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Finding the Story: How I Stopped Writing for Money by N.J. Moss

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N.J. Moss

N.J. Moss

Spoiler alert: I still write for money, but keep reading if you want advice on how to finish your book.

When I was eighteen years old, I returned to my hometown of Weston-super-Mare for summer break from university. Back then, I was a very anxious person. I found it difficult to be social, ‘normal’, which was a problem.

I still had to pay my university accommodation and I had no money.

First, I worked at a call center for two days, then I stopped going in. I did one day as a refuse collector. Then three days at a cafe. I was a terrible employee, too in-my-own-head to be of any use, and I think they were probably relieved when I stopped showing up. (At least, I hope so; leaving people in the lurch is never a good thing.)

Not wanting to borrow money, I searched the internet for ‘writing jobs’. I wasn’t sure what I expected to find. I’d never earned money through writing. I was studying English literature at university, and I’d always wanted to be a writer, but I honestly didn’t expect anything to come of this.

A freelance website was among the first results. There were jobs here: low-paying and strange, but jobs all the same. ‘Erotic writer needed for shifter romance’, one posting read, with a very interesting addendum: no previous experience required. I had never written erotica, romance, or anything remotely involving shifters or werewolves. In fact, I’d never written anything over five thousand words, and this contract was for thirty thousand.

But I applied, sending a five-hundred-word sample. They must’ve seen something in the writing, which isn’t exactly saying much. The rate was depressingly low. To make my rent payments, I’d have to hammer out one of these thirty-thousand-word stories every two weeks. Back then, that seemed impossible. Especially considering I didn’t have a laptop at the time, or a writing desk, so I had to use the two-hour timeslot at the library every day to churn out as many words as I could.

It was sink or swim: pay rent or be forced to beg or borrow money. (Or swiftly reinvent my personality and get a regular summer job.)

Somehow, it worked. I highly doubt the story was good, but it was good enough.

Stumbling upon this kind of work – romance ghostwriting – was both the best and worst thing that could’ve happened to me.

the husband trap nj mossThe deal was, and is, simple for a fiction ghostwriter: the client takes the story, pays me a flat fee, then they are free to do whatever they like with it. Publish it under a pen name, keep it for themselves, delete it and pretend it never existed. It made no difference to me, as long as they paid, and I could always tell myself, It doesn’t matter if I’m giving the rights away. I would never have written in this genre anyway.

That was true. Is true to this very day. Ghostwriting and my own work are so disconnected I feel no ownership over the former at all.

It was a good thing. It paid my rent. It gave me writing practice. It taught me how to adhere to deadlines and write across a variety of genres and characters I never would’ve bothered with before.

But there was a negative, one that only became apparent as the years wore on. Something happened to the reward mechanism in my mind. Suddenly, if there wasn’t a dollar sign attached to a certain number of words, it became so much more difficult to put the necessary effort in.

From the ages of eighteen to twenty-seven, I started and abandoned around twenty of my own books, some of them finished first drafts. Some even sort of edited. Others a few thousand words. I also had some very minor success with a couple of short stories.

In the meantime, I had written a truly absurd number of words for my ghostwriting work. I’ve tried to calculate the rough number for this article, and here’s my best estimate.

Four million.

To this day, that’s the minimum number of words I’ve written while ghostwriting. The total is probably around a million higher, but I want to give the conservative estimate.

So here was the problem: why can I write all those words when I’m being paid, but can’t pursue a dream I’ve held my entire life, that of being a published writer, under my own name?

It hit me one day when I was formulating my first book, All Your Fault. I was giving myself an out, supplying myself with a never-ending series of excuses. Oh, ghostwriting was getting in the way; this story isn’t good enough; a better idea has come to me… and on and on, because there wasn’t a client asking me when it would be finished, ready with payment, to give me that immediate gratification.

So, just as my mind had been hacked by ghostwriting, I hacked it in reverse. I began taking pleasure in the smallest moments of writing. In finishing chapter one, in editing a few lines, building blocks that would grow and grow into an entire book. And I also promised myself, extremely seriously, that I would see this book through until the end.

I wouldn’t let myself abandon it. I wouldn’t let myself be tempted by other projects.

This was difficult, as I’d developed a habit of quitting my work when things got tough; it was like those part-time jobs back on my summer break. It was difficult and I hated my book sometimes, but I also loved it. And most importantly, I kept going.

I’m proud of my first book. I think it’s okay. But that isn’t what I was fighting for.

I was fighting for the chance to write a book I am deeply, deeply proud of, one I can read as though with fresh eyes and still find enjoyment in. I’m about to release that book, The Husband Trap. It’s my favorite of all my work by a wide margin.

Maybe it’s a cliche. I don’t care. It’s true all the same.

Don’t quit. Never quit.

Get the work done and the rest will follow.

(c) N.J. Moss

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About The Husband Trap:

the husband trap nj mossHe’s just proposed to his girlfriend—but another woman has him in her sights, in this terrifying thriller by the author of My Dead Husband.

Liam finally popped the question, and Emily said yes. But that very same night, Liam gets abducted . . . and wakes up to a nightmare.

On a large estate in the middle of nowhere, Liam finds himself the object of a woman’s twisted affections—and confined to a stone cell. A servant ignores him. A guard watches over him.

Meanwhile, Emily struggles to take care of their newborn child and tries to find the strength to move on. Can Liam ever escape and recover the life that was stolen from him—or will this bizarre prison be the last place he ever sees?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

NJ Moss worked as a fiction ghostwriter for ten years before he turned his skills to his own work. His latest novel is The Husband Trap.

When he is not working on his next thriller, you can normally find him walking his dogs (Loki and Gizmo, a Jack Russell terrier and a Chihuahua), rollerblading up and down the promenade of Weston-super-Mare, or spending time with his lovely wife.

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