So You Want to be a Working Class Writer? – Concrete Steps to Finish Your Project.

Been rummaging through old folders … This is something I’ve touched on before but it’s always good to remind yourself and update…

short novel picture

So you want to be a working class writer?

If you are reading this, I’m assuming you are working class and that you got this idea in the back of your head that you’d like to be a writer.

Let me tell you the only fucking way you can make it and trust me, you’ll need this because you’re not in the NY literary scene, or the Toronto literary scene or the London, UK literary scene.

You’re not interning at some big 5 publishing house hoping to get your first book deal at 28 with that beige fucking cover and the smoky letters on it. And if you are that person, this fucking post is not really meant for you. but if you are working class, you fucking know most of your time is spent on your job, getting food, getting gas, sleeping just enough at night and then getting up in the morning to start all over again.

The reality is this : our stories are probably more valid, useful, relevant or even important than anything the NY literary elite is throwing out there these days but we have to work five times smarter just to get them on paper. (Noticed, how I used the term “smarter” rather than “harder.”)

Luckily there are ways around this and I do believe I have enough experience now to share it.

1 – Find a job you can write from.

This sounds simple yet it’s not. There aren’t that many working class jobs where you actually get to write on the job (or around the job) and there are two ways you can get around this.

The first is you find a job where no one talks to you and it’s actually not that important. I mean shit like nighttime watchman or a machine operator where the operation doesn’t keep you disturbed every five minutes. I’ve worked shifts where we could squeeze in 20 minutes of down time on the hour and made those 20 minutes count. Most of the guys would go out for a smoke, I took notes on small pieces of paper and typed them back at home later.

I know there are jobs out there where there are plenty of work but also plenty of down time. Find one of them and stick to it.

Now I’m sure some will find this un-ethical or some shit well let me answer this : Faulkner did it all the fucking time. He wrote entire novels as the night shift guy in a power plant. So that’s good enough for me.

The other way you can work around your job is to be employed somewhere they give an hour for lunch. A lot of places only give you 30 minutes a day and it’s had to make something out of that, it really is. But an hour…you can work with an hour (and you’ll need to.)

So what I’ve been doing for the last 8 years (maybe more) Is that I’ll eat my lunch on my fifteen then run out of work as fast as possible on my lunch break and get writing right away. That’s how I made it through college and that’s now how I manage to write books.

2 – Split you’re writing time into hours of crunch time.

You’ll rarely ever get more than an hour at a time to work on something and you’ll need to make that hour count. (If you have kids, this is even more important!!!) I trained myself to shell out as many words as possible during that hour and during what I now call “crunch time” I can write 1000 to 1200 words on my lunch break.

And when I mean, hours, I mean, hours. Don’t expect writing days, you can’t afford it and it rarely ever happens anyways. Sometimes on a weekend or during your vacation, sure, but it’s not gonna be enough.

You’ll need the hours. You can squeeze in a lot of fucking “writing hours” during your week.

This brings us to No. 3

3 – It’s a numbers’ game.

I’ve talked about this before with many people: a novel is not that much work in terms of “man-hours” and if you’re working class, you know what the fuck a “productive-man-hour” is. If the management concept works for a construction crew, it can work for your novel too.

A full length super-commercial (Dan Brown type of shit) mystery novel is around 90 000 words. I aim to land around 75 000 words for an indie mystery which still mean I’ll write around 300 pages because I use a lot of dialogue.

If you counted it, that’s a maximum or 75 man-hours of production at 1000 words per hour to get that first draft out.

I count my own editing at 1=1 so I expect to spend another 75 hours just editing and polishing the story. Consider this like sanding a piece of wood to absolute perfection. That’s how I see it and that’s how you should see it too.

So you’re looking at 150 hours of production per novel before it’s ready to go out to publishers and editors. That’s it.

4 – How long is it going to take?

If you’re young and angry, you should shell out 6 writing sessions a week at 1h per session (sometimes you might squeeze in 2 a day on the weekends) but let’s keep it at 6 for the sake of life getting in the way.

That means you should have a first draft in about 12-15 weeks and a something ready to send to editors/publishers within 30 weeks. That’s more than a novel a year.

Now I understand that everyone’s situation differs. I’m a single dad on a shared custody, so my 6 sessions a week are down to 3, maaaaaybe 4 these days. I also take into account the fact that a lot of “writing” time now goes into writing proposals, business plans, outlines and blog-posts such as this one.

Still, that time management scheme allows me to write about a novel a year and leave some room for a side project.

4 – if you worry that you have nothing to say

You’re fucking working class. You get up in the morning and you beat traffic to go to work and weather every shitty comment or problem or issue or you build something out of your hands or fixing or fucking up and messing around and the guys are talking about this and that and the gals are talking about this and that. They’re telling jokes and stories and they’re happy or worried or messed up or looking for a fuck or a fight or a way out.

This is the stuff of life and it used to be the stuff of literature. I can’t help but feel it fell of the radar of the literary world for too long. What the fuck’s some intern at Penguin got to say about life that you’re not already living on a daily basis?

Go out there and write now. I gave you the roadmap, you just have to use it.

Take care,





    • I read in public transit. Also, when I’m done editing a novel, I leave it aside for a few weeks, then print one copy and read it in the train because thats how a lot of people read and I want to “feel” if the novel is “right”. Hope that makes sense. Ian.

      • That makes sense. I like the concept of reading your work in your market environment to get a feel for it.

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