Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ryan David Jahn: It Can Happen


Most writers who've been around realize that it's not easy to make it big.  Most savvy writers understand that, even a published novel has usually had a huge pile of rejections.    A lot of writers try to protect their emotions by assuming the worst.  Writer Ryan David Jahn was living the struggle for a long time.  Now he's won the prestigious John Creasey New Blood Dagger award, has published three books, is published internationally, and has a contract for another three books.   Here's his story:

I came close to quitting once. I’d been writing since I was ten, first in a school notebook, then with a used typewriter my stepfather bought for me at a garage sale once he realized writing for me was what baseball had been for him (he’d played semi-pro ball). First it was short stories, then it was it novels. Between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two I wrote four or five novels. None of them got anywhere. They shouldn’t have. They weren’t very good. 

When I was twenty-two I got an idea that seemed better suited to screenplay format than novel format. I wrote the script in three days, sent it off to a major screenwriting competition, and a few months later learned that my script was a quarter-finalist in said competition. I decided screenwriting was easier, and besides, I wanted to make a living as a writer and most novelists couldn’t make rent on what they earned writing.

For the next seven years I focused exclusively on screenplays. I optioned a couple scripts, did a work-for-hire gig, turned down another work-for-hire gig, and came to hate writing. I came to hate the constraints of the screenplay format. I came to hate the movie industry, the fact that scripts weren’t viewed as pieces of art in and of themselves. I worked hard on writing them well. Nobody who read them cared. They wanted to know if they could attract a star to play the lead. They wanted to know how many set pieces I’d written into them. 

But worse was this: something like one in ten screenplays purchased in Hollywood becomes a film. The idea that even if I managed a small career as a screenwriter -- and I’d had a few small successes -- I might never see a script become a movie depressed me more than I can say. The idea of that was worse than simply not being good enough. If I wrote a story and everyone agreed it was terrible, then I could work to get better. But writing stuff that people responded to, writing stuff that earned me money, while still failing to reach an audience … well, to my mind, you hadn’t told a story if nobody’d heard it, and I’d spent the last seventeen years speaking to an empty room.

I decided I was finished with writing. I started looking into getting certified to teach. I could go back to school. It would take a couple years, but I had to do something. Writing obviously hadn’t panned out. It was time I faced that reality.

Around the same time I decided to quit writing, I lost my day job. 

I’d been working on a reality TV show, the season ended, and, after working on the show for five years, wasn’t called back. I shouldn’t have been called back. I was in the middle of a pretty deep depression and had done a terrible job on the most recent season. 

So there I was, unemployed and not writing. I went down to a couple temp agencies looking for work. I got my name into their systems. I called them regularly. There was no work. I went to construction sites and didn’t find work there either. I collected unemployment checks. 

In May -- a month after losing my job -- I decided I’d give writing one more shot. I’d bang out a Western novel and try to sell it to one of those publishers that made their money with the library market. I got fifteen thousand words into it when my hard drive crashed and I lost my work. 

Well, that seemed like a pretty definite sign. I really was finished now.

Except I wasn’t. 

Three months later I started a different novel. A novel I wanted to write. I didn’t think much about whether it had a chance of selling. I didn’t have to. I was writing this one simply because I wanted to write it. I had quit trying to write for a market. This was just something I was doing because I loved doing it. I was writing it as I had written my earliest stories, out of the sheer pleasure of creating a world on paper. 

It felt better than anything had felt in years. It felt right. It felt like the first drink of water after a long hike through the desert. This is what I had been missing for years without even realizing it. At some point I had begun to focus on the wrong things. 

I finished the first draft before the end of September. I finished a draft I was happy with by early December. I decided I liked it well enough to try to find a publisher for it after all. I thought it had more life in it than anything I’d written in a long time.

A month later, on January 8, I was offered a contract. The book came out eleven months after that. My second novel came out seven months after that. My third novel is scheduled for release in July next year. And I’ve just signed a contracted for three more books. 

The best career decision I ever made was to stop trying to have a career and instead to once more, as I had as a teenager, write for myself. 

Ryan David Jahn

Ryan David Jahn is the author of the award-winning Acts of Violence, soon to be released in Germany (February 28) as Ein Akt der Gewalt and in the US (May 31) as Good Neighbors.  Both are currently available for pre-order.  His second novel, Low Life, is now available in UK hardcover.  Watch for the UK Release of his third book, The Dispatcher.



  1. I started out in writing screenplays as well. I agree that it's not as rewarding as writing narrative. It's amazing what wonderful things can come out of you when you write what you love, as opposed to writing for an obligation.

  2. Thanks for posting this C.N. What an amazing journey this author had! I couldn't imagine writing screenplays- never even thought about it really.

  3. That was really inspiring to read.

    I hope that I remember to never write for anyone but myself. I get so stuck in other people's opinions sometimes.


  4. Great post!

    I'm inspired to go back and focus on writing for the shear enjoyment of it.

  5. A really interesting post, Ryan, but what a brave decison! One point that it makes is the relative anonymity of the writers of screen plays. I often look to see if I can see who the writer is when I've watched a film, and usually I fail.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, very inspiring and courageous story. This is especially helpful now that I am in some similar forks in the road, and the cusps of despair just seems ever so close all the more.

  7. Great story, Ryan. And congrats on your success. It would be interesting to hear how your screen-writing informed your novel writing. Or not?

  8. *Standing Ovation*!

    Love it. Love, love, love it.

  9. Thanks for sharing this story, Ryan.

  10. Ryan, thanks so much for sharing your story. It looks like others are finding it as encouraging as I do.

    @Elena - Screenplays are so different it's crazy. I've written a few myself, but I came to them from the other direction and it was a heck of an adjustment.

    @Summer - It was a heck of a trip, wasn't it? I love it.

    @Misha - The thing I try to remember is that other people tend to love things that were done with love. I know it sounds trite, but it's true.

    @Kris - Awesome! It's the way to be!

    @Frances - It's a whole other arena, isn't it?

    @Shopgirl - I hope you find encouragement from Ryan's story to face your choices boldly and be true to yourself in your decisions!

    @Michael - That's a great question. Acts of Violence, at least, did not read at all like a screenplay.

    @Bru - Great, isn't it?! :-D

    @Tara - I'm glad you caught Ryan's story! I take a lot of hope in it personally.

  11. "I wrote the script in three days, sent it off to a major screenwriting competition, and a few months later learned that my script was a quarter- finalist in said competition. I decided screenwriting was easier..." Well, alot depends on which screenwriting competition you submitted too. Anyway, it's not that difficult, but then it is. See Kal's take on this at

  12. Great message!

    Sometimes I have tried to adhere to the rule ´write what you know´, but the result was stuff that was just as boring as my ordinary life (I don´t mind my life in any way; it´s just not the stuff thrillers are made of).

    Recently I have tried to switch to ´write what you love´. I don´t know if this is the route to fame & glory, but it is much funnier.

  13. Writing for oneself is the only way to truly reach happiness, I think. Everything else will follow. Thanks for sharing this, you two!

    Nevets, is there any way you can make the type size larger on these stories? Between the teeny tiny font and the black background and white text I'm seriously cross-eyed by the end.

  14. @Kaye - Thanks for the link, I'll be sure to check it out.

    @Dorte - I have a post somewhere in the back of my mind about the whole, "write what you know" concept. Maybe sooner rather than later I will find the right way to write it out.

    @Michelle - Glad you liked the post!

    As for the presentation, it really shouldn't be a teeny-tiny font. It's the default size. But if it's giving your eyes problems, it probably is others, too. I'll take a look and see what I can tweak. I don't want to cross-eye people!

  15. It's super tiny, even on my large monitor. It's the combination of tiny font and white on black (not a good combo for my eyes) that makes it hard. Sorry to complain. :(

  16. Actually -- quick question, Michelle: is the default font I use for my posts hard to read as well, or is it only a problem when I throw the stories into Times?

  17. No worry about the complaint. I want to know!

    It honestly is the default, normal size (just double-checked) but the Times characters are a little more compressed. So if my usual posts aren't too bad, I can easily change that. If it's all too small, I have some other issue.

  18. Your normal posts are okay, although I'm not a huge fan of black background, but that's just personal preference. It's the story posts that are smaller.

  19. Okay, I can tweak that font, maybe adjust the way I distinguish the sections. It's a little compressed on mine but not too bad. It's possible it renders smaller on Mac OS or non-Windows 7 machines or something.

    I probably need to rethink the white-on-black. I personally have a really hard time with white-backgrounds, which I find very glaring, but I want the blog to be read by others, not by myself, particularly.

    I'll ask everyone to weigh in.

  20. Since you ask, I had to change the size when I hit your blog today. And white/black or black/white are not the only alternatives - I hope my own grey background is kinder to the readers´ eyes.

  21. I wrote my novel for the shear joy of it, and continued to write the Homequest series because a friend of mine loved my work. I decided to self publish so other people could enjoy the world I have created, but marketing is hard work and I am a long way off breaking even...but I am tempted to try traditional publishing...the fact they took a book you wrote for yourself gives me some hope, but I know the reality is I am probably facing multiple rejections even thought I know from the reviews I've received that my book really is a page turning, exciting and marketable product. I'm happy that you made it...fingers crossed I can too

  22. Thanks for posting that. I really helps to keep things in perspective...


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