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?


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


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Or the newest: 500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER

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666 responses to “25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing”

  1. “That story isn’t going to unfuck itself.”

    I swear on all that is holy and not, I want that embroidered on the pillow that I put my head on each night, various and sundry hand towels, and possibly tattooed on my knuckles (yes, it’d be a large tattoo, but I’d see it when typing, damnit.) Excellente! (Picture the accent over the e, please–I don’t know how to make it.)

  2. comparing writing to a hot-dog eating contest and all the many other comparisons, plus a lot of good thoughts and some cussing – love it! thanks for the inspiration!

  3. I think I love you. will you marry me and repeat these lovely fucking aphorisms nightly before we…you know…cuddle? Seriously
    Beer Wench a2

  4. What a wonderful post to start the New Year off! You are right on and to the point. I see a few bad habits of my own that you just gave a quick kick in the butt to. Okay, fingers on keys and back to the manuscript, and a Happy New Year to you!

  5. This post made me sweaty, in a good way. It fits my current mode of rarrrgh-beast-writer-warrioress-ness.

    And, oddly enough, the Chinese insist it’s my year. I’m not big on horoscope BS but I’ll take a apparent advantage and run with it when I have to and I absolutely have to, it’s all about the axes in my DNA. Rarrrrgghhh etc…

    Wicked post.

  6. Printed this out. Will make great use of this. Even now plotting ways to escape my office early to go sit and a coffee shop and write. Screw getting paid. . . must write now!

  7. When I finally realized that I was never going to write like the the authors I loved and just started writing how (and what) I wanted to, it was like someone blew out the little candle I was huddled under and flipped the switch on a dozen spotlights.

    Thanks for this. I need to re-read it often. And I need a box of wine.

  8. Holy shit this was fantastic! It was my first blog post read of the New Year, and damnit was it refreshing. First time here, definitely not the last!

    Thank you so much for this.

  9. Move over Dr. Oz–you are my new doctor feeeeel-goood for 2012!

    thanks for the proverbial and verbal squeeze of my heart! fears and self-doubt be gone!


  10. *raises hand* I second the part about smearing your heartsblood on the page.

    The worst snag I hit in this editing round, I hit because I was trying to make something work in a way that had nothing to do with why *I* loved the story. I was trying to write a scene that reinforced what other people had told me my book was about. And I sucked at it. But as soon as I figured out how to make that scene feed into what I wanted for the book, it all fell into place. Go figure.

  11. Okay I would print this out and put on my wall…if it didnt have a bunch of things in it I dont feel like explaining to my three sons – living in a house with beavis, butthead and cornholio…(damn I wish they never saw those videos on youtube)…they would take “Elk Miscarriage” and run with it.

    What do you say to the nagging self doubt. Doesnt matter how many times people say they love my writing…I am pretty sure they are all just being nice…

    i write because it keeps the voices in my head quit…mostly…I write because I love books and stories and I have stories inside me I want to share with other readers. But at the same time I worry and fear i am wasting my time…and its really all just crap.

  12. #26: STOP Researching!

    Researching is NOT writing. I don’t care if your story is about Budapest in the 17th Century, spending 80 hours in the local library trying to get a “feel” for the subject matter ain’t writing. WRITE it! Figure out the details later.

    #27: Lose your book/screenplay/novel virginity already!

    Finish it! Does it matter that it’s 112 pages double-spaced and filled with typos? Not the first time out of the gate. Finish it so you can say it’s finished. Have a beer. Tell your friends. Brag about it! You did something that very few people do. All writing is re-writing anyway. Sentence structure and typos and weird word choices can be fixed at a later date. Get it done.

  13. All right I’m lacing up my ass kicking boots and sitting my ass in front of the computer! How many of your posts can I have on my wall before it becomes stalker-ish?

  14. Thanks for this, Chuck — just parachuted in from Twitter, and am floored.

    Best line: “Roll around in responsibility like a dog rolling around in an elk miscarriage.”

  15. This is priceless! Lots of favorite phrases, here’s one: “Worry is . . . a vestigial emotion, useless as — as my father was wont to say — “tits on a boar hog.”

    I spent last year taking most of this advice and, in 11 months, cranked out a 500-page first draft of my first novel. My secret? Showing up, every day. Whether I “felt like it” or not. Your list will definitely help me to stay motivated for this next phase — ruthless editing. It’s way too fat right now.

    Thanks for doing this. Will be sharing liberally. Love your voice. Very distinctive, made me laugh out loud.

    Watch out for those escalators!

  16. With all of the fuckery around the net, I can’t believe I finally found someone who spouts positive, unsugar-coated shit about writing. You sir are a beacon of light for deranged minds to flock towards.

    Ohh, @Samuel, Is masturbating and robbing liquor stores at the same time OK or should I not do that?

  17. Personally, I find the overuse of swear words is something writers should stop doing, just to pepper their writing with “colorful” language. Your voice doesn’t need to include the “f” word or “sh*t” in every other sentence.

  18. And I’d just resolved (resoluted?) to make 2012 my year of taking more risk and being more honest in my work, and here comes another brilliant list from you to confirm that, yes, it’s going to be that kind of year. Thanks for sharing your passion.

  19. […] And that’s it. Nothing grand, nothing out of my control, no vague hopes and wishes. Mr. Chuck Wendig, whom I stalk on the twitters (@ChuckWendig) has a great post up today where he speaks eloquently to the point of only focusing on what you can control. Read it. Now. […]

  20. 21 is so freaking right. I am tired of people trying to tell me what they think will or won’t work. They ought to just shut up and go back to flipping burgers. Everything has been done before but we still watch/read the remakes.

    It doesn’t have to be the most original idea ever invented for it to work.

  21. I wonder if the people who need to read this will because they should!

    I feel blessed that I just write what I write and have no long term goals to get published. I am self published. I blog!

    But still…you cite so many things that I see and hear from others that I often wish they would stop doing. Copying someone’s else voice, churning out so much product that it all becomes noise, and whining, whining, whining.

    Someone needed to say it; glad that you did.

  22. OK, this freaking rocked.

    Having spent the past two weeks writing till 3 AM, getting up at 7 AM and writing again — and acting like a complete freaking psycho — I really got a lot out of this. It’s my new 25-step program (12 aren’t enough for me, apparently).

    Especially valuable were #7 and #9. As I’m screaming, “Why is this so fucking hard!” next time, I can just remember that I’m meant to be screaming. And #9 — I’m guessing M&M, coffee and pizza aren’t really part of a balanced diet when you eat them every night for a month… Just guessing there.

  23. Nice post.

    Two things:

    1. We need to stop telling every fuckstick with a word processor that he or she can be a writer. Used to be writers were shamans (and sha-women). Too many people are writing today. It should be like those guys who used to perch on the top of the skyscrapers and catch red-hot rivets in a leather mitt. Nobody should be able to do it. Except for about twenty people. Writing is not easy, never has been, never will be. Unfortunately, the function the market once played (weeding out the wannbes) has been usurped by the Electronic Scourge.

    2. Good writers get the best sex. It’s a form of natural selection. That’s what it all boils down to. If you write well, you get humped and sucked and fingered and blown and mounted much more than the mere mortal. (See note #1.) It’s why they invented writers’ conferences and writers’ retreats. And box wine.

  24. This is some seriously funny shit! I’m going to come back and read this every time I get a rejection, every time someone calls my writing a hobby, or when anyone is mean to me. Thanks!

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