One Question Writers Need To Keep Asking Themselves

Do you have any gummy mascara wands?

Working on a long piece can be like traversing a deep dark forest: you’re pretty sure you’re moving, but you could be going in circles. And those suspicious mushrooms are starting to look tasty.

There’s a question you can ask to keep yourself from getting lost. Well, from getting irretrievably lost, anyway. I’m bang alongside getting periodically lost.* But when the word-forest is starting to close in and you can hear the wolves in the distance, take a breath and ask yourself the following:

What the hell am I trying to say?

This is loosely about stuff like theme and the other words that made you cringe in high school language arts classes, but it’s more about purpose. Writers love wandering. We find a pocket of unexplored randomness and we just want to hang out there forever, turning over every rock and naming all the plants. And that stuff’s good; it gets the creativity moving. But there are times when you need a little focus, and that’s when you should ask yourself that question. What the hell are you trying to say?

You should have an idea, even if it’s only a vague one: I want to talk about families and relationships and stuff, but there should be rockets and an intelligent marmoset. Well, maybe semi-intelligent. It doesn’t have to be a Big Important Universal Theme***; it just needs to be a target you can shoot for, tailored to fit. I want to show how Rylan is being a complete asshat to Dyson****  is acceptable for a scene or chapter; Rylan being an utter knobstick is a comment on his upbringing is better for a novel. But you should be thinking about it, turning it over, finding the creamy centre of your story nugget. You should be saying something, not just making noise.

Focusing on what you’re saying—however distant it might be when you’re scribbling down that initial zero draft—gives you purpose. It turns you from a blindly hammering word chimp into a clever ninja-ing word gorilla: cooler, hairier, and far more dangerous.

You need to have something to say. Otherwise, why are you writing?

*This weekend I got lost underneath Toronto for a few hours. It was fun. I found a candy store** I never knew existed, and ran giggling through the empty marble lobbies of huge financial buildings. You can get a hell of a slide across those shiny floors in wool socks.
**I think it was a candy store. It might have been a Korean cosmetics counter. Whatever I bought, it was pink, glittery, and tasted like lychee.
***Henceforth known as a BIUT. Because.
****Might be a character, might be a vacuum. Might be both.

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6 Things All Writers Should Start, Plus A Journey Song

Either stabbing practice, or a giant pencil sharpener. (Photo credit: wikipedia)

1. Start being weird. I know a lot of you have already gotten a head start on this one, but for those of you who are still hesitant to dip your toes into the waters of weird, allow me to give you a friendly shove into the deep end.
For starters, read the bit from Wednesday about stopping the fucking timidity. Apply that to yourself.
I once got my ass stuck in a tire swing and had to be rescued by the fire department. I trip while traversing the perfectly flat floors of the local mall, as well as malls abroad. I am not cool. And I am happy to not be cool, because cool by its very nature means giving a crap about the opinions of strangers who, apparently, exist solely to judge your social appearances.
Fuck those guys, real or imaginary. Be weird. Be different. Be you. And maybe then you’ll start to figure out what you want to write.

2. Start supporting each other. I don’t mean siding with people you know are an entire bag of dicks* just because they’re writers. I mean not actively tearing each other apart. Especially on the Internet. Using the relative anonymity of the online world to abuse others is cowardice, and the universe hates a coward, though not as much as I do.
Writing is not a zero sum game; someone else’s success is not had at your expense. So stop being a cock.

3. Start stabbing. Other people, I mean. Not yourself.
I practice Recreational Stabbing a couple of times a week, though at the gym they insist on calling it ‘fencing’. It serves the dual purposes of anger management and weapons skills. And it’s fun. Find your fun, whether it involves pointed objects or not.** All writers need some fun. And the weapons training doesn’t hurt.

4. Start a band. Writing is fucking lonely. But it doesn’t have to be. Find your people, your band, your superhero team with whom you can defeat evil, or at least give it a very stern talking to. They’re out there, somewhere. Some of them may be reading this blog. And, contrary to what some of the more paranoid corners of the internet would have you believe, not all other writers are out to steal your ideas. Only some of them, and those ones are easily defeated by feeding them the plot lines to Michael Bay movies.

5. Start DIY cybernetic implants. *Check notes more closely* No. Sorry. This is my to-do list. Anyone know where I can buy robot parts?

6. Don’t Stop Start Believing. Because Journey rocks.
Writing can be a long road. And the road to publishing can be even longer and more filled with potholes which are in turned filled with scorpions. So it’s easy to get discouraged. To get cynical.
But cynicism is like your mom: easy. And it doesn’t get you anywhere except to a pile of excuses filled with reasons why you can’t do shit: The industry is dead. It’s all who you know. I’m not willing to touch an agent’s Fun Zone, so of course I can’t get a contract.
Stop that. Start believing again. Not with the rosy-eyed glow of innocence, but the kind of hard-edged, diamond-tipped belief that will drive you through disappointment and failure. Believe in what you’re doing enough to get better at it, because belief does not replace hard work. But it does make the work go better.

*CoughOrsonScottCardCough.
**Though if it doesn’t, I don’t even know you anymore, man.

5 Things For “Aspiring”* Writers To Fucking Stop, and 1 To Start

See this guy? He’s thinking big.

1. Stop with the fucking timidity. Who’s had the following conversation?
Random Person: So, what do you do for work/fun?
    You: I…kind of…um….write. Maybe. Sort of.
    Random Person: Really? What are you writing about?
    You: *throws a drink in their face and hides*
I have.  And it has to stop.
Don’t admit you’re a writer. Be proud of it. Take all those insecurities and throttle them with your bare hands before stuffing their nearly-lifeless corpses under the floorboards and setting the floor on fire. They’re dragging you back like the Sad Demons of Despair.
Be bold. Be brave. The universe hates a coward.

2. Stop bitching about the job. No one wants to hear your rant about the gatekeepers, or that awful book that sold a billon copies, or why traditional publishing is dead just before you get to it. Yes, there are disappointments lying in wait out there for all writers. Yes, you will be rejected, criticized, told you suck, and otherwise verbally spat upon.** That’s the deal.
We are all going through it. And while complaining might feel like it’s helping, it’s not. You’re just dragging yourself down. Focus on solutions instead. They’ll get you a lot further.***

3. Stop looking for Bertholt’s Magnificent Spell of Writing. The Snowflake, the Index Card, The Reverse Outline, The Muse Fondler****…these sound more like sex positions than writing styles. And, like sex positions, there’s nothing wrong with trying it, if both you and the manuscript are willing. But there is no magic solution. What worked for That Smug Best-Selling Author may not work for you. And it certainly won’t work in the same way. This is because you are individuals instead of writer robots.
So, try the new stuff, with the ink and the chicken feathers and the strategically placed cleaning supplies. But do it because it’s fun and it’s something you want to try, not because you think it will solve everything.

4. Stop with the coffee. Ha! Trick! You should never stop with the coffee! Onwards to heart-exploding heights!

5. Stop making excuses. No more, “I want to write but I don’t have time.” If these are the words that tumble from your mouth at the first mention of writing, then you don’t want to be a writer. You want to have written. Nothing wrong with that, but stop fooling yourself.
Or, if you protest at my unfair statements, prove me wrong. Commit. Put a ring on it.

Which brings us to:

1. Start writing. Today.

*It gets sarcastic quotes for a reason. Either write or don’t. Do or do not; there is no try.
**Hopefully just verbally, though. If someone spits on you for real, then feel free to complain. Though you’d probably be better served by jamming a boot up their ass.
***This should be a rule for all social interactions, not just writers. No complaining unless you are going to offer a solution. If you don’t have one, then don’t get pissed off when someone else offers one.
****All right, I made this one up. But now I want to make my own writing method and call it this.

Pie-thulhu Comes For You: Trying New Stuff

This was the closest I could find to Cthulhu Pie.

The other night, Snowman and I had friends over. And while we were having the inevitable Serious Adult Discussions—the differences between robots and mechs, the inadvisability of storing smallpox in your freezer, the likelihood that I have an NSA file somewhere based on my internet searches— the subject of writing advice came up. I, of course, run this blog; my friend Kat, writer and movie critic* from over here, also gets asked by others for her thoughts on writing. I will now recreate our conversation in the name of giving you the most serious, high quality advice I can.

*Fires up the wayback machine*

Me: I think some people want a magic bullet—especially for shit like building an audience and getting published—but it’s really about time and patience. And, you know, not giving off an actual physical stink of desperation.

Kat: And diversifying. Try new stuff.

Me: Yeah, definitely that. It’s way too fucking easy to just get into a rut and only do the stuff you’ve done before.

Kat: You should get your fingers in as many pies as you can. And then make more pies.

Me: And then graft more fingers, until you’re a monstrous pie-finger construct, devouring all in your path, with freeway on-ramps for arms and a heart as black as coal!***

Rest of the Room: (dead silence and mildly worried staring.)

Whether or not you go the finger-pie construct route****, the advice holds: diversify. Break out of your tried-and-true and venture forth into the unknown. Novel writer? Try short stories. Try blogs. Try poetry. Try smearing the powdered dreams of your enemies on the walls of your cell.

And get out of your solitary little writer-cave. Go on social media. Become a commenter on other writing blogs. Join a writing group. Or, my personal favourite, start conversations with other writers on Twitter. I’ve had some great conversations with writers on every step of the road from Just Staring Down The Barrel Of That First Manuscript to Author Of A Goddamn New York Times Best Seller through Twitter. People are more approachable than you think. You know, so long as you’re not a complete douchecanoe about it.

This shift to new venues and new modes of communication does two things. 1) It makes you more versatile and broadens your horizons, not a bad thing at all in a writer. And 2) it gives you that many more possibilities for making money/getting published/getting noticed. More stuff on deck means more stuff to submit, which means better chances of one of those pieces finding a forever home, or at least an Until-The-Rights-Expire home.

And if you can make yourself into a Lovecraftian horror along the way? Hell, who’s not up for that?

*Also baker/librarian/weaponized disease enthusiast. I decided that if she had a Jaeger a la Pacific Rim, it would be Viral Cupcake.**
**Mine would be Caffeine Deathwish.
***With apologies to Futurama.
****Though why wouldn’t you? It sounds awesome.

The Bullshit-Free Guide To Achieving Your Writing Resolutions

THEY’RE COMING.

It is a new year, and while I accept that this date has no significance beyond the social, I know that, out there, writers are busy making their new year’s resolutions.

But what to resolve? To write a novel? To publish a novel? A short story? To write every day? There are so many possible incarnations of this desire to do better that it’s hard to figure out which one you need.

Which is where I come in.

These are not resolutions; they are directions. A path you can choose. A state of mind that will help you mow down all the writing resolutions you made while blitzed on champagne and Red Bull. And you should make these words work for you not just in January, but every day, all year long.

So, get your mirror, look yourself in the bloodshot eye, and repeat after me:

1. I Will Write. No more excuses. Put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper, motherfuckers. Arrange words in an order that pleases you and hopefully some other people. Repeat.

2. I Will Finish My Shit. An unfinished project is like a hangnail on your brain. Finish it. Only then can you work on making it pretty.

3. I Will Not Give In To The Soggy Demons Of Despair. I imagine them like wads of other people’s used tissue: gross, useless, and if you touch them, you might pick up something that will take fucking months to shake off. And oddly prevalent during the darker months of the year.
Disgusting though they are, when enough of the Soggy Despair Demons get together, they can cause trouble. You don’t want them in your house. Best solution is to set them on fire with work.* Seriously, if I get taken out, it will be by the Flaming Hellbeast of Spectacular Failure, not the Soggy Formless Tissue-Things of Never Tried At All.

4. I Will Stuff The Haters In A Sack And Then Beat The Sack With A Big Spiky Stick. Metaphorically, people, metaphorically. Don’t try to pin the blame for your assault charges on me.
Common candidates for inclusion in the sack are, of course, enemies, naysayers, the people who tell you to stop wasting your time writing, and the aforementioned Soggy Despair Demons.** But while you are stuffing people into your mental Sack of Hitting, don’t forget to make room for the following: ‘friends’ who think you’re being silly, media outlets that report fiction is dead, and yourself on those bad days when you feel like giving it all up.
All of you: get in the fucking sack.***

5. I Will Fail. Repeatedly. Because failure means I’m still trying, still working, still changing.
After failing? I will try again. And, in the words of Samuel Beckett, fail better.
*They’re pretty damp, so they smoulder a bit, but with enough fiery work, you can reduce those fuckers to ash.
**Not included are people who give you genuine, helpful criticism, even if you don’t want to hear it. Toughen up, princess.
***Thank you, Dara O’Brien.

Monday Challenge: Scouting The Path

Crows feeding

“What do you know? They taste like chicken. And Doritos.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the last blog post of the year. Tears me up a little, that does. Well, not literally, because I’m not a big crier*, but if I was, I would be. And if I hadn’t done really nice eye makeup that day. But if I was a crier, and if I hadn’t done something like this Smaug the Dragon-inspired makeup look**, then there definitely might be a slight chance of mistiness. Maybe.

It’s been a fun year. But it’s time to look down the road.

So that’s what this Monday Challenge is for, word wombats: thinking ahead. You’ve got a new year coming up. A whole year in which to write.*** That’s three hundred and sixty five fucking days during which you can be creating pocket universes and spinning beauty and terror out of the void.

What are you going to do with that year?

Monday Challenge: come up with something you want to create this year and then write that the fuck down. On a notepad, on a whiteboard, on your forearm or forehead. I don’t care where you write it, just write it. And then put it somewhere you can see it every day. Not to nag, but to remind. Because it’s a lot easier to forget about our goals when they’re not staring us in the face every fucking second like carrion birds wondering what your insides taste like.****

Plans of attack come later, along with everything else. For today, just think of what you want.

What is 2014 going to be the year of?

*Except, as established, during the first nine minutes of Up.
**The word ‘fierce’ was invented for this.
***And do other stuff, I suppose. If you have to. God.
****The pair of crows I keep seeing lately have this look.

Cyborgs, Soldiers, And Gunslingers: A Year In The Word Mines

amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...

This is what it’s going to look like when I go back to the gym tomorrow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year, I always find myself doing a little thinking. Maybe it’s the scrolling down of the Gregorian calendar. Maybe it’s because I’m stranded on the couch like a beached whale until that last holiday meal digests.* Whatever the reason, this is the time of year for taking stock.

Those of you who are long-term readers probably remember my goal for this year: thirteen rejection letters. Well, that goal was accomplished, just barely. There was also an acceptance in there, so bonus.

Writing-wise, this was a fucking busy year**. I started rewriting a novel, cranked out a half a dozen new short stories, laid down the foundations for another novel, and posted three days a week here. Blogging alone, that works out to….*does quick math*…around 80,000 new words. Plus maybe another 25,000 words of short stories. And another 50,000 from the Sandbox and World-Building files. I have no idea how much is new on the novel because that’s the nature of rewrites: too much cutting and backfilling and general re-jiggering. But, however you slice it, this was a productive year.

Now the question becomes: what next?

Honestly? I’m not sure. This year—the year of the short story—was fun. Gave me a chance to try some new ideas and new places, at least one of which is on its way to developing into a full-blown world. But, at the same time, my energy felt scattered. I was jumping from project to project, one step ahead of the deadlines, and every story was different. Cyborg magic. Military horror. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Alternate world fantasy. Storybook horror. I ran the fucking genre mash-up gauntlet this year, and came up with some really interesting stuff. But, because I was focusing on all those, my novel rewrite isn’t even close to bloody finished and I didn’t start the other novel that I was planning on writing.

So, here’s the question for 2014: focus on the novels exclusively, or try to do both again***?

I’m going to mull this over while eating my way through the rest of the Christmas candy between now and New Year’s. In the meantime, keep me in the loop, word monkeys: how do you feel about your writing year in review, and what are your plans for 2014?

*Fasting sounds like a better and better idea this time of year.

**You know, for me. For some of you this output might be slack; for others it might seem unattainable. Your mileage may vary.

***Better this time, obviously.