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:

WORK THE CLIT.

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.