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The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

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It’s that time of the week, when I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.

Q: Writing a novel, especially for the first time, can take a long time. How would you suggest an aspiring author time-manage writing a novel? Should someone “quit their day job” and just start writing (extra question: how to manage finances while not working..?)? Or should an aspiring author try and write in whatever time they have and hope that it is enough time/effort spent to create a worthy final product?

A: When I wrote my first novel, I was a stay-at-home mom to an infant. I started writing the book when my son was four months old, and I did it basically when I could. If he was napping, I would write for that ten whole freaking minutes (the kid never slept) or what have you. It took me probably six months to write the first three chapters (then a panicked week to write the rest, but that’s a different story). Even after I got a contract, it wasn’t enough to live off, so I ended up getting a job, where I wrote here and there on my lunch breaks. I would never in a million years say, “You should quit your job with no financial plan whatsoever and just hope it will all work out!” If you’re a lucky person with disposable income and you can afford to put back like, six months worth of rent and bills and stick to that budget and you feel like you’re totally secure to take those six months off, sure. But that is not the advice I would give you.

The fact is, even if you get to the point where you can make a living on writing alone, you’re still going to have to make time to write. Mostly because the people in your life are not going to respect the fact that you’re working. And you’re not, either. When you don’t punch a clock, it’s really, really tempting to be like, “Ah, I can just Netflix and eat this popcorn today. I’ve done enough.” So what I would say to you now is, try to write in whatever time you have, hope that it’s enough time and effort spent to create a worthy final product, and then you’ve made good writing habits for the future. Because honestly, whenever you write a book, all you’re doing is hoping you’ve put in enough time and effort to create a worthy final product. That doesn’t change whether you’ve got ten minutes a day or ten uninterrupted hours a day.


Q: Do you think using an old personal relationship as part of the back story for the main characters in a fictional novel is a bad idea? The heroine of my novel is not meant to be an avatar of myself, even though we share one specific experience. How do you incorporate your own experiences into a character without making her a copy of yourself?

A: All of your characters are going to be coming from you, so it’s only natural that they’re going to have things in common with you. In my first book, my heroine had an ex-boyfriend who broke up with her because he thought she wouldn’t be a good mother to his hypothetical future children. It gave her a complex about motherhood, about whether or not she should even want to a mother, for the entire series. That was based on a real breakup I had, in which an ex told me, “I want to have children, and I can’t see you being a good mother.” But everything else about the character couldn’t have been more different from me. For my The Boss series, Sophie has an absentee father and that has shaped a lot of who she is, but otherwise we have nothing in common.

If I sat down and wrote a character who was a pot smoking chronic pain patient who writes books for a living, I’m going to just be writing about myself. And it’s difficult to write yourself as a fictional character and then make that character believable because what you’re going to end up doing is creating an idealized version of yourself that you’re not going to want to ascribe flaws to or put in harm’s way. Or, you’ll end up ascribing too many flaws and then when people go, “This was an unlikeable character,” you’ll be like, “I knew it! Everyone hates me!” I don’t think that would be a very fun feeling.

The very best characters feel real, and in order to write a real character, they need to be real people in your head. So there’s nothing wrong with putting experiences or traits that you empathize with or understand into their backgrounds. You just can’t limit yourself to those traits and experiences that are unique to you. Maybe include one or two things, at most, one or two things from people you admire (or can’t stand), and then spend the rest of your time getting to know the totally different person you’ve built.


Bonus Question: Will you read my questionable Twilight fanfic y/n?

A. I think I’ve read enough questionable Twilight fanfic, don’t you?

Dakota Johnson as Ana Steele in 50 Shades of Grey, right after she tells Christian there's nothing interesting about her or whatever Mary Sue nonsense the line was.


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Here for the first time because you’re in quarantine and someone on Reddit recommended my Fifty Shades of Grey recaps? Welcome! Consider checking out my own take on the Billionaire BDSM genre, The Boss. Find it on AmazonB&NSmashwords, iBooks, and Radish!


  1. I’ve been writing for four or five years. I finally signed with an agent two years ago. She sold my book last year. It comes out this summer, but since it’s ebook-first (which is pretty standard for M/M romance) there’s no advance. That means for an August release I will probably actually get the money early next year.

    All told, that’s ~6 years between when I started writing and I might get my first check, and 3 of those are even after having finished the book and signing with an agent. Some genres take even longer – YA and children’s books are often more than two years from sale to publication.

    Don’t quit your day job.

    March 9, 2017
  2. Nanani

    ” (extra question: how to manage finances while not working..?)?”

    As a rule, if you need to ask this question you are not ready to quit your day job, whether it’s to pursue a writing career, retire, backpack around the world or whatever.

    March 9, 2017
  3. Atrista

    Thanks for answering my question, and also for the advice column!

    March 10, 2017
  4. Quelaag

    What about questionable 50 Shades of Grey fanfics? Because I may have a FSOG/Silent Hill crossover… 😛

    “Mostly because the people in your life are not going to respect the fact that you’re working.”

    This is why I shelved my stuff until I get my own place. I figured that, since my job didn’t officially start for nearly a month, I could use the downtime to finally start on a story that I’d been thinking about for ages. My parents saw it as an opportunity to start a bunch of house projects while they had me stuck at home to help. I didn’t get much writing done, but the broken step is fixed, the basement has a fresh coat of paint, and the living room has a new coffee table.

    And my parents are really supportive of my writing habits. I can’t imagine trying to write while living with someone who thinks writing is nothing but a silly hobby.

    March 10, 2017

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