Sunday, December 4, 2011

Writing Without a Net - a guest blog by Victor Gischler

I met Victor Gischler at one of the first Bouchercons I attended. He was definitely one of the cool kids of crime fiction. His debut novel, Gun Monkeys, had made a huge splash and had been shortlisted for an Edgar Awards. He wore flowing long locks and smoked like a guy in a noir film and hung with all the pulp fiction boys. He didn't say, but I'm pretty sure he was into small indy bands I had never heard of. We were introduced in a bar (of course) and I made some comment about his "Best First" nomination. "Yep," he said. "I'm an Edgar Award loser."

I think I fell a little in love with Victor at that moment. Many years later, his locks are considerably shorter, mine are considerably whiter, but he's still one of the coolest guys I know. He's also a brilliant writer and a consummate professional - if you include the author of Go-Go Girls of the Apolcalypse in the subset of "professional." Today, he's here to share one of the secrets of writers who, like him, are working without a net.

After I write this sentence, I’m going to pause and count how many things I have going right now. Hold on …

Okay, I’m back. The answer is 17. I have 17Link things going right now. Yes having something “going” is a vague way to put it. Some of these things are projects on which I am actively working – comic book scripts, pitches, novels. Some are things on which I am waiting to hear news and spend time following up with phone calls and emails. The point is that I have many, many lines in the water at any given time.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m a freelance writer. I have no day job. And as the title of this blog suggests, that can often be tricky and stressful. Nobody has promised me a damn thing. If I don’t write and if I don’t sell what I write, then the money doesn’t happen. That simple.

So I have 17 things going at once for the simple reason that I know not all 17 of those things will click into place. In this racket you throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and hope some of it sticks. My life is a gumbo of comic book scripts, screenplays, novels in progress, emails, phone calls and all of this hard work is broken up my long moments of staring at a blank wall trying to remember what I was doing five minutes ago. I am not a naturally organized or hard-working person. I must overcome my natural tendency toward sloth to avoid ruin. I am generally a shambling, harried, unshaven wreck. The truth is that if you check with me again this time next year I could be a millionaire or I could be broke. Both scenarios are equally possible.

Okay, so why did I tell you all that? For respect? (Look how much damn hard work I’m doing!) For pity? (I’m soooo tired. Can I take a week off please?) To sell lots of books? (Actually, you should buy some.) No. I’m telling you for the simple reason that a lot of folks just don’t know how it is. Lots of writers have day jobs. I’ve done it that way too. And I have a great spouse with a solid job, so that obviously helps. (Although it takes our combined income to live our comfortable middle-class lives.) For every Lee Child or Michael Connelly, there are a dozen (20? 100?) guys and gals like me whose lives are constant juggling acts. I’m not knocking those writers. They work hard too. I don’t know these guys and would not presume they have it easy. But when they write their next novels, they probably feel pretty confident their publishers will say yes.

It’s just a bit different for us out here on the tightrope. In the high winds.

Without a net.

Victor Gischler is the other of such crime novels as Gun Monkeys and his most recent The Deputy. His “other genre” novels include Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse and Vampire A Go Go. He also writes X-Men for Marvel Comics. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife Jackie and son Emery. You can read excerpts of his books (and lots more besides) at his Blogpocalypse, or follow him on Twitter.

Write First Writer's challenge winners will be announced next Sunday, December 11th. Comments posted on today's blog will count toward the raffle.


  1. Victor - Thanks for the view into the world of a working writer - a full time working writer..

    I'm always amazed at the writers I met that have one book. One. And it makes me wonder if I'm the one doing it wrong?

    I have 12 items out for submission right now, three novel length WIP and a short story that I've just shelved because it's too much like the the one the mag just published. So I'll send it in a few months.

    And a day job. I'm not comfortable without a net and without a Coben size contract. I like to eat and have heat in the house.

    Good luck with all 17!

  2. Thanks for having me, Reds. Something I forgot to put in my post:

    Under no circumstances do I consider my situation secial ... or rather, everybody's situation is special to them, right? If you're reading this, and you're a writer, what's your situation? Full time? Part time? Triple time? There's no wrong answer.


  3. Great post, Victor. I work full time and blog for the fun of it. I'm sure my spouse would love people to pay me for my book reviews, but, for me, it's a hobby that I love, love, love.

  4. Thanks for the thoughts, Victor. As someone who just watches writers from the sidelines, it's always inspiring to read the words of someone who is doing it full time. Keep up the great work.

  5. Wow. I feel like such a slacker. I only have 3 projects out on submission, 2 that need revising before ending off to my agent, 1 that needs revising before it goes to an editor, and a proposal written for 1 more.

    Working without a net is a scary proposition. My DH is self-employed, though his business is a little steadier than mine. Even so, some months are pretty darn lean in the James Gang.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom, Victor. Sometimes, it's nice to know that I'm not just whistling in the dark as I scamper through the graveyard alone.

  6. That's inspiring Victor--thanks for visiting with us! Lynn, wow, you have a lot of balls in the air--and Silver too. And Sabrina, you put your finger on one big problem writers have--we do so much of it without getting paid!

  7. One of many regrets in my life is that I was not aware of Victor before he moved away from the Tulsa, OK area. I would have loved to take his class.

  8. Great post, Victor. Like you, I'm working without a net full time now. My husband has a salaried job, but it takes both of us to keep the wolf away. Freelance feast and famine is the rule of the day here.

    There is a sense always of lots of plates spinning in the air. I have learned to dread the sound of china breaking. But I've done lots of things for a living, and I love writing the most.

  9. Your post is inspiring, Victor. Thanks for the sneak peek into your list of things going right now. It gives this gal some creative ideas.

    It's comforting to hear someone else had a tough time with what was/is a tough time for me. (Misery loves company, my bad.) I can at least question my theory I'm stupid and misguided when I keep on Keeping On. Knowing how it really is feels empowering. Gotta love that I dare this tightrope and the high winds. The Muse compels me.

    BTW, my husband edits & writes. Two without a net.

  10. One of the things I hope aspiring writers take away from Victor's experience is how important it is to finish the work, start the submission process, and immediately turn to the next work. I've met a lot of would-be-published authors who complete their first novel and then...stop. Because they're waiting to get an agent, or waiting to get published, or, nowadays, because they've pubbed it themselves and now spend ten hours a day marketing it.

    Every wordscribe should memorize Robert A. Heinlein's Six Rules:
    1. You must write
    2. Finish what you start
    3. Refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order
    4. Put your story on the market
    5. Keep it on the market until it has sold
    6. Start working on something else.

  11. Whoops! When I went looking for Heinlein's rules (to properly quote them) I picked them up at sf author Robert J. Sawyer's site. The sixth rule, Sawyer tells us, is his addendum to the original five. I can only assume Heinlein thought that step so self-explanatory he never bothered to codify it.

  12. Thanks for reposting the Heinlein Rules, Julia. They are an absolute necessity for a writer, and I think people who think they want to do this for a living should take a good look at them. If this looks like something you're willing to do, then you're probably making the right choice. If not, then perhaps more thought is required.

    And the 6th rule is the most important. Like you, Julia, I suspect Heinlein thought it was a "duh!"

  13. Full time freelance writer. So true. I'm working on 2 novels, a short story, a novella, 2 business reports, I edit a tech journal, write a weekly biz column, have 3 white papers dangling, & a handful of mag articles going on. That's just life for me.

  14. Please fool the Jungle Reds into thinking I'm popular by leaving a comment on my guest post


  15. Oh, I've never seen the Heinlein Rules. Thank you! Thinking about them now..

    And welcome, Victor..

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