What one of the guys at work said.

Do you call yourself a writer first and a (insert job) second or the other way around?

  • Writer
  • Day job title
  • Don’t define myself by occupation–I’m a human being, damn it!

0 voters

Writing hasn’t paid me much yet, just a few bucks here and there. I work in the celluloid salt mines, on features and mind-numbingly boring tv series. Well, a couple of years ago we were doing some big shot with a crane and I was lugging the heavy lead weights to the back of it where the counterweight box is, and another grip–that’s my job title, grip–said, Hey, don’t do that, you’ll wreck your wrists! And I sort of looked at him and said, what? He said, You’re a writer, and grabbed the cart of weights and took over. I thought he was joking, and he was, but at the same time, it was one of the first times anyone had called me that, and I said to him after work, You know, that was really cool, your saying that. I began to believe it, and now, even though I have yet to sell a novel or a screenplay, I call myself a writer who is also a grip, rather than the other way round. It makes a difference. It really does.

The mind-changing moment for me was when someone asked, ‘When did you realise you were a successful writer?’

Me, successful?

I suppose they were referring to the fact that I’d published about twelve novels by then.

But I’m still learning the craft.


Dear Crime Writer: In my eyes, that’s success. But has it paid the rent, etc or do you still find you need another source of income? To have written twelve novels, and have them published…if I could only finish the novel Ive been working on for five years. And its no epic, either. I think now that I feel I owe it to myself and my wife and old mother to complete this novel even though I find my interest in it fading: five years, five drafts, and still it feels very much insubstantial, incomplete. In fact I feel further away from it now in some ways than I did when it was a fresh, exciting idea. Should I abandon it? If not, how long do I continue? I wrestle with those two questions daily as I work on the fifth draft.

I’m thinking you keep going.
What if Joyce had quit?

You may say, I’m no Joyce.
But Joyce was no Proust.
And Proust was no Goethe.
And Goethe was no Dante.

Years ago, I wrote a very short poem. I called it “Tell”.
I didn’t know it at the time
(because I looked at it as I wrote it — from the dark side),
but it was the best advice I ever gave myself
(because I realized it was just as true from the light side).

If I never cross the minded line
or throw the hammer far,
who will ever know to tell?

Same goes for you, Fingers.

Who knows how great you might be?
Who will ever know unless you keep writing?


Damn, you’re right, and I know it, and I know I must continue.

If I can be maudlin and very honest here for a moment, only a moment, I promise, I will reveal that I turned fifty-two last week and I have nothing published and I have been writing a while now, let’s say…seriously considering myself a writer…since 2001? Before that, I wrote, screenplays mostly. It takes me a while to write anything. So I look at what you’ve accomplished and I look at how long its taking me to write this novel and I think, five, six years per book…and divide that by what may or may not be left to me…

And I know I must keep going.

A few blocks from our apartment in east Vancouver is a large cemetary. It’s not like one of those English cemetaries with all the great headstones. Most of the graves have simple, flat granite markers. And cherry trees. And a view of the mountains across downtown. I like walking through there.

I haven’t accomplished much in my life. I made a living, I married, we didn’t have kids, we remain married, my wife is a successful artist, and still I write. If I were to be buried or cremated in that cemetary, what would my stone say?

What if I never sell a book, what do I leave? Is it important to leave anything, or is it enough to have lived an honest life, a respectful, simple life? I won’t give up. I will keep writing.

Thanks for your letter and your poem, I’m going to print it out.

Keep writing, yes.

Keep working on this particular manuscript? Maybe, maybe not. It sounds like you may have revised away whatever interest the idea once had for you. If that’s the case, why keep beating yourself up about it?

I can recommend Holly Lisle’s workshop, “Burn it, bury it, let it live,” as a guide to thinking about what to do next:



I’ve read your posts; you have a good mind and a lively style. Maybe the long-form is not right for you at this point in time. Try doing shorter pieces. A review of a book, film, or cd, perhaps. Send them to your local papers. Editors are always looking for reliable contributors. Then hit them up to do a local travel or history or human interest piece. Getting published is good for your self-esteem, and it raises your public profile. Let that novel rest a bit. It may be easier to finish it later on.


Fingers, have you tried sending your novel to anyone – editor, agent? There are also good independent editorial services around these days who will read your MS and give you some professional feedback. Reckon to pay a fee, though – it takes many hours’ work to read and evaluate a novel.

And BTW, I agree: from the evidence here, you CAN write.

And yes, my writing pays the rent, the electricity bill, and for very expensive haircuts, and it even bought me a new second-hand car. I live on my income from writing (but I’m frugal, apart from the haircuts).

Good luck.
Keep going.

And what I meant to say, Fingers, was that however many novels I’ve published (and it’s 16 now) and however many fan letters and good reviews I’ve received, there is something inside me that can’t quite believe I can do it. Every novelist I know wakes up in the morning terrified that the magic has gone and this is the day when they’ll be found out as a fraud. So you are not alone in your self-doubt.

Oh, and have you thought of joining a writers’ group?


Not into writers groups: too much yakety yak, not enough scritchety-scritch. I was in a writing cohort for a year, a workshop, and it helped, but I found after a while that we were writing by committee somewhat, in that I’d get several suggestions, and then wonder: who’s writing this, me or them? Speaking of writing it is 10.30am here and I have yet to stop the email and web stuff and get down to it. Right then.

But I am intrigued; I want to read one or more of your novels. Rather than identify yourself here, you can, if you like, send me a private email: mjscox@gmail.com


If you ask me, the main question is not, ‘Should I keep writing?’ The question is ‘Do I love writing?’

I’ve been collecting rejection letters for the past ten years (seriously, I keep them all in a big binder) and haven’t managed to get ANYTHING published yet (except a self-published novelette, and I’ll probably never do that again). If I didn’t love to write, I’d have given up a long time ago.

The point being, if you love to write, who cares about success or failure? Sure it’s great to succeed, and nobody likes failure, but if you love to do it that’s the main thing. At least it is for me.


Write on!


I keep promising Keith I’ll stop lurking and actually post something. This seems like a good place to start.

Fingers - one of Britain’s finest novelists, Anthony Burgess, didn’t publish a word until he was nearly fifty. He was diagnosed - incorrectly, as it turned out - with a terminal brain tumour and given twelve months. He used those “final” months to write a novel in order, posthumously, to support his wife.

(Or so he claimed. It’s a good story…)

Anyway, my point is - Burgess started late, but once he’d started he never stopped. And his novels just kept GETTING BETTER. His masterpiece (which I thoroughly recommend to everybody, my belated contribution to this excellent board) was EARTHLY POWERS. Burgess was born in 1917. Earthly Powers was published in 1980.

(And it has my favourite opening line of any novel…)

My first novel was published when I was 29, by when I was already (and absurdly) troubled by what I perceived as a younger generation - the pretty 25 year-olds who got larger advances, who got more publicity. Most of them are gone, now, faded away. I’m still here. Some of my books have been successful; at least one has been a full-on disaster. But I look at the anxiety of that 29 year-old and I think - oh, come on.

The book’s the thing. Keep writing the book. It took Joseph Heller seven years to write Catch-22. It was published when he was in his late thirties. His second novel, Something Happened, took him a full decade.

And back to Burgess. He accounted for his astonishing prolificness (is that a word?) simply by observing that he wrote 1,00 words a day, every day. That’s only three pages. But three pages a day equals 365,000 words a year - a novel about the length of Ulysses. Or a novel half that size, revised twice. Or half that size again, revised three times.

Graham Greene, however, wrote 500 words a day. Sometimes, if he was struggling, he’d stop halfway through a sentence. As long as he’d done his 500 words.

Keep going, mate. Don’t worry about anything, except the book.

And when it’s finished - admit it to yourself. That’s probably the scariest bit - because you owe it to yourself submit it to literary agents, in pursuit of a publisher. For what it’s worth, I had that problem with what became by first published novel. I wrote it quickly - 3 months. All except the final chapter, which I didn’t write for two and a half years - because I suspected this was “the one”: the absolute best I was capable of, at the time. If I submitted it, and it didn’t find a publisher, I’d have to think again…so I put it away and wrote nothing and got a proper job and…and…

There’s a possibility your slaved-over novel might not be “the one”. But if it’s not, the next one might be. Or the one after that. The book is the thing. Good luck, and keep going.


(And it has my favourite opening line of any novel…)

Please, tell me. I’m not all that lazy, I could go to the library, or try to chase it down on the internet, but if you have it committed to memory, I’d love to read it!

“It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”


I have written books that didn’t sell, two that did, and more that didn’t. What I’ve learned is that being published didn’t give me anything I didn’t already have, except a little more money (though not that much, considering the time I invested). I keep on writing because that’s what gives my life meaning, and because I care about the people I create. Because of me, they live.

It’s hard to know when to put a book aside. I think the time comes when you can’t bring anything more to it, or when you don’t want to live in that world any longer, or when you can’t see where to go with the story. Putting it aside doesn’t mean that you’re abandoning it forever, only that you’ve chosen to try something else for a time. You can always go back to the book later and you’ll probably have new ideas and insights by then. No book is a loss until you decide it is, and neither is your life as a writer.



I liked your post very much.


I like that very much. And agree with it. Once you define yourself as a writer (whether or not you clicked on that definition in the poll at the top of the page!) you needn’t live nor die by one book or story alone.

What makes it tough is knowing if others think you are a writer, or more to the point, that your writing is something they want to read (and I don’t mean loved ones, bless them for their unflagging support). While it may not define me as a writer, knowing I can write something that a reader, in particular an editor/publisher, finds worth reading, and, I hope, publishing, would certainly bolster my self-confidence. After all, five years on a novel that is still undergoing literary surgery is a long time, and I have yet to get into post-op (writer-editor relationship)!

I do thank everyone for their kind and thoughtful and positive comments. Re-reading them, and printing out these pages, has made all the difference. I return to work with renewed confidence…
ch2_forum.doc (24.5 KB)

Fingers, one more thought: someone mentioned agents, but there’s another set of pros known as “book packagers” or book producers, who agree to work with writers on manuscripts and get them ready for submission. Fees will vary, and so will the quality of advice. What you get is another pair of eyes reading the MS and helping put it into shape. This sort of help used to be available at publishing houses, but no more. You can learn more at their professional association, the ABPA: abpaonline.org/

I’m enjoying all the posts on this topic. Personally, I do call myself a writer, then a programmer. Though, programming currently pays the bills.

Mostly, I consider myself a writer as a part of who I am. Where, as a programmer, it is just what I do. I know that I will always be a writer. I have lots of stories to tell and I get excited when I start thinking up a new one. I have 2 technical books published and I’ve had over 40 technical articles published. Though, I don’t consider that “real” writing. My Dummies book comes a bit closer, since I did get to use a lot of personal experiences and some humor.

My big aspiration is a science fiction novel. I’m currently on chapter 4 of a story that I’ve had in the works for the past 15 years. Thanks to Scrivener, and recent life changing events (major surgery, relocation, middle age, etc.), I’ve come to a point where I’ve readdressed what is important to me. And writing is way up there on the list. I’m now focused on 500-1000 words per day as a goal. Thanks to lots of Starbucks in the area, this is very doable.

Yes, I’m a writer!