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Writing a book may have been the loneliest thing I’ve ever done

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”

Ernest Hemingway

People who go lurking in writing and author groups tend to hear stories about how writing is hard. I always interpreted this as people suggesting the actual typing was hard. This is not universal; as Ian Fleming once remarked, words came to him easily. He’d sit down at his typewriter and just start writing nonstop. I didn’t find writing my book about the Tri-State Tornado particularly hard like that. What it was was lonely.

You have to fight the trendlines, knowing that few people read books. Statistically, books are mostly read by middle-aged and older women. John Grisham’s writing Masterclass reveals he starts with the assumption of writing for a middle-aged woman. My publisher backs this up suggesting the most popular books are the true crime ones, which tracks with white women liking that kind of stuff.

You have to fight for time, too. I only made it work by blocking off 2-3 hours every morning for nothing else. This puts a strain on my primary income, as it reduces the available brainpower and time I have in the rest of the day for client work.

Finding a publisher is supposedly hard work, but only at the biggest ones. There are a lot of publishers out there and they’re all starved for a pipeline of new books. There just aren’t that many authors, all things considered. So I don’t get the impression that finding a publisher is terribly challenging so long as you have some professionalism in your approach. My idea wasn’t too zany and it was pretty obvious what kind of book it would be. It’s not like my tornado turns into a hunky werewolf halfway through.

You also have to get comfortable with the fact almost no one’s going to read the thing. It sounds dour, but I always assumed I’d sell “tens of copies.” My publisher said their goal was “1,000 in the first year.” The assumption being after that it probably won’t sell anywhere, ever, at all, save maybe online.

What’s hardest about writing is the loneliness of it all. You write this thing and send it to a publisher, who, after many months of not saying much, will show up with a bunch of revisions or requests. They give you a few days to look through them and sign off. This was problematic for me as their timeline collided with the end-of-semester in my teaching schedule. I wish I could have read it over twice. I just couldn’t.

And you put a lot of faith in that single editor, hoping they catch the weird stuff or unclear parts. You know they have a ton of books to work through, a lot of which they probably don’t find interesting.

I didn’t have anyone to read the book before I sent it to the publisher. I couldn’t afford to pay someone, and I don’t know who I’d have turned to anyway that would really grind at the artistry of it all.

Publishers also don’t have big budgets or the willingness to make a big to-do out of most books. It’s up to authors to promote their own book. This may be fine for some people who have big followings or networks, but I don’t. I don’t use social media much, my online friends are mostly a loose connection of professional relationships or acquaintances, and judging by my writing on this website no one much cares what I think or say anyway. I do not have the engine or the wherewithal to build an engine to make a book “go” without being entirely fake and inauthentic online.

And you have to fight the nagging sense something is probably just wrong. I don’t have researchers or teams of people like big-name authors do. It’s just me, a bunch of reports and newspaper clippings, and the occasional quote by someone who supposedly knows something. Parsing all that is the job, of course. I just know there’s some dumb issue and it spoils the whole thing for me because it feels like my fault, as if I could have done better. As if I should have been able to do better and just failed.

That’s hard.


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About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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