Writing: Work or Play?

There’s a delicate balance to be found when pursuing a career in writing novels. We write because we are passionate, because we have a story to tell, and ideas to express. We write to inspire, to create wonder, to spread happiness. In a lot of ways, we write for us. We write to be expressed, to share, and to find a purpose, and those can all be beautiful things. I think many writers feel that surge of emotions and hope when they begin a project, those excited jitters, those feelings powered by the thoughts of what this novel can become.

But we also have to keep reality in mind.

And the reality is, if you’re really serious about it, writing is a job.

They say when you’re working doing something you love you’re never actually working a day in your life. There is some merit to this but I don’t think it’s completely true. Authors who make a living from writing LOVE what they do, but I think it’s a stretch to say they love every moment of it. I think it’s a stretch to say that sometimes sitting down and editing paragraph after paragraph isn’t tedious and draining. The author doesn’t do this because they love editing (well, maybe some weirdos do) but because they realize they have to make their work the best thing it can possibly be before it’s shipped out.

There’s commitment involved in this. A regimented process. It is hard work.

Now, some writers have writing schedules. They block out time of when to write so they sit down and work on their projects regularly. It is very much a work schedule. I am not this way, but I do make sure to constantly be thinking about my projects and finding time often to do work on my books. If the inspiration isn’t there maybe I’ll just edit what I have done instead of write, but the point is I’m making sure to go back and do SOMETHING with the work as often as I can. I don’t want to make writing a complete chore (as Palahniuk says, you don’t go sitting on the toilet if you don’t have to take a shit) but I also realize that if I am not disciplined and somewhat structured, the project may never get done or may never be as good as it could be. Every writer has their own method and balance, and it is key to find yours.

So is writing work or play?

Ideally the answer is both. We should be happy and inspired when making our works. The prospect of getting farther should excite us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sometimes force ourselves to sit down and look at the work when the mood isn’t ideal. That doesn’t mean if the spark isn’t there for three weeks we don’t look at the work in progress at all. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. You have to be involved, and in a world filled with deadlines and demands, it’s incredibly valuable building skills now. Get used to sitting your butt down and just writing. Get used to drawing creativity out of you when it doesn’t strike on your own. It’s possible. I’ve sat down thinking the last thing I wanted to do on that day was write and then pure brilliance came out.

There’s value to spontaneity, but there’s also value to structure.

Think about your projects. What you are writing and why, what you intend to do and why, and try to find your best balance. We have to work hard to produce truly magnificent works, and that is a beautiful thing. We will always be growing as a writer, and in that vein I think we should challenge ourselves to improve our craft and habits at every opportunity. I love writing, and I love how much I’ve evolved as an author, and I’m so overjoyed just thinking about how much better I can become and how much further I can go.

Love what you do, just make sure you actually go out and do it.


Writing: Work or Play?

The Waiting Game

My agent submitted my novel to editors at the Big 5 publishers, and I find myself playing a game I’m all too familiar with.

The waiting game.

Oh, that was the title, so that wasn’t so much of a dramatic reveal. Anyway…

Part of being a writer and pursuing mass publication is playing the waiting game, and growing thick skin as the tormenting silence is only broken when you feel the sting of a rejection (it’s happened to us all, and to me, too many times to count). I think it’s good to be prepared to wait and know how to deal with the anxiety that comes with it, so for what it’s worth my author friends, here’s my take.

Waiting during the query period is agonizing. I remember looking at my smartphone, checking my email every five minutes to look for results. I sent out queries in large batches (20 or so at a time) so I was expecting responses at any moment. Besides obsessively checking my email, I’d look up each agent to get an idea of their response times, and try to figure out if it was a good thing or a bad thing that they were taking as long as they were.

Talk about neurotic, I’m surprised I didn’t sprout a few grey hairs.

As authors, our works are very much like our children. They are something we create, raise, and care for very deeply. How they are taken and received very much affects our emotions, and thus, it is natural to worry so much when putting your child out there.

But obsessing that much just isn’t healthy, trust me. The answers will come when they come, and our efforts to glean the truth before it arrives only serve to drive us batty. I still am struggling with this (I just sent my agent an email the other day asking if no news was good news), so I get how difficult it can be.

My best advice? Put all that frustration and energy into your next project. Distract yourself with your artistic gift and make something wonderful come out of it. Fall in love with a new story, work on building your career while you wait to hear back. Just because one project is out there doesn’t mean you have to be on hold until you hear back. Plus, agents will be happy to hear you have a follow up project in the works, it makes you more marketable. Don’t have another idea yet? That’s fine! Work on editing a past project, write some poetry, or engross yourself in some reading (reading helps us grow as writers!) My point? Take this period and grow from it.

And you know? Rejection might be coming, but don’t let that derail you. Sometimes our current projects are just practice (Stephen King says the first million words are just practice) so if you’re putting your time in, developing new projects, and even learning how to query properly, this is all time well spent. I have multiple novels on the shelf (I tried querying all of my works) and you know, despite the fact I have an agent, two of my early works, honestly, probably will never make it out there. I love them, and am glad I wrote them (great practice) but I don’t think they are going to cut it.

And that’s okay.

As an author you will likely have a writing career, so don’t get caught up on one project. Who you are and the stories you have to tell are much grander than that. I have written 6 novels, and I only landed agents for two of them And even after landing my agent for my latest project, I’m still playing the waiting game! And still dealing with rejections!

It’s all a process, and I’m grateful to keep learning as I go on. Right now I’m preoccupying myself by diving into my latest work with great results (I’ve posted some excerpts) So this is energy well used.

And I’ll end on a humorous note. You know, sometimes it takes a long long long long time for agents to get back to you…

I just got a response on partial request I sent out to an agent…

When I sent the partial 14 months ago. For a different project. This rejection was a long long long long time coming!

Keep your chin up and keep writing friends. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on the status of Murderers Anonymous.


The Waiting Game

You Were Always Too Beautiful To Be Burdened By My Love

Makes less sense out of context, but here’s a blurb from an old project, Gentleman’s Game. My agent thinks it might be a good follow up after Murderers Anonymous. Still going through editing, so apologies for how raw the writing is.

Aiden stood before her, hand resting on the door frame, looking he’d come out of a war zone. His mouth was a busted mess, blood dripping down his chin and staining his shirt. Bruises and scratches littered his face, while his eyes were tired, drained and listless.

“I’m sorry,” he said. When he opened his mouth Sarah saw the state of his teeth, chipped and broken. His gums were a sickly dark purple.

“We have to get you to-” Sarah began, stepping forward, when Aiden intercepted her.

“Shh,” he said, stepping forward, putting his arms around her, and kissing her for the first time. He tilted his head and moved in quickly, his busted lips meeting her own. His body trembled from the pain of the motion and contact but he kissed Sarah with a passion, and despite the feel and taste of blood, for a split second, Sarah kissed him back.

Aiden broke the kiss, pulling away from her. Sarah stood, stunned, Aiden’s blood now smeared on her face. He wiped a drop of it away with his thumb before tapping it to her cheek, leaving a print. His eyes were more full of sorrow than when she’d met him on her swing set all those years ago.

“You were always too beautiful to be burdened by my love,” Aiden said before turning and walking back to his car.

Sarah tried to speak but no words came out. She tried to follow but her legs were frozen in place. Sarah had felt a chill run through her when he kissed her, not a chill of stimulation or excitement, but a chill to the bone, no, the soul. Part of her knew she wasn’t ready to handle the truth of whatever Aiden had gone through.

So she let him go. Sarah let Aiden walk back to his car and drive off without protest, standing at her doorstep, dumbfounded, for another ten minutes until the police arrived.

You Were Always Too Beautiful To Be Burdened By My Love

On Submission Rejections

Even after you conquer the query process and land an agent there’s still the challenge of getting an editor to give your work a shot. The rejections in the query process prepare you for the ones you get at the next level. It’s impossible to write a book that every agent/editor likes, so take what you can from rejections, learn what works, what does not, and let them motivate you to keep working your hardest. Here’s the first response my agent and I received on novel Murderers Anonymous, from Ballantine Bantam-Dell. I’m grateful for the editors thoughts and realize this is all just part of the business.

With regret, I won’t be making an offer on Allen Rivers’ MURDERERS ANONYMOUS, which doesn’t seem right for the Ballantine Bantam Dell list at this time.
It’s easy to understand your enthusiasm for this novel: the premise is instantly enticing and the cast of character is strong. But ultimately I found myself craving more surprises in the narrative as it unspooled from that promising opening.  Without a great sense of urgency, it would be tough for us to position this aggressively in a woefully glutted suspense marketplace.
Many thanks for the opportunity to consider MURDERERS ANONYMOUS.  I wish Mr. Rivers and you great success in finding the perfect publishing home for it.
On Submission Rejections

The Writing Process

People often ask me, “How do I do it? How can I sit down and right a novel? Do I need, notes, an outline, a writing schedule?”

The thing is, there’s no one answer to any of these questions.

Sure, that’s not what many prospective authors want to hear. They want to search through the muck of Google and blogs and come up with the method, the sure-fire what they can hit the ground running and produce their vision. But the truth of the matter is, writing is a truly personal, individuated process. 

Take me for example, I’m published and have an agent and I don’t outline. I know authors who would gasp at that, they absolutely need it and that’s totally fine. We each go about this in a different way.

So with that caveat put out there, let me give you some tips on the writing process.

1. Develop your idea. This may seem simple but I can’t tell you the amount of people who come to me with what they think is a great concept (sometimes it is) but it’s not nearly grasped or fleshed out enough to even begin writing. Once I get a great idea for a novel I let the concept swish around in my mind. I try to think about it every single day. I ask myself questions about it: Why does this character do this? What happened to him? What’s his motivation? Why would the audience care? How do I show that? What events will happen? How will they affect the other events? What is the beginning, middle, and end?

Once I have a good feel for elements of the story (I don’t need everything fully structured, just an intimate feel of certain aspects) I get started and see what comes. I’m a fan of the saying “write what you know” so make sure you know the gist of your own tale before you start writing it.

2. Outline or take notes. I do not personal outline, but I know this is incredibly helpful for some writers. Try it out, find your own style. If you need outlines for organization of thoughts and plot lines that’s great – do what you do! There are plenty of online resources about the art of outlining, and I advise you check them out before tackling it your own way. Personally, I simply take notes. There’s no structure to this, sometimes a mini outline of a scene I want to do, or a thought to infuse somewhere in the book. Sometimes a general order of things to come (not a formal outline but a brief paragraph) or some detail I don’t want to forget. My note page is usually only a page or two long, and is stuck right below where I am in the novel. Anytime I need to refer to it there it is. I find this particularly good for when one of those flashes of inspiration comes, when you get one great idea you know you just have to put down, but don’t have time to right. BAM! Stick it in as a note so you don’t forget to add it, and mull over the concept in your head during the mean time.

3. Have a schedule that works for you. Some writers have rigid schedules. They write from this hour to this hour, or until they get this or that many words. This structure gets them actually sitting down regularly and producing. If that is what works for you give it a shot. If you need that rigidity to keep going back to your work, go for it, because if you don’t make writing a novel a serious time and energy commitment, it will either never get done or not be nearly as good as it could be. We have to love writing but we also have to be dedicated to the craft and making our novels better. To do that we need to be working on our projects on a consistent basis. I do not have a rigid schedule or word quotas. Instead, I try to keep my projects in mind throughout my days and find a window of time every day to get some work done. Some days that equals a done of progress, hours of writing. Other days maybe I only edit a few pages, but the fact remains that the work is fresh in my mind and I am actively working with it. Do I miss some days? Certainly, life happens, but I make sure to always go back to projects (I love them, how could I not?) to keep the progress up and make them what they have to be. Do what works for you, but make sure what works for you includes putting in that hard work.

4. Write what you know, write what you love. A book is an author’s story, not only their imagined one, but their personal one. We put parts of our minds and souls into our works, so don’t hesitate to integrate stories or character arcs inspired by what you’ve lived through. The world is a source of inspiration, and it’s wonderful to be able to integrate the lived experience into our works. I’ve had plenty of odd and quirky characters/moments put into my books inspired from real life. Sometimes it’s based upon someone you know or something you’ve done for years. Other times it’s an odd moment in the checkout line at the supermarket. Draw inspiration from the world around you and turn it into something beautiful. And most of all, love what you’re doing. Love your story, your characters, your message, because when you love it, all that hard work doesn’t feel like work at all. It feels like nurturing. It’s a feeling of accomplishment that you’re raising something wonderful.

Those are my tips. I hope they help some of you out. And of course, there are plenty of other tips and methods that work. Don’t be afraid to experiment and be you!

– Allen

The Writing Process


If you’re into horror, check out my debut book, Harbinger (published under the name David James Bright).

With Harbinger, debut author David James Bright carves his name in the horror genre. His prose is elegant, his humor is razor-sharp and the story is compelling.”

-Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best selling author of Dead of Night and Assassin’s Code