25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing

I read this cool article last week — “30 Things To Stop Doing To Yourself” — and I thought, hey, heeeey, that’s interesting. Writers might could use their own version of that. So, I started to cobble one together. And, of course, as most of these writing-related posts become, it ended up that for the most part I’m sitting here in the blog yelling at myself first and foremost.

That is, then, how you should read this: me, yelling at me. If you take away something from it, though?

Then go forth and kick your writing year in the teeth.

Onto the list.

1. Stop Running Away

Right here is your story. Your manuscript. Your career. So why the fuck are you running in the other direction? Your writing will never chase you — you need to chase your writing. If it’s what you want, then pursue it. This isn’t just true of your overall writing career, either. It’s true of individual components. You want one thing but then constantly work to achieve its opposite. You say you want to write a novel but then go and write a bunch of short stories. You say you’re going to write This script but then try to write That script instead. Pick a thing and work toward that thing.

2. Stop Stopping

Momentum is everything. Cut the brake lines. Careen wildly and unsteadily toward your goal. I hate to bludgeon you about the head and neck with a hammer forged in the volcanic fires of Mount Obvious, but the only way you can finish something is by not stopping. That story isn’t going to unfuck itself.

3. Stop Writing In Someone Else’s Voice

You have a voice. It’s yours. Nobody else can claim it, and any attempts to mimic it will be fumbling and clumsy like two tweens trying to make out in a darkened broom closet. That’s on you, too — don’t try to write in somebody else’s voice. Yes, okay, maybe you do this in the beginning. But strive past it. Stretch your muscles. Find your voice. This is going to be a big theme at the start of 2012 — discover those elements that comprise your voice, that put the author in your authority. Write in a way that only you can write.

4. Stop Worrying

Worry is some useless shit. It does nothing. It has no basis in reality. It’s a vestigial emotion, useless as — as my father was wont to say — “tits on a boar hog.” We worry about things that are well beyond our control. We worry about publishing trends or future advances or whether or not Barnes & Noble is going to shove a hand grenade up its own ass and go kablooey. That’s not to say you can’t identify future trouble spots and try to work around them — but that’s not worrying. You recognize a roadblock and arrange a path around it — you don’t chew your fingernails bloody worrying about it. Shut up. Calm down. Worry, begone.

5. Stop Hurrying

The rise of self-publishing has seen a comparative surge forward in quantity. As if we’re all rushing forward to squat out as huge a litter of squalling word-babies as our fragile penmonkey uteruses (uteri?) can handle. Stories are like wine; they need time. So take the time. This isn’t a hot dog eating contest. You’re not being judged on how much you write but rather, how well you do it. Sure, there’s a balance — you have to be generative, have to be swimming forward lest you sink like a stone and find remora fish mating inside your rectum. But generation and creativity should not come at the cost of quality. Give your stories and your career the time and patience it needs. Put differently: don’t have a freak out, man.

6. Stop Waiting

I said “stop hurrying,” not “stand still and fall asleep.” Life rewards action, not inertia. What the fuck are you waiting for? To reap the rewards of the future, you must take action in the present. Do so now.

7. Stop Thinking It Should Be Easier

It’s not going to get any easier, and why should it? Anything truly worth doing requires hella hard work. If climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro meant packing a light lunch and hopping in a climate-controlled elevator, it wouldn’t really be that big a fucking deal, would it? You want to do This Writing Thing, then don’t just expect hard work — be happy that it’s a hard row to hoe and that you’re just the, er, hoer to hoe it? I dunno. Don’t look at me like that. AVERT YOUR GAZE, SCRUTINIZER. And get back to work.

8. Stop Deprioritizing Your Wordsmithy

You don’t get to be a proper storyteller by putting it so far down your list it’s nestled between “Complete the Iditarod (but with squirrels instead of dogs)” and “Two words: Merkin, Macrame.” You want to do this shit, it better be some Top Five Shiznit, son. You know you’re a writer because it’s not just what you do, but rather, it’s who you are. So why deprioritize that thing which forms part of your very identity?

9. Stop Treating Your Body Like A Dumpster

The mind is the writer’s best weapon. It is equal parts bullwhip, sniper rifle, and stiletto. If you treat your body like it’s the sticky concrete floor in a porno theater (that’s not a spilled milkshake) then all you’re doing is dulling your most powerful weapon. The body fuels the mind. It should be “crap out,” not “crap in.” Stop bloating your body with awfulness. Eat well. Exercise. Elsewise you’ll find your bullwhip’s tied in knots, your stiletto’s so dull it couldn’t cut through a glob of canned pumpkin, and someone left peanut-butter-and-jelly in the barrel of your sniper rifle.

10. Stop The Moping And The Whining

Complaining — like worry, like regret, like that little knob on the toaster that tells you it’ll make the toast darker — does nothing. (Doubly useless: complaining about complaining, which is what I’m doing here.) Blah blah blah, publishing, blah blah blah, Amazon, blah blah blah Hollywood. Stop boo-hooing. Don’t like something? Fix it or forgive it. And move on to the next thing.

11. Stop Blaming Everyone Else

You hear a lot of blame going around — something-something gatekeepers, something-something too many self-published authors, something-something agency model. You’re going to own your successes, and that means you’re also going to need to own your errors. This career is yours. Yes, sometimes external factors will step in your way, but it’s up to you how to react. Fuck blame. Roll around in responsibility like a dog rolling around in an elk miscarriage. Which, for the record, is something I’ve had a dog do, sooooo. Yeah. It was, uhhh, pretty nasty. Also: “Elk Miscarriage” is the name of my indie band.

12. Stop The Shame

Writers are often ashamed at who they are and what they do. Other people are out there fighting wars and fixing cars and destroying our country with poisonous loans — and here we are, sitting around in our footy-pajamas, writing about vampires and unicorns, about broken hearts and shattered jaws. A lot of the time we won’t get much respect, but you know what? Fuck that. Take the respect. Writers and storytellers help make this world go around. We’re just as much a part of the societal ecosystem as anybody else. Craft counts. Art matters. Stories are important. Freeze-frame high-five. Now have a beer and a shot of whisky and shove all your shame in a bag and burn it.

13. Stop Lamenting Your Mistakes

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you fucked up somewhere along the way. Who gives a donkey’s duodenum? Shit happens. Shit washes off. Don’t dwell. Don’t sing lamentations to your errors. Repeat after me: learn and move on. Very few mistakes will haunt you till your end of days unless you let it haunt you. That is, unless your error was so egregious it can never be forgotten (“I wore a Hitler outfit as I went to every major publishing house in New York City and took a poop in every editor’s desk drawer over the holiday. Also, I may have put it on Youtube and sent it to Galleycat. So… there’s that”).

14. Stop Playing It Safe

Let 2012 be the year of the risk. Nobody knows what’s going on in the publishing industry, but we can be damn sure that what’s going on with authors is that we’re finding new ways to be empowered in this New Media Future, Motherfuckers (hereby known as NMFMF). What that means is, it’s time to forget the old rules. Time to start questioning preconceived notions and established conventions. It’s time to start taking some risks both in your career and in your storytelling. Throw open the doors. Kick down the walls of your uncomfortable box. Carpet bomb the Comfort Zone so that none other may dwell there.

15. Stop Trying To Control Shit You Can’t Control

ALL THAT out there? All the industry shit and the reviews and the Amazonian business practices? The economy? The readers? You can’t control any of that. You can respond to it. You can try to get ahead of it. But you can’t control it. Control what you can, which is your writing and the management of your career.

16. Stop Doing One Thing

Diversification is the name of survival for all creatures: genetics relies on diversification. (Says the guy with no science background and little interest in Googling that idea to see if it holds any water at all.) Things are changing big in these next few years, from the rise of e-books to the collapse of traditional markets to the the galactic threat of Mecha-Gaiman. Diversity of form, format and genre will help ensure you stay alive in the coming entirely-made-up Pubpocalypse.

17. Stop Writing For “The Market”

To be clear, I don’t mean, “stop writing for specific markets.” That’s silly advice. If you want to write for the Ladies’ Home Journal, well, that’s writing for a specific market. What I mean is, stop writing for The Market, capital T-M. The Market is an unknowable entity based on sales trends and educated guess-work and some kind of publishing haruspicy (at Penguin, they sacrifice actual penguins — true story!). Writing a novel takes long enough that writing for the market is a doomed mission, a leap into a dark chasm with the hopes that someone will build a bridge there before you fall through empty space. Which leads me to —

18. Stop Chasing Trends

Set the trends. Don’t chase them like a dog chasing a Buick. Trends offer artists a series of diminishing returns — every iteration of a trend after the first is weaker than the last, as if each repetition is another ice cube plunked into a once strong glass of Scotch. You’re just watering it down, man. Don’t be a knock-off purse, a serial killer copycat, or just another fantasy echo of Tolkien. Do your own thing.

19. Stop Caring About What Other Writers Are Doing

They’re going to do what they’re going to do. You’re not them. You don’t want to be them and they don’t want to be you. Why do what everyone else is doing? Let me reiterate: do your own thing.

20. Stop Caring So Much About The Publishing Industry

Know the industry, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. The mortal man cannot change the weave and weft of cosmic forces; they are outside you. Examine the publishing industry too closely and it will ejaculate its demon ichor in your eye. And then you’ll have to go to the eye doctor and he’ll be all like, “You were staring too long at the publishing industry again, weren’t you?” And you’re like, “YES, fine,” and he’s like, “Well, I have drops for that, but they’ll cost you,” and you get out your checkbook and ask him how many zeroes you should fill in because you’re a writer and don’t have health care. *sob*

21. Stop Listening To What Won’t Sell

You’ll hear that. “I don’t think this can sell.” And shit, you know what? That might be right. Just the same — I’d bet that all the stories you remember, all the tales that came out of nowhere and kicked you in the junk drawer with their sheer possibility and potential, were stories that were once flagged with the “this won’t sell” moniker. You’ll always find someone to tell you what you can’t do. What you shouldn’t do. That’s your job as a writer to prove them wrong. By sticking your fountain pen in their neck and drinking their blood. …uhh. I mean, “by writing the best damn story you can write.” That’s what I mean. That other thing was, you know. It was just metaphor. Totally. *hides inkwell filled with human blood*

22. Stop Overpromising And Overshooting

We want to do everything all at once. Grand plans! Sweeping gestures! Epic 23-book fantasy cycles! Don’t overreach. Concentrate on what you can complete. Temper risk with reality.

23. Stop Leaving Yourself Off The Page

You are your stories and your stories are you. Who you are matters. Your experiences and feelings and opinions count. Put yourself on every page: a smear of heartsblood. If we cannot connect with our own stories, how can we expect anybody else to find that connection?

24. Stop Dreaming

Fuck dreaming. Start doing. Dreams are great — uh, for children. Dreams are intangible and uncertain looks into the future. Dreams are fanciful flights of improbability — pegasus wishes and the hopes of lonely robots. You’re an adult, now. It’s time to shit or get off the pot. It’s time to wake up or stay dreaming. Let me say it again because I am nothing if not a fan of repetition: Fuck dreaming. Start doing.

25. Stop Being Afraid

Fear will kill you dead. You’ve nothing to be afraid of that a little preparation and pragmatism cannot kill. Everybody who wanted to be a writer and didn’t become one failed based on one of two critical reasons: one, they were lazy, or two, they were afraid. Let’s take for granted you’re not lazy. That means you’re afraid. Fear is nonsense. What do you think is going to happen? You’re going to be eaten by tigers? Life will afford you lots of reasons to be afraid: bees, kidnappers, terrorism, being chewed apart by an escalator, Republicans, Snooki. But being a writer is nothing worthy of fear. It’s worthy of praise. And triumph. And fireworks. And shotguns. And a box of wine. So shove fear aside — let fear be gnawed upon by escalators and tigers. Step up to the plate. Let this be your year.

* * *

Did you know that Chuck has a small army of writing-related e-books available? Each brined in a salty spice mix of profanity, inchoate rage, and liquor? Check ’em out, won’t you?

Try: CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY

$4.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

Or its sequel: REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY

$2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

And: 250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING

$0.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

Or the newest: 500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER

$2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

664 comments

  • Huzzahs are in order Chuck. This is, rather seriously, exactly what I needed to hear tonight. I expect I will return to this post (and a few others) many times as I work on my new years resolution. The resolution that this year not only will I polish works to the point of being publishable but that I will either get payed or get rejections for said works.

  • Hell yeah! This is a post that I’m going to print out and reread everytime I think I want to quit what I’m doing. This is like the best post for writers ever, I have no idea why nobody listed all those things before!

  • Funny, I just posted this as a Facebook status, but I will repeat it here:

    Quod me nutrit me destruit. (That which nourishes me destroys me.) Today’s happy new year’s thought brought to you by Christopher Marlowe. To paraphrase the Bard’s echo of the sentiment, we all on the ashes of our youth doth lie, consumed by what we were once nouished by. The clock is ticking folks. Whatever you were waiting to do, stop the waiting and start the doing.

    Dan

  • I was all set to start some writing today, but then I was told by Keith Rawson to read Chuck Wendig’s post on things writers should stop doing. Now after taking time to read this, I just can’t get my head to writing again. I was so ready to write this morning, but now the rhythm is gone. I probably shouldn’t have read this post, but I did. And ate that whole pack of chocolate covered donuts. I shouldn’t have eaten that last one. Now I have to poop.

    Thanks Chuck and Keith. I know what you’re trying to do. Distract us pathetic pond scum before we evolve. Well done.

    I shouldn’t have drank that Yoohoo either. Man… gotta go! Thanks!

  • Couldn’t agree more. Nail and hammer well placed on this one.

    As someone who has their own site and writes regardless I can appreciate this post. Check put the site if
    you’re inclined – feedback is appreciated.

  • Everything’s great here, except 11. “Blame” is a spin word for “accountability.” Who’s to say you can’t fight *and* hold people accountable for their misdeeds and mistakes?

    You can’t just stop complaining about things you believe erode literary culture and the literature business model, simply to become individually successful. That’s as dumb as trying to be Sailor of the Week on a sinking ship.

    Also, telling people not to complain about the misbehavior of those who have greater power than them is … well … kinda slavish. “Don’t blame the hiring manager for being biased, just work harder!” Really?

    Now, using other people’s bad behavior as an excuse to quit (or to suck and refuse to improve beyond suckage) is dumb, sure. Of course, if you’re quitty or sucky, you shouldn’t be complaining about the biz at all, because you shouldn’t be writing. And, I’ll be the first to say that complaints should be rationally thought out, not just the sour grapes of rant.

    But, individual success is a subset of communal success, and if the community process is inefficient because people up top are “doing it wrong,” it’s vital to the continued health of that community that lots and lots of people down below Billy Beane the process: examine the flaws, point them out, and argue for alternatives. Vigorously, even resentfully. If necessity if the mother of invention, resentment is the labor pain of its implementation.

    Far better to carry progress to term than miscarry (as your elk did) by stifling dissent.

  • LOVE this all, printing out for the office–plus now my husband can just point to a number instead of ranting at me 🙂

    Re: #3–how?! I sort of get how to stop writing in someone else’s voice, but how the HELL do you identify the elements that comprise your own voice? Isn’t it a little like trying to see if a pair pants make your own ass look big (without a three-way mirror?). A lot of stretching and craning that gains you nothing? I had to stop thinking about my voice entirely and focus on everything else because it was driving me mad…and don’t say that’s the answer–you said you could identify the elements that comprise your own voice. How, for the love of God, how?

  • Like my brother told me when I said editors and agents don’t think tiger sharks are romantic…”But a woman will screw a vampire ( a dead person) and go down on a werewolf ( a dog)–write the damn book girl.”
    Your article was point on.

  • Oh. My. God. This is the best thing I’ve read in 2012. That might not sound impressive, but right now I’m suspicious that come Dec 31, 2012, it will still be the best thing I’ve read in 2012. I was laughing out loud and nodding my head through most of it, and fidgeting and feeling uncomfortable through some of it, which makes it dead-on perfect. (Well, maybe not perfect…I think you have an extra “you” after “drawer” in #21, but close enough to perfect for me.)

    Plus I kinda have a fetish for someone saying “fuck” to me a lot. I plan to share this hard and often.

  • Wow, guilty as charged! It’s very hard to keep a positive mind when you are trying to write for a living. I love writing, and I write everyday. Therefor, I am a writer. My favorite was number 24: Fuck dreaming, start doing.

  • Thanks for the New Year’s post, Chuck. I really appreciate the reminder to not worry and to let go of fear. I’m about to launch a new book that’s a space opera, and I’ve been doing some (not a lot) of worrying about it because it’s a different type of story from the others I’ve self-published that have been successful. It’s ironic that I jumped into self-publishing with NO expectations, and ended up doing very well. Now that I know what possible–both positive and negative–it’s harder to jump. I guess the diving board is higher. 🙂 But I appreciate your push.

    I’m going to send the link to your blog to all my writing groups.

    If anyone needs more incentive about writing and self-publishing, I blogged about my sales numbers for 2011. http://drdebraholland.blogspot.com

  • Excellent advice and true statements. Definitely a post to keep and share. As for #21, I can vouch for that. Back in 1994, everyone told me it would be impossible for an unknown writer to sell a story collection. It turns out, everyone was wrong.

    Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely check out your e-books.

  • Most excellent fucking motivation speech I’ve heard in a while. I ascribe to all of those as my writing partner and I flog each other with those as we push thru the flotsam and jetsam to get our work out to the reality allergic viewing public.

    From one terrible mind to another, rock on chuck.

  • These should be immortalized, emblazoned on stone tablets and carried down the mountain, or hotel staircase, at every writer’s conference for the unwashed masses to behold and remember.

  • Thanks jerk. Now I’ve run out of excuses as to why I haven’t finished one of my plays in a couple of years now. How am I going to continue to explain why I play hours of video games every night instead of writing now?

    Time to get unafraid in 2012 I guess…

  • “Roll around in responsibility like a dog rolling around in an elk miscarriage. Which, for the record, is something I’ve had a dog do, sooooo.”

    Oooh, yeahhh, they do that. They also roll in horse shit. But the absolute worst in my experience was a dog rolling on a rotting chicken that died in the woods.

    And they try to get it on their neck; kind of like a woman applying perfume. Ack!

  • I often find that STOP STOPPING and STOP DOING ONE THING often fight each other. It’s hard for me to diversify when I haven’t finished a project. I want my head in that one project until it’s complete. I don’t want to get out of that story world until the story’s told. But alas…I guess my brain will have to grow and I’ll get smarter and eventually be able to work on both transmedia & scripts & children’s books. Oh, while cooking egg rolls and taking care of toddlers.

  • I love this post! The reason is because it is right to the point and not around the bush (like many other bloggers and writers love to be). I see a lot of things I will stop doing, myself. 2012 is going to be a good year for many writers. If they can stop some of their bad habits. Thanks for sharing!

  • A zillion tiny yeses and one huge fucking amen.

    Especially 24 and 25. Everyone always says ‘dream big,’ and I say, ‘go big.’ What good is a big dream? It’s still stuck in your head.

  • I think one of the most important advice was left out. Some of the new authors need to stop selling their fucking books on amazon’s kindle for .99cents. As an established author, I worked hard to develop a following, but 15 books later, I’,m fighting for position with these new authors in order to gain new readers. Don’t they realize that they are giving up 70% of their profits to amazon at that price? Meanwhile, keep pushing and pen that great story that you feel is fighting to come out. Be a great business person, not just a great writer.

    Check out all my hot books on amazon and barnes and noble. No, they’re not listed for .99 cents, but they’re worth every dime that you will pay for them. Happy new year to all!

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