I read this cool article last week — “30 Things To Stop Doing To Yourself” — and I thought, hey, heeeey, that’s interesting. Writers might could use their own version of that. So, I started to cobble one together. And, of course, as most of these writing-related posts become, it ended up that for the most part I’m sitting here in the blog yelling at myself first and foremost.
That is, then, how you should read this: me, yelling at me. If you take away something from it, though?
Then go forth and kick your writing year in the teeth.
Onto the list.
Right here is your story. Your manuscript. Your career. So why the fuck are you running in the other direction? Your writing will never chase you — you need to chase your writing. If it’s what you want, then pursue it. This isn’t just true of your overall writing career, either. It’s true of individual components. You want one thing but then constantly work to achieve its opposite. You say you want to write a novel but then go and write a bunch of short stories. You say you’re going to write This script but then try to write That script instead. Pick a thing and work toward that thing.
Momentum is everything. Cut the brake lines. Careen wildly and unsteadily toward your goal. I hate to bludgeon you about the head and neck with a hammer forged in the volcanic fires of Mount Obvious, but the only way you can finish something is by not stopping. That story isn’t going to unfuck itself.
You have a voice. It’s yours. Nobody else can claim it, and any attempts to mimic it will be fumbling and clumsy like two tweens trying to make out in a darkened broom closet. That’s on you, too — don’t try to write in somebody else’s voice. Yes, okay, maybe you do this in the beginning. But strive past it. Stretch your muscles. Find your voice. This is going to be a big theme at the start of 2012 — discover those elements that comprise your voice, that put the author in your authority. Write in a way that only you can write.
Worry is some useless shit. It does nothing. It has no basis in reality. It’s a vestigial emotion, useless as — as my father was wont to say — “tits on a boar hog.” We worry about things that are well beyond our control. We worry about publishing trends or future advances or whether or not Barnes & Noble is going to shove a hand grenade up its own ass and go kablooey. That’s not to say you can’t identify future trouble spots and try to work around them — but that’s not worrying. You recognize a roadblock and arrange a path around it — you don’t chew your fingernails bloody worrying about it. Shut up. Calm down. Worry, begone.
The rise of self-publishing has seen a comparative surge forward in quantity. As if we’re all rushing forward to squat out as huge a litter of squalling word-babies as our fragile penmonkey uteruses (uteri?) can handle. Stories are like wine; they need time. So take the time. This isn’t a hot dog eating contest. You’re not being judged on how much you write but rather, how well you do it. Sure, there’s a balance — you have to be generative, have to be swimming forward lest you sink like a stone and find remora fish mating inside your rectum. But generation and creativity should not come at the cost of quality. Give your stories and your career the time and patience it needs. Put differently: don’t have a freak out, man.
I said “stop hurrying,” not “stand still and fall asleep.” Life rewards action, not inertia. What the fuck are you waiting for? To reap the rewards of the future, you must take action in the present. Do so now.
It’s not going to get any easier, and why should it? Anything truly worth doing requires hella hard work. If climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro meant packing a light lunch and hopping in a climate-controlled elevator, it wouldn’t really be that big a fucking deal, would it? You want to do This Writing Thing, then don’t just expect hard work — be happy that it’s a hard row to hoe and that you’re just the, er, hoer to hoe it? I dunno. Don’t look at me like that. AVERT YOUR GAZE, SCRUTINIZER. And get back to work.
You don’t get to be a proper storyteller by putting it so far down your list it’s nestled between “Complete the Iditarod (but with squirrels instead of dogs)” and “Two words: Merkin, Macrame.” You want to do this shit, it better be some Top Five Shiznit, son. You know you’re a writer because it’s not just what you do, but rather, it’s who you are. So why deprioritize that thing which forms part of your very identity?
The mind is the writer’s best weapon. It is equal parts bullwhip, sniper rifle, and stiletto. If you treat your body like it’s the sticky concrete floor in a porno theater (that’s not a spilled milkshake) then all you’re doing is dulling your most powerful weapon. The body fuels the mind. It should be “crap out,” not “crap in.” Stop bloating your body with awfulness. Eat well. Exercise. Elsewise you’ll find your bullwhip’s tied in knots, your stiletto’s so dull it couldn’t cut through a glob of canned pumpkin, and someone left peanut-butter-and-jelly in the barrel of your sniper rifle.
Complaining — like worry, like regret, like that little knob on the toaster that tells you it’ll make the toast darker — does nothing. (Doubly useless: complaining about complaining, which is what I’m doing here.) Blah blah blah, publishing, blah blah blah, Amazon, blah blah blah Hollywood. Stop boo-hooing. Don’t like something? Fix it or forgive it. And move on to the next thing.
You hear a lot of blame going around — something-something gatekeepers, something-something too many self-published authors, something-something agency model. You’re going to own your successes, and that means you’re also going to need to own your errors. This career is yours. Yes, sometimes external factors will step in your way, but it’s up to you how to react. Fuck blame. Roll around in responsibility like a dog rolling around in an elk miscarriage. Which, for the record, is something I’ve had a dog do, sooooo. Yeah. It was, uhhh, pretty nasty. Also: “Elk Miscarriage” is the name of my indie band.
Writers are often ashamed at who they are and what they do. Other people are out there fighting wars and fixing cars and destroying our country with poisonous loans — and here we are, sitting around in our footy-pajamas, writing about vampires and unicorns, about broken hearts and shattered jaws. A lot of the time we won’t get much respect, but you know what? Fuck that. Take the respect. Writers and storytellers help make this world go around. We’re just as much a part of the societal ecosystem as anybody else. Craft counts. Art matters. Stories are important. Freeze-frame high-five. Now have a beer and a shot of whisky and shove all your shame in a bag and burn it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you fucked up somewhere along the way. Who gives a donkey’s duodenum? Shit happens. Shit washes off. Don’t dwell. Don’t sing lamentations to your errors. Repeat after me: learn and move on. Very few mistakes will haunt you till your end of days unless you let it haunt you. That is, unless your error was so egregious it can never be forgotten (“I wore a Hitler outfit as I went to every major publishing house in New York City and took a poop in every editor’s desk drawer over the holiday. Also, I may have put it on Youtube and sent it to Galleycat. So… there’s that”).
Let 2012 be the year of the risk. Nobody knows what’s going on in the publishing industry, but we can be damn sure that what’s going on with authors is that we’re finding new ways to be empowered in this New Media Future, Motherfuckers (hereby known as NMFMF). What that means is, it’s time to forget the old rules. Time to start questioning preconceived notions and established conventions. It’s time to start taking some risks both in your career and in your storytelling. Throw open the doors. Kick down the walls of your uncomfortable box. Carpet bomb the Comfort Zone so that none other may dwell there.
ALL THAT out there? All the industry shit and the reviews and the Amazonian business practices? The economy? The readers? You can’t control any of that. You can respond to it. You can try to get ahead of it. But you can’t control it. Control what you can, which is your writing and the management of your career.
Diversification is the name of survival for all creatures: genetics relies on diversification. (Says the guy with no science background and little interest in Googling that idea to see if it holds any water at all.) Things are changing big in these next few years, from the rise of e-books to the collapse of traditional markets to the the galactic threat of Mecha-Gaiman. Diversity of form, format and genre will help ensure you stay alive in the coming entirely-made-up Pubpocalypse.
To be clear, I don’t mean, “stop writing for specific markets.” That’s silly advice. If you want to write for theLadies’ Home Journal, well, that’s writing for a specific market. What I mean is, stop writing for The Market, capital T-M. The Market is an unknowable entity based on sales trends and educated guess-work and some kind of publishing haruspicy (at Penguin, they sacrifice actual penguins — true story!). Writing a novel takes long enough that writing for the market is a doomed mission, a leap into a dark chasm with the hopes that someone will build a bridge there before you fall through empty space. Which leads me to –
Set the trends. Don’t chase them like a dog chasing a Buick. Trends offer artists a series of diminishing returns — every iteration of a trend after the first is weaker than the last, as if each repetition is another ice cube plunked into a once strong glass of Scotch. You’re just watering it down, man. Don’t be a knock-off purse, a serial killer copycat, or just another fantasy echo of Tolkien. Do your own thing.
They’re going to do what they’re going to do. You’re not them. You don’t want to be them and they don’t want to be you. Why do what everyone else is doing? Let me reiterate: do your own thing.
Know the industry, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. The mortal man cannot change the weave and weft of cosmic forces; they are outside you. Examine the publishing industry too closely and it will ejaculate its demon ichor in your eye. And then you’ll have to go to the eye doctor and he’ll be all like, “You were staring too long at the publishing industry again, weren’t you?” And you’re like, “YES, fine,” and he’s like, “Well, I have drops for that, but they’ll cost you,” and you get out your checkbook and ask him how many zeroes you should fill in because you’re a writer and don’t have health care. *sob*
You’ll hear that. “I don’t think this can sell.” And shit, you know what? That might be right. Just the same — I’d bet that all the stories you remember, all the tales that came out of nowhere and kicked you in the junk drawer with their sheer possibility and potential, were stories that were once flagged with the “this won’t sell” moniker. You’ll always find someone to tell you what you can’t do. What you shouldn’t do. That’s your job as a writer to prove them wrong. By sticking your fountain pen in their neck and drinking their blood. …uhh. I mean, “by writing the best damn story you can write.” That’s what I mean. That other thing was, you know. It was just metaphor. Totally. *hides inkwell filled with human blood*
We want to do everything all at once. Grand plans! Sweeping gestures! Epic 23-book fantasy cycles! Don’t overreach. Concentrate on what you can complete. Temper risk with reality.
You are your stories and your stories are you. Who you are matters. Your experiences and feelings and opinions count. Put yourself on every page: a smear of heartsblood. If we cannot connect with our own stories, how can we expect anybody else to find that connection?
Fuck dreaming. Start doing. Dreams are great — uh, for children. Dreams are intangible and uncertain looks into the future. Dreams are fanciful flights of improbability — pegasus wishes and the hopes of lonely robots. You’re an adult, now. It’s time to shit or get off the pot. It’s time to wake up or stay dreaming. Let me say it again because I am nothing if not a fan of repetition: Fuck dreaming. Start doing.
Fear will kill you dead. You’ve nothing to be afraid of that a little preparation and pragmatism cannot kill. Everybody who wanted to be a writer and didn’t become one failed based on one of two critical reasons: one, they were lazy, or two, they were afraid. Let’s take for granted you’re not lazy. That means you’re afraid. Fear is nonsense. What do you think is going to happen? You’re going to be eaten by tigers? Life will afford you lots of reasons to be afraid: bees, kidnappers, terrorism, being chewed apart by an escalator, Republicans, Snooki. But being a writer is nothing worthy of fear. It’s worthy of praise. And triumph. And fireworks. And shotguns. And a box of wine. So shove fear aside — let fear be gnawed upon by escalators and tigers. Step up to the plate. Let this be your year.
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Did you know that Chuck has a small army of writing-related e-books available? Each brined in a salty spice mix of profanity, inchoate rage, and liquor? Check ‘em out, won’t you?
Try: CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY
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Or its sequel: REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY
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And: 250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING
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Or the newest: 500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER
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