In Which I Answer Your Emails Right Here, Right Now

I get a lot of e-mails these days.

No, not just the ELITE BONER PILLS or SWEET TIJUANA DONKEY PORN or DEPOSED ETHIOPIAN SPACE MARINE kind, but actual emails from actual readers of this site.

I like to hear from you folks. I really do. It’s nice to know you’re not only reading, but you’re absorbing and interacting and are brave enough to hit that contact button.

That said, some of those e-mails fall into a couple categories, and I see a lot of the same questions again and again. So, I thought I’d address four of those questions right here, right now. This then fulfills my “lazy” qualification and will let me just throw a link to this post in an email and say, “Ta-da!” And then I go about my day huffing glue and writing the stories that result from it.

Here, then, are the answers to commonly-asked questions.

I apologize in advance for being a dick in… well, pretty much this whole post.

Let us begin.

Q: “How Do I Be A Writer?”

This is by far one of the most common e-mails I get. It’s often a sort of vaguely-worded, tender-footed, well, how do I do it? The day-to-day, the word count, the storytelling, all of it. This weird gauzy miasma of possibility, this cloud of uncertainty, this unpindownable task with no margins and zero permutations. Sometimes it’s about creating a routine, other times it’s about commitment, occasionally it involves executing on an idea, sometimes it’s just a request to understand how the fuck I and other writers do it.

Let me answer this way, and I apologize if this answer comes across as particularly acidic or feels like a boot to your trachea, but it tends to be how I roll here at Jolly Olde Terriblemynds.

You’re looking for some kind of secret. You think that writers possess some kind of insider knowledge that you do not yet possess — a golden idol that, if stolen from the forbidden temple and inserted rectally, will infuse your body with the wisdom of the gods. You think, perhaps, that we’re holding back.

We’re not.

Here is the not-so-secret secret, a secret so not secret that I’ve said it countless times and, in fact, have written it on a hammer in masking tape and then proceeded to bludgeon you with said hammer:

You write by writing.

I’m sorry to say, but Nike’s marketing team pretty much nailed the shit out of this:

JUST DO IT. (swoosh.)

That’s your secret, right there. Usually the advice is, “Get off your ass and do it,” but here the advice is, “Get onto your ass by plopping it in front of a computer or notebook and just goddamn fucking holy shit do it.”

You could, instead, rephrase the question by imagining different scenarios of difficulty:

“My doorway is blocked by a chair. How do I get out of the room?”

Answer: move the chair.

“My hand appears to be immersed in some kind of… bucket of fire ants. How do I stop them from biting?”

Answer: remove your hand from the bucket.

“I’m hungry. What do I do?”

Answer: put food inside your body, preferably by way of your mouth.

People want to learn to write the way they want to learn to lose weight — as if there’s some secret, some trick, that goes beyond “put less food in body and move ass more frequently.”

If you’re looking for discipline, I can’t give that to you. Only you can give that to you. Yes, I can make a suggestion on how to create and maintain a routine — I’ve heard tell that if you do something 16 times in a row you create a routine out of it, which is probably a load of cock-syrup. Ah, but truth lurks there just the same in that, if you do something enough times it becomes rote. But even still the advice there remains fundamentally the same: do it. Just do it! Want to be a writer? Write. Yes, it’s work, but that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s what separates the real writers from those wearing the masks of writers: real writers know that to write they need to — gasp — actually perform the task.

So, there’s your non-advice advice.

Do work.

Put words on paper.

Wanna be a writer, just write.

Q: “Will You Read My Thing?”

I will not read your thing.

I appreciate you asking. I do. I’ve been you. Really. Way back when, when I was a dumb-faced college student and e-mail suddenly existed where no such form of communication existed before, I would write writers — like, say, poor Christopher Moore, who was as nice about it as could be — and ask them to read something I wrote. Desperate for validation. Hungry for that kind of communication. Eager for an “in.”

It was nonsense, of course. But sometimes you just don’t know better.

So, let me say upfront: I am genuinely honored you have chosen me to read your work. I assume that means you think I’m a man of some talent and wisdom (I’m not), or that I have some kind of magic power and big-name-pull (from your lips to the Writer God’s ears, but sadly also not true). But just the same, I’m not going to read your story, novel, script, nascent blog post, or cult manifesto.

Here’s why.

First, I don’t have time. Nothing personal, but I’m already juggling flaming chainsaws in terms of writing projects and family life. Time I take to read your work is time I can’t spend masturbating doing other things.

Second, while likely not a problem, I don’t feel like running afoul of IP infringement. If I’ve got a novel about Hell-Clowns I’m writing and here you send me a short story about Hell-Clowns and I read it and then my book gets published and I get some kind of big movie deal (Hell Clowns II: Greasepaint Rodeo), then the last thing I need is you feeling like I ripped you off and made big bank with your IP.

Third, you should get hooked up with a writer’s community and make friends with other writer-folk. Those people will help you far more than I can, and that sense of community is valuable. I’ll probably just yell at you and crush your dreams. Speaking of dream-crushing, here it comes…

Fourth, if you need that kind of validation from me, you’re not yet ready for primetime. I wasn’t, at that point in my life, and you probably aren’t either. This isn’t a universal truth, and you may be close, but you need to find the kind of comfort in your heart that tells you when your work has merit, has potential. Don’t look to me to give that to you. Or other professional writers. We don’t know shit about shit. I’m just making this stuff up, same as you. Find your center. Write from a place of confidence. I remember that transition — the time when I went from “I don’t know if this is any good” to “I actually think this has a real shot.” It’s an important shift to look for in your work and self-esteem.

Q: “Will You Take No Money To Be A Part Of This Project?”

Again, I appreciate you asking. You obviously want me to be a part of your anthology or blog or whatever, and that’s nice. Really. I’m happy you want me and my work. It’s nice to be wanted, even if it’s based on the dubious suppositions that I a) have talent or b) have some kind of name-cred.

That being said, I’m going to have to say “no.”

I mean, unless there’s money on the table.

I get it. That’s a crass commercial sentiment. It’s not a sentiment everyone shares. But here’s the thing: I only have so many hours in my day and I also have bills to pay. Hours spent writing That Unpaid Thing are hours I really need to spend writing that other Totally Paid Thing so people from the government don’t try to take my house, my son, and my dog. (I don’t know why they’d want my dog, but she is awfully cute.)

I’m pretty much a big ol’ greasy-fingered word-whore. Unless there’s money on the nightstand when we’re done “sharing words,” then I don’t know if we have a deal.

Q: “Can I Repurpose Your Blog Post?”

A lot of people do this without asking, and I understand that my blog appears free for use given that it lives in the Digital Wild West that is the Internet, but sometimes someone actually asks. Which is nice.

But no. No you can’t. Or, at least, I’d prefer you didn’t. I’m unlikely to throw together a crack-shot legal team or anything, but I would really rather you not copy-paste my entire blog post into your own blog. To be fair, most times that people do this, they do still credit me and occasionally even link back here. And again, I appreciate that they dig the post. But it’s actually sort of silly to just copy/paste an entire post of mine when it already lives here. You’re just creating redundant content and bogging the Internet down with soggy diapers caught in the pipes. In fact, I blame you for why YouTube is always so slow. Stupid YouTube.

My preference then is that you take a part of my post and quote it there — say, no more than a third of the entire post, or the “highlight reel” — and then link back here so people can get the whole enchilada.

All This Is True, Unless

…unless I know you. If you and I have communicated in a meaningful way at some point, I will totally read your stuff, I will totally talk about your anthology, I will definitely blab about writing, I will absolutely give you a blog post. But to strangers, ehhh, not so much. Nothing personal. But you have my reasons.

So, there you have it.

Me dropping the dick-hammer.

Commence the throwing of overripe fruit at my cage.


  • I like to use the comparison model in these instances. People think that writers are somehow different to other professionals, that we’re somehow more available. So I use comparisons.

    How Do I Be A Writer?

    Well, that’s like asking How Do I Be A Footballer? You play football. You join a team, you play with other people as useless at it as you are and, as you get better, you go up the leagues.

    Will You Read My Thing?

    You’re a doctor? Will you check my prostate?

    Will You Take No Money To Be Part Of This Project?

    You’re a prostitute! Can I have a free blowjob?

    Can I Repurpose Your Blog Post?

    Can I take those accounting spreadsheets you’ve just worked on all week and give them to the boss and pretend they’re mine?

    It’s so much clearer when you move it one step away from writing.

  • No! No! How could you be so mean?! How could—

    Nah, just kidding. This is so common sense and I expected a post like this eventually.

    I’m just glad I was one of the first to email you before when you still had time to answer. *stupid fangirl grin* I was somewhere in the category of “How do I be a writer?” but more towards, “How do I be a freelancing writer?” in case anyone’s interested. No? Aw.

    I should print and frame that email. It’s gonna worth a billion dollars one of these days.

  • Speaking of naïve…I had no idea you were getting these kinds of delightful (where’s your freaking common sense) emails. I think your response it quite gracious.

    So, about the freelance thing…I’m with Amber on this. I’m trying to figure out how to get started down this road and it feels a bit daunting. Do you have any posts to point me to?

    Many thanks!
    Jenny @ More Cowbell (where we have routine Wendig Fangirl moments :-))

    • @Jenny:

      I don’t know if I have any good posts about breaking into freelance writing? I’ll noodle one. The only problem is, everybody kind of has their own way “in” — and it’s rarely a commonly repeatable path.

      Even still, worth considering. Thanks! And glad to be in the viewfinder of any fan moments. I am a fan of any who are a fan of my work. Or something.

      — c.

  • You realize, of course, that now your email is going to flood with people trying to wrangle their way in to the category of “non-stranger” so they can use the “if I know you” loophole.

    (Though I wouldn’t expect the “how do I write” questions to stop. Those seem to be universal, as is the asker’s belief that anything other than a detailed list of secret handshakes and code words is just the person they’re asking being stingy and not ponying up “real” answers.)

  • Dear Mr. Wendig,

    As a faithful follower of your blog for some time now, I, too, have a question – although, given the spirit of this morning’s post, I’m almost afraid to ask. But here goes.

    How do you masturbate? I know, it sort of falls into the “How do you write?” category, but you do mention masturbation A LOT. And my question isn’t so much “How do you masturbate?” in the “I don’t know how, please teach me” sense, as, like any red-blooded American male of my era, I conducted thorough testing back in the 70s involving Farah posters and fading memories of the Petticoat Junction girls in their water tower jacuzzi thing.

    No instead, the question is “How do YOU masturbate?” as I’m wondering if you might have some kind of Sting-esque tantric twist to it or something.

    Please to respond, unless you think it’s going to attract unwanted attention from the ASPCA or something.

    Thank you,
    A Faithful Reader

  • All excellent points, especially the last. If someone likes something in your blog enough to report it, they should at least do you the favor of some cross-pollination.

    • @Dana: I know, right? I mean, I get it — I’m happy that someone wants to get my work out there. Most times I see a cross-post it’s out of love, not a thing born of theft. Point is, the Internet is essentially made of Things Linked To Other Things. Work that connection, don’t destroy it.

      @Guy: “Aspiring” writer is, for me, the bellwether of a writer who doesn’t write or a writer who isn’t confident, yeah. Writers write, sold or unsold. Professional writer is a different moniker — it means your writing has earned out in some way.

      @Susan: My gentle bludgeoning is legendary. I mean, or not.

      — c.

  • Chuck, what you say is packed chock-a-block with writerly truthiness.

    More tips for noob writers:

    (1) Don’t plaster your blog, Twitter account, Facebook page and whatever with “Aspiring Writer” or “Unpublished Author” — go with “Wannabe” or “Total Loser” instead, to do a better job of screwing the pooch with any chance of getting published and paid.

    (2) Be sure to post links to the full text of every unpublished piece of shit novel, short story, unsold freelance piece or insane poetry you’ve ever written, as a memorial to history — so when you do make it big, English grad students can find these gold nuggets of literature and do their doctorates about them.

  • @Chuck – Yep. I cringe at every “Aspiring writer” or “Unpublished writer” and want to tell them DO NOT SCREW YOURSELF, but there are 492,932 people who do this, and telling them all would be a full-time, unpaid job — and like you, I prefer jobs that pay in suitcases packed with twenties.

  • Number one is my biggest problem- JUST FUCKING WRITING- I can’t for the life of me get on a schedule for writing, it’s pretty much like the rest of my life an unorganized clusterfuck of randomness. So I have to place myself in the wannabe category. Yes, it hurts to admit that, hurts like a pin through your penis, but until I get my shit together I will remain a wannabe.

    As to copy & pasting from your blog, why would people do that? My blog is for my original content. If I so much as a mention someone else’s post I link back to that post. I do have Terrible minds listed in my blogroll because I think the advice for you give to wannabe’s like me is priceless.


    • To be clear, @John, I don’t know if a schedule is necessary to be a writer. Helpful, but not essential. I mean, if what you’re really saying is you don’t write at all, then that’s a shame — but even 1000 words here and there is progress made.

      — c.

  • Dear Chuck,

    I am highly disappointed in you. Instead of politely declining my request to read HOW TO SET FIRE TO YOUR PANTS IN OUTER SPACE: 3 EASY STEPS TO SELF-PROPELLED ROCKETEERING, you have posted an ambigious, vulgar Q&A in hopes I will stop emailing you every third hour.

    Alas, you are mistaken. I am now clearly forced to email you every hour. Please, will you read my stuff?

    Ass-piring Writer

    PS: I loved FLUKE. Do you think if I write Moore he will read my stuff?

  • @Chuck I guess I mean, writing daily. I’ll go several days of writing & then I won’t write for a week, because this that & the other comes up. Having 3 children doesn’t give me a lot of free time, but I do have free time & I’ve wasted too much of it. In the past I let myself get too upset by not writing for week & it would turn into two weeks & so on & so forth. Lately I have been taking advantage of my free time better & if I don’t write for a couple days I don’t beat myself up over it. I realize now, like anything else the more you do it the better you get at it. I am also trying a new way of thinking- choose happy & remain positive- it seems to be working.
    Okay, enough free time wasted, I have to get some writing done!

  • Reminds me of guys (usually guys) who would get dropped into the engineering department because of some kind of “connections” with top company brass.

    The real engineers would shun them, so they’d go looking for a friendly QA/QC person to hold their hand. What they wanted was the Short Cut. They wanted the Cheat Sheet.

    I’d look them dead in the eyes and say, “There is no short cut. You need to learn how to read specs and blueprints, and brush up on your math. I’ll answer a few questions, but you need to learn how to do this stuff yourself.”

    Their faces would fall. They were kind of done learning, I think. They wanted to “pose” unquestioned.

    Thanks for a very honest post.

  • Thanks for making me laugh and cry. I guess I AM a “real writer” because I’m so addicted, I can’t do much else nowadays – even if it is godawful stuff – I keep writing.

  • BWAHAHAHAHA – you had me literally guffawing at my computer!! So funny & I totally needed a laugh (after cleaning up two different dogs’ piles of poop this morning- one in my bathroom & the other stomped into the carpet under his crate since he’d moved the tray out from under him…)

    This is my first visit to your blog via Twitter, but I’ll surely be back 🙂

  • After reading this post, I still think you’re cool. Even when dropping your dick(-hammer) on us.

    Actually, I wanted to give you a virtual hug right now for such a great post, but it might interrupt your masturbation time; that would be creepy.

    So no hug. Just a high-five. Actually, scratch that as well (see masturbation sentence above).

  • (I’d put this on Google+ and talked briefly about it on Twitter, but it’s probably best to put more lengthy responses with the actual post so someone can, you know, eventually find it.)

    Something I’ve figured out about the “how do I write / be a writer” question is actually that they’re afraid they’re doing it “wrong,” and they keep stopping and restarting, never getting more than a few pages (or less) before they’re overcome by self-doubt and they scrap it.

    When someone asks me something like this, I tell them this:

    “Here’s the secret to being a writer: We make it up. We make it ALL up. None of us are sure we’re doing it right, but we just sit down and KEEP making stuff up until we’ve hit our word count for the day. Whatever comes out of your brain at the moment you were writing that sentence, just run with it and see where it takes you. Worry about how good it is AFTER you’re done; that’s what revisions and new drafts are for.”

    Obviously, you don’t want to just write a big steaming pile of crap, but people asking this question are so new to the game that they wouldn’t know crap if you dropped a deuce on their heads. At the beginning, I think it’s much, much more important to get them past the whole self-doubt issue so they get used to putting words on paper. If they let themselves stop to question every sentence they’ll never get anywhere; worse, they’re suck whatever creativity and voice they might have right out of their writing because they haven’t been doing it long enough to know the good stuff from the bad stuff.

    This advice is most often in response to something related to game design, but I think it applies to just about anything. First-time freelance game designers sometimes get so caught up in making sure things are “right” (i.e. they get stuck in more abstract things like basic game mechanics, rules structure, etc.) that they forget that it’s much, MUCH more important to make sure things are done when the deadline rolls around. You might not get another freelance gig if you write something lackluster or uninspired, but you’ll DEFINITELY not get one if you don’t actually finish the damned thing.

    Other types of writing might not get caught up on the same specific things, but it seems to me that it’s the same root problem regardless of how it manifests.

  • Gee, Chuck, and I’ve been having so much trouble hammering out this cult manifesto. I just can’t write when my hands are busy abusing children. I was hoping you could come to the compound and maybe sit in a dark closet for a week with half a loaf of bread, a gallon of water, and a bucket to shit in. I’m sure you would understand me then.

    • @Gary —

      That’s probably a part of it, yeah. And I totally understand that sense of writing from a place of uncertainty. I’m sympathetic to it.

      Sometimes you just have to put the bucket over your head and run full-speed at the wall.

      — c.

  • I’ve been reading along for a while now, but this post–okay, more specifically, the straight-up, skip-the-BS advice to writer-be’s to just WRITE–made me do my own personal Wave. Which, while embarrassing at work and a little clumsy, felt pretty good regardless. I’ve always greeted the question “Where do you get your ideas from?” with a simple: “Everywhere.” Then I watch their little faces fall as, like you said, the sad truth that There Is No Magic seeps in.

    Good on ya, Chuck.

    • I have heard (from my wife, in part) some disagreement with the phrasing, “How do I be a writer?”

      It’s piss-poor phrasing, I know, but I stand by it. It’s not just a question of “how do I become a writer,” either, it’s really, “How do I exist as a writer?” Or, put differently, “How can I be you?”

      It’s also the exact phrasing I’ve rec’d in email more than once, so there’s that.

      — c.

  • There’s a few movies about writing that I enjoy, although it’s akin to watching someone else masturbate instead of doing it yourself. In “Throw Mama from the Train,” Billy Crystal plays a guy who teaches a creative writing class. At the end of each class, he would admonish the students with a smarmy grin: “Remember: A writer writes. Always.”
    I’d almost like that as a tattoo, but I can’t decide on a font.

    But one thing I have been guilty of is trying to get others that are further afield than I to read my stuff. So, to everyone I’ve solicited, sorry about that.

    And since others are interested in this besides me, Chuck, how about a 25 things list about Freelancing? Things you should do, or shouldn’t do, ya know?

  • A post or a 25 things about freelancing is a GREAT idea…I do a piddling bit of freelancing. But honestly I have no clue about how it really works.

    This post made me laugh. Personally, I get MY writing ideas by sacrificing a goat every month at the full moon and dancing naked around a fire covered in cat vomit tears. Then and ONLY THEN do the dark spirits of writing visit upon me with their mystical inspiration and six-figure-advance-worthy book ideas.

  • You have a dick-hammer? I had no idea such a specialised instrument existed. I’ve been making do with a steak tenderiser.

    Questions I’ve experienced include ‘How do I become a writer like you?’
    Answer – You don’t want to be a writer like me . You want to be like one of those writers who actually makes a living at it.

    Also – ‘I have an idea for a book. You can write it and we’ll split the money.’
    Answer – If I write it, I keep all the money. If you want all the money, you write it. If you want half the money, you write half of it. Whichever you choose, there isn’t likely to be very much money involved.

    And if one more person expects signed copies to be free I’m going to do things with that book that they wouldn’t believe anatomically possible. When they get to Casualty, doctors will write a paper on them.

    No wonder writers become recluses.

  • I totally don’t need any of that crap, but all the same, I’d love to officially be “That one stranger you know.”

    I was enticed here by a blog about Google+ I didn’t agree-with-entirely but still-thought-was-funny-as-fuck. I have been reading pretty much every (other) blog you’ve done since.

    You’re hilarious. I love your potty mouth. You must eat the most interesting foods/things ever, because the shit you spew is varied and colorful like a double skittles/m&m rainbow melted into one giant candy-glob in the microwave.

    Keep writing me free stuff. I’ll probably never read your book unless someone hands it to me because I am lazy and cheap, which is probably a good thing for you, because the alternative is that I might pirate it.

    May you day be filled with money showers from someone else.

  • Great post! I actually remember that moment when I went from, as you say, “I don’t know if this is any good” to “I think this might actually have a shot”.

  • I’d add one thing to the first – how to write. You have to understand that just doing it once is not enough. Write, then write another, and another, and keep on. And as you write have it read. Family and friends are easy so they don’t count. Find some other writers, people involved somehow in the process, and do their ironing for a month if you must to get them to read and comment. Then actually read and pay attention to their comments. They are not your enemies. They’re just honest (hopefully). Because for most of us the process of learning our craft (yes, telling a story is a craft) is learned through this process. So Just Do It… a lot.

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