20 Things I’ve Learned from Doing 200 Writer Interviews

It’s no secret that one reason I love interviewing writers is because I learn a lot. The very best writers teach, inspire, and help other writers.

People I’ve talked to throughout my freelancing career have introduced me to other helpful people in publishing, those people have taught me new things, and the cycle goes on and on. Whether you are a freelancer or novelist, there is no shortage of ways to learn about this industry.

In interviewing about 200 writers, I’ve noticed a few things about us.

  1. There really is no such thing as the same writing career for everyone. Freelancers each have a different way of getting clients and making money.  Authors have a different fan base, a different approach, and loads of different writing styles.  It’s up to each of us to respect another writer’s choices, and just do what it right for us.
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  3. Writers come from all walks of life, every educational background, and every age group. This reaffirms for me that it’s never too late to start writing, regardless of where you are in your life.
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  5. Writer’s goals are all different. This is not the same statement as #1 on this list.  While every writer might have a different career right now, they also vary in where they want their writing career to be.  (And I’m not talking about I want to make money from my writing.  That’s a given.)  Some writers want to be bestsellers.  Some want to tell a story.  Some want to make a living and support their family.  Some do this because they have health issues, and the flexibility allows them to work.  What each writer wants from their career is different, and that’s okay.
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  7. Writers love to read. No, I mean, they seriously love to read.  Most writers I talk to read an average of a book a week, and some many more.  Writers love the written word, which isn’t surprising.  The fact that they actually make the time to read?  Somewhat surprising to me.
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  9. The more humble and gracious the writer, the more I respect them. I’m a fan of all writers (so now you know my secret) but when I meet an accomplished writer who is really so very grateful that he or she has fans and success, well that just makes me adore them all the more.
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  11. The writers who know exactly who they are have an easier time succeeding. There are some writers who loath any novelist, blogger, or freelancer who has success.  I’m not sure why.  Obviously they don’t know of list item #1 above.  Or maybe, they just don’t know who they are as a writer.  When you figure that out, it is easier to make decisions for your career that are right for you.  When you do that, you can find a level of happiness with your life and writing.  If you don’t know who you are, you end up chasing another writer’s career.  You’re trying to be the next…. (fill in the blank)… and the result is that you aren’t going to be happy no matter what.  You will use up your energy in being angry in what you think you don’t have, rather than in appreciating your unique career path.
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  13. Writers make time to write. We all knew this already, didn’t we?  Writers don’t wait for the right time or a muse, they just sit their butts down in a chair and write.  Regularly.
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  15. Most writers don’t believe in writer’s block. One of the questions I ask writers occasionally is whether they believe in writer’s block.  The overwhelming majority say no.  That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t struggle at times or have other moments when the writing flows more easily.  It just means that if writing is a job, you do it.  You might get up from your chair and take a walk outside to clear your head, but you’re going right back to the computer because you don’t have time to “be blocked.”  Which brings me to my next point…
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  17. Writers need breaks, chocolate, and a puppy kiss or two. Writers need to do things other than writing occasionally, to get fresh air and exercise and to think about something other than work.  Most writers I know “write” all the time, whether it is scribbling down notes or working out a scene in their head, but all of us need to step away from the computer, story, or keywords a time or two.
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  19. Most writers are wonderfully supportive of each other. The other ones?  They are easy to spot.  They act jealous of any writer’s success or are constantly unhappy even when they get a book deal or new client.  Pissy, childish writers are everywhere, but they fade into the background when you seek out the mature, supportive writers who are willing to help and “pay it forward.”
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  21. Good business skills are important. We talk a lot about marketing when it comes to writing, but what I’m referring about here is business know-how.  This is true for freelancers, bloggers, and novelists alike.  Learn the terminology of publishing, understand what it means to query, get a contract, and send a partial.  Understand how it all works so you can make the best decisions for you.
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  23. Writers get starstruck sometimes. Is it just me?  My worst interviews here are the ones with the writers I most admire.  Either I am the lamest interviewer ever (I think you’re so great! tell us why you’re so great!) or I was starstruck.
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  25. Some people have no idea what writers do. I’m talking about friends and family here. They really, seriously, don’t understand what it is you do.  What do you mean you can’t come to lunch?  What do you mean you have to get back to workWhy are you on Facebook so much?  How exactly do you get paid?  What is it you do now? They are well-meaning and try to understand, but they somehow just don’t get it.  Compare that to….
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  27. Some people in your life won’t be happy for your success. This is different from other writers not supporting you.  This is people you know, are friends with, have pulled for, supported, loved, and yet… they are resentful.  I’ll admit, I don’t understand this.  Do some people want secretly to be writers?  Do people feel writing is not a “real job”?  Or are they are unhappy with their own life for whatever reason?  Who knows!  Whatever the reason, there will be people in your life who will shock you with their pissy, lame comments about your career.  They will secretly delight when you get a rejection letter or lose a client.  It sucks, which is why finding other supportive writers can be so helpful.
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  29. The publishing world is alive and well… and changing. There are some folks that declare the publishing world “dead” but that’s not true.  In fact, everything about writing is changing, including the freelance world.  Writers have many more options for their careers than ever before.  The key is finding out the facts about writing and publishing and making decisions armed with correct information.
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  31. There are successful writers who don’t actually think of themselves as writers. This always boggles my mind, but there are writers who come to this profession as an expert in something else.  You know?  And they write, have successful books or articles, and yet still don’t really think of themselves as actual, honest to goodness, writers.
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  33. There are writers who need to get their egos in check. This, thankfully, is a really small percentage, in my opinion.  One example:  a writer who contacted me for an interview, then never had time to answer the questions (I told her no problem I didn’t have a deadline) then asked me if I understood how hard it was to work under a deadline because she had a manuscript that was killing her (yes I’m a writer too) then looked at my questions and said she’d answered similar questions before and could I just cut and paste answers from the FAQ on her website?  (Uh…. no.) Then, asked when the interview would be up.  (Never.)  Here’s the thing, sometimes people are going to ask you lame questions, they are going to interview you when they have a new site, they are going to ask you for things when you are under a deadline.  But how you respond and treat people speaks volumes about ego.  Get it in check.
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  35. Writers need to adapt to changing times. All these changes in publishing and freelancing mean that to continue to be successful, you’ve got to change too.  My favorite interviews on this blog are with people who have been in the business a long time.  They continue to succeed, in large part, because they try new ways of reaching out to readers, they’re open to the new methods of publishing or communicating with clients.
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  37. There really is something to learn from everyone. Finding out how writers market, find inspiration, interact with editors, find agents… all of it is something that another writer can benefit from.  Just when you think you’ve heard it all, you learn something new.
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  39. It really is possible to make a living as a working writer. This is perhaps my favorite realization of all.  Now, I’m not talking about being a millionaire, I’m talking about making a living.  A true-blue, buy groceries and pay rent living.  Not just a side income, but a real salary.  It isn’t easy.  Like anything worth doing, it’s hard work.  You probably won’t be famous.  You will, however, enjoy what you do.

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5 Comments on "20 Things I’ve Learned from Doing 200 Writer Interviews"

  1. I LOVE this article! Thank you for sharing your tips. I can’t wait to check out the rest of the site. The editor of the Garden Writers Today website posted this article as a resource. I found myself saying Yes! Yes! after each bullet. In fact, I was out with my friends last night, and one of them said “I have no IDEA what you do!” It was so funny!

    [Reply]

    Cherie Reply:

    Katie, very funny about your friend’s comment! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you come back again soon. 🙂

    [Reply]

  2. I loved this article. I’m going to find a way to share with my clients and “followers.” Thanks so much for taking the time to try to characterize us and our profession!

    [Reply]

    Cherie Reply:

    Thanks for your kind comments, Claire! Glad you enjoyed it.

    [Reply]

  3. This blog post is just as relevant now as it was when you first posted it. Thank you so much for writing it!

    [Reply]

    Cherie Reply:

    Thanks for your friendship and support!

    [Reply]

  4. Well said Cherie. This should be given to every attendee at a writers conference in their welcome packet with the admonition to read it after they get back home.

    Steve
    The Steve Laube Agency

    [Reply]

    Cherie Reply:

    Appreciate that, Steve. Thanks for your kind words.

    [Reply]

  5. Thanks for sharing Cherie! There is so much to glean from this article! I think I will have to print it out and put it on my wall for inspiration and exhortation. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Cherie Reply:

    Aw, I’m honored that you would do that! Very cool.

    [Reply]

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