This boxed set includes four detailed and insightful writing books by New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, two of them coauthored with Rebecca Moesta. Subjects include productivity, professionalism, world building, and collaboration. These four volumes form the cornerstone of the celebrated Million Dollar Writing series from WordFire Press.
Kevin and I met in a college creative writing class, and even then he had a lot to teach about writing—more than the professor who had only published one story. Kevin had published about a hundred, all to the small presses. He's an international bestseller now, with a hand in one of the biggest movies of 2020—the reboot of Dune. Sometimes I think he undervalues his Million Dollar Series. The advice is priceless, and we are lucky to have it here. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"Kevin J. Anderson gives you a lot of questions to ask about your science fiction and fantasy worlds. He doesn't offer these as a check list of questions you MUST answer. Rather, they're things to think about that might inspire you to tell richer stories.– Amazon – on Million Dollar Worldbuilding
"I've heard Kevin J. Anderson give a panel speech about productivity on a couple of occasions. This book expands on his chat to give a succinct and reachable goal for the writer struggling to get something written."– Amazon – on Million Dollar Productivity
No Excuses—Finding the Time to Write
Being a Full-Time Writer
I'm not a typical writer, I admit that. I might be at the far end of the bell curve regarding the time and energy I spend on writing. This is a conversation that runs through my head:
Writing isn't a hobby. Writing is a passion.
Writing is a way of life.
Writing is the thing that comes to mind first when you ask yourself, "What am I doing today?"
Writing is always in the back of your mind—when you're watching football games with the family, or sitting in a meeting at work, or waiting to be served at a restaurant, or fidgeting in the dentist's office. The voice inside keeps whispering louder and louder, "I could be writing right now!"
When you glimpse interesting people in a crowd, when you experience an unusual event, when you see a spectacular landscape, your immediate reaction is, "How can I use this in my writing?"
If those statements ring true—if you smile and say, "Hey, that's me!"—then this book is for you.*
*Standard disclaimer: There's nothing wrong with dabbling, either. It's enjoyable and often therapeutic to unleash your creative impulse. Don't worry if you can't write all the time—you'll still find parts of Million Dollar Productivity useful.
Comic writer/artist Howard Tayler says, "Being a full-time writer is great. You only have to work half days—and you get to decide which twelve hours that is."
I am a full-time writer, 24/7—birthdays and holidays included, 365 days a year. Most of my full-time writer friends have a similar schedule. They center their lives around researching, writing, editing, publishing, and promoting what they write. It's not an easy job.
What does it mean to be a writer, one hundred percent? Every aspect of life has something to do with writing, or how you can apply it to your writing. It's how you frame the things you do in a way that they have some bearing on writing. Obsessive? Okay, maybe a little.
I have written adult books, non-fiction, young adult books, even children's pop-up books. I have worked in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, mainstream thrillers, mysteries, horror, comedy, urban fantasy, even historicals. I have done comic books, articles, short stories, and novels so thick that whole forests tremble when my publisher contacts the printing plant for the first press run.
I have been a waiter in a restaurant, a bartender, a caretaker for white lab rats used in medical research, a farm worker, a technical writer and editor, and a co-owner of a beauty salon. I love to climb mountains or hike long wilderness trails.
I am the co-producer on a major film, as well as a public speaker, a workshop presenter, a published photographer, a graphic designer, a record producer, president of a small company, and with my wife Rebecca Moesta, the publisher of WordFire Press.
And I generally write five or more novels a year. I've learned how to get the most out of every possible minute I have available to write, and I'll share some of the techniques I've learned.
If Only I Had the Time
During the Olympics, the world watches great athletes from all nations perform seemingly impossible feats. When those well-toned men and women receive their medals, we admire them for their almost superhuman abilities.
As we sit on the couch munching potato chips, however, most of us don't kid ourselves that we would be just as skilled, just as fast, just as strong … if only we had the time.
But for some reason, a lot of people believe that about writing books. Anyone can write, they say. How hard can it be to string a bunch of sentences together? They could do it if they just sat down and put their minds to it. If only they had the time.
Here's how the conversation often goes:
A person at one of my book-signings or appearances walks up to the table, shuffles feet, looks away, then looks at me. "I've always wanted to be a writer. I could write a novel."
Me: "Oh? Why haven't you?"
Person: "I just don't have the time."
Me: "Hmm. Can't you scrape together a few hours a week to devote to the project?"
Person: "No. I'm really busy."
Me: "You know, nobody gives me the time, either. I have to make the time, set priorities, discipline myself to write each day, no matter how tired I am. I worked a full-time regular job while I wrote my first novels, jealously stealing an hour here or there in the evenings and on weekends. That's how I became a successful author."
Person: "Well, you're lucky then. I just don't have that kind of time."
Olympic athletes usually start their training as kids, practicing, competing, working their way up year after year. Some of them get up before dawn just to squeeze in enough hours of training during the day. They strive to improve their performance, stretch their abilities, beat their personal bests, and then beat them again. They practice until they're ready to drop, but they keep at it. Many end up injured along the way. The vast majority of those who try out for the Olympic team don't make it. They may win semifinals and regional compete-tions, but only the best of the best become part of the Olympic team—and only the very best of those will win a medal.
I've received dozens of letters posing the same question: "I want to write a bestselling novel. But it takes so long, and it's an awful lot of work. What's the shortcut?"
Does anyone really say, "I want to win a gold medal in figure skating, but I don't have the time for all that practice and training. In fact, I don't even own ice skates. Can you tell me the shortcut to winning a medal?"
Without doing a full comparison, I wouldn't be surprised if there are about as many New York Times bestselling authors as there are members of the various U.S. Olympic teams. The competition among bestsellers is just as tough, and your chances of success are just as slim.
You try your best. You fail. You try again. You fail. You try harder, you get better. You still fail. You keep trying, keep getting better, keep getting battered. Failure becomes a routine, and you don't let it bother you. Trying and trying again becomes an obsession. And finally, maybe, something works.
I got my first rejection slip at the age of thirteen, had my first story published when I was sixteen (after I had gathered eighty rejection slips), and sold my first novel by the time I was 25.
No, I don't know any shortcuts. Sorry. But I can tell you some mistakes to avoid.
Where does this notion come from that anybody can write a novel, if they just get around to it? I never hear the claim that just anybody can be a brain surgeon, or a space shuttle commander, or the manager of a business empire. Even if we did "have the time" to raise capital and invest wisely, few people could succeed in becoming as rich as Warren Buffett.
But to the unpracticed eye, publishing a novel involves little more than stringing a lot of sentences together until you fill enough pages with words.
Every author has heard this suggestion from a friend or a fan, and the proposition never ceases to amaze me: "I've got a great idea for a novel. I'll tell you the idea, you write the book, and then we can split the money." (As if the idea is the hard part!) In all honesty, I always have plenty of ideas. In fact, I'll never have time to flesh out all the novel possibilities that occur to me on a regular basis.
I've often wished I had the nerve to reply: "Why don't we try it the other way around first? I'll tell you an idea off the top of my head, then you do all the research, the plotting, and character development. You can write a hundred thousand words or so, then edit the manuscript (I usually do at least five to ten drafts), sell it to the publisher, work with the editor for any revisions, deal with the copy editor, proofread the galleys, then do booksignings and promotion after it's published. Then, after all that, we'll split the money. Sound fair?"
Now, I'm not comparing myself to an Olympic gold medalist. I can't even stay up on ice skates. I don't change the oil in my car, remodel the bathroom, or put in my own landscaping, though I could probably figure it out, "if only I had the time." But I do have a solid grasp on how to write a novel. I've been practicing and training for most of my life.
You just have to make the time.
When I was in college taking creative writing courses, I fell in with a "writer's group" that met on campus every Thursday afternoon. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I thought hanging around with other aspiring authors would be a great way to get inspiration and make connections.
The best-laid plans …
This group of wannabees would sit in a local coffee house all afternoon, through dinner, and far into the night, sipping cappuccino or mineral water as they talked about the great novels they intended to publish someday.
And hour after hour, they bemoaned the fact that they never had enough time to write.
After listening to their complaints, I figured out a miracle solution to the problem—I stopped going to their kaffeeklatsch and spent those hours writing instead. It was amazing how productive I could be when I actually devoted my time to writing instead of talking about writing.
You never just HAVE time to write.
You need to MAKE time to write.
Last week I was in Hollywood for the Writers of the Future awards and workshop, where my wife and I teach. Because we had obligations—attending rehearsals, teaching classes, as well as taking several business meetings while in LA (you know, movie producers, comic company executives, potential collaborators on multimedia projects, and even just seeing old friends)—my writing time was sparse and frequently interrupted.
I had brought along notes and a (too-optimistic) list of projects I hoped to complete during the trip. In particular, I needed to write the introduction to an anthology I'm editing and also do the full proposal for a new Dune novel with Brian Herbert that my agent and publisher were waiting for. Because of the chaotic schedule, I had to take advantage of snippets of time, and I needed to focus when I did have the chance.
An anthology introduction is relatively simple to write, but you need to have something to say. During downtime (while going to sleep, for instance, or while in the shower) I mulled over what I wanted to include in the intro—a beginning, middle, end … in essence, a point. The whole thing would be only three pages or so; it wouldn't take me long to write—I just had to find a few minutes here and there.
No excuses. It needed to be done.
There was a Starbucks in the shopping mall across the street from our hotel, and I would get coffee for Rebecca and me every morning, maybe a refill late in the morning, maybe another hot drink in the afternoon. The walk was five or ten minutes each way, each time. Not much, but those were minutes I would otherwise have wasted. In fact, it was enough time to dictate a page or so into my recorder on each trip. (I usually write my first drafts by dictating while I walk—more on that later in the book.)
And I got the intro done in a day.
The proposal for the Dune novel was a lot more involved. Brian Herbert and I had already brainstormed the plot, and I had all my notes. I needed the time, space, and concentration to get a coherent summary down on paper.
During the workshop that day, I had an hour or two between my times in front of the class, so I found a quiet, private place to use my laptop. I closed the door, sat down, put my earphones on, and started writing the "movie trailer" version of the novel Brian and I had plotted—typing a few paragraphs at a time of a plotline or a major scene. Each time I had a break, I could get several sections done before I was called back to duty.
In the afternoon, I found another hour, closed the door again, wrote some more scenes, summarized another storyline. Later that night, after dinner and socializing with some of the students, I was getting ready for bed … but the incomplete proposal weighed on me. It was still unfinished. I had only the climactic sections to write.
So I sat down at the hotel room desk and kept myself awake for another hour, causing much more fictional mayhem, and finished fleshing out the grand finale of the novel. I had written the entire book proposal in the odd hour here and there during other duties throughout the day. When I was done, those snippets had added up to eight completed manuscript pages.
Not bad for a day's work full time, yet I had managed to do it in otherwise wasted minutes.
With so much else going on during the Holly-wood trip, I could have made excuses and let those minutes or hours trickle away unnoticed. Instead, I wrung out an introduction and a book proposal.
You can do it, too. What's your excuse?