Saturday, August 13, 2011

Writing Advice about Writing Advice

Go to the blog of any writer, and chances are you'll find some advice about writing or a list of dues and don'ts, whatever. Once a writer achieves a certain level of success, they can't stop themselves telling you how to do it. You'll notice there isn't a lot of that here at Blogpocalypse. Hey, I used to teach writing at various colleges and whatnot? Shouldn't I be sharing my wisdom? What a selfish bastard I am.

The fact is I don't share any writing advice here for a few reasons. First, I don't want to bore the crap out of you people. The best writing advice is usually pretty basic stuff. Which means you've probably heard it a thousand times already. The other reason is that other writers on other blogs are already doing a better job giving advice, so you don't need it here.

So I've decided on a twist. Here is some writing advice ... about writing advice.

1. Write what you know. We've all heard this gem. The problem with this is ... what if you don't know jack shit? People, I know a LOT about sipping coffee in my boxer shorts and watching golf on TV. I'm an expert at it. But I'm not sure that would make much of a novel. (If you disagree, Dutton, make me an offer.) So obviously you need to get out in the world and know some shit. Live life. Explore. If you want to write what you know, then start filling your brain with stuff to tap into. This advice should really be DON'T write what you DON'T know. If your novel takes place in Prague then go there or at least hit the library and come home with a stack of research. Yes, you can fake it. I've done that too. But faking it can only get you so far. Also, some people think "write what you know" means certain topics are off limits. They're not. You just have to educate yourself.

2. Sit your ass down and write. This I actually agree with, but what bothers me about this advice is that it is so obvious I find it hard to believe anyone needs to be told this. It amounts to "pull down your pants before you sit on the toilet." Yes! We know! This should not be called advice. It should be called DUH.

3. Rules for writing. I flinch when people refer to "rules" for writing. There are no rules. When you go to a writing class, you are not learning "rules." When someone refers to rules, they are simply telling you good strategies that mostly work most of the time. That's not the same as a "rule." Even punctuation is up for grabs. Ever read Faulkner? Yeah. Name any rule you want, and a good writer will know how to break it or get around it or flat out ignore it. "Your first person protagonist must be alive at the end; otherwise, who is telling the story?" Fuck you. "Your protagonist must be sympathetic." Fuck you sideways.

4. Lists like this. Total bullshit. I'm obviously procrastinating.

5. Real writers write every day. Tell that to spouses and kids who actually expect you to engage with them now and then. Real writers would like to write every day. (And maybe that's not even true.) But just because your a special, creative, precious writer doesn't mean your off the hook from the other stuff that demands space in your life.

6. Carry a pad and pen with you at all times to jot down those great ideas. If you can't remember, then they're not so great. Anyway, just e-mail it to yourself with your smart phone.

7. Process. That word officially has no meaning. All the crazy crap you do to juggle your schedule and bust your ass to make a deadline is way too chaotic to call a "process." It's just survival. Here is my"process": Pour coffee. Start writing. Interviewers, please never ask me about my process again.

8. If you stick your thumb up your ass, it will help focus your ideas. What? You never heard that one? That's because I just made it up. Stop looking for "tricks" to get you writing. Writing is work. You do it, you sweat, you revise and you keep busting your ass.

So what am I missing? Let's hear what sort of writing advice you've been given and what you think about it.

Update: If you're going to give writing advice, then THIS is how you do it. Even if some of it might be advice you've heard before, you've never heard it delivered in this way. Nice one, Chuck.


Matthew Louden said...

Ummm, I tried the thumb thing and... yeah, you're wrong. Not only did it make my focus worse than it already was (hence me taking the time to read your blog), but it is also incredibly difficult to type efficiently when one hand is otherwise occupied.

Victor Gischler said...


You're doing it wrong. Try the other thumb.

Matthew Louden said...

Well, I tried it. Problem is I forgot to take out the other thumb first. Now they're both stuck. But I do feel more focussed, so that is a plus. What's that? How am I typing this? Fuck you! That's how.

Could you perhaps blog about how to remove one's thumbs from one's rectal orifice?

In all seriousness though, they are stuck good. But regardless of my predicament, it's a great post. Write what you want, fuck the rules. Just don't be a lazy ass about it. Instead of wasting time reading writing advice, just write. It's the only way you're ever gonna get anywhere.

Jeff Newberry said...

You're awesome. That is all.

Lebeau2501 said...

Well, shit. I've had my thumb up my ass for years. This explains my lethargy and inaction. Also, the dysentery.
I think my problem is that I want to write and illustrate, but I illustrate before I write, which means I never get to the writing.

Victor Gischler said...

I suppose I should make it clear that I'm not really against writing advice. It's just that at some point you'll have heard all the advice and it's time to just write.

Chris said...

I ultimately had to abandon the advice in #8. After years of trying to defend that I was actually working when folks would holler, "Don't just sit there with your thumb up your ass, DO SOMETHING!", I finally just said to hell with it. My focus has suffered ever since.

Anonymous said...

Mate, the self-important C-grade motherfuckers who hang out on twitter all day and endlessly RT their little pals' tips and links to their blogs would probably be superstars if they weren't so busy sucking up what little zarjaz they can get by dint of how far they've managed to crawl in their careers. I like your list more than theirs. I also frequently email myself ideas and that's a good strategy. Notebooks etc are obsolete tech.


Zephyr -- a superhero webcomic in prose

J. R. McLemore said...

Digital rectal inversion?!

Thanks, Victor. I laughed so hard I nearly soiled myself. Good thing my thumb was there to stop it.

Unknown said...

#4 is really funny. Next time I feel like procrastinating I'll make a list of writing advice. Or perhaps comment on lists of writing advice.

Tim Martin said...

Great post. I especially like this bit..."Your first person protagonist must be alive at the end; otherwise, who is telling the story?" Fuck you. "Your protagonist must be sympathetic." Fuck you sideways."

I hate over thinkers who analyze every little piece of minutia that is writing. Write a compelling and fun piece and leave it at that. Move the plot alone and tell the story in whatever voice "feels" right for the artist. This is art not science.

Gryphon King said...

Mighty Groovy, Vic. Mercedes and I are gonna steal the hell out of that and the Secret Menu.

...what? That's what writers DO. DON'T JUDGE ME!

Mercedes said...

Hey Victor, you forgot something. When Larry and I came to your class and said "sit your ass down and write," we also added, "you don't talk about what you're GOING to write, you don't agonize about it, you don't procrastinate or complain about block" because all to often that's what folks who "want to be writers" are doing. For those of us who ARE writers, it's a "duh." For the not-committed-yet, it can be a wake-up call.

Mercedes Lackey

PS. What's with the Go-Go-Girl fetish, you sexist bastard?

Victor Gischler said...

Mercedes and Larry,

The one big rule about lists like this is that they are never complete and always subject to change depending on mood!

I'm not sexist! Just dirty!

And thanks for stopping by the blog. You're welcome any time.


Wm. Osborn said...

Well, I'm always late to the party, and I feel like I've been given the finger and fucked sideways!

Cheers to your pot o'coffee! :)

Vampire A Go-Go... hahaha. On Pascal, I've had a look inside your noggin and I'm afraid!

Is the univers trying to tell me something, ny word verification is aphoo?!