Some Maxims to Live By

Sorry, was waiting for the promo post, which is delayed, and might be tomorrow, and though I could swear I got sent a vignette post, my whole hotmail is in a state of implosion, so it’s possible it got eaten.

There is a motivational post (not bad) for writers going around by someone who is not ah… a friend of my blog or my friends.

And it occurred to me there are skills to making it as a freelance writer that apply to other endeavors and people as well, and it occurred to me that, willing or not, a lot of us are going to be going it on our own in the next year, either as a main pursuit or as a way to supplement income from jobs that haven’t had a real raise in a decade.  Apparently summer of recovery isn’t yet this year, and as the big enterprises shed, we must sink or swim on our own.  Fortunately one way or another we’re a resourceful lot.  I have writing, of course, but some of the things you guys get up to are truly creative.  And some are just getting by, like, say, driving Uber.

Some of this has a built in stimulus and deadline.  I mean, even the indie writers I know have deadlines they give themselves, and this bad habit of a roof over head and eating every day should be stimulus enough.

It SHOULD be.

But particularly in creative endeavors, I often find when I need it most is when less gets done, because I close up in panic.

So–

Sometimes you need words and maxims to get you through, and these are mine.  Change them to make sense for your own endeavors, when those are not writing.

1- Writers write.  Dan first launched me in my writing career with this one “simple rule”.  “Writers write everyday.”  I’ve failed on this more times than I can tell, but the fact I TRY is what has kept my career going, even when all hope is gone.  It usually takes being sick, tired, and dealing with a crisis to not “bank” at least 500 words a day.  Writers write.  Try to find at least an hour and write on the current work, or a vignette or a post.  Even if it does nothing else, it’s practice.

2- You don’t know what sucks.  No, seriously.  Half the time what I think sucks will read brilliant two months or two years later.  You can’t judge your own work. You’re too far inside it.  And if you have any mood disorder (hi, I’m Sarah Hoyt, and I’m a depressive), you will be even less able to judge your work.  Right now I’m in a place where everything I write reads like boiled cabbage.  Reaction from other people indicates this is not true.  So shut up and write.  You don’t know if it sucks.  So, edit three times, for coherency typos, and whatever else makes you happy.  Then let it go.  It sucks?  Says you.  Others might love it.

3- You don’t know what will sell.  Always true, but particularly with indie.  EVERY TIME I talk to a person who made it in indie I get back the same “I have no idea why that book hit.” Or “that book was a toss off.  I have no idea why it sold big” or…  You get the point.  Write it.  do the best you can with it, and put it out.  You never know what will sell.  If it embarrasses you mortally, put it out under a pen name. Beware of names like Iman I Diot.  Miss Diot could be a bestseller, and do you want to answer to that the rest of your life.  Part of this is stop editing.  Chances are you can’t make it better, and you might be making it worse.

4- Don’t get stuck in one mode of doing business.  Things are shifting faster than you can imagine.  Keep your mind open and your eyes ditto.  Try new ways of doing business as they come along, they might be your livelihood in a few years.

5- Don’t be afraid to try new things.  I was for years.  I was afraid I simply was not GOOD enough.  Ask yourself “Good enough for what?”  Who determines, other than the writers?  Most of the historical books I read from KU have HUNDREDS of great reviews and MAJOR errors (not even little ones.  I mean, things like assuming ancient Rome worked like Victorian England.  Or confusing Elizabethan England and the Regency.)  Do the best you can, but dare try new things.  Like above, don’t be afraid of new ways of doing business, writing new things, trying new genres.  Just keep going.  if you want to do it? Try it.  Failing is guaranteed if you never try.  Or as the poster over my desk says “If you must walk on thin ice, you might as well dance.”

6- Don’t let failure daunt you.  In the rapidly shifting business/technology/political climate we face the next several years, failure is guaranteed.  BUT failure is never failure till it’s final.  Until the referee counts ten over your prone body, without your getting up and trying again, you haven’t failed.  It’s merely a temporary setback.  Yes, it’s easy to lose heart, and I do, which is why I have to remind myself that it’s not over till the fat lady sings, and frankly my singing has been banned by the Geneva convention as a crime against humanity, so I ain’t singing.  Everyone who achieved anything failed a lot more than everyone who didn’t.  Which brings me to the other Maxim over my computer “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom”- George S. Patton.  You hit bottom?  Great, let me congratulate you.  You’re about to BOUNCE!

99 responses to “Some Maxims to Live By

  1. #2 is especially true. I have to let something sit for four or five weeks before I can do a reliable edit pass on it.

    • Yeah, I don’t even want to think about how long it took me to get around to editing my first book. It’s true that there were suddenly kids to deal with, but my eldest is almost nine and I finished the first pass before he was born. (It came out in January of this year. My mom wants more. I need to be faster on the “more” or she won’t get any.)

      Of course, there is the caveat that I am not a writer. (No, really, I’m not.) I have written, I will probably write some more, but I wouldn’t go bonkers if I couldn’t write any more. I would go bonkers if I couldn’t do art.

      • Your mom wants more books. or more grandchildren? Maybe, “and”?

      • not even book editing, the mind has a tendency to auto-correct to what you want instead of what the heck you actually wrote. Throughout life I’ve found even short things I have written (say, a simple instruction of 10 words or less) and after a period of time realized what a hash I made of it.
        When I had to make a quick CV/resume I used a text reader to read it back to me.
        Oof Da!
        That helped me give something to my boss that wasn’t too embarrassing, and he only edited out a few small things instead of a ton of poor wordage.
        (oh, I “needed” the cv to apply for the job I had been doing for 12 years, and the job opening was not in existence until I agreed to move here for said job I already held and was being moved. Gotta HATE corporate B.S.)

        • This. I read aloud when editing. I’ve also temporarily changed the font. There will still be things I miss.

          • your brain thinks it knows what you wanted to write whether you wrote it or not (~_^)

            • I think I have that mostly handled by reading backwards, sentence by sentence. (I’d sound really driew doing it word by word…)

            • Hell, I sometimes do this with OTHER people’s writing. Which is really weird, because on the other side of it, single-letter typos can sometimes throw me completely out of a story for a minute.

          • Haven’t heard of shifting the font. Definitely sounds like a good idea.

            • Switching the font to Dingbats or Hieroglyphs …


              … makes editing a breeze.

                  • Argh, Wingdings. I have a major rant about that font. The gist of it is, “There’s a standard way to do fonts, even symbol fonts, and Microsoft ignored it. Result: Wingdings text won’t be legible AT ALL to anyone who doesn’t have the Wingdings font installed. DON’T use Wingdings on the Internet. Just… DON’T.”

                    The longer version of it gets highly technical, and talks about things like Unicode encodings and how Wingdings uses the Private Use Area instead of the standard codepoints, even for things like arrow symbols, and how that makes font-fallback useless. I’ll skip the technical rant. But it, too, boils down to “DON’T use Wingdings on the Internet. Just… DON’T.”

              • there’s actually a font called Dingbat?

                • Yes, although I may have been thinking wingdings when I dropped that name. A SearchEngine for images of dingbats fonts seems to suggest as much …


                  … which might make the chart presented invalid. Wikipedia says Dingbats font was “was added to the Unicode Standard in June 1993.”
                  [en[DOT]wikipedia[DOT]org/wiki/Dingbat]

          • Yes, I read out loud when I’m digging in. My work or someone else’s. If it sounds too “bouncy” I tend to realize I’ve slipped into lyrical again…

          • Reading out loud while editing has been a great way to catch mistakes for me too.

  2. Yup. Sometimes I let stuff go for weeks before I come back to it.

    I could use a bit of bounce about now – as sales have flat-lined in February and March. Must be that time of year.

  3. Rules to live by: Always bring a gun to a knife fight.

    How that translates to writing I don’t know, but it sounds good, right? ~:)

    • An old role-playing character of mine told me this (yes, I’m Odd)

      Neyland Tarr’s Law; The is a practical limit to what can be accomplished with a pen knife and boundless enthusiasm.

  4. Oops – I thought this was gonna be a post of pictures of scantily clad women, a la the infamous lad mag and I had severe chastisements all ready to issue.

    Is my face red.

  5. ” Until the referee counts ten over your prone body, without your getting up and trying again, you haven’t failed.” As the Black Knight said (in MP&THG), “It’s only a flesh wound.” and, “Come back and I’ll bite your knees off!”

  6. It is All True, especially #2 & #3. I sold a romance short story when I don’t write romance. To an editor that writes romances professionally! I fooled them ALL bwaahahahahah! (No, blackmail and/or alcohol were not involved. I know, I can’t believe it either.)

  7. Thank you, Sarah.

    Side note, we should consider starting a filk duo. Just in case we’re ever insane enough to attend WorldCon, and feel like being evil…

      • Steve has filkbooks. I think he might be persuaded to provide librettos at LibertyCon.

        • Steve’s sole published work was a filk that appeared in the Xenofilkia magazine’s “Bastard Grandchildren of Argo” issue.

    • And I’ll sing backup!

    • From the sounds of things, I won’t be able to join in the singing: I have a lot of experience singing in choirs.

      I can, however, offer my services as a violinist. I have informed others that after just a few minutes of playing, I can get anyone to do what I want. Of course, the condition for “getting what I want” is usually “for the love of all that is good and holy, please stop!”

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Sounds like my singing.

        Once people have heard my singing, they’ll pay me to stop singing or pay me to not sing. 😉

        • We need t protest against harmonormative singing! Demanding that we adhere to some arbitrarily designated chromatic or diatonic scale is oppressive! Every time somebody tunes a fork I am microaggressed against.

          [I plead your forgiveness in advance should this actually achieve prominence among the SJW class; I fear they outstrip the greatest efforts of absurdity.]

          • What, you think they won’t all go pretend to like some ‘experimental’ ‘atonal’ music just to ‘stick it to the man’??

            • They already have.

              • Oh, i went to a local LA synth meet the a couple years ago where one of the ‘performances’ was just that. i walked the half block to my car and sat there and drowsed til his ‘music’ stopped’

    • Strangely enough, singing is how I learned to decipher (and mimic) accents. And if you think you have a tin ear and the voice of a frog, try teaching a couple dozen kids (ages 6-17) to sing hymns. Together. All at once.

      From such small beginnings… Actually, they sounded rather good after some (a lot) of work. Voice training can help.

  8. I needed this today, especially #6. Just when I was starting to get some traction, after 4 years of indie publishing, sales took a nosedive in February and March. I’ve been swinging between feeling like I should just quit wasting everyone’s time and money with my silly books and hang it up, and trying to tell myself it’s just a flesh wound. Reading #6 has helped to convince me it is, indeed, just a flesh wound.

    #2 – After many many years of writing (as a hobby, until I started indie publishing 4 years ago, so I don’t know how much I really know), I’ve finally reached the point where I revise and edit to bring what I’ve written in line with what’s in my head instead of trying to make it fit someone else’s definition of “better.” It’s more fun this way.

  9. My experience of self-employment is that the boss is always there whispering, “You know, you could be making money right now.” I make my living as a freelance copy editor. It’s rare that a day passes without my doing at least an hour or two of work, even if I’m taking it off. Things are tight, but I make enough to support myself and pay taxes. . . .

    • I was in sharehold a small law firm for 10 years or so – which meant I was on an eat-what-you-kill type plan and not a salary for most of that time. It is amazing how much energy you can find during what would otherwise technically be a family vacation when a bit of work comes in — because it is the only money that you’re going to earn during that vacation. I will say that time has given me some bad habits now that I’m back on a salary — I keep answering the phone for business calls even if it means moving over to the side of the ski slope.

  10. 7. If the food is good enough, the grunts will stop complaining about the incoming fire.

    • check the box draven

    • The guy who trained me to cook was a Professional Chef (i.e., had to training and experience to work in 3 star restaurants as the boss cook). I’ve eaten what he considers “pretty good.”

      No food I have eaten to date has been *that* good. *chuckle*

    • Patrick Chester

      Heh, I got my “defaced” copy of the 70 Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries book a few weeks ago. Been reading it off and on.

      Maxim 11 – Everything is air-droppable at least once.

  11. paladin3001

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. c4c again. cause I love seeing others comments and right now can’t be bothered being pithy or wise…..

  12. Thank you. I need to apply #4-6 routinely to non-writing stuff!

  13. https://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/certain_maxims_of_hafiz.html

    Because I’ve been trying to keep from committing Death by Powerpoint and my brain is mush.

  14. Somewhere in the middle of THE YEARS WITH ROSS (James Thurber’s very informal biography of the founding editor of The New Yorker) there is a reproduction of a ‘Theory and practice of editing New Yorker articles’ by one of the early managing editors.

    The only Point I remember offhand is “On the whole, we are hostile to puns.”

  15. Michael Houst

    Friend of mine from high school’s year book quote:

    “Never try, never do.
    Never fail, never succeed.”

    What makes a hero?
    Knowing that you can’t win, and striving to do so anyway.
    “Sometime I surprise even myself.”
    So can you.

  16. The words I’ve always tried to live by are “Never trust a pretty girl or a lonely midget.”

  17. I would suggest; If you are going to make something you assume is true a plot point, it’s time to check it.

    Example; the Ultimate Avengers comic in which a revived Captain America ‘knew’ Nick Fury was fake, because there were ‘no Black Colonels in the American Army’ in WWII. (Yes, I know I’ve brought this up before. It really irked me.). There were plenty of legit reasons for Cap to conclude Fury was a fake. For one thing, Fury was wearing a modern uniform, amd I kniw damn well there have been changes. The author assumed that WWII America wouldn’t have Black senior officers, and didn’t freaking check.

    • Flying lesson worthy errors. Yes. For that or when the action is completely and utterly out of character for either the character or the group he is a member of.

    • Steve Rogers knew that this “Fury” was fake because he had fought alongside the Howling Commandos in the European theatre.


      Gabriel Jones was the black member of the commandos, not Fury.

      • The Ultimates Universe was supposed to be different from the original Marvel Universe. I guess that could mean that the generalization about black officers was right, FOR THAT UNIVERSE, but that would make the Ultimates universe more bigoted than ours, and nobody brought it up again.

  18. When I first saw the headline, I thought it was “Marxisms to live by”, and my first thought was “Marxism isn’t something to live by!” considering the death toll Marxism has inflicted on humanity.

    Having said that, of everyone were to just adopt “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” as a motto to live by, and not something to be forced on the masses by the enlightened, the world be a much better place.

    To be sure, Sarah’s maxims are very good bits of advice for free market communists (because, ironically enough, the free market has done far more to achieve the ideals of communism, even in communist nations, than full-fledged Marxists breaking millions of “eggs” for their “omelette” ever have).

    I’m going to have to keep these maxims in mind for myself. I’m in a bit of a rut right now, and could use a metaphorical kick in the butt.

    • Nope, that is not a motto to live by.

    • There’s an actual genu-ine communist on my facebook page right now…. Swear to bog.

    • As has been pointed out here before, the issue with “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is that in communist societies, you aren’t the one deciding what your need is, and I guarantee you that the guy deciding what you need thinks you need a LOT less than you think you need. In fact, you don’t even get to decide what your ability is: the guy deciding your ability has decided that you’re able to work twelve hours per day in the factory, six days per week, and that your claims of strained back muscles are just malingering.

      You know this already, of course, but I’ve decided I want to point that out every time that phrase comes up.

  19. Thanks– I will keep writing too. I really thought that I should hang it up last year… And then I had a couple people start encouraging me again– so another one was published this year. Still in the flesh wound stage, but to be honest I have been there since 2003. I wish it would heal already.

  20. Meanwhile I’m wrestling with whether to put a superhero novella into a collection with two fantasy stories, or break it out on its own entirely.

    • You know that the fantasy fans will complain that you stuck a superhero story in the collection, and the superhero buffs will groan about the fantasy junk. Meanwhile, the three nuts that like both fantasy and superheroes will be thrilled that at last, someone put a collection together for them! Of course, off-hand, I’d say a superhero between two fantasies is a pretty good sandwich, but I’m known to read ingredients if nothing else is handy…

    • Break it out. More titles, closer releases seems to help my sales. Mind you I purely hate having to do so many covers.

      • Wish I could get my oldest into doing illustration and covers. I think he’s too focused on doing playing card art.

      • Collections seem to sell better than the individual works.

        Think I will break it out.

  21. caitliniwoods

    I think I needed to hear this today. 🙂

  22. Last years sales were… depressing. I’ll just leave it there. Thus far, since the alt-history book came out in December, things are better. Not “quit the day job” better, but “Hmm, something seems to be working” better. Time to take another bite of the whale.

  23. Those maxims work for illustrators, too. Thanks.

  24. Number six reminds me of something that Diana Wynne Jones wrote. She said that she always tried something new with every book.

  25. Needed to hear all of the above, especially #5. As a lifelong writer who’s continually dodged the “Writer” title until realizing around 50 that I was wasting my life, I *must* try new things. Like NOW. Or very soon, at the least.

    Trouble is, I’ve no idea *what* to try. Following Maxim #1, I suppose, suggests doing whatever, as long as I do it every day, and X number of words every day.

    p.s. – If you get sufficiently sick of your Hot(mail) mess that you’re willing to do a one-time dive into nerdy waters, message me for a suggestion. Not a silver bullet, but damn close.

  26. Every time I think I have the “write every day” thing figured out, I get hit by something. This time it was toothache. 😦

  27. So I have a question about pen names and how they work. Specifically, if I have books on Amazon as, say, “Aurelia King”, which I do not, obviously, but if I did, how does Chris L. Mouse get paid for it? I mean, I haven’t yet tried to put anything on there, so I don’t know if there is a button for “Use x as author’s name, but my account and actual name is Y”. Is there such a button or similar?

    • You can put whatever name you want on the books you publish.
      you a) should put the copyright in your name, unless you have those names as a dba.
      b)amazon will ask you if you have the right to publish them. Say yes.
      c) Amazon pays the publisher, not the author.

    • Yes, there is. When you are uploading everything, you have to put in the names of author (and others if you so choose or need to). Use your author name there. Since you’ve already set up a payment system with Amazon, the system knows that money for books by Aurelia King go to Chris L. Mouse’s account. I’ve never had trouble with diverted payments, and Amazon has never questioned using my author name instead of my academic name.

  28. “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.'”

    Translation: “If there’s any chance of failure, don’t even bother.”