The S.W.E.A.T Pledge

Recently, for several reasons, Mike Rowe’s S.W.E.A.T. Pledge has come to my attention, and I realized how much of it applies to writers. Even to — particularly to? — indie writers.

Indie writers particularly those of an ADD bent are stuck on a peculiar crucible.

Actually we all are.

You see the problem we have as writers is that we’re neither artists nor craftsmen, but somewhere in between.

Now, you’re going to say that’s true of every artist. Take painters, potters or singers: before you can make your vision come to life; before you give expression to something artistic, you need to be competent on the craft level. The properties of paint and clay and your own voice, and the practice to get consistent results are needed, as is the art that makes what you’re doing something more than drudgery.

You’re not wrong, but the reason I belabor that point for writers is that it’s not immediately obvious. Many people think that because they can use words, and have used them since they were toddlers, there is no craft to learn. This is like confusing the canvas with the craft. Because words are not your medium. Your medium are units of experience. A string of them for a novel and a concentrated dollop for a short story. For both it helps if you know how to use words to evoke emotions, because experiences stick better with emotions, and humans are more likely to read that which elicits emotions. This is particularly crucial for short stories.

So– it takes time and an amazing amount of work to get good at the writing craft. And yes, you can get rusty as heck. I’m right now coming back from rusting for about ten years. (The good news is, as with re-acquiring a language, it’s easier the second time around.) BUT all this to talk about the S.W.E.A.T..

…. It is important that you let you muse play and feed. Without it, as I wrote about, some time back, it withers and dies. Your characters will be lifeless. And the saddest thing ever was hearing my dad say he put off his art (well, he still does poetry, but he meant drawing and painting) on hold until he retired, and at eighty he found his muse had died. You do need to take breaks and let the muse feed and write exactly what it wants or read a bunch of strange stuff, or else it won’t be alive when you call it.

But the thing is you also need to learn when to call the muse. And how. And you need to know how to operate when the muse plain won’t come.

Writing was always an endurance-art. Yes, there are a lucky few who though they’re good (they need to be good not to be flashes in the pan) also have the luck to make it right off the gate, though an extraordinary combination of circumstances. But historically, the writers with permanence are the ones who do it, keep doing it, work a lot, and write a lot. This is why trad pub committed suicide when it killed the midlist (A feat of economic illiteracy compared to shutting down the economy and expecting it to thrive.)

It is more important for indie, because putting something out consistently (and a smaller interval is better) is your best guarantee that you will be known and make it. Amazon algorithms and even word of mouth favor fast and consistent writing.

Now are you going to be able to do that every time? Well no. I’m just about — now — recovering from ten years where the horse was dead, no matter how much I beat it. Health problems, worry about family members, emotional shocks. All of it can shut you down. My husband stopped writing except for short stories when his brother died twenty years ago. He’s starting to get stirrings back, but…

Well, the thing is either at the beginning, or after a long shut down, you need to do two things. One, you need to let the muse play. Two, you need to WORK and bust your *ss at the craft side, and establishing a schedule, and putting a shoulder back to the wheel. If you’re like me, you’ll reserve the “let the muse romp” for a day or two a week, and spend the rest of the time on a regular schedule working on your craft: i.e. exercising that S.W.E.A.T. pledge. Finding work, even if you assign it to yourself. Doing something to put out every day, even if it’s just a short, reading books on how to write, trying a genre you’ve never tried, sharpening your knives and learning what to make of verbal paint blobs. So that when the muse and need hit at the same time, you can create that masterpiece.

It’s been a trope of trad publishing that writers work hard enough that even a midlist author would be a major success in any other field. I’m not sure about that, because a lot of fields seem to be set up to IMPAIR hard workers. But it is true even in — especially in — indie that it takes an enormous amount of work.

Take comfort in knowing that at least we get to do our work inside and in the dry, unlike a lot of professions adhering to the S.W.E.A.T. pledge.

And now the pledge, in bold, and underneath how I think it applies/have seen people come acropper on not following it.

  1. I believe that I have won the greatest lottery of all time. I am alive. I walk the Earth. I live in America. Above all things, I am grateful.

This is particularly true if you’re a writer. It hasn’t always been this way, but definitely English is the language to write in, if you want to make a living. And most of the sites to go indie in are right here, as are the blogs of people giving information on how to do this. Be grateful, be happy, be optimistic. You have a way better chance of making it than most of the population of Earth. Privilege? You got it. Fair? Life isn’t fair. It is what it is. You won the lottery. Use it. Don’t beat yourself up with guilt. You didn’t cheat anyone for this.

2. I believe that I am entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that “happiness” and the “pursuit of happiness” are not the same thing.

So you want to be a writer. Cool story, bro (or sis.) Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how you’ve told stories since you were born or perhaps in the womb, or how much your siblings loved them, or if you’re the smartest person anyone in your circles will ever meet. The number of people who want to write and manage to turning writing into a means of supporting themselves is vanishingly small. Indie has made no difference to that. I think the average income of a working fiction writer is like 5k a year. So? So, it’s in your hands. At least unlike with trad, it’s in your hands. It’s how hard and how smart you’re willing to work.

3. I believe there is no such thing as a “bad job.” I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.

Around the house we call this the Kevin Anderson “Sure, I can do that” rule. Look, even with Indie, you’re going to be approached to do work you weren’t counting on or that doesn’t make sense with your history.

Someone will call you out of the blue and ask you to do a radio play or a comic, or beg you to write a book they’re contracted for and they just got sick, or–

Unless you are yourself sick, or the job is for some reason morally repulsive to you (trust me, I couldn’t write the script for a porn movie, even if in the immortal words of the late Mike Resnick, most of the lines are “mmmmm” or “wow.” or “Ahhhhh”) give it a try. For one these odd jobs often come with cash on the nose. For another, it’s your chance to stretch yourself.
My own work for hire gave me some amazing insight that kept me going when I wasn’t doing very well. For instance, when you know a book you wrote for someone who was very ill made that person — suddenly — a bestseller or that your book under a house name has outsold everything else you wrote, even though you know it’s not your best work, you start suspecting the fault is not in you but with people who don’t like you in the publishing and promotion apparatus. And even if you’re indie, you’ll learn new techniques from work for hire, you’ll see how the other half live. And you’ll get money.

4. I do not “follow my passion.” I bring it with me. I believe that any job can be done with passion and enthusiasm. In other words, our jobs don’t define us. We define what kind of worker we are in any given profession.

Perhaps the most important thing for indies. You do need a bitch of a boss that keeps you on track and makes you work. Sometimes the bitch is you.

5- deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it. I would rather live in a tent and eat beans than borrow money to pay for a lifestyle I can’t afford. 

I cannot emphasize this enough. Try not to go into consumer debt, and pay off any debt you have as soon as you can. You are in a profession of irregular earnings. Sometimes, we only stayed above water because we had no consumer debt.

6-I believe that my safety is my responsibility. I understand that being in “compliance” does not necessarily mean I’m out of danger.

Well, one good thing about writing is that it’s indoors, in the warm. If you think that makes it easy, you haven’t known many professional writers. Look, me too. The hardest working writers are the most out of shape, and we tend to die of heart issues, of strokes, of stress-related problems, etc etc. etc.

Take care of yourself, and keep yourself healthy. The longer you’re healthy the longer you’ll write. Mind the diet, exercise, and find some way to blow off steam. It makes no sense, but writing is stressful, because we can’t control sales, even in indie.

7-I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is. That is, work your you-know-what off, burn the midnight oil and all that good stuff. Don’t look for shortcuts on the path to success.

Absolutely true. So, your story didn’t do well? Work harder. Write the next one. And accept that short story invite, and turn in your best work, even if the prompt is “Snails I’ve known.”
The one thing I can tell you for this field is that eventually hard work pays off. Eventually is just very long sometimes. The two enormously talented people I know who flamed out early in their careers (one with only one book) believed they were owed success for that first book. Look, even if you’re the gen-geneeried child of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury it doesn’t mean your book, no matter how good is going to succeed right off the bat. There’s such a thing as “finding your public” and also a book that’s in congruence with what people want to read right now (and that changes with the times.) So. If your first isn’t amazeballs sales? Keep working. Work hard. I’m given to understand eventually it pays off.

8-I believe the most annoying sounds in the world are whining and complaining. I will never make them. If I am unhappy in my work, I will either find a new job or find a way to be happy.

Actually feel free to whine and complain. Find a person who will listen to you — not always the same — get it our of your system. Then go back to work.

9- I believe that my education is my responsibility and absolutely critical to my success. I am resolved to learn as much as I can from whatever source is available to me. I will never stop learning and understand that library cards are free.

But I’m a published writer. I know everything. AHAHAHAHAHAH. If you’re a good writer, you’re painfully aware of where your writing falls short and what techniques you haven’t mastered. Hey, I should do a resources post one of these days. Out there, somewhere, there’s a book that contains the “formula” you’ll finally click with for… living characters. Or making your plot irresistible. Or…. whatever it is. I read almost all writing books I come across. Even when most of it is dross, sometimes something clicks. And yeah, it’s amazing how many of them are in the library. Also, for the record, there’s other ways to figure things out. I have — waiting for me in my office — a pile of books on becoming a social media influencer, and making your online profile bigger. Because that’s got to give me some ideas on how to promote books, right? I have color combinations for working online artists books, to help with covers. I have– Go read. You’ll find a diamond somewhere in the dross. And I mean, what were you going to do while cleaning house or having breakfast?

10- I believe that I am a product of my choices — not my circumstances. I will never blame anyone for my shortcomings or the challenges I face. And I will never accept the credit for something I didn’t do. Of course! Pshhh … none of us would ever do this. The truth is, in the game of life, we’ve all been dealt different hands. But it’s up to us what we make of them

Oh, I have a little list. Fortunately I’m too lazy to act on it. This is good, because I look appalling in orange. BUT the important thing here is that, yeah, some people done me wrong. But that’s not what defines my life. I say “Screw them” and go around to the path they’re not blocking.
And truth be told, I’ve also been the recipient of benevolence and things people do that improve my life and career, to which I’m not entitled in any way shape or form.
We all get handed a mixed lot. Yeah, it might be more difficult for you to make it due to circumstances. It’s still up to you to find the way around.

11- I understand the world is not fair, and I’m OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.

I don’t. Not when they deserve it. I do resent the “perfumed princesses” who get wafted up to the heights while having no craft or art. BUT those tend to also crash fast and hard. Particularly now with trad pub in trouble.
The good ones? Even if they started yesterday, if they make it to the top on the first book and stay there? I wish them every success. A lot of them are also a lot of fun to read. (Some aren’t to my taste, of course. Which doesn’t mean they’re not good.)

12 – I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.

And if you do that, if you bring that ethic to your writing work: you’ll make it. No matter what stands in the way, you’ll make it.
Now go do it.

16 thoughts on “The S.W.E.A.T Pledge

  1. My last boss when I worked for the Army told me to get a job or start a business/hobby before I retired. He said he couldn’t count the number of folks who worked for 30 or 40 years for the Army, who said, “When I retire I’m gonna play golf every day!” or, ” I’m gonna go fishing!” Then, when they retired they’d buy a set of clubs or a nice fishing rod…and go to the golf course or lake once. They’d let the desire atrophy until it was dead. And odds were, they would be dead, too, within a year or so. Sometimes within six months.
    Fortunately my beloved dragged me onto the road, and now we look forward every spring to getting back out there.

  2. I’m trying to make the time to read a new environmental history book that arrived. It fills in a hole in my knowledge. I’ve also got several writing craft books that I need to drop into my e-reader, so I can find more holes in that knowledge and write better.

    There’s a lot of overlap. I returned to my dissertation after writing at least a hundred thousand words of fiction. Oh, man, was that dissertation terrible! But now I could see it. (What’s truly depressing is that it got an award for good writing, which speaks volumes about academic prose in the raw.)

    1. I wrote all my papers (finals, midterms, etc) basically the night before they were due and got As and Bs on all of them. I no longer have any of them (this was more than 15 years ago at this point) but I doubt they were really A- or B-level works if I think about how much I’ve improved even in the last 5 years.

      It also occurs to me that the competition (classmates) was pretty weak. In the final class of my major we all had to give presentations. I went first, talked 10 minutes past my time, and got my A. Then I sat back and watched how utterly lost some of the others were. It was astounding. I suppose for people who take writing (or working on anything) more seriously we can look back at what we’ve done and see all the ways it could be better, but from the perspective of someone who sees the entire spectrum perhaps your award and my As and Bs were warranted. (I’ll also hit “Post Comment” on this and then when I re-read it I’ll think of several better ways to word it…)

      1. The problem with at least some of the presentations when I was in school was no one ever taught anyone how to present just said ‘do your research and give your presentation.’ as if it were instinctive for everyone. So a lot of folk fumbled even though they knew the subject. They didn’t know how to convey it sensibly.

  3. The money part really matters. The smaller your monthly nut, the easier it is to earn it.
    Debt makes you a slave.
    It’s easy to get into debt and hard to pay off and if your income is chancy?
    You made your life harder.

  4. Perhaps the most important thing for indies. You do need a bitch of a boss that keeps you on track and makes you work. Sometimes the bitch is you.

    I’ve often said that the big problem with working for yourself is that the employees are all lazy and the boss is a bitch.

    And accept that short story invite, and turn in your best work, even if the prompt is “Snails I’ve known.”

    So, Editor Hoyt, when is the submission deadline for “Snails I’ve Known”?

    I do not resent the success of others.

    I’ll admit that I still need to work on this one. I do occasionally find myself resenting the success of Stephenie Meyer or the Fifty Shades of Grey lady or many of the others who seem to be creating trash and making millions from it. I have to remind myself that (a) “trash” is subjective, and the fact that I don’t like a book doesn’t mean it’s worthless, and (b) their success doesn’t actually take anything away from me. I need to accept that they’re creating things that make other people happy, rejoice in their success and their readers’ enjoyment, and tend my own garden. But just because I know I need to do it doesn’t mean that it’s easy.

  5. I’ve got an idea for another one:

    Dreams are all well and good, but it takes a lot of hard work to make them come true. If you don’t put in the work, don’t whine about the lack of results.

  6. It’s inspiring.
    Unfortunately, current events also inspire the thought, “I don’t want to be Boxer.”

    1. Current events do, however, call to mind parallels with the Boxer Rebellion, with the WEF standing in for “corrupting foreign influence” and Biden as the corrupt Dowager Empress….

  7. I need to do that.

    Been dragging on current wip, largely because the main character is largely passive initially. (He doesn’t know any better.) I finally may have stumbled on the solution: hallucinations that poke him for thinking things are normal and reasonable.

    But the only way I got to that point was finally sitting down and trying to plod through the opening that wasn’t working.

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