As you probably know, I’m planning to give up my day job at the end of the year to write full time. That decision is as scary as it is exciting. But others have done it before, so I invited other writers who structure their daily lives around writing to answer a few questions on my blog.
I have the great pleasure of featuring R.E. Bradshaw as the first writer braving my questions. And she has an amazing tale to tell!
For those of you who don’t know her, R.E. is the author of the Rainey Bell thriller series, Out on the Sound, Out on the Panhandle, Molly: House on Fire, and other novels (see her author page on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.) She worked in professional theatre and taught university and high school classes before becoming an indie author.
Many people I know are raving about her books, but I have to admit that I haven’t read any of her works yet. That’s the disadvantage of working a full-time job and writing every second of my spare time. But R.E.’s Rainey Days is waiting for me on my Kindle, and after reading her answers to my questions, I’m even more curious to try her writing.
So here’s what R.E. had to say about her journey as a writer.
How long have you been writing full-time? What was the process of moving into full-time writing for you?
I had been very ill for more than five years due to toxic mold exposure in the school where I was a theatre teacher. I wrote as a distraction from my daily grind and poor health. In December of 2009, I actually completed my first full-length novel in fourteen binge writing days. By August, I had written three more. I threw three unedited “novels” up on Amazon, just to see what would happen. That was August 27, 2010.
Less than a month later and running a high fever, I was asked to join my principal in her office. A discussion about my sick leave ensued, in which she said to me, “If the school is making you sick, maybe you shouldn’t work here.” I told her she was right, handed my keys to her secretary, and walked out the door in the middle of the school day, September 16th.
I proceeded to my car, where I called my wife and told her what I had done, in tears of course. I said I could probably get my job back, if I went back in. I could claim the fever caused me to act rashly. The process of moving from part-time writing hobby to full-time author started with her words, “I’d rather have you happy and healthy. We’ll get by.”
That night, she sat down with our finances and evaluated the situation. I was informed that if I wanted to keep my vehicle, then I needed to make $700.00 a month. If I could part with my beloved Hummer, then I could just stay home and do nothing until I felt better. Neither of us thought the writing gig was going to pay off. After all, “everyone” says you can’t make a living writing books. While I contemplated my next career move, which included a possible stint as a Wal-Mart greeter, I published the last of the first four books at the end of September.
A funny thing happened. My books started to sell. By November, I was much, much healthier and had an Amazon.com #1 Best Seller in Lesbian Fiction. Even unedited and in dire need of some rewriting, all four books sold very well. I was being told I should hire an editor and continue to write. I also received my share of negative feedback. But like most of the times in my life when someone told me I couldn’t do something, I did it anyway. I took the advice to hone my skills and hire an editor.
It wasn’t long before I was consistently making much more than my college professor wife, not to mention leaving my paltry teaching salary in the dust. What looked like an awful, horrible day—the day I walked away from a thirty-year theatre career and teaching—turned out to be the window of opportunity I needed to fulfill a lifelong dream. Up until then, whenever someone asked what my dream job was, I would say to sit in front of a picture window and write books for a living. I guess “everyone” was wrong and dreams do come true.
Full disclosure: I had a monetary cushion to use for bills the first ninety days until the Amazon checks for October came in at the end of December. After that, I’ve never looked back.
Do you write every day? Do you give yourself weekends or days off or vacation time away from writing?
I do write every day. If I’m not at the computer, I’m still writing in my head. I do take time off from physically sitting at a computer. I spent most of the last seven months doing research and reading a lot, but not much novel writing. I needed a vacation and I gave myself one. I wrote a lot in the three years I’ve been doing it for a job. I needed a break. That said, when I am actively working on a novel, I take no time off. I write until it’s done. I can’t stop a project once it gets going. I hate it when my wife pauses a movie, breaking the tension. Writing is like that for me.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Today is a typical writing day for me. I rose at dawn, because our cat is an ass every morning until I get up. I do my morning pet and house chores and then sit down to do the social networking, answer e-mails, and take care of obligations like this guest blog questionnaire. That done, I will take my break—time to work out, shower, and then eat brunch. Once that is done, I go back in the chair to write. I take breaks about every two hours, because it isn’t healthy to sit for long periods. I do my cooking and cleaning during these breaks.
Yes, I am a full-time author, but I am also the chief cook and bottle washer. My girl worked a full-time job and took care of our family all those years I was in the theatre business. If I was home, I was asleep. Thirty years of crazy hours and “No, I can’t. I have rehearsal.” I owe her. She also understands the time at the end of each book where I neither clean nor cook. I had an author ask me if my wife resented the time I spent writing. I can honestly say she has never been anything but supportive. When I’m completely frazzled and have that crazed “Don’t talk to me now, my characters are in peril” look, she takes care of her chores and mine.
After the wife comes home, I generally spend about an hour with her for dinner and conversation, then it’s back to writing. If she wants to do something, I’ll stop writing, but she’s generally very happy if there is some sport on the TV. Then sometimes I nap, snack, and write continuously for days, (Hello, my name is R. E. Bradshaw and I’m a binge writer,) but most of the time, I follow this routine.
Do you have a daily word-count goal or a set number of hours you spend writing?
No, I may have a self-imposed deadline for novel completion, but I don’t worry about how much I wrote yesterday or will write today. I may spend all day rewriting parts of chapters. How do you count those words? I’ve spent a day rewriting the same page over and over. I could have written 10,000 words and only kept 2,000. I may have spent the day writing a heartfelt blog, or scribbled something down I think would make a good story idea, or spent all day on research. That’s writing too. I don’t see having a word count number to post on social media sites as helping me be productive. Having a finished novel I am proud of is the only measuring stick I use. Stress and pressure are not my friends, so I do as little as possible to feed those monsters. If writing feels like work, I don’t do it. If it feels like a voracious compulsion, then I will write until my fingers bleed. That’s my gauge of productivity, passion. If one precious sentence that I rewrote a hundred times finally fell into place, then it was a good day. I guess it’s a question of valuing quality over quantity.
Where do you write?
I can shut out what I need to and write pretty much anywhere, but my office is in our living space. We have an open floor plan in our front room. I am in one corner, and my wife is in the living area on the other end of the room. It’s a small house, so it’s a good thing I don’t require quiet to write. She respects the hand in the air, “don’t talk to me now” signal and understands that she needs to make eye contact with me if she wants to be sure I am actually listening to her. These are theatre skills left over from acting. One must be able to embody a character, still remember where to be and when to be there, ignore the living breathing audience just feet from the stage, and portray emotions as if no one else were in the room. That’s a lot like how I write. I know the real world is out there; I simply choose to ignore it.
How did family and friends react to you giving up your day job to become a full-time writer?
My wife and son have been terrifically supportive. My parents were skeptical, but then I quit listening to them when I was twelve. I direct your attention back to the statement I made about people telling me “no.”
How much time do you spend promoting your books, including blogging, social media, etc.?
I only occasionally use my blog for marketing purposes. I blog when I have something to say. I’m not a weekly or daily blogger. I don’t think people are all that interested in what I have to say, at least not enough to want to hear me blabbing my opinions regularly. I talk about my life on social media. I don’t make it a habit to promote my novels. I talk a bit about them as they are being written. I make an announcement when they are published. For the most part, when social media interferes with the writing process, whether it is the crap that goes on in this little lesbian niche or when fans simply have no concept of social boundaries, I take a step back. I realize I can’t disappear, but I won’t let promotion and a social media presence take the joy out of writing or my personal life.
What’s the best thing about being a full-time writer?
I am allowed to do something I really enjoy for a job. It’s doesn’t feel like a job either and that is a blessing.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a full-time writer?
I spend a lot of time alone. Sometimes I miss the interaction with my theatre and teaching colleagues. I do miss the time I spent with my students. I fill that void by volunteering with a local youth group.
Is there anything you wish you would have known before becoming a full-time writer?
Honestly, there are still things I don’t know. Taxes and legal stuff are no fun. I am fortunate to make enough to be able to hire professionals to relieve me of those tasks.
I also would have saved the money I spent attending author-centric activities and focused my travel and marketing budget on events designed to give readers a chance to talk about books. I have no interest in huddling in a location with other authors for a series of writing workshops, when I could travel and meet people who read books and want to talk to me about them. Put the readers first.
If you are successful, prepare to be disliked simply for being good at what you do. When you’re writing for a living, you have a lot of time alone to listen to the noise in your brain. If you let the seeds of self-doubt creep in, you’ll have hell to rid yourself of that earworm. Mind you, keep the bad seeds out of your creative garden. If criticism has merit, learn from it. If it does not, chop it out like a weed. Learn to focus on the writing, no matter what. The thing I talk to new authors about the most, especially the successful self-published author, is the negative rain on their “Oh my God, my book is selling” parade. Not everyone is going to bang the drum and sing your praises. Learn to live with that. I truly wish someone had said this to me—focus on writing, learn from your mistakes and successes, and ignore the noise.
What advice would you give a fellow author who wants to write full time?
If you are an author with a publishing house, then you know when and how much you should expect to be paid. If you don’t know that, then you should stop right now and find out. As a self-published author, I have up to the hour sales reports at my fingertips. I know exactly how much money I can expect to receive sixty days from now. DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB until you do the math. Can you expect your sales to remain consistent enough to pay your bills, even in those months when you have not published in a while?
If you’re self-published, then you have a better chance of controlling your income by being productive. If you’re traditionally published, someone else will dictate when you publish and how often. That has to be considered before stepping off the deep end.
I was at the end of my rope with my health and a school district that didn’t care that I was dying. I did not quit my teaching job to be a writer. I quit that job to survive. I made the right decision, but I was prepared to go sack groceries if I had to.
Can you tell us a bit about your latest novel?
My latest publication was last spring, THE RAINEY SEASON.
This is the third in the award-winning Rainey Bell Thriller series, following Lambda Literary Award finalist Rainey Nights.
The Rainey Bell Thriller Series is about a criminal profiler chasing serial murderers and rapists. The content will reflect that. These are not “lesbian fiction” romance novels.
Each book is stand-alone. It does help to read them in order, but it is not necessary.
In The Rainey Season, former FBI behavioral analyst Rainey Bell has settled into her life as a wife and mother with Katie Myers and the triplets. Consulting and private investigative work occupy the time not taken up with the one-year-olds crawling around her ankles. As always, her eye is on the security of her family, because Rainey knows evil is out there and that it is probably watching her. Rainey may be paranoid, but she’s generally right. If it feels wrong, it usually is.
What books can we look forward to from you in the future?
My next release will be IN PASSING, which is a romantic mystery novel that is late in coming out, as my extended vacation cut into the writing time, but I needed the break. I think the book will be better for not rushing it to completion. (One of the beautiful things about self-publishing is making your own publication schedule.)
The hook for IN PASSING: We pass every day for something. We wear different faces for different places. We pass for heterosexual, if need be. We pass for happy, when we’re not at all. We pass people and things without notice. Our one hope is that we do not let life pass us by.
After IN PASSING, I’ll go back to work on the fourth installment of the Rainey Bell series, called COLD & RAINEY, followed by a novel I’ve been working on for a while, titled SAND LETTERS.
I also need to finish my Civil War opus, TALES OF APPLETREE SWAMP, which tells the fictionalized story of the original Rebecca Elizabeth “Decky” Bradshaw, my grandmother’s great aunt.
I have more ideas than time to write them. I guess I should get back to it. Thank you, Jae, for having me as a guest on your blog. It was my pleasure.
Thank you for patiently answering my questions, R.E. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought—and a lot of novels to read once I (hopefully) have more time next year.
Please check back next weekend for an interview with Kim Pritekel, author of novels such as Connection and Twilight—no, not that Twilight. I like Kim’s book much more