The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Twelve
Here We Go Again!
If it’s Monday then it must be time for The Writer’s Mailbag!
This series will continue as long as there are questions to answer, and judging from the backlog of questions, it will continue for quite some time.
Thanks to all of you who asked questions this week. If you don’t see your question here, it’s simply because there were too many, but I’ll get to the rest next week.
And if you want to go anonymous, that’s fine too. Just let me know and I won’t add your name to the question.
Remember, please, that many questions ask for my opinion, and what I state is merely that. Others may do things differently and that is fine. I don’t believe there is a “right way to write.” There is only the right way for you.
Shall we begin?
Nancy asks: How do we know when we've "found our voice?" I know my writing has improved in the last 10 years, but I still don't feel I've found mine yet.
Here is one of those subjective answers. I don’t think there is a quantifiable way of knowing when we have found our voice. I believe that moment comes when we sit back, read something we have written, and feel all warm and fuzzy about it. That’s about as close as I can come to describing it. I just knew when I found mine, and I have heard others say that as well.
Mind you, I believe our voice changes over time, just as we do as writers and human beings. My writing voice is like an old friend, or my favorite pair of slippers. I’m always comfortable with it, and when it is missing, I feel an emptiness to my writing.
How’s that for a metaphysical answer to a simple question?
Two Is Company and Three Is a Crowd
From Lizzy: “How do you know how many characters to have in a story? How do you know when you have too many or too few?”
Great question, Lizzy, and one I’m sure most novel-writers have considered.
If your name is Tom Clancy, then there is no such thing as too many. I’m being silly now, so forget that last sentence.
It is recommended, and remember that recommendations are not etched in stone like the Ten Commandments, but it is recommended that a novel not have more than three or four MAIN characters. The key to that suggestion is the word “main.” Secondary characters can come and go as you like, as long as they add, in some way, to the story. But main characters require character development, and in an average novel of 75,000-100,000 words, you really only have space for three or four character developments.
As for the second part of Lizzy’s question, the story should dictate how many is too many or how few is too few. More than four tends to muddy the waters; less than three and you are treading on thin ice and you risk the danger of producing a rather thin, drab little book. How will you know? You may not, but if you have trusted friends and an editor read your work, hopefully they will tell you their thoughts.
Supporting Oneself As a Writer
Ally asks: If you don't mind me asking, how do you still have the finances to support yourself if you quit your job? Or, on the flip side, how would you suggest that people be able to literally afford this? I'm only 22 and still live with my parents for now, and I know I definitely don't have the means for that! I so wish I did, though.
Ally was so sweet in the way she asked this question that I really didn’t mind the personal nature of it.
I didn’t turn “pro” until three years ago, and that happened to coincide with my turning 62, the magical age when I could start taking early Social Security. I had already cut my expenses to the bare minimum. I’m frugal by nature, so I had put myself in a position where all I needed to get by…rent, food, miscellaneous expenses…was about $1,400 per month. My SS met that, so anything I made from writing was a bonus.
Having said that, within six months I was making enough, just from writing, to get by without SS. Was I lucky or diligent/determined? Probably a little of both. I worked hard to find customers, and I provided good copy for them, and one success led to another and here I am, three years later, living the good life. I am not rich by any means, but I’m also not worried about the state of the economy.
Join me on my writing blog
- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
Tips and discussions about writing
Protection Is an Illusion
From Michelle: So as I thought long and hard I came up with a question of my own. I am recognizing that many writers post a disclaimer and copyright notification on their HubPages profile. I have thought of doing this myself, though I realize this does not completely protect me from others plagiarizing my work. Can you tell me the benefits and consequence of placing or not placing a disclaimer and copyright notice?
This is a wonderful question by Michelle, and it is also a difficult one.
Since 1989, it has not been necessary to attach a copyright notification to an article. You are automatically “protected” by copyright laws once you publish an article.
That does not mean you are totally protected.
No one is truly protected. The internet is so vast, and there are so many articles published daily, that it is practically impossible to keep thieves from stealing your article and using it under their own name. Anyone who has written for online sites like HubPages understands this fact. I currently have fifteen articles that have been copied and used by other writers. I’m sure that by this time next year I’ll have fifteen more copied. Can I stop that from happening? Not really! Of course I can fill out forms, notify sites, and eventually it will be rectified, but the time it takes to do this is almost not worth the effort…and…while I’m doing all that, others are copying and using more of my articles. It’s like trying to stop an avalanche once it picks up momentum, or, if you prefer, like putting out a forest fire with a squirt gun.
So, while the law is on your side, the reality is that the law is a bit toothless.
As a force of habit, I always include my copyright notification at the end of my articles, but I only do this to make myself feel better. I know in my heart of hearts that I’m really just taking a placebo.
More Next Week
I’m enjoying this series, and by the responses I’m receiving, I know you are as well, so let’s keep it going. Send me your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them next Monday.
Until then, have a great week of writing. Remember to enjoy what you are doing. Writing should, above all else, be fun. Creativity should be joyful, and that is what I wish for you…oodles of joy.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”