Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law

Kill the pig!

Cut his throat!

Kill the pig!

Bash him in!

As writers, we grow easily seduced by tribalism. I get it. I know why this is.

It’s because writing offers no guarantees. It’s a creative pursuit and a financial shot in the dark. Success in this industry is wildly subjective and personal, and that means it’s unpredictable.

Ah, but we don’t like unpredictability, do we? We don’t like dark corridors and flickering light bulbs. We are not a fan of shadowy corners — while a shadowy corner might secretly contain a bag of money with a comical dollar sign stitched to the side, it could just as easily contain, I dunno, a cyborg-bear who needs human blood to fuel his mecha-parts. We want bright lights. Well-lit hallways. An easy path with a dotted line on the floor and a map in our hands.

So, we seek answers. Not possibilities or options in potentia, but rather, conclusive results. As if one’s writing career is the inevitable summation of a well-known equation (which it most certainly is not).

Then, sometimes we find success as writers. We discover our equation and are pleased with the sum we achieve and — well, let’s just say our hearts are in the right place. We figure, we want to help. We want to draw you a map! We want to fire up the tiki torches and light the way! And when we see you start to drift toward the darkness, listing like a ship in a rumbly-tumbly ocean, we’re like, “Hey! No! That way lurks the cyborg-bears! Come this way! Come toward the light, Carol-Anne!”

It’s a not unreasonable inclination. And not entirely unhealthy — certainly what works for some will work for others. Lighting the path is fine. Handing over the map is a good thing.

Where it starts to become problematic is when we assume that our equation must surely be yours as well. That the anecdote of our existence is tantamount to universal data. We become less concerned with offering help and more concerned with being right — soon we start to see others who do differently not as fellow travelers on this weird wild journey but barbarians at the gate  who want to storm in and take their big angry hammers and smash our One True Way to bits.

Thus we establish our tribes. And we invite those who agree with us into our echo chambers where we can all tickle each other’s pink parts and hurrah and high-five and sloppily bang each other until we’re all a bunch of ideologically in-bred meme-mutants who are slaves to the notions we once owned and controlled.

Any who don’t do as we do are viewed as somehow lesser. And if they claim success by way of their aberrant methodology, well, pfft, pbtt, fnuh, surely that must be an attack on how we do things. Right?

Let’s get shut of that.

Let’s hike down our Wonder Woman underoos (well, what undies do you wear?), pop a squat over false dichotomies and One True Wayism, and then spray our foul musk upon them.

Let’s burn down the camps. Let’s scatter the tribes. Let’s all intermingle sexually.

Wait, maybe not so much that last part.

Let’s look at the warring tribes –

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Do you favor print publishing or digital?

Kindle versus Nook?

Genre versus literary?

Sci-fi versus fantasy?

Word versus Scrivener (or the deeper more froth-inducing argument, Mac v. PC)?

Present tense versus past?

Don’t edit as you go versus edit every day’s work?

First person versus third person versus — gasp — second person?

Getting an agent versus going without?

Scotch versus Bourbon?

Coffee versus tea?

Self-pub versus indie-pub versus small press versus non-traditional versus traditional versus Kickstarter versus IndieGoGo versus Createspace versus Lulu versus me yelling my books at passing trucks?

When does it end?

If I do something my way and achieve success and you do something your way and achieve success, what’s the problem? Why do we need to shank each other in the kidneys? Are we competing?

It’s time to recognize that “success” has no metric. Success can be emotional, financial, spiritual, whatever. It can speak to your wallet. It can speak to your pride. We’re all trying to find success but what that means to each of us, individually as writers, represents a many-faced creature. Don’t jam your success up my ass and I won’t cram mine down your throat. Thus creating some kind of bizarre human centipede-esque creation where we recirculate success along with last night’s meal of Chunky chicken soup.

If I were to truly advise people to do as I do, I’d start them off at age 18, I’d get them to publish their first short story with a discerning editor who helps make the story a helluva lot better, then I’d tell them to, ohh, hang out a few years, get some bullshit jobs where they pretend you’re a writer but you’re no such thing, then lose faith a hundred times, then get a break in the pen-and-paper roleplaying game industry and, ohh, do that for ten years…

See? You’d go mad trying to follow the road I cut through the jungle. All those zig-zags and switchbacks and jaguar pits. And yet, no regrets. Because hey, fuck it. Here I am. Doing what I love.

For every person who does Thing A, you can find someone equally successful with Thing B, and C, and probably X, Y and Z. For every person who claims self-publishing is the one path, you can find plenty of evidence on the other side that says big publishers and small publishers can offer a writer measurable success, too. For every successful outliner there’s a successful panster. One bestselling author uses Word. Another uses Scrivener. A third uses Pages, or his iPad, or he urinates his manuscripts into the December snow. Every writer has his own crazy story, his own nutty way of finding success and satisfaction.

Do what thou wilt and find satisfaction within. If you’re not satisfied or don’t believe you’re achieving that what you want to achieve: change it up. That’s the nature of this thing: each subsequent story can earn its own fresh approach. You have multiple ways to attack and you’ve no reason to eschew the mighty power of diversification. You don’t need to be hemmed in by a single approach. You don’t need to separate yourself into camps — you just need to know your way of getting shit done. If it helps you get shit done? Keep it. If it prevents you from getting shit done? Ditch it. Re-examine, re-address, but don’t return to empty tribalism.

Do what thou wilt.

That’s empowering, isn’t it?

So go on, now.

Be empowered.

Put your foot squarely in the ass of your penmonkey destiny.

And tell the zealots and fundies and all the other assholes that you don’t need their approval, thanks. We can all put down the conch. And we can all stop trying to push Piggy around.

And that is the end of that tenuous Lord of the Fliesian metaphor.

Please to enjoy.

23 comments

  • Heretic!

    You shall never again set footage in the sacred halls of pomposity and rhetoric. Your name shall be scrubbed from the scroll of scribes with the strongest and most liquid of papers. And you won’t be getting an invite to the annual picnic of nitpickers.

    So there.

  • You know, normally my reaction to your various similes, metaphors, and verbal stylings is somewhere along the lines of laughter and/or general agreement. However, that Chunky soup passage nearly made me yerk. Well done, sir.

  • *cheers*

    My critique group got into this discussion two weeks ago, and I was firmly in the “I went indie, but it’s not right for everybody” camp. We have different skills and abilities and goals, so we’re going to have different paths. The sooner we recognize and respect that, to sooner we can expend all this energy on something more useful.

  • Seriously! Like Seriously! You keep writing the perfect posts at the perfect times! This morning I decided on a plan that is related to this and this just motivates me to go for it.

    Thanks again for an awesome post :)

  • The various Holy Wars annoy the hell out of me, because I firmly believe that the match to Keep It Simple, Stupid is Do What Works, Moron. Not as catchy, but just as important.

    Tribalism is one of those unfortunate things that we get from our primate ancestry that doesn’t mesh all that well with sapience, unfortunately. It’s a great way to drive conflict in a story, but in real life it blows monkey balls.

  • I am very well versed in the “kiss my ass- I’ll do whatever I want” attitude.

    Drives my family insane, but the chicks love it.

    I can smell pontification like a bear smells the twinkies in your cooler, and I always just take the input from wherever I get it, take what I want, and discard the rest like so many spent walnut shells on a boozy Christmas Eve.

    I even used an adverb yesterday. Damn the torpedoes and tired metaphors!

  • Great post, as always, and it applies to not just writing, but everything.

    Liberal vs Conservative
    Muslim vs Christian
    Vegan vs Carnivore
    Rent vs Own
    Cash vs Credit
    Straight vs Gay
    Rural vs Urban
    Trek vs Jedi Order
    Paper vs Plastic

    And on and on and on.

    What works for me might not work for you or anyone else, and that’s okay. For just about anything.

    We’re all in this human race together and there’s no reason we can’t help each other win. ;)

  • Also:

    Editor vs Beta Reader
    Writing For The Audience vs Writing For Yourself
    FATE vs D20

    I think it’s high time we spent more time being happy on our own paths and (gasp!) helping others on theirs, rather than ascending the soapbox so as to measure the size of our genitals.

    Awesome.

  • Right on Brother! *raises fist of solidarity*. I was discussing this with my Better Half last night. All this Tribalism as you put it, It’s all ridiculous posturing. Write what you want/need/MUST write, don’t let anyone put you down for it, and write the way that works for you. If you want to see other processes, I’ll gladly share mine, if you think it’ll help. But because I do it X way, or write X genre doesn’t make me any better than anyone who doesn’t, and vice versa. Just different.

    Vive la difference!

  • I’ve always welcomed kindred spirits, but I cannot be a lockstep follower and imitator; that’s simply beyond my ken. As a result, I’ve often been alone. Fortunately, I like my own company and can find happiness most any day (scotch helps).

    I’ve belonged to a church (long ago) and clubs (recently), but dominant personalities always take over and demand acquiescence. That’s a no-go for me; I slip away into the night.

    Writing seems to have the biggest tent of all, thanks goodness.

  • This post is probably the most inspiring I have read on here. I love all the other ones, but this one really hits the nail on the head. I, too, am tired of everyone saying there is only one way to write when there are literally millions of different books out there. There have to be other approaches, right?

    Thank you, for this.

  • ” And we invite those who agree with us into our echo chambers where we can all tickle each other’s pink parts and hurrah and high-five and sloppily bang each other until we’re all a bunch of ideologically in-bred meme-mutants who are slaves to the notions we once owned and controlled.”

    Whoa. Yep. I’m a blue soul living in a red state… and I see this everywhere.

    What?? You mean that there are decent writers who actually use that bloated, crash-prone, clusterfuck of a wordprocessor: Word? Yikes. Kinda like my neighbors who voted for Rick Perry.

    Oh, wait. Sorry about that. There I go again.

    Yes yes yes, thank you for the post. FWIW, I’m open to any and all suggestions re: this writing life. AND… I’m just starting your third writing book, 500 ways. It’s all seeping in, and I’m happy. :)

  • Love your clear-headed approach, Chuck. I’m so confused by those people who pick camps and dig in and lob their balls at the other guy’s head and refuse to see that one-size-fits-all writer careers are a myth. It’s like those fights that used to break out about stay-at-home moms vs. work-outside-the-home moms (well, those fights still do break out, incredibly). I mean, isn’t it better if people have choices? Choices that can make them happy? Why would anyone want everyone to try to fit into one mold when we’re clearly not built that way?
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • I have done some further procrastin…..errrrr….. pondering of this issue, and I would speculate that a lot of the debates that are bemoaned here are spawned by the horrible demon of second-guessing.

    Book isn’t selling, agents don’t reply, pissing in the wind….

    and so we second-guess. Maybe it was because I flew by the seat of my pants instead of plotting. Maybe its because I went self-pub instead of traditional. Maybe my agent was out golfing and porking his secretary instead of shopping my manuscript.

    Maybe I should splurge for some top-shelf vodka instead of that rubbing-alcohol solvent known as McCormick’s.

    So we ask for help. Advice. From somewhere. ANYwhere. EVERYWHERE. We get the conflicting reports of what worked, as well as the conflicting horror stories of when Aunt Edna failed whilst taking the avenue you just tried. (never mind all the acid she dropped during the heyday of Hair Bands and Sally Jessy.)

    And lo, our debate emerges, and passions arise as we remember our emotional shitstorm of failure and weeping, or our passion to save others from said terrible fates.

    I think it comes down to taking in all the info you can, considering it all, then trusting your intuition about what to do with it, and what direction to take.

    Also, while its good to get tips like avoiding redundant adverbs and narrative colloquialisms, we also need to remember to trust our stuff.

    TRUST YOUR WORK, AND TRUST YOUR GUT. Plot your own course as best you can and have the stones to pull the trigger and take your shot.

    Also, nothing wrong with a little trial and error, for goodness sakes. We can’t all get million dollar paydays our first time out. I’d rather it be hard, anyway. Otherwise it would be a much less compelling challenge, and that’s no fun at all.

  • You forgot “cat vs. dog.” Oh, yeah. It’s supposedly a given that writers are cat people. Meh. (D.O.G! D.O.G! D.O.G!)

    Anyway, thanks for another awesome post.

  • It used to be called, “Mind your own business!”

    This theme seems to be running through the heart of many bloggers lately. Maybe we’ve come of age, finally getting it through our noggins that it’s okay to just be who you are and go the path that is best for you. Thankfully there are many paths to choose and they all have merit.

  • Hey, most certainly. This one I’m right there with you. But I’d also like to go meet that cyborg-bear who needs human blood to fuel his mecha-parts.

    If/when I reach financial success, because writerly success I’ve got – I get to do it every day – then I want to do it on my own terms. Writing the convoluted weird stuff I write.

    If you want to be a writer then my ass-backward route will look like the most foolish way in the world but it worked for me – I’ve got so much raw material to work with.

    “What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
    Tropics , Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
    So the Bellman would cry : and the crew would reply
    “They are merely conventional signs!

    “Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
    But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank”
    (So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best–
    A perfect and absolute blank!”

    The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carrol

  • Poor Piggy. I still feel a twinge.

    Me, all I want to do is sit in a room and write books and have somebody shove food under the door. I am impressed by people who can make a go of it on their own, but I have all the entrepreneurial spirit of a small wounded slug and traditional publishing, in small or large press, is a far better fit for me.

    We’ve made such a cult in our society of the Successful Businessman Going It Alone, however, that I sometimes feel like admitting that I really really don’t want to deal with that, I don’t really care about keeping intense artistic control every step of the way, I want to finish the manuscript, get the story whaled out, and then have it be Someone Else’s Problem, is kinda like admitting you have severe agoraphobia–how pitiable and weird and probably indicative of a lack of moral fiber!

    (I also once went to lunch with an agoraphobic dominatrix who ended up having to sit under the table until the food arrived. But that’s another kettle of fish…)

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