Justice.

message 16: by Jane (new)

Jane Thanks Jim. The best friends always give you the swiftest kick. JET

message 17: by Brick (new)

Brick Marlin Great advice, I needed it!

message 18: by Berinn (new)

Berinn Rae Best blog post. Ever! Thanks so much for taking the time to share the words with us, Jim.

message 19: by Flail (new)

Flail Around <3

message 20: by Irene (new)

Irene What an awesome kick in the pants.

message 21: by Ann (new)

Ann Thank you for the fantastic advice. I'll surely take it to heart, especially while I'm spending all this BIC time on NaNoWriMo. BTW, can't wait for the next Dresden episode.

message 22: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Year two, done. Novel 1, done. Short Story 3, underway. Publishing contracts, none. Thank you for shouting out from your forward position. It shows your quality. And your books show your skill. It is heartening to know it took years to develop that skill. The dream: I'm in for however long it takes. Bless you!

message 23: by Mike (new)

Mike Dodson Great blog! I've enjoyed reading all of your blogs on writing. They've been a real help.

message 24: by Emily (new)

Emily (Obsessed Reader) My God, I have honestly never read anything as inspirational as this! Thank you so much for sharing, I so needed this!

message 25: by Alison (new)

Alison Thanks, Jim. When I read your post, I felt like you were extending your hand to help me up from the floor. I got up and put my butt back in the chair. :)

message 26: by Aleta (new)

Aleta Thank you, Jim. I just finished Storm Front last night and loved it. I have always wanted to be a writer since I knew how to put pencil to paper. But I lose focus easily and get very discouraged. I started NaNoWriMo this year, and I'm already way behind. But your post really brought me back to what was important and reminded me that there are NO EXCUSES. If I haven't achieved what I want yet, it's because I haven't done it yet. My Book in a Month contract with myself and your post are pinned to the wall next to my desk where I can see them every time I sit down to my computer. It's BIC time. 'Nuff said.

message 27: by Annie (new)

Annie Quinty Thank you, thank you, thank you! Needed to read this just now, to be reminded why I pursue the Dream!

message 28: by Chimeradragon (new)

Chimeradragon You are truly inspiring. I love the way you brought this post to life. I'm going to save this blog and use it to help me when I feel like I can't keep going with my own novel. It's good to know that even the pros are Human, and they had doubts at one point in time or another.

Thank you so much for your blogs and the inspiration to those that read them.

message 29: by Therissa (new)

Therissa This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thank you! :)

message 30: by Angel (new)

Angel Haze Great post! Thanks for the inspiration!

message 31: by Simon (new)

Simon Um...yeah, I can't say much hear that the lovely 31 people above me have already said. So I'm gonna just feel free to plagiarize them. In spirit. Because I'm too lazy to type it all out. (And yes, I can see the irony of that statement.)

Except that I can definitely see that Mr. Dresden and Mr. Butcher seem to share a certain number of elements of their respective outlooks on life. :)

message 32: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Coleman Thank you for a wonderful and inspiring message.

message 33: by L.K. (new)

L.K. Watts This is one of the most inspiring blog posts I have read all week - and I read A LOT of blog posts :)

message 34: by Krita (new)

Krita Thanks for writing this blog. I am passing this one to my bro - an aspiring author himself.

message 35: by Marissa (new)

Marissa I agree with the first few posts of "posting this next to my laptop". Gotta admit, seeing works like Butcher's up on the shelves is what inspire me to keep writing. Admittedly, before I get BIC time I gotta go finish "Grave Peril" ^_^

message 36: by Gary (new)

Gary Henson Thank you for the positive outlook and realistic suggestions.
It's a great boost to hear comments like these when you're new and shiny.

message 37: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Davis You are one fascinating man. I was already elated to find out you had a blog. Now, I'm inspired and energized. This is good advice for anyone with a dream. Bless you, Sir. If I weren't married, I'd be in love.

message 38: by Page (new)

Page As Heinlein puts it, TANSTAAFL. "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."

Very well said and inspiring! My problem is BIC. That and a busy life. Maybe one day it will be worth it!

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