What Separates Man From Penmonkey

I’ve kicked your ass so many times, it’s a wonder you can poop with all those shoes of mine crammed up into your colonic cubby-hole. If anything, you’re probably shitting shoelaces by now. I feel like I come back here and I say the same thing over and over. It’s the same hard-ass, hard-nose advice. Endlessly reiterative. I froth. I spit. I kick sand. I make the face that my son makes when he’s trying to figure out how to belch or fill his diaper. I have an aneurism. I collapse in a puddle of my own blood and saliva. I lay there and wait until someone picks me back up and I forget I ranted and raved and then here I am, doing it all again.

Froth, spit, sand, diaper, aneurism, rant, rave, again, again, again.

You must be tired of me by now. Lord knows I’m tired of me.

And yet, I persevere. As I must. For you. For you.

HA HA HA HA! Who am I kidding? I love to froth! I’m happy to lose the occasional shoe to your grasping sphincter. I am addicted to punching you in the face meat with my dubious truth-making nonsense.

Even still, consider this my last official ass-kicking for a while, at least as an ass-kicking that comprises these core conceits. Let this be my final gospel to you, faithful readers. Let this be an exploration of the line that separates the common man — the guy who “has a book in him” but never manages to puke it up — from the hard-working, trench-crawling penmonkey.

We are separated by a line of shattered excuses and incomplete narrative.

On this side, action.

On that side, passivity.

Time to pound the lectern.

Penmonkeys Don’t Have Time, They Make Time

I have 24 hours in my day.

You have 24 hours in your day.

That guy? Twenty-four hours. That lady? She has 25 hours, but she sucked the Devil’s hell-wang and cut herself a deal. You don’t want that deal. It involves Justin Bieber.

Life fills idle time. It’s like water moving to empty spaces. It’s why the phrase “free time” is a fucking joke. Adults don’t have free time. Because when you’re an adult, shit gets real. It’s all mortgages and diapers and spreadsheets and shopping lists and cake recipes and suburban methamphetamine dealers just so you can have the energy to vacuum one more room, just one, just one.

Nobody “has” time. We don’t bank it like cell phone minutes. You can’t buy a gift card from Target. Writers are ever under the assumption that the rest of their lives comes first. Which it will, if you let it. And that’s true of anything. If you wait for the time to magically free itself, then you’ll be 80 and will have forgotten what you wanted to do anyway. Time must be managed. Time must be carved off, separated, crafted and shaped. You don’t have time. You make it. You pull a little bit from here and a little bit from there and you lump them together until you have a glorious hour of writing time.

You don’t wait for it to happen. Because if you do, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Because here’s the other secret? Time? It flows like a river, friend. Unless you dam it up, it moves on into the ocean.

And there you are raped and eaten by sharks.

True story.

Penmonkeys Have Heads Like Concrete Drain Boxes

Writing is a career that is endlessly reiterative. Talent matters, but it matters only in equal proportion to how much patience and perseverance you possess. You gotta be stubborn as a brain-damaged mule. Said for the many-th time: writing is about putting a bucket on your head and trying to knock down a brick wall. It’s either you or the wall. You’re either stubborn and pissed off enough to break on through, or eventually, the wall puts you on your ass. Up to you to conjure the fortitude.

The successful writers, the ones who work day in and day out, are usually ones who can tell you about beating down the brick wall. And the long road to get to that brick wall. It won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen over the course of a single year. Took me over 12 years to get where I am, and I’m not even anywhere all that special, yet. A penmonkey career is a long con, not a short swindle.

You’re either in for the long haul or you’ll be hauled out before long.

Penmonkeys Are Not Stopped By Your Earthly “Writer’s Block”

“Writer’s Block.”

“The Muse.”

Two sides of the same coin. A coin made of lies. And sadness. And babies.

Yes, yes, writers get blocked. And writers can be inspired. The first: a sad state. The second: a glorious boon. But neither have power beyond what you give them. You don’t need inspiration to work. Same as you don’t need to give in to whatever’s blocking you. Neither are made of anything real. They’re just imaginary. Hallucinatory. Best of all: transitory.

What, you’re sad? Of course you’re sad. You’re a writer. Bad day at the day job? Painful bunion? Kid won’t stop crying? Besieged by ninjas? Mind a gray gruel-like mush?

You have to move past it. You have to shut that out. Even just writing down a string of pages-long nonsense may help jar loose the scree and debris. If you can’t get shut of it, can’t tune out the nega-frequency, then I’m truly sorry. But know that the working penmonkeys out there hammering away in the word mines don’t want to hear about your writer’s block. They’ve got shit to do. And if you’re a tough cookie, you’ll join ’em.

Your mental state cannot stop you. If it does, know that it has a better name than “writer’s block.”

You might want to call it “self-sabotage.”

Penmonkeys, Like Honey Badgers, Don’t Give A Shit

Three words. Practice them with me now: “I don’t care.”

Or, even better: “It’s all good.”

Bad review? Hard rejection? Someone tells you your “dream” of being a writer is bullshit? Mean person on the Internet? Self-doubt? Plague of uncertainty nibbling at your brain-stem like a passel of vampire hamsters? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Is your idea original? Will your book get published? What will the cover look like? Will anybody read it? Are you just a fraud? When will they discover you? When will they see that you’re just wearing the costume of a writer?

Fuck it! Fuck all of it. Fuck it all right in the galactic dickhole.

No, I don’t know what a galactic dickhole is. I’ve been drinking. Just, shhh. Shhhh.

Find clarity in what you do. Remove noise and zero in on pure signal. All that matters is what you do. Put differently: don’t care so much. I know that runs counter to what you think, which is to care deeply, care strongly, care without reservation or reason. Note that I’m not saying to lose your passion, but eventually you need to throw up your hands (er, not puke them up because, ew — why did you eat your hands?) and say, “Fuck it.” You should care only about the thing that you’re doing, which is writing the perfect novel, script, manifesto, whatever. Any outside noise? Shut it out. At least until you finish.

Penmonkeys Do Not Find Better Things To Do

You always have the option to do something other than write. Clean your office. Run some errands. Walk the dog. See a movie. Hang out on Twitter. Digest porn. Sacrifice albino mammals to dark gods.

Life presents you with an endless menu of options. Writing is merely one choice amongst an infinity.

And penmonkeys make that choice every time.

Penmonkeys Know Their Craft

Being a writer actually features two primary tiers of craft (with lots of niggling little sub-tiers and micro-strata): writing, and storytelling. Storytelling is the larger scope, the idea of conveying a narrative and making it count. Writing is the smaller, more technical craft: you must find a way to convey the story you hope to tell. You need both of these skills.

My father was a great storyteller. And yet, I have a strong feeling he wasn’t a capable writer. Now, to be clear, he didn’t need to be: he was an engineer, a plant facilities manager, a gunsmith, at no point did he need to sit down and be a writer. Meaning, he didn’t want to be a penmonkey.

You do. So learn how to write. And learn how to tell stories.

And keep learning, too. You don’t stop just because you’ve written one thing. This isn’t a simple discipline. It doesn’t have easy margins. Penmonkeys always have more they can learn.

But Also, Penmonkeys Have Permission To Suck

You are not born a writer. Penmonkeys are made. Challenged by and forged within the fires of their own self-doubt, and pickled in a brine of gin, vinegar, salt, bourbon, and straight-up word sauce.

(For the record, word sauce is actually just steak sauce. Don’t tell anybody.)

Sometimes, what you do isn’t going to be great. Don’t get mopey. Don’t succumb to the Penmonkey Blues. You need to leave yourself that margin-of-error, that force field of occasional suckitude. Not everything you do is going to have that new car, new baby smell. Some of what you do is going to smell like the ruptured bile-sac of a sick possum. Penmonkeys don’t let this get them down. They move on. They fix what they fucked up or they write something new, something better, something that takes the lessons learned and puts them fast into play. Learn this phrase: “That’s okay, I can fix it in post.”

Penmonkeys Write Till It’s Right

You don’t write till it’s “Ehh, shrug, pbbt, poop noise,” you write till it’s right. Too many authors go off half-cocked. They jump in and jump out too fast — “Here’s my completed work!” — and then they submit a “final product” that has the shape and definition of a quivering blob of Ambrosia Salad.

With raisins in it.

With raisins.

Once, while in a bathroom in college, I saw that someone had written on the wall in black marker:


Not bad advice in general, and for penmonkeys, this is good as metaphor. You gotta work the clit till the cookies pop. Work the story until it’s right. Not until it’s done. It’s easy to finish something. It’s hard to finish something and do it well. You need to bring that story to climax. Until it explodes its juices all over your chin, over your cordoruys, over that weird apparatus you’re wearing. Work the clit. Write till it’s right.

Penmonkeys Love To Write, Not To Get Published

This is easy enough: the writer’s goal should be to get published, but the writer’s love should be of writing. Too many writers are in love with the idea of writing-to-be-published and too few are in love with the act of writing. But tried-and-true penmonkeys love the craft, the act, the actual telling-of-stories.

They care about publishing. But they love to be writing.

Penmonkeys Do Work — And Don’t Quit

Penmonkeys work. Penmonkeys don’t fuck around.

Write every day. And finish what you started. And with each day of writing, learn something new about who you are and what you do. Penmonkeys don’t merely talk about writing (though, plainly, they do that quite a lot — I can’t tell you how many times I see writers pooh-pooh on writing advice and then lo and behold they leap to their own blogs to do what now? Offer writing advice). They actually also do the writing.

They aren’t hamstrung by fear. They don’t find better things to do. They don’t watch day in and day out as time fritters away. They don’t let others dissuade them from this path.

They write. Endlessly anon.

They don’t write because they “have to” — that’s an endearing writer’s myth, but a myth just the same. Penmonkeys write because they want to. They write because if they don’t, drum roll please, then nothing gets written. Writing is a difficult act of mountain climbing or cave spelunking: it’s work, hombre. But climb to the top or crawl down into the deepest dark and you’d be amazed at what you find there: rolling clouds, glowing bacteria, the cleanest air, the cleanest water, the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, cave crickets with human faces, gods and monsters and goblins and unicorns and Lady Gaga.

On the worst day of writing, the work is instructive. On the best day, the act is transcendent.

The work is purifying and perfect even when it’s not.

This is a beautiful, if you let it be beautiful.

Above all else: writers write.

* * *

If you dig on the apeshit crazy-face no-holds-barred profanity-soaked writing advice found here at terribleminds, then you may want to take a wee bitty gander-peek at: CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY, which is available now! Buy for Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), Nook, or PDF. Don’t forget to work the clit.

33 responses to “What Separates Man From Penmonkey”

  1. It should also be mentioned that Bejeweled Blitz and other seemingly short games online are the Penmonkey’s kryptonite. They look like an innocent means of shifting your focus when your brain threatens to shut down if you type one more word, but they’re actually time-bending black holes.

  2. Oh man, this post has such awesome points, but all I can think about is the college guy who figured out about the clit and felt the need to help his fellow man (and, transitively, woman) out by letting them know, too. That’s community, right there.

  3. Google Reader is my kryptonite. Had that great idea for my nov– what’s THIS?? A failgif of some dude smashing his nuts on a railing? Obama still not legalizing drugs? Chuck Wendig has a new blog entry??

    Well i suppose it will only take a minute to catch up. Oh look, I’ve wasted an hour reading stuff while I had a window to write. (Not saying that reading your blog is a waste of time… er.. ahem… We’re cool right?)

    One of the mistakes I made when I decided to write my first novel was that I wrote it intending to publish. It is amazing all the ways that kind of thinking fucks with your writing. I was adding things that probably shouldn’t be in, cutting and adding word count, not even giving a shit about the story in some cases because I was thinking about the endgame of publishing. I think that ultimately it made the entire process way harder than it should have been. Only when I let go and made the story something I was happy with, was the process satisfying again.

    Now I pretty much just write, and rewrite, and rewrite until I am happy or too tired, then I move on. Writing with intent to publish is, I think the wrong reason for any amateur writer to write. Sometimes people in publishing positions just don’t want your work, no matter how much you like it. Too bad. Move on.

    And I do happen to know what a galactic dickhole is. I’d rather not speak of it.

  4. What? This is your last official ass-kicking? NoooOOOOO!

    Oh wait. I see what you did there. Trying to trick us, lull us into a state of complacency so we’re not anticipating the next frothy sandy load of bloody rantish shoelaces. HA! Nice try, you penmonkey bastard, you.

    This post reminded me that I love, and hate, this quote:

    “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

    Or as my mom would say, “If you want to do it, then do it. If not, don’t.”

    My mom is kind of a bad-ass. In a nice way.

    I think we are never so creative as when our energy has been sapped and we’re running out of time, desperate to carve out a few minutes to write. That urgency, that intensity fuels creativity. When we are rested and comfortable and well-fed and have all the time in the world, that’s exactly how long it will take.

    So I’m constantly looking for ways to create desperation and hunger and urgency in my creative life. Well, so long as I don’t end up living with rats in a cardboard box under a bridge. Rats will fucking eat your manuscript as soon as look at you. It’s a delicate balance.

  5. I swear Chuck if I had the money I would pay you to froth at my email inbox daily to help keep me writing. So when does the penmonkey booze holding tail grow in?

  6. If I buy you gin, will you froth more? The world needs more of your froth. Especially the one your fellow would-be writers dwell in.

  7. ….God, I really want to write now.

    It’s been five years since I had decided to write professionally. Haven”t really accomplished much and I’m still at the mercy of self-sabotage, but at least I’ve gotten to the “I don’t care” stage.

    Like I really don’t care if I get rejected a million times, or I’m not great now. I’m doing this till I make it or die. I don’t think anyone can say anything to me at this point that will stop me and make me switch careers. Too late. Before publishing was a big deal, now for me, being published means I get money for writing so I get to have more time writing.

    The first part of the post was the best, for me. I still sit and let the hours go by. Must. Change.

    Thanks for the inspiring post! Sad that it’s the last of the frothing, but it was a good one.

  8. Now I have a domestic horse that someone abandoned trying to come into my life. I give it water. It finds its own grass. The bastards thought it would integrate with the wild horses, but that rarely happens.

    Onward. I’ll find time for writing. “A stick in the back,” a good engineer once told me, “always imagine you have a stick poking you in the back.”

    Thanks for the ass-kicking, but don’t be a stranger. Sometimes I need a new round of bruises.

  9. It’s not that this will be the last of my froth. Far from it. My FROTH GLANDS are in overproduction, I assure you.

    It’s more that, I’ve harped on these points plenty — no need to keep beating the same drum too many times over. 🙂

    — c.

  10. This is the kick in the arse I have been needing for years. Especially the stuff about making time when we supposedly “don’t have” time. During the semester, when I have classes and work and so on, I think “Oh, I want to write but I don’t have time, too many assignments to do,” yet when I get holidays, I might have a day or two where I crank out a few thousand words, but mostly I’ll be like “Meh, I still have a few weeks off, I can relax a bit…” and then go and play on Twitter or whatever.

    Sure, I’ve kind of known subconsciously all along that these, but somehow actually reading it has made me sit up and go, “Right, I need to stop dicking around on the internet and go and write my goddamn book.” The 25,000 words I have will be useless if I don’t pull my thumb out and write the other 55,000ish words I need to finish the damn thing.

    Thank you, good sir.

  11. I think the best piece of advice with regards to writing that I’ve come across, ever, is that “Above all else: writers write.” That alone makes me sit down and bash my head on my keyboard repeatedly until a story finds its way onto my screen.

  12. “…but eventually you need to throw up your hands (er, not puke them up because, ew — why did you eat your hands?)…”

    GET OUT OF MY HEAD! And my co-workers heard me snortle just now. I’ve been slacking off on doing any writing, taking a break to focus on family time and the actual bill-paying job, and it feels kind of empty. Your posts motivate me. What am I going to do without them? Motivate *myself*?! That’s just…it’s crazy talk.

  13. You seriously need to do some merchandising. I want a Pen Monkey mouse pad, canvas tote bag, a T-shirt and a coffee mug–and EXTRA LARGE PEN MONKEY SIZE COFFEE MUG.

    Oh, and some action figures, too. That is all.

  14. What I enjoy, Chuck, is not that you harp on the same points. It’s that you find new and creative expletives to bring those points across.

  15. I excel at the “Fuck it all right in the galactic dickhole” attitude.

    It serves me well, as does your blog.

    Now I have to go churn out some words. Words, words, they are real ambrosia. No raisins.


  16. I found some comments on my ebook that hurt like a stingray barb through the foreskin. I’ve tried to have the ‘fuggit’ attitude, but I dang that stung. I had to take it as a hint that the Intro was attractive as West Texas roadkill (listen to your editors, kids). I killed the intro and just left the essays and stories. Intro’s belong in Penguin Classics written by some sterile Oxford fop, not in my baby.

    Tomorrow, I’ll have a ‘Fuck it all right in the galactic dickhole’ and get back to the holy chore.

  17. Wow! Bravo! Not an ass kicking at all. My ass feels totally unkicked. What that was, was a bracing splash in the face with some cold liquid – hard to identify but probably from a well-used spittoon. But bracing! Something to get me moving this morning! And because its so sticky (and smells funky) it’ll stick with me all day!

  18. Thanks for the pep talk dipped in steak sauce and profanity. I needed it today (gruel-like mush has been seeping in at alarming rates).

  19. Harrummmpph!
    “Hey, I didn’t get a harrummphh outta that guy!”
    (with apologies to those who don’t worship at the altar of “Blazing Saddles”….)

  20. O.M.F’ing.G.

    These are the words that I needed to hear (and see) to kick my ass. NO MORE EXCUSES. This is one post I will refer to time and time again.

  21. Wow – I was a chuck wendig/terribleminds virgin until I saw the link to your blog on Kristin Lamb’s blog. *chuckle* Needless to say, I’ll be back for more 😉

  22. […] to promise in retrospect). To make up for it, see this link to the magnificent Chuck Wendig’s What Separates Man From Penmonkey, an excellent breakdown of the habits and traits that a writer needs to have to succeed in this […]

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