Saturday, December 24, 2005

No Vacation for You

I haven't had a vacation in four years, and I don't expect one next year either.

This July, my family demanded some 'together time' so I took them up to a cabin in Michigan. Along the way I did signings. And I brought my laptop.

My two closest friends, whom I've known for 26 years, coerced me into taking a three day weekend off to go on brewery tours. I went with them, but managed to fit in a library event while they were boozing it up.

The kids have been off school for a week, and I managed to do some bonding. But I also did some editing, some writing, some website updating, and a few blog entries.

Am I missing out on life? In a word: Yes. And since misery loves company, I want you to miss out too.
  • Can't find an agent?
  • Can't sell your book?
  • Getting a lot of rejections?
  • Stuck on that short story?
  • Book not selling well?
  • Disappointed by your numbers?
  • Haven't finished that novel?
  • Unable to find a new publisher?

My question for you is: How much time have you put in?

Remember listening to your grandparents talk about the Great Depression? They used words like "Sacrifice" and "Hard work."

Writing involves sacrifice and hard work. That means denying yourself some things, like friends and family and free time. If you want to make it, you have to put in the hours.

I'm not going to argue that your writing is more important than your children---that isn't true. Family is far more important than career. But if your family loves you, they'll also understand how important your career is, and give you time to pursue it.

If you want to succeed in this biz, be prepared to make sacrifices and find the time to get things done.

Here's a handy list of some things you can sacrifice:

  • Vacation
  • Friends
  • TV
  • Going out
  • Reading
  • Surfing the Internet
  • Sleep
  • Eating

The harder you work, the better your chance at success. This is a business about persistence, not talent. Asimov wrote 400 books. James Reasoner just finished his 185th. How many have you done?

Now I fully expect some vehement disagreement. Replies that speak of values and priorities and happiness and importance, and examples of authors on the bestseller list who take plenty of time off. I'm sure plenty of folks will feel sorry for my family, or for me for not 'getting it.' Some of you will insist you can have your cake and eat it too, and some of you may indeed do that.

But the next time you're lamenting your career, ask yourself two questions: What have I done so far? & What have I sacrificed?

If you've never finished a novel, have only gotten 50 rejections, and plan on using the holiday break to relax, are you entitled to the disappointment you feel about the state of your writing career? Or if you published your book, then did minimal self-promotion, can you really feel betrayed that you sold so poorly?

Here's an axiom that no one likes, me included, but I adhere to it anyway:

"You can always do more."

And the next time you're relaxing, pick up a copy of Who's Who, or crack open a history book, and look at all of the successful, famous people that our society reveres. How many of them are in there for being good parents? For taking vacations? For watching a lot of television? For partying with friends?

Happy Holidays! I gotta get back to work.


Stacey Cochran said...

I'm going to be signing books today between 1-3 P.M. at a local coffee shop near where I live. It's Christmas Eve, and I love it!


HawkOwl said...

I think all "successful" people probably have one thing in common, and that is, the inability to leave well enough alone. I think if you can look at your day's work and say "good enough, I'm going home," you might be a good worker, but you're probably never gonna change the world. Same with writing.

Author-Gerald said...

I'm constantly amazed at the excuses people use for not writing.

I was participating in a monthyl writing competition. The idea is that you submitted a short story each month, they were judged, and the winner at the end was the one who created the best, consistent stories.

One participant was running late one month. They asked for an extension of a couple of days because "they were watching the Olympics". They didn't get it, and were excluded.

Headline stories in the newspapers of authors getting published at 18, "first thing they've written", "didn't know I was writing a novel" don't help them understand the work ethic required.

Stacey Cochran said...

Okay, so what did everybody get fot Christmas?

I got a paperback copy of Karin Slaughter's Indelible, two CDs, a music compilation for guitar and piano, T-shirts, underwear, toothpaster, deodorant, a pair of jeans, and some fancy black dress shoes.

You can see a photo of me with all my Christmas booty here:

Okay, so how 'bout you? Was Santa good to you this year?


JA Konrath said...

My Xmas gift was my children helping me stuff envelopes for my library campaign. We're finally done--over 6000 printed, folded, stuffed, sealed, labeled, and stamped.

I'll post a picture shortly.

Mindy Tarquini said...

The kids and I have been down with strep throat. On antibiotics and inhalers. Been sleeping for two dyas straight. I'm up. Not because I want to be, but because I have to redo my synopsis and get into Miss Snark by midnight eastern time tonight.

I hope I spell everything correctly. Hard to see through the fog of chloraseptic

Merry Christmas y'all.

Michelle Rowen said...

Well said! One of my New Year's resolutions is to put more time into my writing. I put enough "thinking" time into it now, I just need to expand that to include practical work as well.

BTW, I love, love, love this blog. I've learned so many useful things. Please keep it up!

Happy holidays, fellow Dystel-ite.


JA Konrath said... joe.jpg

This is what 6500 letters looks like.

Jude Hardin said...


I think it's great that your kids are involved with the library project.

Are you familiar with Harry Chapin's song "Cat's In The Cradle"? I think that song sums up how life can pass you by if you don't have your priorities straight.

Bob Farley said...

To a child, there are few things better than copying things a parent does. Even though Daddy's gotta work, some of us are lucky to be able share some of that work. Even something as proletariat as stuffing envelopes, to a kid, especially a very young one, becomes a lesson in pride. I have not graduated to stuffing envelopes, but I do enjoy eating, which recently began to involve cooking. My 4-yr-old never fails to claim any egg-cracking duties that need done. He's developing a one-handed technique and as soon as he learns to get most of the egg into the bowl after cracking it, I expect he'll be better at it than I am.

Stacey Cochran said...

Congratulations on the letters, Joe. That photo is amazing!

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Sacrifice #14....give up trying to find the secret page! :-)

Jude Hardin said...


My son gave me a swell set of Craftsman screwdrivers and a gift certificate for the bookstore.

Any recommendations on what book to buy?

Stacey Cochran said...


My son gave me a swell set of Craftsman screwdrivers and a gift certificate for the bookstore.

Any recommendations on what book to buy?

If you like crime fiction, I would strongly recommend Sean Doolittle's "Rain Dogs," which comes out on the 27th. This novel should win some awards come 2006.

Of course, I'd always recommend my novel "Amber Page and the Legend of the Coral Stone" - though you'd have to ask the store to order a copy.

Rain Dogs, though. I know I'll be reading it.


Jude Hardin said...

Thanks Stacey!

Crime fiction is all I read anymore, so I'll check that one out?

Good luck on your current title. How did the signing go?

JA Konrath said...

A holiday non-sequitor, since it's my blog.

The only thing I hate as much as moving is plumbing. And I really hate moving. I'll build an addition to my house with hand tools before I move again.

But, like shit, plumbing happens. My water heater began to leak, and I was faced with the choice of paying $1200 for someone to fix it, or $300 to do it myself and get a better model.

Since I just blew my bank account on postage stamps, I went with the latter.

The verdict: Sweating pipes sucks. I can't solder to save my life (which would make a pretty good gameshow--Solder For Your Life.)

So, after 8 trips to Home Depot, several burns from the propane torch, several more burns from the flux (which is acid, which is why you spread it on with that 19 cent brush instead of with your fingers, which I wish someone explained to me before I used my fingers)I finally got the bastard in.

But my pounding on pipes kicked up sediment, and my shower no longer ran.

So, Mr. Drywall (my porno name)had to bust out a wall section big enough to sweat more pipes (which sucks, see above.)

Eight burns, six knuckle lacerations, two slipped discs, and a migraine later, I've managed to put in a new valve, new shower head, new tub faucet, and a new knob.

And it leaks.

If I had any hemlock, I'd pull a Socrates. I swear.

And this from a guy who can use the euphemism "sweat my pipes" to great comedic effect in mixed company.

Thank god the wife bought me beer for the holiday.

To recap: Sweating pipes sucks, plumbing sucks, being a homeowner sucks, being broke sucks, and I suck.

Merry effing Xmas.

Jude Hardin said...


I don't mean to throw salt on your wounds, but this is funny as hell. I can see that Jack or Herb or somebody is going to have a plumbing problem in the near future. Life's experiences add richness to our writing.

Did you ever see the episode of the Andy Griffith show where he was having a problem with the chest freezer, right when Aunt Bee had bought a side of beef on sale? Andy recommended calling THE MAN in Mt. Pilot, but Aunt Bee thought she'd get a bargain and have Gomer the garage mechanic fix it. Meanwhile she had to pay to store the frozen cow, etc. Things kept going downhill, and Andy kept saying, "Aunt Bee, just call THE MAN." Andy was right, of course. They ended up wasting a bunch of money and then having to call THE MAN anyway.

Joe: Call THE MAN. Just pretend you're the literary version of Bones McCoy on Star Trek: "Dammit, Marie. I'm a writer, not a shitchaser."

And if you really want to do plumbing yourself, repipe with CPVC. Any moron, even a writer, can easily fix that crap.

The flux on the fingertips had me laughing so hard I cried.

Stacey Cochran said...

How funny...

I just drained my hot water heater yesterday. My wife and I have lived in our house since 2003, and we hadn't drained it yet.

I ran a garden hose from the hot water heater out to the street.

There's now all this white sediment crap dried to the pavement beyond our driveway.

It was so plugged up, I had to get a neighbor to help because it wouldn't drain at first and I thought I was doing something wrong.

The irony was my neighbor said he had just drained his hot water heater earlier yesterday.

And I thought that was a funny coincidence.

I guess we were all in the home repair frame of mind.

So, is your hot water heater fixed now, Joe? Er, Mr. Drywall, I mean.

Or do you still need to sweat your pipes?


Jeff Savage said...

Okay, no one else has taken the bait. So, I’ll disagree with at least part of your statement, Joe. I agree that most people can find more time to write, or promote for that matter. Every time someone tells me they have no time to write, I ask them how quickly they manage to read a novel they really love. Funny how you can find time for something you want to do.

As far as not taking vacations with your family, I think that one may come back to bite you if you stick with it for too long. I’ve spent many years working with CEO’s of top companies. They work very long hours and dedicate their lives to the success of their companies. They almost never take vacations, and they have about an 80% divorce rate.

Agreed that writing is somewhat different. Being home a lot, you get to spend much more time with your family. But every once in a while you need to turn off the phones, shut down the e-mail, put away the computers, pens, pencils, etc, and just spend some fun family time. It doesn’t matter if it’s the beach, Disneyland, Broadway, the mountains—whatever works for your family. Even if you don’t need it, your family does.

Will a week off hurt your career that much? If it will, you are doing something wrong. The best boss I ever worked for said that if you can’t get your job done in fifty hours a week on average, you were either incompetent or didn’t no how to delegate. Will not having an occasional vacation break up your marriage? Hopefully not, but what success is worth not having your family to share it with?

JA Konrath said...

100 million men in American can claim to be good fathers and husbands.

Less than 200 can claim to be successful thriller authors.

Success isn't a destination--it's a journey. If you take time off, you aren't on the journey any more.

Jeff Savage said...

So are you saying you think it's okay to be a bad father as long you can say you are a successful thriller author, or am I misinterpretting your statement?

The view from the top isn't nearly as beautiful if you hve no one to share it with, and while I'm proud of the books I've published, I am 1000 time more proud of my kids.

Bob Farley said...

100 million men in American can claim to be good fathers and husbands.

Less than 200 can claim to be successful thriller authors.

Success isn't a destination--it's a journey. If you take time off, you aren't on the journey any more

I had this big long reply about how family should always take precedence over job, no matter the job, but then I re-read your original post and realized you've put yourself on a treadmill and you don't like it any more than your family who have to beg you for time with them.

So I erased most of what I said and am left with the following:

Since the population of the US (if that's what you mean by "America") is about 300 million, I doubt seriously that a third of them are already fathers.

To say that never-ending labor is necessary to be "successful" is ridiculous, at best. Even to say so indicates a nap is in order.

If endless application to work-work-work is the requirement for success, I'll not be successful by your standards; however, I'll have food on my table, clothes on my back, a roof over my head, and the gratitude of a little boy grown into a man who has his priorities on straight. And I'll still be able to write a thousand words a day, no problem. While I've got a ton more things to accomplish before I'm through on this planet, if I only get around to that much, that will equal success by my standards.

Right, and now watch my kid grow up to be the next big mass murderer.

Jeff Savage said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff Savage said...

Oh, and by the way, the secret to sweating copper pipe is white bread. I'm sure there's a punch line in there somewhere, but it's true.

Stick a wad of white bread into the sides of each pipe. When you heat the pipe, beads of water get sucked from inside the pipe and can get into your solder. The bread keeps the water out. When you turn the water back on, the bread dissolves.

I guess that year of plumbing while was going to college actually did have some lasting value.

JA Konrath said...

I'll amend "America" to read "North America", and I believe there are close to 100 million fathers, but still only 200 writers.

Is family more important than a job? Of course. But my point is that anyone can be a parent, and most consider themselves good parents.

Not so with being a writer. And if I screw up as a dad, I'll still be a dad. If I screw up as a writer, I'm no longer a writer.

As I said in the original post, no one gets into the history books for being Father of the Year.

I don't think that hard work = success, any more than I think that talent = success.

Luck = success. But the harder you work, the luckier you'll get.

My post is to those unhappy with the way their writing careers are going. My point: What have you sacrificed in order to succeed?

Commitment to family is fine, until you start using your family as an excuse for not attending to your writing career.

Adam Hurtubise said...


I'd have answered this earlier, but I was on vacation. In Vermont. In a place that makes your front yard seem like Manhattan.

I got a great book by a local (local meaning my hometown) writer.

I read it.

I'm slogging through my outline again, now that I've been home for an hour.

The point is: The vacation was good for me. Good for my family. Good for my writing. I'm taking the rest of the week off from my day job, too, but I'll be writing every day.

Try a vacation. You might like it.


Mindy Tarquini said...

I guess we were all in the home repair frame of mind.

If all you men be in a home repair state of mind, would one of you be so kind as to call my husband and tell him to kill the green scum stuff that's blooming in our pool?

Bob Farley said...

I do agree that it's wrong to use family--or anything, for that matter--as an excuse for not accomplishing something that you'd otherwise be able to do.

But I still have some thoughts about that dad vs writer statement because I think you can screw up as anything and still be that thing.

If nobody buys my writing, does that make me not a writer? Nah. I still write. And if I screw up bad enough as a writer, I can change my name and keep on truckin'.

If nobody pays to listen to me play guitar, does that make me not a guitarist? Nope.

If I screw up as a newspaper reporter, I might not be a newspaper reporter much longer, but it doesn't take away the possibility that I can't go somewhere else and begin again.

If I screw up as a doctor, my insurance will take care of it, and I'll still be a doctor.

If I screw up as a father, I'll still be a father, but the consequences are much greater than for any other job. Twenty years later, I can go back to school and with luck and perseverance learn to be a better writer, reporter, guitarist, doctor, whatever. My kid is going to be a kid once; his brain is going to form once; he's going to formulate his attitude toward the world with me or without me...once. It won't be the same when he's 24.

Of course, maybe some kids are better off without dads. Plenty of famous people have grown up without them. So basically, it's a crapshoot whatever you do. Best of luck to all the dads and moms and parents out there.

JA Konrath said...

I've found that children turning into decent adults has a lot more to do with the child than the parent. Kids can have wonderful parents and grow up to be criminals, or criminal parents and grow up to be wonderful.

Parents should make sure the kid gets plenty of water and sunshine, but after age four Mom and Dad really aren't as important as everyone crows about.

As for writing--you only get one shot. If you blow it, good luck trying to sell your next book. Numbers follow you.

Without making this so black and white, you can do both--be a writer and a family guy. But you have to prioritize. In my case, vacations aren't a priority.

Jeri said...

Thank you for this post. The guilt I feel towards family for not seeing them enough is nothing compared to the guilt I feel towards myself when I don't meet my writing goals.

As writers, we have to be our own toughest bosses. No matter how much someone else cares about us, no one--not our families, our agents, our editors--cares as much about our careers, our literary legacies, as we do.

Thank you again. This is consistently the most useful blog for writers I've ever seen.

Stacey Cochran said...

I'm going to side with Joe on this one. If you want to be the bestselling writer worldwide, writing is going to take precedence over everything else.

It will occupy your consciousness 99.9% of the time. You will dream about it when you sleep. You will see a sign by the side of the road, and you'll think of a marketing idea for your books.

You'll hear a song on the radio, and you'll think of someone you should call to schedule an interview.

You'll read biographies about every famous iconic person in the 20th century, and then you'll read the obscure biographies about their managers or agents or backup musicians or editors.

You will master a knowledge of how every "hit" became a hit, inside and out, from the smallest people surrounding a project to the Svengalis that make it happen.

You will be polite and charming and love every moment of your life to its fullest. You will pray.

You will try to get your photograph taken with famous people, and if you don't know any famous people, you will seek them out and make friends with them:)

You will understand great religious leaders like Gandhi, MLK, and Mother Teresa. You will create your mythology and your own legend.

And you'll love your kids and your wife, avoid drugs and alcohol, write mainstream novel and after mainstream novel until you break in to the business, and when they reject you, you will publish your novels on your own and handsell them store by store, library by library, radio station by radio station, because you will not stop until you are the undisputed bestselling novelist on planet Earth.

And you'll remember that if you say things like "I will be the bestselling novelist on planet Earth" everyone will mock you and talk about what an asshole you are, but you'll continue to say it and you'll continue to dream it and you'll continue to pray it and write it and live it because, as ACDC says, "It's a long way to the top, if you want to rock 'n roll!"


Jude Hardin said...

"...after the age of four Mom and dad aren't as important as everyone crows about."

True. By the age of four they can make their own sandwich, and have mastered the remote and the Playstation. You're done, Dad!

Come on, Joe. Take 'em fishin' every once and a while. Go out in the yard and throw the ball. Learn something together, like tennis or swimming. They'll remember it for the rest of their lives. Nobody but you gives a hoot how many thrillers you sell. Well, your publisher and agent do, but that's a different song: "they'll take your soul if you let them. But don't you let them..."

It seems to me that fame is your goal. Talk to any famous person and you'll learn what a shallow existence that is.

You can be a great writer and still have plenty of time for family. If you've brought a child into this world and you don't make being a father a top priority, then you're nothing.

Jeri said...

I should add, in the morning light, that my agreement with Joe is based on my own childless-by-choice experience. It's one reason why we don't have kids, because I know they'd become my whole world, and my own life and career goals are too important.

I hate to play the gender card, but even in our liberated times, it's much harder for women to balance their own needs with those of their kids. Few fathers are willing to make the sacrifices Joe's wife makes.

Bob Farley said...

I never thought that a child could take over my world, but mine did. Part of the reason behind my strong convictions on this subject is due to my being a stay-at-home father. I've spent just about every day of his life with him. I wrote my first book while he took naps. Writing was easier in those days. While being a SAHD has been a sacrifice to any kind of career I might dream of, it's one I make happily.

I've made plenty of sacrifices for writing, and still do. I don't sweep the floor every day. I don't walk or train the dogs. They can walk for themselves and unless they start getting paid for being obedient, that hobby has run its course. I don't wash the car but four or five times a year. I don't change out of my pajamas every day. I sometimes let the dishes pile up while I finish a chapter. Sometimes I'll even postpone paying work while I write make-believe stories.

When my boy is old enough to drive and work or maybe sooner, I'll go back into overdrive mode, the mode I was in when my first marriage went in the crapper, only this time, I'll probably be born-again single. (This time it's my wife who's in single-minded overdrive.) At that point, the priority will be directed more toward my desires rather than someone else's. But for now, I'm obligated and loving every second of it.

Jeff Savage said...

Joe, if for some inexplicable reason you don't make it as a writer, talkshow host has to be next on the list. You are great at pushing buttons.

I think your clarification fits it all together though. If you claim you don't have enough time to write or market because of your family, it's probably crap. Likewise though, if you claim you don't have enough time for your family because you have to write/market that's probably crap too.

I liked the cover blurb on Stephen King's book, On Writing where he says something about having this monster desk in the middle of his study where he did all his writing. Finally he ends up getting a smaller desk, moving it into the corner and bringing up a couch where his kids can come up and watch baseball with him.

JA Konrath said...

I make time for my family, but after I've done my writing obligations.

Being a SAHD is tough, because your kids see you at the computer and think you're fair game.

If I were 9 to 5, would that be considered ignoring them because I had to go to work?

The problem, such as it is, is that I work about 70 hours a week.

Before I can have family time, I need to finish work time. Of course, the priorities flip-flop if there is some kind of emergency. And though I work ten hour days, I still have time to eat with the family, and spend quality time with them.

All my children know how to fish, because I taught them. I play games with my youngest several times a week, read to him at bedtime, help him with homework.

But all things considered, I spend a helluva lot more time at work than with my family. And that's how it has to be until my career is self-sustaining. My family understands that.

I want more out of life. I always have. And I refuse to die until I get it.

Jude Hardin said...

Sounds like you're doing all the right things, Joe.

Good job.

Jeri said...

On the other other hand (or are we up to feet now?), a person who feels fulfilled in his or her own life may make a better parent than someone who sacrifices everything and ends up resenting the children and/or vicariously living through their successes and failures.

Plus, it's probably good for kids to see their parent(s) working for a meaningful goal.

Jude Hardin said...

I think you're absolutely right, jeri. Part of being a good parent is teaching (by example) a strong work ethic. We don't want our kids to grow up to be lazy bums.

Finding a balance is the key. Kids need to know that they're loved, and they need your attention and affection at every age. Time is our most precious resource, and our children deserve to be given some. Some people are so focused on their career that they practically neglect their kids, and that's not good. I'm glad to read about the good fathers out there, J.A. included.

Noodler: My sweet IR. I love you.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of that time and money would be better served working on your writing skills. Write a kick-ass, commercial book and the sales will follow.

What's more, you need to take time to sharpen your tools. You live in a fish bowl of writing, marketing, writing, marketing and pretty soon you'll develop a nice scum of algae on your writing.

This last year I hiked a rainforest with my kids in Costa Rica, wandered colonial towns in Mexico and studied French in France. I've got to think that in the long-run this will serve my writing better than spending my days licking envelopes. Your mileage may vary.

Yes, I did write a novel last year.

She-Warrior said...

Hi Joe, I know this is an old post but I feel to write a comment because I agree in every word. Thanks to remeber me my priorities and sorry for my English.
Best regards from Italy,
She Warrior :-)