25 Things Writers Should Start Doing

Consider this, if you will, a sequel to the gone-viral post, “25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing (Right Fucking Now)” — sort of a mirrored-reflection be-a-fountain-not-a-drain version.

Now, a warning, just in the rare instance you don’t come to this site all that often:

Here There Be Bad Words. Naughty profanity. The sinner’s tongue. Lots of “eff-this” and “ess-that.”

If you’re not a fan of profanity, no harm, no foul. But you might want to turn your tender gaze away before your eyeballs foam up and ooze out of your poor innocent head.

Please to enjoy.

1. Start Taking Yourself Seriously

This is a real thing, this writing thing, if you let it be. It’s not just about money or publication — it’s about telling the kind of stories only you can tell. Few others are going to take you seriously, so give them a 21-middle-finger-salute and do for yourself what they won’t: demonstrate some self-respect.

2. Start Taking The Time

Said it before, will say it again: we all get 24 hours in our day. Nobody has extra time. You must claim time for yourself and your writing. Time is a beast stampeding ever forward and we’re all on its back. Don’t get taken for a ride. Grab the reins. Whip that nag to go where you want her to go. Take control. Hell, pull out a big ol’ electric knife and carve off a quivering lardon of fatty Time Bacon all for yourself. (As a sidenote, the Germans had a name for that phenomenon: Zeitspeck. True story I just made up!)

3. Start Trying New Stuff

Branch out. Get brave. Look at all the ways you write now — “I write in the morning, sipping from my 64-ounce 7-11 Thirst Aborter of Mountain Dew, and I pen my second-person POV erotic spy novels and it earns me a comfortable living.” Good for you. Now punch that shit right in the ear. Okay, I’m not saying you need to change directions entirely — what kind of advice is that? “Hey, that thing that works for you? Quit doing it.” I’m just saying, mix it up. Make some occasional adjustments. Just as I exhort people to try new foods or travel destinations or ancient Sumerian sexual positions, I suggest writers try new things to see if they can add them to their repertoire. Write 1000 words a day? Try to double that. Don’t use an outline? Write with one, just once. Single POV character? Play with an ensemble. Mix it the fuck up. Don’t have just One True Way of doing things. Get crazy. Don’t merely think outside of the box. Set the box adrift on a river and shoot it with fire arrows. Give the box a motherfucking Viking funeral.

4. Start Telling Stories In New Ways

Another entry from the “Set The Box On Fire” Department — with the almost obscene advances in personal technology (the smartphone alone has become more versatile than most home computers), it’s time to start thinking about how we can tell stories in new ways. A story needn’t be contained to a book or a screen. A story can be broken apart. A story can travel. Your tale can live across Twitter and Foursquare and Tumblr and an Android app and Flickr and HTML5 and then it can take the leap away from technology and move to handwritten journals and art installations and bathroom walls and — well, you get the idea. Let this be the year that the individual author need no longer be constrained by a single medium. Transmedia is now in the hands of individuals. So give it a little squeeze, and find new ways to tell old stories.

5. Start Reading Poetry

Poetry? Yes, poetry. I know. I see that look you’re giving me. “What’s next, Wendig?” you ask. “We all hold hands and dance around the maypole in our frilly blouses and Wonder Woman underoos?” YES EXACTLY. I mean — uhh, what? No. Ahem. All I’m saying is, all writing deserves a touch — just a tickle — of poetry. And do not conflate “poetry” with “purple prose” — such bloated artifice has no room in your work.

6. Start Saying Something

You are your writing and your writing is you, and if you’re not using your writing to say something — to speak your mind, to fertilize the fictional ground with your idea-seed in an act of literary Onanism — then what’s the damn point? You have a perspective. Use it.

7. Start Discovering What You Know

Ah, that old chestnut. “Write what you know.” Note the lack of the word only in there. We don’t write only what we know because if we did that we’d all be writing about writers, like Stephen King does. (Or, we’d be writing about sitting at our computers, checking Twitter in our underwear and smelling of cheap gin and despair.) The point is that we have experience. We’ve seen things, done things, learned things. Extract those from your life. Bleed them into your work. Don’t run from who you are. Bolt madly toward yourself. Then grab all that comprises who you are and body-slam it down on the page.

8. Start Writing From A Place Of Pain

You also know pain. So, get it out there. Don’t build a wall and hide from it. Scrape away the enamel of that tooth and expose the raw nerve — meaning, it goes into what you’re writing. Our pain is part of what makes us, and if we speak to that honestly in our writing, the reader will get that. Audiences can smell your inauthentic contrivances like a dead hamster in the heating duct. A reader wants to see their story in your story. They want to relate their pain to the pain on the page, and if that pain isn’t honest — meaning, it isn’t born out of experience or empathy — then your work will come across as hollow as a gutted pumpkin.

9. Start Upping Your Game

I don’t care if you’re good at what you do. I don’t care if you’re great at what you do. You can always improve. You can always be better. You know what happens to people who tread water? They grow inevitably weary and then they drown and hermit crabs use their body as a sex playground. That’s a fact. I read it in the New York Times. If anybody knows facts, it’s them.

10. Start Buying New Skills For Your Character Sheet

“Writer” is a piss-poor name for what we do because that verb, to write, comprises only a portion of our professional life. It’d be like if you called auto mechanics “brake light technicians.” Sure, they fix brake lights. But they also change oil and replace alternators and counsel troubled married couples. (What? My guy’s really good. Don’t judge me.) Like I said quite some time ago, writers have to edit, market, manifest business savvy, do math, hunt and capture wayward editors in the windswept tundra, and so forth. Further, fiction writers utilize all manner of absurd skills in their work. Writing about a hired killer? Why not learn how to use a gun? (Trust me, firing a gun and reading about firing a gun are two very different things.)

11. Start Cultivating Your Sanity

You’re crazy. No, no, it’s okay. I’m crazy, too. We’re all a little bit unhinged. Hell, I’m one broken screen door away from drinking a fifth of antifreeze and driving off a highway overpass on a child’s tricycle. Writing is not a particularly stressful job — I mean, you’re not an air traffic controller or an astronaut or some shit. Just the same, it’s a weird job. We hunker down over our fiction like a bird with an egg and we sit there alone, day in and day out, just… making up awful stuff. People die and hearts are broken and children are stolen by van-driving goblins and all that comes pouring out of our diseased gourds. So: cultivate your sanity. Take some time to de-stress your skull-space. Take a walk. Take a vacation. Drink some chamomile tea and watch the sunset. Chillax. That’s the new thing the kids are saying, right? “Chillax?” Yeah. I’m up on my lingo. Chillaxin’ is the hella tits, Daddy-o!

12. Start Escaping The Insidious Gravity Of The Black Hole Known As “The Internet”

The Internet is a time-eater, eating your hours in great gulping swallows. The Net has value, no doubt. Great for research. Ideal for communication and distribution. Pristine for pornography. Just the same: it’s not your priority. Your priority is to write, so you need to jam a metaphorical rocket booster up your hidey-hole and blast your way out of the Internet’s gravity, at least until the wordsauce is made.

13. Start Going Places

Get the hell out of your house. Open the door. Kick out a window. Escape. Go somewhere. I don’t care if it’s the corner store or the island of Kauai or Mount Kilimanfuckingjaro. Writers are often too insular. They think those two oft-cited pieces of writing advice — “Put your ass in the chair and write” and “read a lot” — are all it takes. Bzzt! Wrongo! You’ve got to see a bit of the world. Have some adventures. Experience what’s going on around you. Become a part of the whole crazy machine. Let it fuel your wordsmithy.

14. Start Reading More

You need to read more, too. Bury your nose in a book, or, I dunno, lick a Kindle or whatever the equivalent would be. And don’t just up your reading quota: read more broadly, more completely. Read beyond comfort or entertainment. Jump the genre fence you’ve built for yourself. Read history and sociology and pick up a romance novel and flip through some children’s books and read some classic works and — well, you get the idea. Just read, wantonly and without regard. And with a keen eye toward all the fiddly bits.

15. Start Helping Other Writers

We may not be an official community with like, trials and hazing and union dues, but we certainly are a de facto one. We all need help and so it behooves us to ask for it and give it in return. As I am nothing if not a rampant self-promotional strumpet, I’ll just leave this here: 25 Ways For Writers To Help Other Writers.

16. Start Working Like A Motherfucker

You want to write? Then it’s time to work. Work isn’t a bad word. Work may be a four-letter-word, but you know what? I like four-letter words. Commit to the effort. Give your work the due it deserves. If someone asks what you’re doing? Don’t tell them you’re writing. Don’t say you’re telling stories or penning the Great American Novel. Tell them, “I’m working. I’m down in the word mines breaking my brain to bring this ink into the world. Now shut the door and get me a quad-shot espresso.” Don’t just put your nose against the grindstone: rub your entire naked body against the grindstone. And then film it. And put it on Youtube.

17. Start Making Your Own Opportunities

You can’t just sit in your attic and hope that opportunity will find you there, writing your stories amidst the Christmas decorations and creepy dolls and Tibetan yak-bone butt-plugs. Opportunity does not find the writer; the writer finds opportunity. And when the writer cannot find it, he reaches for the doll-heads and the wrapper paper tubes and the yak-bones and he makes his own damn opportunity. I hate the word “proactive,” but fuck it, it’s spot on for what I’m talking about — be proactive. You make opportunity by writing the best stories you can write and then putting those stories out there for editors and agents and readers. Don’t wait for permission. You know who needs permission? Children and cowards. And, thankfully, robots. For now. For now.

18. Start Self-Publishing

Note again the lack of the word “only” here; you should not only self-publish. But you should self-publish something. It grants you a new channel to release your work and reach new readers. It teaches you different skills. It lets you show all those jackholes with their sloppily-edited crap-stain indie efforts with Comic Sans and Papyrus covers how it’s done, son. This year: self-publish. Do it. Try it. Taste it. You’ll like it.

19. Start Diversifying

You know what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket? Your basket doesn’t have room for other awesome shit. Like figs. Or G.I. Joes. Or yak-bone dildos. Right? Right. A writer these days thrives on diversity. When one vein of word-heroin dries up, you’ve got others that keep on feeding your habit. Over here it’s freelance articles and other there it’s short stories and that way lies a novel and beyond that is the ad copy you wrote for Big Steve’s Booty Barn (the finest low-cost brothel in the good state of Nevada!). Plus: many fingers in many pies means maximum pie deliciousness. Because, fuck yeah, pie.

20. Start Valuing Your Work

If you don’t value your work, why would anyone else? End of story.

21. Start Doing All That Shit You Said You’d Always Do

If you calculated all the people in the world that have at one time or another said the words, “I’m going to write a novel,” or, “I’m going to pen a screenplay,” you’d have to invent a brand new number. A number that would break the backs of all other numbers. Everybody says they’re going to write this or write that — well, it’s time to put up or shut up. This year: you’re going to do it. You’re going to take one of those projects you’ve always wanted to do and you’re going to punt that sonofabitch to the top of the pile. You’re going to give it priority. End the fantasy by making it a reality.

22. Start Taking A Long Look Forward

A writer without goals is a writer who ends up lost in the woods. Probably without pants. And dining on possum scat. You know that jerkoff question they ask you at job interviews: “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” That question has value to authors. Set a realistic course for yourself and start knocking down some milestones one by one. Focus up. Gain clarity. Don’t just wander around without any idea of what you hope to accomplish. Envision your entire career. Then start working to make it motherfucking so.

23. Start Writing What You Want To Write

For some, life is short, for others, it’s unmercifully long — however it shakes out, take some time to write something that matters to you. Something personal. Something you want to write as opposed to something you have to write. We only get one go-around on the Great Hot Wheels Track that is life, so why not manage some slick jumps and loopty-loops before your car flings off into the oblivion beneath the couch?

24. Start Having Fun, Will You?

I tire of writers who don’t enjoy what they do. The next writer I see who mopes about being a writer gets attacked by bees. I mean, if you’re not writing because you love it, then why do it at all? The fat stacks of cash? The primo health care plan? The yacht full of supermodels?

25. Start Doing

Simple. Sweet. To the point. Writers need to be generative creatures — so, start doing. Start creating. Start telling stories. Start making it happen. But then, the corollary to that: finish what you started.

What will you start doing in 2012?


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123 comments

  • I tried the pain train on my blog today, I normally write funny shit about being a fireman, today I wrote about some pain, single biggest day of hits to date. Just saying…

  • Fuckin’ A! Fuck “the market” fuck “the ratings”, fuck your fucking friends who read frothy shit and gush about it — write what only you can and finish the fucking thing.

  • cheers m’dear, I really needed a wake up slap in the mush. I’m gonna look at my choice to write as a good thing, not as a mumbled apology. I’m a goddamn writer! deal with it! ooh yeah!

  • I tweet in my comfies (’cause I have to set a good example for my little girl), and drink beer instead of gin, but my despair has just lifted ’cause I’ve discovered Chuck. :-)

  • I’m coming in late on this one. So be it. Aside from being the funniest, most entertaining blog on writing I’ve read- it was GOOD. As in useful, helpful, dandy. So, here are my 2012 commitments, inspired by the above blog: self publish last year’s YA novel while simultaneously writing this year’s YA novel. Start blogging (about anything). Devise and carry-out a Twitter-novel: that’s twitter-fiction, one feed at a time (word count to be determined within reason).

  • Thanks for this. I already do a fair number of things on this list so I’m in good shape but you’ve given me even MORE ideas. I’ve been focusing on my non-fiction writing too much because that’s where I currently make money, but this year I’m focusing on my fiction as well and trying a screenplay.

  • I like “The Internet is a time-eater, eating your hours in great gulping swallows. The Net has value, no doubt. Great for research. Ideal for communication and distribution. Pristine for pornography. Just the same: it’s not your priority. Your priority is to…” so well written! I’m an artist and it is works for me.

  • Really great post! I struggle with #12 and #20 the most. Ever since I gave in to my love of Facebook (it’s a semi-stalker’s dream) my writing has seriously diminished. Time to unplug and get to writing.

  • Funny funny funny man. But smart and honest and so bloody right. Most inspirig thing I’ve read in a while. And I’m adding your Hot Wheels Track analogy to my philosophy of life files.

  • Thanks for the inspiration today! Now if I could pull my head out of the television at night perhaps I could find that time to write…write? I struggle to find time due to the blah accounting job I hold 40+ hours a week and wife/mommy life..I know poor me..LOL this was a nice kick in the pants today.

  • Thanks for the kick in the butt, Chuck! The self-esteem thing has been a problem… People treat those of us who aren’t exactly “9 to 5 material” as scum, and being unemployed from a “day job” for over a year has been tough. (I do love to eat.) But your ideas really got me thinking how much I actually LIKE writing, and how much I was letting other’s shitty opinions and comments get in the way of my doing so. So, thank you for allowing me to tell them where to get off. (Nicely… the four letter words aren’t always appreciated where I live.)

    All the best to you,
    Cindy
    writing non-fiction: http://www.cindyamatthews.com
    writing fiction as Cynthianna & as Celine Chatillon
    http://www.cynthianna
    http://www.celinechatillon.com

  • This is undisciplined writing and not the good kind (really interesting undisciplined writing does exist).

    If the person who wrote this is so knowledgable about writing why is he so fixated on writing about writing?

    Never mind, I’ve gotten sucked in to the typical interweb trap of commenting when I should have just moved on to a more valuable application of my time. This is shite and onions and the guy who wrote it won’t have the sac to accept that but would probably become a better writer for pausing to consider that it might be true.

    • @Mark —

      I’ve been a successful freelance writer for coming up on 15 years.

      I’m a full-time writer, to boot.

      I’ve written millions of words as a professional writer.

      I’ve got one novel out and three more on the way.

      I had a project nominated for a digital Emmy.

      I was a student of the Sundance Screenwriting Lab.

      So, please go troll elsewhere.

      — c.

  • Another piece – get rid of religion. It’s the writer’s worst demon – unless, of course, you are writing about it. Freedom is sweet. Thanks – loved the article!

  • As someone who has sensitive teeth, I winced a that enamel reference. :) But I agree with you, suffering is a part of writing. All good books are written in blood.

  • Loved this article, it was the exact kick in the pants I needed. From now on, when people ask what I am doing, I’m going to tell them I am working, not writing. People give me shit all the time because I tell them I am writing. Fuck it, I’m working!!!

  • I’m going to start writing more purple prose because in the immortal words of Homer Simpson “Purple is a fruit.”

  • You should probably include a little print icon that immediately formats the page for printing because every single one of your delicious, metaphor smeared posts should be tacked up on the walls of all writers.

    Thank you for your terriblemind.

  • love this. i really need to start taking my self seriously and stop underselling myself. it’s really hard when no one is paying you for your work. yet… (see, how i ended there with a bit of confidence. nice, right?) thanks for this. i needed it. :)

  • I know this is like more than two years old – but i love this! Great writing and format, i can tell you’re a brilliant writer yourself just by the simple choices. Love it again!

  • I wouldn’t generally look for good writing advice in an article as covered in swears as this one, but… I can honestly say that this is my favorite article on writing I’ve ever read. Thank you.

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