Everything you never wanted to hear about writing
Or: A practical field guide for every question every writer has been asked since forever, plus a few others I found along the way.
You have to actually write.
Not just talk about writing. Not just blog about writing. Not just write cute little Twitter posts about #thewriterslife. Not just wax philosophic in English classrooms, sighing wistfully as you stare out the window and dreaming of your life as a writer. Shut up — no, seriously, just shut up. If you spent all of that time actually writing something down, instead of just talking about it, you probably would’ve finished that book by now. Paintings don’t paint themselves, and stories don’t write themselves, either. You have to work, so just shut up and do it.
Writing isn’t easy.
The fact that I have tell people this is kind of ridiculous. Polished manuscripts don’t just fall out of you and neither does talent. You have to practice it in order to get better. And then you have to keep practicing if you want to be any good at it. And then it’s going to be a long, frustrating process for the rest of your life, with lots of throwing crap and threatening to set your computer on fire. Okay, so, yeah: You read that news story about that 16-year-old wunderkind who got a three-book contract before she graduated high school. That’s great, but you’re not her, and you’re never going to be her, so you’re going to have to work like the rest of us.
Being good isn’t always enough.
Being good won’t guarantee you a book deal. Sorry, but it’s true. Market trends and the business model dictate what gets published and what doesn’t. If you think writing a good story is enough to make you rich and famous, you’re wrong, okay? Maybe you’ll get lucky, but even if you have the greatest manuscript ever written, if no publishing company on Earth can make a buck off of it, it will never be published. Be smart: Know your genre, know your market, know the publishers you’re submitting to. Know what they want, how they want it, and why. (Nothing is worse than wasting your time sending manuscripts to the wrong publishers, or wasting theirs by sending them stories with no regard for their submission guidelines.) Beyond that, it’s just the roll of the dice.
There’s no easy way to get published.
Say it with me now: There’s no easy way to get published. There’s no pill, magic button, or pyramid scheme known to man that will help you publish your book. Again: You will have to do the work.
Writing very rarely pays the way you want it to.
Unless you’re Stephen King or James Patterson or J.K. Rowling, and you’re a brand-name responsible for a multi-million dollar franchise, you will have to keep a day job. You can freelance, and maybe you can get a job as a staff writer somewhere, but otherwise, writing is always going to be a second income. Even then, it might not be much of one. Be realistic and don’t quit your day job just because you sold a few stories or poems.
If you’re writing to get famous, stop.
There. I said it.
“I don’t have time” isn’t an excuse.
Nobody has time to write. They have jobs and kids and school and dentist appointments. They make time, because they have to. “I’d love to write, but I just don’t have the time” is like saying “I would love to be a professional athlete, but I don’t have the time to train.” If you actually care about something, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Musicians make time for music, artists for art, singers for singing, swimmers for swimming, runners for running — you get the idea, right? If you’re not dedicated, or it’s just a nice little hobby you do for fun, pursuing it professionally is not for you.
Writing is not a beautiful, selfless craft that makes the world a better place.
You’re writing for an audience. You’re writing for yourself. Hopefully you enjoyed it, and others did, too. Maybe even you made a little money out of it. But, please, don’t write yet another blog post about how you’re selflessly using your talent to solve world hunger or make the future brighter for our children, or whatever masturbatory crap is trending on Twitter these days. You’re not a special and unique snowflake, and don’t act like your YA urban fantasy novel about teenaged angst and unicorns is some precious gift made of words and wrapped in love that will make the sun come out on a rainy day. Get over yourself.
Not everybody can write.
Sure, we can all string words together to make complete thoughts and sentences. Some of us are even pretty damn good at it. It’s called language. However, it’s not the same as being able to create and execute a complex narrative and tell a fully-realized story. It’s just not. Writing is all about tone and intent, and using your story as a vehicle to convey a larger idea to the audience. That takes time and patience and training, and most of all, the ability to pull bullshit ideas out of thin air and make them sound believable. The same way I can’t design buildings or play the guitar, or even finish my geometry homework, you might not be able to write. That’s just how it is. It sucks, but that’s life.
So if you’re going to write, do it. Everybody else, just find something else to do with your time. Maybe take up crochet, or bowling? Bowling’s fun, and like writing, you can do it while you’re drunk. It’s a win/win.