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

662 comments

  • My advice is to always start a book by writing Chapter 9.

    It does not matter if it makes no sense to start there, nor that it makes no sense if Chapter 9 will not work with the eventual Chapters 8 and 10. Just write it. You can always throw it away later.

    Starting a book is always hard and Chapter 1 becomes an immovable obstacle. If you start with a later chapter, it has not the same significance as Chapter 1. You are now writing; you get the momentum. Once the first chapter is complete (Chapter 9) you can start on the next one (Chapter 1) and before you know it, the book is done.

  • I was hoping that it would tell me things like “stop using too many adjectives” or “use imagery sparingly”. I’m sure this is helpful to people, but not quite what I was hoping for.

  • Good stuff. And don’t worry about the self flagellation. I use much coarser language in my notes to myself – to make sure that I get my own attention!

    While some of the maxims here are for experienced authors, I’m gonna distribute this to all the NaNoWriMo people. I’m a NaNoWriMo winnah, and in my opinion, the greatest thing that I can do is *not* writing 50,000 words in November; but encourage the others in my group to make sure they reach their goal. There’s usually a good lot of first timers in each NaNo.

    I was gonna win anyway, writing is the only way to get the stupid story outta my head.

  • “That was the sound of a tool chest…falling down the stairs.” –One of the bad guys in “Home Alone 2″

    I think I’ve just had my nose mushed in, too. Ow. My muse is running away with the ISquirrelerod, my grownup brain is picking out how to build on your suggestions, and my writing time starts in two minutes. :D

    And to the person asking about finding your voice: write a list of everything you love and everything you want to erase from the universe in your hatred of it. Every time you use something off the list in your writing, you’re expressing your voice.

  • Many people are great writers but when it comes to writing a story they just can’t I can’t READ or WRITE with me people tell me I’m a great story teller. One book it was grab by the publisher my friends who have written many stories can’t get them published, they have the words but can’t put them together, all I can say let it come from your heart and DON”T ask for help from any other writer. Just do by your self and when it is at the end DON’T ask your family what they think of it. It’s your story.

  • Trouble with self help things like this is they always bring out the perverse in me

    eg #26 Stop writing! You will only exhaust all your best material and make a fool of yourself

  • love the kitty angel graphic too cute. i don’t have an official website but here’s on of my cat

    http://www.squidoo.com/sullycat

    but I will be adding this page to my http://www.squidoo.com/Epicballadofpoetry

    links or as a big arrow link. I hope you will check it out & give me some feedback.

    Rght now its poetry w/ some other creative writing items at the end. (but may make a seperate one for the creatve writing not sure)
    all in all… Hope you enjoy what I wrote up. (& there’s more pages than those)

  • I’ve visited this page 116 times, and recommend it to at least 576 writing students, so I figure it’s about time I leave a comment:

    Great advice. Thank you.

  • Brilliant. I need someone to kick me up my butt when I should be coin it myself. I’d do so if it wasn’t so physically awkward and painful – or would I ? WRITE DAMN IT! Okay….Great post! You’re on thousands of them no doubt – but you’re on my blog roll now too :)

  • Summed me up perfectly. You’ve read my mind then gone and posted it!!!! Yikes!! Don’t know whether to love you or hate you. Seeing as you’re a fellow-writer, I’ll love you – and say, thank you!

    Liz xxx

  • These two 25 things articles should be distributed at every bookstore nationwide as a pamphlet for writers to carry in their back pocket. It’s the Strunk & White of writer work ethic.

  • Absolutely the most inspiring thing I have read in a long time. I could almost hear Sam Kinnison delivering these words from the afterlife…
    Great Stuff!

  • Your steps about staying focused on your goals are very much to the point. I’m writing a novel currently, but I use up much creative energy to write articles for magazines or put together posts for my writing blog. I’ve started charting my word count each day and making a note of what I’m working on, how much I’ve written and where I write to help with this. Seeing it all on paper lets me realize in black and white where my writing focus is.

  • Thanks,I have been using a s a catharsis and I know the story has to be written,just do not know if I really want it to be a memoir or a novel.
    This is a awesome reference to come back to,albeit to motivate and reflect or kick me in the ass.

  • Chuck,

    Most of these are good just skimming over them however, not that I am a professional writer, just a natural one, here are my constructive opinions of a few of your points. Not trying to deter people from writing or offend, these are my opinions and I welcome yours.

    #24 You should never even suggest not dreaming, even in the context of another intended point. Dreaming is what creativity is derived from.
    #9 Writing should come naturally to the brain you have. If you are worried about improving on or sharpening it then it likely doesn’t come naturally to you anyway.
    #8 In the context of considering your audience and effectively painting the picture you want to paint in their mind, it is not the complexity of the terminology you use but the way the words are put together. Overly complicated words often deter a reader and are a sign of a writer who is trying to overcompensate for lack of natural writing ability.
    #7 If it does not come easily then it is probably not a natural talent. The easier it comes the better it will be.

  • I love that you are honest enough to write down what the rest of us only think or mumble out loud in our offices when nobody is around. Thanks for being blunt….Right now, I am chasing the dream of getting my book completed, published, and marketed. It is a “how to” manual for aspiring writers, focusing on the internet and digital media. Can you check out my Kickstarter project and support it and share with your legions of fans? I’m down to the final three days and trying to prevent the ship from sinking… http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/denisegabbard/write-and-get-paid

  • Terrible. Only the title is good. The author has the vernacular of an 7 year old with a Napoleon complex. He goes on and on about how people shouldn’t criticize themselves but suggests reading the article as though you’re listening to him yelling at himself. First rule of self esteem dictates that there are no rules. There are no complex lists of what people should and should not do. If someone asks you to do something so that you’ll fit an image, it should go right through you because no hypnotism can withstand the assault of 100% pure self actualization. It’s really bad. Wasted my time reading the first part of it. Authors of these crap self help books are trying to re-enforce low self esteem because the target audience is people with low self esteem. It’s like a loan that incentivises the buyer doing poorly.

  • Thank you so much.

    Looking forward to your chat today at, The Writers Chatroom. I shall bring along my swear-muffs ’cause I’ve heard you tend to let one or two go… Occasionally.

  • My mistake. I misread the email I got sent. You are not actually there chatting (in case your confused) but you sure should be! It’s happening now and it’s all about your 25 things a writer shouldn’t do. At http://writerschatroom.com – you just hit enter and put in your name and your chatting. If you can’t make it now, just write Audrey and tell her Zak sent you. sorry :(

  • I stopped after 4. Too much fucking writing to do to read all this shit. Do you have it in audiobook format?

    (The first 4 were great, if that’s any consolation.)

  • You know what? I’ve been fucking around for 3 solid days telling myself that the 406 words I’ve written in those 3 days is good, is great, is plenty of work to put out. I’ve also spent the rest of the time chatting with my FB writing friends, worrying about other shit, and smoking even though I quit smoking in October.
    Thank you for shaking me free from my shitty excuses.
    Now…I’m going to write 2000 words tonight and un-fuck myself.
    Thank you so much!
    Peggy Browning

  • This makes me think of what the love child of Hunter S. Thompson and Spider Jerusalem would sound like when trying to give advice. I feel like I should be at a bar with a second pint of Kick Your Arse while sitting over a cold bowl of Cholesterol Increaser.

  • I’m always stumbling upon your articles (usually when I’m supposed to be writing, /shame) and I figured this time I’d take the couple of minutes to write a comment and say how much of an inspiration they are. They’re well-written and the advice is all really solid. So, thanks I guess and keep it up!

  • I just want to say I am just all new to weblog and absolutely enjoyed you’re web site. More than likely I’m going to bookmark your blog post . You amazingly have excellent articles. Appreciate it for revealing your blog.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! I can’t say it enough. I want to bookmark this page and read it once a week. I think we all need a reminder to stop being so critical, and idiotic about our ‘dreams’, we think if we sit back and dream it, it will happen, but as you said, that isn’t reality. Thanks once again!

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