Writing and the Work Ethic

The Fake Family Reunion was, as always, wonderful. It was a smaller crowd this year. Usually we manage about 40-50. This year, with the variety of events that people had going on with their real families (go figure) we had about 25-30. But it was still great to see everyone. Friends came from as far away as Boston this time. We will probably carry on the tradition, regardless of the numbers. It is good for me, and makes it easier for me to bear Christmases, parent holidays, and the like. I have always said that I am lucky to have Bryon and his family, but especially at Christmas, I always wonder why Norman Rockwell failed me.

From the bottom of my heart, family of choice, thanks for spending a little time with me this weekend.


And Wednesday it’s back to Kirkwood. Which could be good because I could probably use a little more structure. Which could also be good, because you know, it will help me feel that I am doing something and I’m not frivolous. I’m sure that once I’m working 8-4 for the next few weeks while we wait for school to start, I will rue the reverse culture shock that kept me from relaxing. I will no doubt be complaining about my lack of free time soon. Stay tuned. That’s just the kind of contrary whiner I am.


I have finished Jerry Schechter’s My Screenplay Can Beat Up Your Screenplay, and I”m about 1/3 of the way through Dan Decker’s Anatomy of a Screenplay. Both books are teaching me a lot about structure that I can use in my own writing. Lou Anders did a very nice presentation featuring these books at Convergence (which I have yet to write up. I know, I know). I am finding them useful and Schechter’s is especially entertaining. He’s a very funny writer, worth reading even if you aren’t interested in writing.

And…I haven’t been writing much. I have been writing…some. The summer was not good for my writing. Mostly, I find I need time to write, and I haven’t had it. Off work on June 13th, in Vietnam until June 29th, three days to plan for Convergence, Convergence and then finally two weeks to be home. All I wanted to do during these two weeks was get over jet lag, lingering bronchitis and reconnect with friends and the spousal unit. Worthwhile goals indeed.

Still, lesson learned again. Active social lives are hard to write through. And sometimes, you don’t feel like writing. Which is okay for unagented me, with no deadline. I will say this: if I get a deadline, ever, I have gone to grad school, finished a thesis, and had a full time job all at the same time in the past. I can make those kinds of things happen, not through raw power, but through my amazing ability to plan and organize. It is a mutant power that is exploited by many. I can exploit my own mutant power. I think that it is legal. I like what Kelly McCullough does–figures out what he needs to do each day to make those deadlines. That I can do.

There’s this idea that you should write through anything if you want to be a writer. Bronchitis, jet lag, a visit to your mother-in-law. It’s all about priorities. Yes. It is. Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a piece a little while ago about how the problem with many writers was that they didn’t treat their writing like a job. They treated it like a hobby.

I…I disagree that you have to treat writing like a job, especially if you have another job. Now, I emphatically do not mean that you can ignore deadlines when you have them. But my writing is not my job. I have worked very hard at trying to get deadlines and contracts, and when I get them, I’m all over them. I am very serious about these projects, but I really don’t need two jobs.

I am no longer of the belief (if I ever have been) that writing harder and longer will get me an agent or a contract. I do believe in not sending out crap and finishing my works before I move onto other works. I do believe in controlling what I can. But luck trumps everything I can do on this end. Skill and having a body of work help, and luck is not possible if you don’t have these things. Fretting about writing–right out. Do your writing to the best of your ability. Looking at where your friends are–also right out. I’ve been grappling with that one lately. Funny, I thought jealousy had more heat to it, but Bryon assures me that my grappling is jealousy. So, keeping my head down, acknowledging that and moving on. Or trying to. An amazing thing is that you can be pleased for your friends and jealous at the same time. Who knew?

There is the mantra of hitting the right agent on the right day at the right time. I might push that further and also suggest that other factors come into play, like indigestion, or the positioning of the moon. Levity aside, it does take only one yes. It can be hard waiting for the yes. I’m keeping my head down. And remember that in the world of injustices, this small infraction on your ego is not a health problem, a third world problem, or even a large personal problem. I’m not really talking to you. I’m talking to me. But you know, if it’s useful in anyway, feel free.

I take my writing very seriously, but I have to treat my writing like an important hobby, because there is simply not the room in my life to treat it like a job without getting rid of my…you know…job. Schechter’s book wisely says that you shouldn’t make screen writing your job. You shouldn’t get rid of your living. You should, however, continue to make your writing a priority. He suggests an approach that it is your number one hobby. That you do it when you can, and you take it seriously.

I don’t think anyone, whether they use job, or hobby, or what term, thinks you should stop living to write your books. Otherwise, how can you prime the wick? Have the will to write? Have anything to write about? People have to prioritize family and friends. Well, okay, I do. Writing is right up there in the priorities, but teaching wins over writing every day, hands down, because that’s how I make the life I want, so I can do crazy things, like writing. And Bryon and my friends win over teaching, because they are the very essence of the life I want.

Maybe what this means is that it will take even longer than it already has for me to get an agent or a book contract, or produce books than some of my more diligent peers. That is probably as it should be.

But hey. I just finished a book in December. I’m working on another book. I can’t find anything wrong with that pace. And since I am writing on spec at this point, steadily, why shouldn’t this process be something I enjoy? I think that’s worth noting to myself too. I won’t think about fulls or partials or nos or anything but the book in front of me.


Dinner time. I’m going to go see what decision of the three offered up The Man(TM) has decided to start. And then, tonight, writing. Fun, well-planned but very first draft like writing.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

2 thoughts on “Writing and the Work Ethic”

  1. Good to hear you had a great reunion,we do enjoy it and I wish I could
    have been there. Will see you soon in CR or swing by if you’re in IC.

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