I’m a hard-ass. (And let’s be honest: maybe a little bit of an asshole.*)
I ride you people pretty hard. I’m like an old man on the lawn, shaking his walker at you interlopers. “Get the hell offa my property! Quit screwin’ around!” Next thing you know, I’m thumbing two homemade rock-salt shells into the breach of a double barrel. Ch-chak. “Old Man Wendig’s gonna make Swiss cheese out of our backsides again! He’s lettin’ the taco terrier out of her hermetically-sealed cage, too! It’s like Jurassic Park, and we’re the goats in the T-Rex paddock!”
It’s just how I roll. I’m trying to get you limp raggedy fuckers in shape. I’m trying to prepare you to not be such slack-jawed slugabeds. Somebody has to rabbit punch your kidneys.
Might as well be me.
But yesterday, one amongst you (she who is named “Kate Haggard”) stood up like Spartacus and said:
What a timely kick in the ass. Here I am staring at a pile of plans and a blank screen wonder how the fuck this character is supposed to tell his story. So I suppose I should thank you twice: once for giving me a new sense of direction and once again for giving me an excuse to dick around for a week while still feeling productive.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who said I said anything about dicking around? I didn’t say that! I didn’t give you permission to slack off. Dig me a latrine! I need to void my bowels in the earth!
Ahem. Except, she’s right, to a point. Taking time out of the “actual writing” to do this “writing exercise” feels a little like procrastinating. Then again, outlining can feel like you’re wasting time, too.
Wasting time — aka, “dicking around” — can be productive.
Settle down, Spinach Chin, I said can be. Don’t go juicing your trousers.
Let’s identify when dicking around is actually productive.
Time To Go On A Vacay And Drink Mai-Tais From A Hooker’s Uterus
The words “vacation” and “productive” are not two words that go well together. In practice, it feels like, “You got motor oil in my peanut butter.” “You got peanut butter in my motor oil!” “This is poison!”
I call shenanigans. Hell, I call shitnanigans.
I go on vacation, I sometimes write, I sometimes don’t. But my writer brain is active just-the-same. It’s like a mad supercomputer that won’t shut off, this brain. You go to a new place, you absorb. Or, you damn well should be (and you can train your brain to do that, by the by). What’s it look like? What’s it feel like? Listen to conversations. Look at a map. Eat the food. Make love to the wildlife. Check the beaten paths and the unbeaten paths. (But don’t go near the tourist paths. Nine times out of ten, the touristy shit is the bare minimum, lowest common denominator experience. For reals. Tourist experiences are designed to put you in a different place yet somehow make you feel like you’re in your own backyard. You took a vacation to leave your backyard, dopeyface.)
All this stuff is stuff that computes. All this stuff adds up to “details that go into fiction,” and further, are details that lend authenticity. You can’t get that authenticity from Wikipedia.
Vacations are research.
And research is productive.
Go Ahead, Pretend You Can Read, You Goddamn Illiterate
Read a book.
Even for pleasure.
Go on. Read. Relax a little. Kick back. Book up. (And put that e-reader down. Be a grown up. Read a real book like an adult. Reading e-books is like living in a fake house in Second Life or sticking the tip of your winky in a USB port. Can you bludgeon an intruder with your precious e-reader? Hardly. You’ll break the damn thing, and frankly, the reason you have an intruder is probably because he wanted to steal your precious e-reader. No. Huh-uh. You read a real book, Pinocchio. Then come talk to me.)
Reading, as the PSA says, is fundamental.
For writers, it really is.
You should read. Reading for pleasure is productive. Don’t read passively, though — by which I mean, don’t turn your brain off like you do with television. Be aware of what you’re doing. Did you skip a paragraph? Why? Consider the ramifications of that. Too much description? Wall-of-text? Non-essential info? How does the writer write? Always ask yourself: “How would I do this differently?” Not better. Just different.
Anybody who has a published book is someone from which you can learn.
And yet, to the untrained eye — haha! You’re dicking around! Nice work, Spartacus.
Clean Your Damn Office, Professor Stinkbottom
I don’t disagree. In fact, I advocate cleaning your office now and again even when writer’s block isn’t holding your head in the toilet and giving you swirlies.
(This is where you all say, “What was that sound?” And I answer, “That was my wife stifling a laugh because I’m talking about cleaning the office.” And to her I say, “I cleaned it last week, woman!” And then I weep as she hits me with a dish. I deserved it.)
To be productive, we need a place that has some flow to it, a place that has minimal distractions.
Cleaning your office can be a part of that. You want the right books at hand. You don’t want to be all elbowing everything. You don’t want too many distractions within easy reach, either. “Over here, you’ll find my Nintendo DS, my coloring books, my bottle of scotch, my Altoids box filled with amyl nitrate poppers, and my ‘Butt Plugs Of The Serengeti’ collection. This one’s a zebra!”
Clean your office, you dirty mongrel. Me, I sometimes eat at my desk, so, y’know, I have to scrape free the shellac of oatmeal that forms. I have to take a propane torch to the ants. Well, okay, I don’t have to. I know, I know, just one more distraction. Busted.
Become A Social Media Guru And Make Millions!
Okay, seriously, if anybody here claims they’re a “social media expert,” I’m going to pull your brain out through your peehole and your butthole out through your mouth. Then I’m going to wad you up like a sheet of greasy plastic wrap and throw you in a hobo’s burn barrel.
Stop it. Stop it. Nobody’s a social media expert. That isn’t a job. It doesn’t mean anything! It’s like being an expert in fairy wings and Pegasus dreams.
That said, social media is a good thing for the writer.
Even just dicking around on the Twitters — being funny, tossing links, pimping somebody or something — can be productive. Audience-building is more than just acting like a writer. It’s acting like a person. In this day and age of the Internet, the very nature of relationships and friendships are changing — the definition grows muddy, the borders and boundaries fuzz out at the edges. Make connections. Be a person, not just a “creator.” Engage. You aren’t just a marketing machine. Marketing machines are boring.
You have permission to dick around on social media.
Hell, I think it’s a mandate.
Hey! Don’t Abuse The Privilege, Little Monkey!
Obviously, any of this can be abused. And it’ll be tempting to do so. “Chuck said that being on social media is productive. So I’m on Facebook for eight hours straight every day playing Farmstownsburg and looking at people’s ugly baby photos! This baby looks like a hammerhead shark! So not cute! I’m a writer!”
You’re not a writer. You’re a machine from the future designed to waste time.
Everything in moderation, people.
Dicking around should not be a primary component of your career. It must be secondary.
If at the end of the day you’re not staple-gunning your shit-can to the office chair and outputting some word magic, then you’re not being productive, you’re just being a distracted raccoon
(“Ooh! Shiny shiny shiny!”)
(And for the record, I don’t consider writing exercises or outlining dicking around. Though, like with anything, writers have the great propensity to turn even the most valuable habit into a neverending waste of time. “I decided that my fantasy book actually needs to be a fantasy cycle of eleven books, so, yeah. That’s going to take me about, ohh, eleven years to write. I’m such a writer.” Writers engage in work-flavored habits to make it seem productive to onlookers. Outlining for six months is cute and all, and it sure does look like you’ve got your balls to the grindstone, but you just turned “useful behavior” into “jerk-off motion.”)
Now, your turn.
What “dicking around” activities do you count as productive?
And don’t try to sass me. I’ll call bullshit if I think you’re sassing me. Don’t make me gesture at you with my rock-salt shotgun. I’ll do it. This stuff stings, by god. Don’t make me.
(*…Wait. Does that make me a “hard-asshole?” What does that even mean? It sounds like a real problem. I better call a doctor.)