Saturday, June 26, 2010


This post has nothing to do with writing and absolutely everything to do with being a writer.

The stereotype of a writer--the middle-aged man pounding feverishly at a typewriter, cigarette in his mouth, sending hard-copy manuscripts to his agent and protesting the change of every word--has yet to catch up with the reality of what being a writer entails today.

We are not locked in our attics alone. We are not even the romantic writers of the '20s, drinking coffee and discussing literature. We are a legion of overworked, underwashed normals, pounding away at our laptops and shooing the kids to the next room.

And more importantly, we are not alone.

If you are reading this blog, you have obviously already met at least one other writer (hello there.) Chances are, I'm not the only one. Agent, editor, and writer blogs, facebook, forums like Verla Kay and Absolute Write, and God, above all Twitter, mean that, at the very least, most writers are at least a friend of a friend of yours. The term 'networking' is so appropriate here, because, in actuality, we--writers, publishing professionals, book bloggers--are a net. A web of interconnected people.

We know the same people. The truth is, this world feels very big sometimes, and God knows everyone is talking about writing a novel, but when it comes down to it--the people who are really out there, querying, editing, submitting, representing, accepting, rejecting, publishing, copyediting, waiting...well, the truth is, there aren't that many of us after all.

Which is why the act of being a professional writer has come to mean much more than it used to. Fifty years ago, all most writers had to do was avoid getting arrested and not respond to bad reviews.

You have a much bigger job to undertake. And it's stressful, and it's scary, but it can also be one of the most rewarding parts of this job. Somedays, my writing is absolutely shitty, and the house is a mess, and I'm crying because I can't find my socks, but I have 239 blog followers, Goddamn it, and I said something funny on Twitter today, so at least this day isn't totally for the birds.

You may think that I am the worst possible person ever to talk about how to be a professional. I'm loud and I'm obnoxious and I say fuck like it's a part of my name.


But I'm hoping all that will make me easier to listen to, because when people think 'professional,' they a lot of the time think boring, sanitized, safe. And that's not who you have to be. I'm living fucking proof over here. And I knew from the start that I was taking a big risk, but I hoped that people would find me interesting and remember me.

It's worked pretty well so far. And that, kittens, is the real reason you want to get out there and put on your professional face. So that people will remember you.

Now that I'm done fucking babbling, here are some guidelines. How to be a successful professional writer, by yours truly. And these are not big, life-changing rules. These are just tricks. Tricky little tricks.

--GET ON TWITTER. I don't care what your objections are. I objected too. But it is hands-down the best way to connect with people you would never have the balls to approach any other way. You can follow someone, which causes them no pain or trouble whatsoever, and you can talk to them in a completely neutral, undemanding way.

--READ ABOUT BOOKS. What do Hunger Games, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, and a hell of a lot of other books have in common? I haven't read them.

I'm not proud. But I know I don't have nearly enough time to read as much as I should, so I make a point of reading *about* books I wish I had time to read. Know enough about popular books to be able to fake your way through a conversation. I can discuss Twilight with the best of them, damn it.

--REMEMBER NAMES. I can't stress enough how important this is. You might have never read a book by this author most people haven't heard of, but you better be able to connect the book to the name in a second flat. You need to be able to talk about other writers like you went to high school with them. Memorize authors, titles, editors, agent. Know who goes with whom.

--DON'T ALIENATE. Or if you have to, choose one book or author to singularly alienate. People ask me a lot what my least favorite book is. Obviously I've read a lot of stuff I don't like, but I have one that I use so I'm not spreading the hate around too badly (and trust me, the author of said book is way too famous to give a shit what a plebe like me thinks).

You never know who you will need.

--DON'T TALK ABOUT YOURSELF ALL THE TIME. I know I've been a bad example of this one lately (though possibly not as bad as example as I am of the alienating thing) but God, I get bored of author blogs that are all me me me look where my book got reviewed look what I'm working on blaaaah.

Do me a favor and don't go and read my archives right now. I was very young. And I had nothing else to talk about.

But seriously. If you don't feel qualified to give advice (through trust me, if I'm qualified, so are you) find articles and other blog posts you find interesting, post your thoughts, and open your comments up for discussion. You'll find a lot more followers and a lot more interesting discussion than you will by posting boring shit about yourself every day.

--DON'T BE BORING. Unsurprisingly, this is my biggest point. Don't be boring. If someone else is saying what you're saying, people are only going to listen to one of you. Do you want a fifty/fifty chance of being drowned out?

Swallow your fear. I'm scared every day. I do this anyway. Because I love it. And because I don't want you to forget me.

Because I only have books coming out every so often. And I'm a professional, and if you forget me between books, I'm not doing a very good job.

And I mean, fuck. No one wants to be forgotten. Which pretty much leads me to the most important thing.

--REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE A HUMAN CONNECTING WITH OTHER HUMANS. You don't need to pretend to be Superman. It's boring. I told you. It's GOOD to show that you care about people, that you care about what you're doing, and that you care about your readers. Stop pretending that the ride is easy. You're not earning any respect that way. Show some of your vulnerability and maybe you'll do more than sell your product. You'll meet some very cool people.

You'll maybe even help them.


elissa said...

awesome post! I'm so surprised by how much I actually like twitter--and the blogosphere of writers--because of how they connect us.

helpful guidelines, too.

Cat Hellisen said...

Noice post, ms moskowitz.

I'm so bad with the memory thing - I constantly forget names and faces, and can't remember whose book is whose, so that comment was a bit like being caught out cheating. :D

*sits in the naughty corner*

maine character said...

Two things that bring me back here are that you’re never boring and you always put all your cards on the table, even when you can’t find your socks. Some people act like they have it all together, but it’s those moments when they’re overworked, exhausted, confused, and vulnerable (and the dog just threw up) that opens the door to people caring about them.

And yeah, you always inspire me to be more brazen, more bold. In many ways my writing is still stuck in grade school – you’re taught to think if you sit up straight, use proper grammar, and don’t misspell any words, you’ll be patted on the head and given an A. But in the entertainment industry that gets you nowhere.

You have to speak up, you have to stick out. You can’t walk on stage and pluck out a traditional tune on guitar. You have to plug in, crank it up, and lay your heart on the line with a song that takes people somewhere they've never been before.

And in that you’re like our Jack Black in The School of Rock: “You can't just say it, man. You've gotta feel it in your blood and guts! If you wanna rock, you gotta break the rules. You gotta get mad at the man!”

Tracey J said...

This post shook me a little, mostly because it's true. But it is sort of hard to be yourself and professional at the same time, especially if you're the complete opposite of what professional is in this industry. "Don't Be Boring" is one rule I think all writers should follow:D

Kristan said...

Case in point: I connected to Elissa (first commenter) via Twitter. :)

Great post. I feel like you're saying "Be you," but the most respectful version of you that you can be. (And respectful doesn't always mean nice.)

Gonna have to work on the name thing, though. I have a hard time remembering authors unless I've actually read them (or at least their blogs)...

Trakena Prevost said...

Great post!!!

The thing that I find most difficult is being on twitter and facebook and working on networking. I have accounts, but it's so hard to really network and put yourself out there, so you post really resonated with me.

You've encouraged me to work on this and to do better.

Sean Ferrell said...

Once again, you're a genius. This is a wonderful post.

Sam said...

Thank you for this post. I think I'm going to bookmark it because it is genius and inspirational. :)

Suzanne Young said...

This is a great post!!! Being professional does NOT mean being boring! Genuine people are way more interesting than ones who sounds like know-it-alls or a social climbers.

Keep up the good stuff, H!

Vee said...

Awesome post! I love how professional yet natural you are, Hannah. Like, you swear and say things like "fuck the rules" and are really interesting and genuine, but you're also never rude or whiny in any way.

Also, I'm so glad I gave up on my twitter-resistance.

hannah said...

Thank you so much, Vee. And everyone :)

February Grace said...

You are awesome. I started interviewing other unpublished writers on my blog just to put faces to the slushpile (and also so as not to talk about myself all the time!) and I'm learning so much about so many genres and so many people.

I plan to keep doing it though I had considered stopping- if I blog I will do this because people need to know that it's okay to be who they are. They're the only one who can!

I'm (and I'm sure 'we' as in all your readers)are so glad you're you, Hannah!


Andrea Coleman said...

I couldn't like you more than I do right now. I stumbled upon your blog (hello there!) and am walking away feeling much better about every instance of filthy language in my novel.

If you knew how many times I've berated myself for a well-placed fuck, you'd know how much you've helped me out.

hannah said...

Hello there! Thanks for stopping by! (oh and fuck, just for good measure ;))

Liz Czukas said...

I fucking adore you.

Thanks for putting it in terms I can understand. I'm fluent in Fuck, so it always helps me to get a few of those sprinkled in to help me understand the subtleties.

I'm being fucking serious by the way.

- Liz

hannah said...

As I said in the post above this (because I read shit backwards), I fucking love you, Liz.

Janet Reid said...

I ♥ Hannah.
Her agent rocks too.

fivecats said...

i followed Janet's link over to your blog.

make that 240 fvcking blog followers now.

hannah said...

I love you, fivecats.

And Janet's pretty baller too.

Kristi Helvig said...

I so need to figure out the Twitter thing--I finally set up an account, so I'm taking baby steps. Awesome post and I think I just made it 250 followers! :)

Terri Molina said...

Great blog....I'm not a big blogger...although I have two of them...go figure. I just need to get over myself and do it though....and your post is my inspiration. =D
Oh...and I read that earlier sentence as SHOOT the kids in the other room. hahaha

hannah said...

Yay 250!

Shooting the kids is also a valid option, if you ask me.

Marjorie said...

I have been professional my whole life. I am now 63 and time is of the essence. After so many rejections over 20 years....

I was inspired to dream up new and creative ways to seriously publicize my project. I printed out a handful of cartoons and rode the subways. I handed out my cartoons with the blog address attached.

At 59th Street, a group of dudes laughed hysterically. I guess it was the visual of my shtik following the doo wop group... it couldn't be the toons. They are mediocre at best. Maybe it was the twirl I did after I handed out 3 toons. I would cartwheel out that subway door if I could.

I have definitely found new ways to pick myself up and get back in the race.

hannah said...

That is fabulous story, Marjorie.

Marjorie said...

Thanks, Hannah.... you can view the cartoons at:

(I first asked a transit cop it it was legal and when he said "Yes," it was "Gangway.")

Sonya Bateman said...

Dude. The Twitter, it defeats me. But I facebook, so that totally counts. :P

Charli Armstrong said...

Came over here from Janet Reid!

First of all, this...
"The stereotype of a writer--the middle-aged man pounding feverishly at a typewriter, cigarette in his mouth, sending hard-copy manuscripts to his agent and protesting the change of every word..."
...Just pulled up an image of Fred Ward as Henry Miller in "Henry and June!"

And nice to see an appreciation of the word Fuck--by far THE greatest word in the English Language. (a noun, an adjective, AND a verb! Does it get any better?)

And before I post comment and then Follow, I must say this...

Twitter. I just...I just...can't! I can't! *throws self on the floor kicking and screaming* I WON'T! I WON'T! I WON'T!

Whew! That's better!


hannah said...

Charli and Sonya--No, you HAVE to. Trust the hannah. It's nothing like facebook. And you'll actually like it once you get into it, I promise.

Jessie Mac said...

Thanks for the advice, Hannah. It is scary but to learn is to get out of your comfort zone.

clindsay said...

And the best thing about Twitter?


I rest Hannah's case.

Charli Armstrong said...

Okay. Clindsay just sold me...

hannah said...

That's definitely a plus. Though I think Colleen's friends might be a little lame if they're still playing Farmville...:D

infernalmemo said...

Holy hell, do I ever love it around here! So pleased to have stumbled into this blog. Hannah, you are my kind of person. We might even be friends in a parallel universe (although it's unlikely...usually I'm threatened to death by people who remind me of myself—it's why I left teaching and took up writing. Turned out OK: first novel due out in October.).

I look forward to reading more posts.

helensayers said...

Yay you for these wise words. Yay me for finding them! Thanks girl. Now off to make a Twitter account, finally.