Writing advice

Yeah, I’m back on this.  But it’s important.

So, when I tell people I’ve published a book I get some very odd questions, but one that comes up often is “so how did that happen?”

How does one answer that?  I usually go with “I went through most of a pack of paper and several ink cartridges.”

Thing is, that is how it happens.  I know a lot of writers, but I don’t know many authors.  The difference?  The former have ideas, and they write … a lot … but they never finish anything, or never put it out there when they’re done.

Some don’t want to publish, they write for their own pleasure.  This is well and good.  Just as there are plenty of people, some of them brilliantly talented, who paint or draw just for the pleasure of it and others who sell their work so the same should be with any art or craft; writing is no exception.

For the rest, just get to work.

Now, some myths:

You must write every day, no exceptions and no excuses!

Bullshit.  This is so very much not true.  This seems to be more prominent among Americans.  For those in other countries, America is a barbarism where paid sick leave (or even unpaid!) isn’t always available and rather than rise up in revolution against it we developed “the American work ethic” and it’s as perverse as it sounds.

No, art suffers if you do it when you’re not up to it.  Now, you must be self aware enough to know the difference between “I’m just not feeling it today” and “I really don’t want to write this scene”.  The former is fine.  There is no point spending an hour staring at the paper writing nothing, or in writing for an hour a few thousand words that you’ll throw away tomorrow.  The latter … get it over with and move on.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block; it’s all in your mind!

Mmmm … yes and no.  There can be a number of things that are preventing you from moving forward in your story.  Maybe it turns out you need to backtrack and rewrite something, but until you discover that you’re stuck and you can’t move on.  Maybe your dog died and you just can’t concentrate.  Maybe you’re a chronic depressive and you’re having a low day, week, month, year … and you can’t seem to write anything or write anything you want to keep.

Writer’s block is no superstitious concept.  It’s a simple lack of inspiration.  It can have a billion and one causes and reasons, and it can have two billion and five solutions.

Find your solutions, but don’t let anyone tell you that all you have to do is plant your arse in the chair and write (unless, you know, that actually works for you).

You should write like … / Never use …

Just … no.  No, definitely not.  Proof?  Look at the criticisms of any wildly popular work.  I mean the stuff that lasts, like Harry PotterThe HobbitAlice in Wonderland, and so many many more.  They break rules, some break every modern rule.  Bill Shakespeare broke the rules, his contemporaries did not; who do we remember?  Ms Rowling was writing in a “dead genre”, among other “writing faux pas”; who is the best selling author of all time (no Bible comments, please)?

Don’t take thou shalt and thou shalt not from any author, even the most successful ones.  First off, Stephen King said to avoid adverbs, not to never use them; he uses them.  Thing is, it makes a kind of sense for the pacing and tone of his books, but that’d be horrid advice for Lawrence Block to follow.

I mean “thou shalt write thine own damned book” and “thou shalt finish what thou starts” and “once it’s bloody finished, bloody publish it” and so forth, those are fine.  “Thou shalt find thine own voice/style”, etc. this is good.  Absolutes suck, but “absolutes” are good reminders that we’re creating art.  We’re not building and designing nuclear reactors here, there is no precise science to follow; this is art, it’s all about imperfections, experimentation, creativity, and doing whatever.  Well, unless you’re trying to put out a cheap dime pulp in a hurry that’s deliberately formulaic and such … but that’s a complete other kettle of popcorn.

You must do X, Y, Z before you can write your novel / [blah blah blah] pay your dues …

I don’t know where to begin with this one.  It’s just not true on many levels.

  1. Some people just don’t write short fiction
  2. The “examples” usually given weren’t people following a deliberate career path, they were coincidences (and if you’ll notice it’s generally the same list of specific, mostly, old scifi authors.) and leaves out the numerous examples of people who are just as famous or more-so who didn’t go this route.
  3. There’s not really a short fiction market anymore.  Well, self-published, but not a “professional” short market.
  4. That “gotta write a million words” or whatever it was, wasn’t meant to be literal gospel truth and it certainly wasn’t thinking just write a million words of pure drivel.  You must always be aiming for quality and somewhere in there will be mistakes and pitfalls from which we learn and grow.  Read all of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s work from earliest to final (moment of sadness) and you’ll see it.  Heinlein, Asimov, Dickens … you see it if you look at someone with a long enough career.  Some start to lose their touch and so the opposite can become true as well.

In simple, and as always, to be blunt:  go ye forth and write, finish what you write (unless it really is garbage, but get at least a second if not twenty-fifth opinion on that subject before genuinely trashing it), find a means to get it to the world.  That’s the only sure-fire formula for success.  Everything else is superstition.

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