My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, February 4, 2013

The (Worst) BEST Writing Advice About Getting Started

When I'm writing, I stop writing
and be AWESOME instead.
Also, this is so going in my blog.
A collection of the absolute worst excuse for totally fucking amazaballs epic advice you will ever hear about how to be A Writer and supercharge your career faster than if it did two lines of coke and downed a Monster energy drink.

Dear Hopeful Writer,

There's a lot of writing advice out there, and I know you want help sorting through it all, so you'll know which advice is utterly useless and which advice will transform you, Gremlins style, into a lean, mean writer machine.

Well buckle up baby because I am here to feed you after midnight (metaphorically speaking).  I'm going to stuff your gentle Mogwai face full of all the best advice I've come across over the years and turn you into a razor-taloned killer. I've tested out all the advice, I've bought every book on writing written by the hand of man (or woman), and I've even taken all the writing classes offered in the continental United States and I have figured out what it takes to make it as a writer.

I'm going to tell you the secret: The secret is that there is totally a secret.  That's right.  You heard it here.  There is a secret formula to being a writer, and it has nothing to do with reading a lot, writing a lot, or hard work.

Most writers won't tell you the secret formula because they don't want your competition.  They're afraid you're going to mess up their great hook-up and suck up the mojo like that flood of geriatrics jumping into the pool in Cocoon.  But there is totally a secret formula, and luckily, you have me to tell you.

Writing Equipment  

The most important thing you need as a writer is the right writing equipment.  You can't expect to do good writing on poor equipment.  Good writing starts with good writing gear, so you need the best if you want to be a real writer.  If you can't afford the best maybe you should be applying for credit or borrowing money from parents.  Be sure to let them know how impossible it is to do your writing on something second rate.  Make them understand.  If you're serious about writing, it's worth some sacrifices to do it right.

Don't even bother writing on second rate equipment.  You'll just end up with a bunch of second rate writing.  Prose quality has always been linked to writing equipment.  You don't think Chaucer dicked around with crummy quill pens and shitty paper do you?

If you use computers, a Macbook Pro is what you want.   This computer will basically do your writing for you, and leave you to do more important things like watching Knight Rider reruns.  (It is also what Spencer purportedly wrote The Fairy Queen on.)  A Macbook Air is okay, but don't get anything less expensive unless you want your writing to suffer.  The VAIO Z series is good if you don't like Macs, but you should be aware that Macs generally produce much higher quality writing than PCs.  Real writers use Macs.  So weigh that fact heavily against personal preference.

If you're more into longhand you need a leatherbound journal with some kind of metalic Celtic symbol thingie on the front cover.  Those will make your writing really "pop."  If you can't find a Celtic symbol, try to get one with intricate leather work and some kind of embossed paper.  I mean if you want to just fucking doodle or some shit, you can pick up one of those $20 things from a bookstore with the shitty nylon strap and the cheap ass button, but if you're actually a serious writer, a good journal should set you back fifty bucks....minimum  Also use a really expensive pen.  A Mont Blanc can easily run several hundred dollars so it will produce much better prose.  Do some research into expensive refills too.  With quality ink flows quality words.  You have a lot of ground to cover if you're going to care as much about your writing as the writers with laptops, so it won't help you if you're not spending a lot on ink.

Oh, I'm sorry.  Did you think this was satire?  Mores the pity.
This important thing to remember is that this isn't a preference thing or your quirky eccentricity.  You will literally write better if you invest in good equipment.

Also, not a good enough computer!      

You've got your stuff to write with, so now it's time to write, right?  Not so fast Speed Racer.  If you don't have the perfect space, all that equipment might as well be some nice heavy paperweights.  What good is a laptop if you just take it anywhere?  You need to have the perfect space if you want any chance of creating the perfect prose.

If you like to be alone, you want to have dedicated space.  An office in the house would be the minimum of alone spaces.  Really though, if you can still hear anything going on in the rest of the house (ever), this is sub-optimal.  No one ever wrote anything decent while they were tuning out distractions.  You need absolute silence. Sound proof the room.  If you can, use the sound sound absorption material they create to make sensory deprivation chambers.  It'll set you back a few bucks, but quality writing takes a few sacrifices, and if you're serious about being a writer, you won't even balk at the cost.  Fill your room with the accouterment of writing.  A really nice ergonomic wheely chair, is a must.  An iPod dock for your music (if you like music) should be the best you can afford--Beosound makes some good ones.  If you cheap out and try to just use headphones at a table to tune out people talking near-by you can expect your writing to suffer... egregiously.  Get a really nice old-wood desk.  Only second rate writing is produced sitting at a desk from IKEA.  I would highly suggest that you also invest in a USB ergonomic keyboard and never write without it.  We can only imagine how much better Virginia Woolf's books would have been if she hadn't had uncomfortable fingers.

If you prefer the hum of social spaces, you have to find a really good barista or cafe.  You can't just pick any old place with a cup of joe.  Also, trust me when I tell you that no one ever wrote anything of value in a Starbucks or Peet's, so don't even bother.  Find a place with a good pun in its name (like "The Brews Brothers" or "Bean around the world").  These places will inspire your most creative writing.  If there's nothing local by that name you could pick something that makes a joke out of your caffeine addiction like "Jitters." But, to be perfectly honest, if you really want to make it as a writer, you'll make the trip to the next town over where there's a properly named coffee shop.  Your prose will thank you.

My main piece of advice here is that you should avoid learning to write anywhere at all costs.  This is just a recipe for disaster. The act of writing is much less important than the space in which it is done, so take the time to find that perfect spot whether it is a bench with a great view or a soundproofed office.  If you care about your writing, you'll care about finding the right space in which to do it.  Writing shouldn't be something you can do anywhere at any time, and this is not just a question of preference. You can't start writing until the space is perfect.  When you're writing despite distraction....well, you almost can't really even call it "writing" now can you?

Google's "images free for commercial reuse"
sometimes requires a bit of interpretation
and a good imagination to fully appreciate.

I've got my space and my equipment.  Is it time to write now?  Careful.  You haven't prepared.  You're about to experience what it's like to be the bad guys in every episode of GoBots ever.  (Seriously if they would learn to set a claymore mine before they start shooting, that show would have been over in the first five minutes of the pilot episode.)  Nobody gets any quality writing done by just sitting down and writing, and then improving with practice.  You have to know the secrets.  Without extensive preparation, you will never be any good.

Sign up for every writing class you can.  Writing classes are absolutely essential to being a writer.  Not just a few writing classes either.  Shakespeare took over two thousand, four hundred and thirty seven writing classes before he ever put quill to paper Monte Blanc to Moleskine journal.  You should sign up for every writing class you find.  Even though these classes are all 99% identical,  that last 1% is a golden nugget of writing advice that you can't afford to try to write without.  Besides more than half of most of these classes are actually writing and as you know (from above) you can't just do that writing anywhere.  The writing you produce from forty-five minutes in a two-hour class that you've paid a few hundred dollars for is going to be shit-tons better than anything you just whip out at home.  Trust me.  I've been around the block a few times.  Several times.  Heck, I know a good place to get noodles for lunch and a massage parlor that does happy endings.

Read all the writing books. If you try to start writing before you've read fifty or sixty books on writing, you might as well be drawing pictures in crayon for your mommy to hang on the refrigerator.  Some writers might suggest that you can read these books only occasionally as a sort of "refresher course."  This is total bullshit.  You obviously aren't going to be able to write well until you've read, reread, and fully digested dozens and dozens of books.  Don't even try.  Once you've learned everything there is to know...THEN you can start to try to apply some of it.

Buy every writing book you can, no matter how unknown the writer.  There is a huge market in books about writing for a reason.  That reason is because you need them before you will be a good writer.  These books are way more important than fiction.  In fact, if you read almost no fiction and only read books about how to write, you would be in great shape.

Buy. Them. All.

Always take all advice as canon.  It can be dangerous to start developing your own style and voice before you've learned everything there is to know about writing.  In what fields or disciplines do you ever start applying practical knowledge before you've mastered all the theoretical knowledge?  That's just crazy talk.  (I mean you wouldn't learn one recipe and try it would you?  No, you learn everything there is to know about cooking and THEN you try making a hard boiled egg.)  Don't risk this kind of permanent damage to your writing by presuming you can just doing something like writing without knowing what you're doing.  It really isn't worth it.  Instead, assimilate all the advice.  Don't worry about how contradictory it is.  Assume that no matter how much you hate an author personally, they are worth emulating.  Subsume your own style to be more like them--ALL of them.  This will really help your own writing--ONCE YOU ARE READY, OF COURSE.  After all, they are the real writer here so they must know what they're doing.

Don't confuse this for a style thing.  There is a formula.  They know it.  You don't.

If you run out of classes and aren't sure what to do next, get an MFA in Creative Writing.  There's a lot of bad advice floating around that an MFA is just something you should do if you like writing in a "literary" style or only if you are really interested in academia and an advanced degree.  This is pretty much crap.  An MFA is a great way to proceed when you aren't sure what else to do or when you don't have a clue what to do next.  It's also a pretty good substitute if you can't really find any local writing classes to sign up for.  (It's like the ultimate three year extensive writing class.)  An MFA will provide your writing with validation, and impresses both agents and publishers.  Anyway, MFA instructors will give you much better advice about what people like to read than a reader will, so they are well worth the thirty grand you'll end up having in student loans by the end.

It is extremely important that you stop going to any class if the instructor's primary advice is "just write" or "read a lot and write a lot." Avoid these classes like they have this year's nasty flu....and the plague.  There are no shortcuts when it comes to writing.  None.  Secrets, yes, but not shortcuts.  If these teachers had the slightest bit of mental acuity, they would not be giving you advice that makes them obsolete--think about that for a second. Obviously anyone trying to put themselves out of business is too stupid to know what they're talking about when it comes to writing.  All the great writers either took hundreds of classes or signed up for an MFA program.  (Mark Twain is well known for getting his MFA from Riverboat Pilot College.)  Stick to classes that focus on how you can't be a good writer without the secret knowledge they claim to have.  They're right, and they do.

If you've done this right, your great
American novel should basically
be writing itself.

I'm mentioning this last because it's the least important part of being a writer.  If you've done all this other stuff, you are basically good to go.  You've done the real work already.  The rest is just the minor act of actually getting the words onto the page (or into the computer).  Ignore advice from any writer--no matter how successful they are--who tells you to write daily or write "regularly" or who suggests that you can "develop your creative and writing muscle" (or any variation on this theme).  They're trying to trick you.

You are working smarter, not harder, my friend.  Because YOU....know the secrets.

It can kill your creativity to try and write if you don't feel like writing.  You'll turn it into a chore and bleed all the joy out of it.  Who wants to make a living doing something that feels like a job anyway?   That's not what "making a living" should mean.  These so-called "successful writers" are trying to fool you into doing a lot of work, so that you will end up hating writing.  The truth is that they don't want you to know the secrets of good writing because then you will give them competition.  Ask any barely known writer who has published one or two things and works a day job, and they will tell you the truth: that writing every day is not important.  You see, that's because they have less to lose than those rich and famous writers, so they will be more honest with you about what a sham the "write daily" advice is.

If you have spent enough money investing in high quality equipment, space, and prep, you can easily become a famous author writing only a few hours a week, or maybe even a few times a month!

I hope that this is helpful.  Revealing what I have today is going to piss a lot of writers off, and they may be looking for me, so I'm afraid I have to go into hiding for a while.  But you can trust that I'll be back!

Yours in serious writing efforts,

The White Text on Dark Background Knight


  1. I know this is satire, but it's emblematic of the problems in the aspiring writing world that there are probably wannabe writers who would take it seriously.

    1. Seems common everywhere. Aspiring artists who can't even get started without dropping a months pay on art supplies. Aspiring actors who think there's nothing to it but getting their head shots. People going to the gym who spend hundreds on their gymwear and then don't lift a weight.

  2. You know there are writers who really think this, right?

    1. Satire pieces about not-real things are less effective.

  3. I think I've met this guy.

    1. whether correct or satire, the author took time to write this so kudos to him/her.

  4. you made me smile, so thank you =D

  5. I saw an $8,000 pen in Tokyo (I love pens.) It called to me, but I took two research trips instead. Book 4 in The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series goes out to be formatted for publication tomorrow. I could have a fancy pen, a wildly expensive notebook, a wardrobe of cutesy writer t-shirts and sit around some coffee shop trying to look COOL. Instead, I write and publish books. I DO have a MacBook. I don't like coffee and I hate T-shirts. Nonetheless, I actually write and publish books. I think I could even do it in Windows.