Out of My Head 2: The Basics

In a world where you can be anything, be yourself.

Don’t waste time and effort trying to be the writer-artiste, hiding behind a carefully crafted pseudonym, persona, or avatar.  Don’t covet celebrity before it’s deserved.  You have to earn that.  Use your precious energy to write.  It’s never too late to be who you really are.

Teachers say “write what you know”.  I don’t really believe that’s true, particularly not in genre fiction.  No one knows what an AI will do when it’s plugged in for the first time.  No one knows about FTL spacecraft, or wormholes to other galaxies, or elves, or dragons, or magic in urban settings, or plucky young heroines in YA dystopias.  But we write about them anyway.  We’re drawn to the things that appeal to us, the ones that nourish our spirit.  So write them.  Don’t get lost in what you know.  Focus on what makes you happy.  Write what you love.

The trick is to learn from real writers.

Approach with caution the Creative Writing professor who’s never published any fiction herself.  The buddy who’s full of great ideas and characters and plot twists but has never done anything with them.  The Best Friend Forever who’s loved everything you have ever written and can’t wait for you to write more.  Or the guy who covets the writer’s lifestyle without having earned it.  You know him.  He hangs out with writers, attends writer events, even fawns his way onto panels so that he can talk to you about writing.  But he hasn’t paid his dues.  He hasn’t sold anything of his own.  These people can’t help you.  None of them can help you.  You have to let all of that go if you want to move forward.

Needing a degree in order to write is bullshit.  Needing an advanced degree in order to write is fucking bullshit.

You can’t learn how to write by reading a book about it, or by listening to someone talk.  (When’s the last time anyone learned to swim without actually getting in the water?)  You can only learn by doing.

Writing is a privilege, not an entitlement.


Goal Structuring

To become a success in anything, you have to have goals.  You have to know what you want, stated as clearly and honestly as possible.

If you feel you aren’t achieving your goals as a writer, examine your behavior.  How are you organizing your time?  If you want to be published, are you writing consistently?  Sending those stories out?  It doesn’t matter what your goals are, only that you understand them and do something about it.

Balance goals with the real world.  I have a day job.  That’s 8, 9, 10 hours a day that require my focus.  I’m married; my wife and I together share the responsibility to nurture and grow that relationship.  I have two sons; they’re adults now but for the longest time they weren’t.  And I own a home; it’s my job to keep it in good repair, take out the trash, make sure the lawn is mowed.  Where my writing time comes from is the same bucket that I use for television, reading, movies, Internet, and social media.  Everything has a trade-off.  This is mine.

What goal are you working on right now?  What story are you writing?  Did you finish it?  If not, what stopped you?  What resources do you need to get back on track?


I Want…

A question that’s not really asked in Creative Writing class is what kind of writer do you want to be?  (We’re not talking about genre.)  There are essentially five kinds of writer in today’s world, each with a trajectory and set of requirements that are very different from the others.  So ask yourself–what do I really want?  I want to be a…

  • Writer
  • Published writer
  • Published writer who gets paid
  • Published writer who gets paid money
  • Published writer who gets paid a professional wage

Each path is tied uniquely to its goal.  They are not easily interchangeable.  The path to becoming a Published Writer will not lead you to a Published Writer Who Gets Paid Money.  The markets are very, very different.  Choose your goals wisely and with careful thought.


Rituals of Productivity

Everyone’s got them.  “I can only write at night.  I need a mug of herbal tea with me at all times.  Only the most up to date software for my laptop, please.”  All of which is fine.  The point is not to be dependent on your rituals or tools.  It becomes an easy excuse not to write if you don’t have them at the ready.  Learn to do without.  Minimalism is a good thing.

When I was in England several years back I visited Charles Dickens’ house.  It’s a museum now, still furnished as when he lived there.  What impressed me the most was his desk.  It’s not really a desk at all; it’s a small table the size and shape of a dinner tray, with long spindly legs mounted on tiny wheels.  Dickens would roll it from room to room when he wrote, wherever the mood struck him and the light was best.  He didn’t need a grand, impressive piece of furniture that bellowed “I Am a Writer!” when he worked.  He just needed to work.


Overcoming Obstacles

Never surrender.  Failure is when you don’t get back up again.

Criticism of your work is not a personal attack.

Lack of control is self-imposed.

Don’t start anything unless you have a profound commitment to finish it.  If you don’t, how will you know if your story is any good?  You can’t revise it, can’t market it, can’t sell it.  The discipline of being a writer isn’t having ideas, it’s following them through to the end.

Conquer fear – “I’m afraid I can’t get what’s in my head onto the page.”  Recognize FEAR for what it is–a learning tool, one more step along the many paths to wisdom.  Which path you take is up to you.

  • Positive response: False Evidence that Appears Real
  • Negative response: Fuck Everything and Run

Writer’s Block – I’ve seen articles listing up to a dozen or so different types of writer’s block, describing each in detail to help you assign your symptoms to the correct category.  That’s much too complicated.  You need that energy to fix the problem at hand.  Here’s the simple definition: writer’s block is a confusion of the flow and edit states.  The writer will edit up front as he goes, with each sentence, and the flow is stymied.  Flow and edit are processed differently in the human brain, as are belief and doubt.  Just get the words on paper.  Less than marvelous is okay.  You can make them pretty later.

Every word you type will help you.


Extracting Outcomes

Don’t post your finished story online, no matter how much you want to.  Not on your website, not on your blog.  Not if you want to sell it.  Why would a publisher pay you for a story that you’ve already offered up to the world for free?

A publisher isn’t going to buy your book if he doesn’t think it will make him any money.  It’s not about good.  It’s about the money.

There is no such thing as “professional quality”.  There’s a whole lot of garbage out there that was produced professionally.  The only criterion that determines if your work is professional is whether or not you’re paid a professional wage.  That’s it.


Not-So-Random Observations

Quit looking for the magic, and do the work.

The most honest validation you will ever receive for your work is a paycheck.

Blow your pipes out.  Get rid of the media stuff built up inside.  You’ll never find your own voice otherwise.

Don’t self-critique while writing.

Treat writing like the profession it is.  Build a portfolio.  Amass finished work.  No one wants to see incomplete material.  What is your reputation at any given moment?  Be the good guy.  Learn to meet deadlines.  Work ethic is just as important as talent.  Put yourself out there.  Market your work.  If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

“I write for the fans.”  This is bullshit.  It’s pandering.  Don’t pimp out your inner child.  Write for you.

Writing is not important by itself.  It’s only important if it makes a difference.  So make a difference.



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