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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fortune Cookie Wisdom VII

Even Staler Fortune Cookies

The worst professional athlete you can think of  has worked harder to get where they are than most people can really wrap their heads around. The same is true of most published authors.  

When it comes to love and lust and sex and fun and passion, there's a very fine line between inspiration and distraction.

An assignment deadline is an external motivation and I've seen a lot of good writing occur because of one, but they only exist for as long as they exist. Eventually you have to motivate yourself. You can go to school until you have a PhD in creative writing, but you still eventually have to motivate yourself.

When it comes to writing, "talent" is just another word for hard work.

MFA programs are a relatively new phenomenon. Before the 50's people just had to read a lot and write a lot. It is a mark of extraordinary financial privilege to be able to spend $40,000+ and two or three more years of college on an education that almost prides itself on its lack of a marketable skill.

You will eventually solicit criticism from someone you respect and they will annihilate you with the scathing of your lifetime. It will be....awful. Rejection. Failure. You may question whether or not you even want to keep writing. It is easily the worst thing you will ever endure with regards to your writing. But also, it is the worst thing you will ever endure. Ever. There are no bears. Or bees. Or snakes. Or bears that shoot bee-covered snakes at you when they roar.
In truth, we don't even LIKE those honey eating motherfuckers.

"Loving" writing is usually a misnomer of some degree or another. Some writers do enjoy the process. Some attend to it like a sick compulsion. But with almost all... OH the bliss of having written.

The worst part about One True Way™advice is that everyone booby traps the jungle behind them. We can't help it. Every success story via some route or trick or formula makes the next one that much harder. Building an audience with a blog is harder today than when I did it two years ago, and it was harder then than when the people I was emulating started it. People telling you "this is how to do it," may be ignoring the fact that it's much harder to do it that way than it was for them. This is doubly true of traditionally published authors whose careers hit their stride over ten or fifteen years ago. The only constants are writing, reading, and a shit ton of hard work.

I meet way too many writers who are special snowflakes. They don't need to write every day because their creativity works in bursts. They don't need to do a lot of revision because they "think about things a lot before they write". They don't need peer review because they "have the eye" for good writing. They don't need to be taught craft...blah blah blah. Of course I've yet to meet a single one who was also a success. Most successful writers work normally and their most extraordinary quality is their ability to acknowledge that fact.

Most writers will tell you that perfectionism kills creativity and productivity. Most MFA programs will tell you that their goal is to help a writer achieve the closest thing to artistic perfection the writer is capable of. I'll let you do the math to figure out what ends up happening to most writers in MFA programs.

The idea that one has to live in order to be able to write is almost always chanted by those who don't want to write (and usually before they head off to a double shift at Petco, not before they go to hike the Himalayas with nothing but a begging bowl). The real challenge of a fiction author is not to live a life that can't help but be exciting when it reaches the page; it is to bring new life to the pedestrian.

This blog exists as a real-time demonstration of many of the most important lessons a writer can learn. If you want to see me get better at writing, just go look at the old entries. If you want to see success come from tenacity, watch my audience and income slowly growing over time. There are no tricks. Nothing is happening "behind the scenes." You can watch my career develop and see exactly how much effort I'm putting into it.

Before committing any platitude of writing advice to memory, know at least a dozen writers of note who have broken it spectacularly. That will prepare you for exactly the sort of guideline-not-rule/borderline-bullshit paradox writing advice tends to be. 


  1. Have I mentioned that I love these?

    1. I'm glad to hear it! They're usually "jazz hands" when I didn't quite have time to finish something real.

  2. You say "jazz hands" like it's a bad thing! ;-)