I live a Jekyll and Hyde existence. I just spent three months as a full-time writer. Now I’m back to school and for the next eight months or so I’ll be a part-time writer. Full-time is better but I can’t make a living that way. During the summer I often wrote 5 or 6 hours a day and then spent a few hours on the business end of writing. I did a lot of blogging. Most days now I’ll be getting an hour to write, if that. I’ll be cutting back on blogging. I just won’t have the time. The business end will have to take a back seat to making progress on actual writing.
Making progress. Sometimes, when the writing time gets shortened by life and work, that’s all you can do. A paragraph here. A page there. A few notes taken during a meeting or spoken into a tape recorder on a daily commute. Adaptability is the key, and I’ve become adaptable by necessity. I try to look upon it as a challenge, and I think I manage fairly well.
However, my level of adaptability pales compared to some professional writers I know. There are trends in publishing as in every other field. I have a friend who wrote historical romances until that market softened, then switched to historical mysteries, then took a turn at thrillers while keeping her mystery series running. All were written under different names and along the way my friend had to reinvent certain aspects of her writing style and storytelling style for different audiences. Another writer of my acquaintance changed her writing style dramatically, going from lush, serious prose to airy, light and humorous, and in the process upping her sales dramatically. I’ve heard of other writers doing much the same. It amazes me.
It’s not just that I would find such large scale reinvention difficult from a writing standpoint, but I’d find the whole process terrifying emotionally. I’d find it horrifically stressful, particularly if my livelihood and the wellbeing of my children were at stake. They say necessity is the mother of invention and that might explain why these writers have been able to do what they did and remain successful at a high level. I admire them, whatever the trigger.
Those of us writing now, whether trying to maintain and advance a career, or get one started from the ground up, are living in times when adaptability is becoming ever more necessary. The ebook revolution, with the explosion of self-publishing that has accompanied it, and the rise of social media as a marketing tool are just the most salient examples. The old ways are not dead and gone, but they are living side by side with new approaches. I’ve certainly been trying to adapt, what with my blogging and my Facebook presence, and I’ve even tried the self-publishing route with Killing Trail. So far I’ve not been tremendously successful but in this new world you never quite know what is going to hit and when.
I’d especially urge newer writers to consider adaptability and flexibility among the necessary writer’s tools for the 21st century. For example, don’t reject the possibility of self-publishing, but don’t consider it the be all and end all either. Certainly, I hear much talk about “branding,” about becoming known for doing one thing really well, and that is a way for some folks to make a name for themselves. But remember that trends change, tastes change. When the brand you established is no longer selling, you have to be willing to change to survive. Supposedly, an old curse is: “May you live in interesting times.” In publishing, we’re all living in exactly those times. It’s scary, but a little exhilarating too. In such times, the adaptable have the advantage.