The Writer’s Survival Guide
The writer is a complex animal. We are grotesque mutations — irregular creatures, as I have noted — that form a crass menagerie, a mad bestiary. A writer possesses the lion’s mane, the horse’s hoof, the unicorn’s horn, the moonbat’s milky nipples. We’re dangerous animals, bred as chimera, confused as to who we are or what good we may do for the world. The world is home, quite frankly, to too many of us. We have bred wantonly, and now we are everywhere. Our creative heritage is watered down with liquor and insanity. We’re like designer dogs. We’re a Poodle crossed with a Weimaraner crossed with a Pomeranian. We are the Poomaraner. The Weipooranian. The Pomaranadoodle. Possibly rabid. Definitely bewildered.
Or, put more succinctly, beware of writer.
Just as you should beware of us, we should also beware of us. The writer’s life is a strange one. Sitting alone. Talking to made-up people. Watching our little tragedies and comedies unfold until all we’re left with is a page of repeated text: “All Writing And No Porn Makes Jack A Dull Facebook Update.”
You do this day in, day out, you start to feel a little nuts.
The rejections. The fictions. The criticisms. Endless words. Myriad characters. So much time.
And so I give unto you: coping mechanisms. Fellow penmonkeys, compatriot wordslingers, if you want to do this job and not end up shellacked in your own snot-froth while hanging from the ceiling fan — if you are to survive at all with your mind and spirit intact — then you must do as I say. Do not deviate, lest you be struck down by your own lunacy.
These, then, are your survival skills, your coping mechanisms.
Something Something Peter Principle
Blah blah blah, every employee rises to his own level of incompetence.
This isn’t that, exactly. But it sounded good.
Here’s what you need to do: you need to realize that worse writers than you have succeeded in ways you simply have not. Find a writer who is, by your estimation, a talentless gasbag, a semi-sentient fungus that can barely string together a paragraph much less a whole goddamn novel.
The more popular and successful this writer is, the better.
At first this may seem disheartening — “They gave a million-dollar book deal to one of the baby zoo pandas!?” — but that’s not the point, oh no. The point is to take comfort that you can do better. We obviously tend to read writers who inspire us, who move us, who we feel possess talent that is otherwise insurmountable. Pshh. Fuck that narwhal right in the blowhole. You need to realize that some truly incompetent and incapable writers have risen — which means that if those muck-slurping sea monkeys can do it, well what the hell, why can’t you?
Yes, of course this is ludicrously petty. Which is why we don’t do it in public, so please go take down that blog post where you mewl and moan about Dan Brown.
We do it in our minds. It’s called “mental masturbation.”
It is a critical coping skill.
Something Something The Opposite Of That Thing I Just Said
We also need writers who inspire us, so don’t lose that sense of wonderment, of purpose, of writers who are our Sherpas. I mean, we do this for a reason. We don’t write because we want to aspire to the level of a brain-damaged ostrich holding a pen in its crooked beak but we write because other storytellers have moved us with their stories and their telling of the aforementioned stories.
If you’re banging your head against the wall and wondering why you ever chose this madman’s profession, dig out an old favorite book. Pick a chapter. Read it. Soak in it. Absorb a lesson. Revel in the words. Rub it on your body like a loofah, lathering yourself up with the cleansing soap bubbles of inspiration.
You Cannot Milk A Dead Goat
Sometimes, you need to walk away from the writing. Some writers I know, myself included, will stay down in the word mines far longer than they should, obsessively chipping away the walls looking for one last story gem, one last character diamond. Only thing you’re doing is driving yourself nuts. Get the hell out of there. The canary died three hours back. Then its flesh dissolved, leaving only a greasy smear in the cage.
You can only get so much value out of a given day of work. Set a course for your daily word count. Do your work, then stop, pause, consider. Keep going if if the juice is there — but if it’s not, don’t lose your shit. You did your work. Exhausting your internal juju is like intellectual strip-mining. You gain nothing but the scouring and erosion of your creative resources. Get out of your skull.
Beer, Bacon, Meth, Wine, Coffee, Cookie Dough, Hookers
I drink coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, wine at night.
I’m not saying writers should become chemically addicted to a whole bunch of shit, but hey, it’s better than soiling your pants and attacking the mailman with a camping hatchet.
For God’s Sake Do Not Hang Out With Other Writers
Didn’t you hear me? We’re all crazy. Don’t hang out in little writer tribes. At least, not on a steady basis. It’s incestuous! It’s like putting a band together, except every band member is a paranoid schizophrenic. Talk to people that aren’t writers. Hang out with a park ranger or some shit. An accountant. A painter. A ninja. A detective. Or what about a detective who is also a painter? And who has a park ranger ninja cohort? See? You can’t get that kind of awesomeness by hanging out with other writers. There’s a story in there!
Seriously, though, other writers are good people, and yes, from time to time you want to get together and talk the business. But other times, you need to get out of that headspace. Free yourself.
The Publishing Industry Will Explode Your Brain-Tits
Should I have hyphenated “Brain-Tits?” I thought about just going with “Braintits.” But that almost looks like “Braintitis,” which is probably some kind of swelling of the brain disorder. Of course, that’s probably apt, isn’t it? Publishing? Brain-swelling. Yeah. I thought so, too.
What I’m saying is, the publishing industry is interesting and all, and sure, you can be served well by knowing its Ins and Outs. But don’t focus long on it because it’s like staring into the unblinking Eye of Mordor (which, for the record, looks like a lava vagina). Gaze too long and you cannot look away. It’s like that quote by that German dude: “Gaze too long into the Abyss and before too long you realize you’re never going to get a book deal and then you wanna jump into the hungry mouth of a lava vagina.”
You will go nuts trying to figure out the publishing industry. Pull back. Relax.
Write the best book you can write.
Start there. Worry later.
Beware The Superinfo Cyberhighway
The Internet has gravity. It will suck you in. Sure, it’s fun. It’s a great place to spend time. And read about book deals. And about other writers. And their success. And then you go on Amazon and you see all the books that aren’t yours. Next thing you know, you’re curled up on the floor, your iPad held tight in your arthritic talons. Your pants are in the corner. They’re smoldering, as if recently on fire.
The Internet is not always a healthy place. It is a place of rank negativity. Escape Cyberspace. Take the next exit off the Information Superhighway. Realize that nobody calls it “Cyberspace” or the “Information Superhighway” anymore. (They should really combine them for maximum coolness: The Infospace Cyberway! Or The Superinfo Cyberhighway!)
Leave your house. Let the sun fill your body with Vitamin D or whatever other voodoo vitamins the Big Fiery Sky Ball lends to us pale-fleshed writer-types. Take a fucking walk, for God’s sake.
Writing Isn’t Always About Reading
You don’t get new stories from old stories. You get new stories by closing your manuscript and going out and doing some shit. Big adventures, small adventures. Jury duty, Krav Maga, art museums, squid wrestling, garden planting, squirrel killing, windsurfing, long drives, long walks, making love to a grizzled longshoreman, whatever it can be.
Should you read? Of course. You’re a writer. Should you do more than read? Well, duh. Books aren’t just about writing. They’re about stories. Stories are about life.
Live life, lest you have no stories to tell of your own.
Set A Not Totally Insane Metric For Success
Writers are notorious for creating unhealthy watermarks for success.
“If I don’t have a novel published by the time I’m 31, I’m going to swallow a grenade.”
“If my first book is not a bestseller after the first ten minutes, I will hate myself so hard my bowels rupture.”
“If the writing I do today is not the best writing anybody has done ever, then I’m just going to quit this writing thing and go drown myself in a sewer treatment tank, hopefully choking to death on used condoms.”
Writers are afforded advantages few others manage: we are gifted with the power of the do-over and the take-back. If I’m a pilot and I fuck up, I may have just killed everybody on board by crashing into the Washington Monument. If I fuck up my day’s writing, I get to go back and fix it. And fix it some more. And fix it again and again until I’m happy or someone gives me money for it.
Set simple targets for success. Just finishing something is a thing that a lot of writers can barely manage.
CTFO: Chill The Fuck Out
Like I said, we’re all a little crazy, yeah? We can be intense, depressive, fiery, passionate, shameful, horrible, mean, obsequious, and like, a triple dozen other adjectives. It’s good to be that way sometimes, but writers, we tend to burn hot and fast like a road flare: everything is now or never, glorious or awful, everything or nothing. To that, I say:
Chill out. Calm down. Relax.
Do some Yoga. Take a swim. Pop your cookies alone or with a friend. Get a head massage. Drink some Ayahuasca and go fight the Jaguar King to learn your spirit name. Wait, maybe don’t do that last one.
I’m just saying, do you feel your heart palpitating? Do you feel suddenly overcome by uninvited worry and embarrassment? Shhh. Shhhh. Realize that this doesn’t matter. None of this matters. You’re not saving the world. You’re just telling stories. That’s supposed to be awesome, not awful. Stop shitting your pants. Stop creating false dichotomies and crazy expectations.
Chill the fuck out.
Then, when you’re easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, get back in the game and do some writing, will you?
How Do You Cope With Life As A Writer?
You got coping mechanisms for this crazy life? Share and share alike, word-apes.