25 Things I Want To Say To So-Called “Aspiring” Writers

Seen a lot of folks giving advice to so-called “aspiring” writers these days, so, I figured what the hell? Might as well throw my dubious nuggets of wisdom into the stew. See if any of this tastes right to you.

1. No More Aspiring, Dingbats

Here are the two states in which you may exist: person who writes, or person who does not. If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not. Aspiring is a meaningless null state that romanticizes Not Writing. It’s as ludicrous as saying, “I aspire to pick up that piece of paper that fell on the floor.” Either pick it up or don’t. I don’t want to hear about how your diaper’s full. Take it off or stop talking about it.

2. Kick Your Lowest Common Denominator In The Kidneys

You can aspire to be a lot of other things within the writing realm, and that’s okay. You can aspire to be a published author. Or a bestselling author. Or a professional freelance writer. Or an author who plagiarizes his memoir and gets struck with a wooden mallet wielded by Oprah live on primetime television. You should aspire to be a better writer. We all should. Nobody is at the top of his game. We can all climb higher.

3. Aspiring Writers, Far As The Eye Can See

Nobody respects writers, yet everybody wants to be one (probably because everybody wants to be one). Point is, you want to be a writer? Good for you. So does that guy. And that girl. And him. And her. And that old dude. And that young broad. And your neighbor. And your mailman. And that chihuahua. And that copy machine. Ahead of you is an ocean of wannabe ink-slaves and word-earners. I don’t say this to daunt you. Or to be dismissive. But you have to differentiate yourself and the way you do that is by doing rather than be pretending. You will climb higher than them on a ladder built from your wordsmithy.

4. We All Booby-Trap The Jungle Behind Us

There exists no one way toward becoming a professional writer. You cannot perfectly walk another’s journey. That’s why writing advice is just that — it’s advice. It’s mere suggestion. Might work. Might not. Lots of good ideas out there, but none of it is gospel. One person will tell you this is the path. Another will point the other way and say that is the path. They’re both right for themselves, and they’re both probably wrong for you. We all chart our own course and burn the map afterward. It’s just how it is. If you want to find the way forward, then stop looking for maps and start walking.

5. The Golden Perfect Path Of The Scrivening Bodhisattvas

Point is, fuck the One True Way. Doesn’t exist. Nobody has answers — all you get are suggestions. Anybody who tells you they have The Answer is gassy with lies. Distrust such certainty and play the role of skeptic.

6. Yes, It Always Feels This Way

You will always have days when you feel like an amateur. When it feels like everybody else is better than you. You will have this nagging suspicion that someone will eventually find you out, call you on your bullshit, realize you’re the literary equivalent of a vagrant painting on the side of a wall with a piece of calcified poop. You will have days when the blank page is like being lost in a blizzard. You will sometimes hate what you wrote today, or yesterday, or ten years ago. Bad days are part of the package. You just have to shut them out, swaddle your head in tinfoil, and keep writing anyway.

7. Figure Out How You Write, Then Do That

You learn early on how to write. But for most authors it takes a long time to learn how they in particular write. Certain processes, styles, genres, character types, POVs, tenses, whatever — they will come more naturally to you than they do to others. And some won’t come naturally at all. Maybe you’ll figure this out right out of the gate. But for most, it just takes time — time filled with actual writing — to tease it out.

8. Finish Your Shit

I’m just going to type this out a dozen times so it’s clear: finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit! FINISH YOUR SHIT. Finish. Your. Shit. Fiiiiniiiish yooooour shiiiiit. COMPLETO EL POOPO. Vervollständigen Sie Ihre Fäkalien! Finish your shit.

9. You Need To Learn The Rules. . .

…in order to know when they must be broken.

10. You Need To Break The Rules. . .

… in order to know why they matter.

11. What I Mean By Rules Is–

Writing is a technical skill. A craft. You can argue that storytelling is an art. You can argue that art emerges from good writing the way a dolphin riding a jet-ski emerges the longer you stare at a Magic Eye painting. But don’t get ahead of yourself, hoss. You still need to know how to communicate. You need to learn the laws of this maddening land. I’ve seen too many authors want to jump ahead of the skill and just start telling stories — you ever try to get ahead of your own skill level? I used to imagine pictures in my head and I’d try to paint them in watercolor and they’d end up looking like someone barfed up watery yogurt onto the canvas. I’d rail against this: WHY DON’T THEY LOOK BEAUTIFUL? Uhh, because you don’t know how to actually paint, dumb-fuck. You cannot exert your talent unless you first have the skill to bolster that talent.

12. Oh, The Salad Days Of College!

Why are the days of our youth known as “salad days?” Is “salad” really the image that conjures up the wild and fruitful times of our adolescence? “Fritos,” maybe. Or “Beer keg.” I dunno. What were we talking about? Ah! Yes. College. Do you need it? Do you need a collegiate education, Young Aspirant to the Penmonkey Order? Need, no. To get published nobody gives a flying rat penis whether or not you have a degree. They just care that you can write. Now, college and even post-grad work may help you become a better writer — it did for me! — though, I’d argue that the money you throw into the tank getting there may have been better spent on feeding yourself while you just learn how to write in whatever mousetrap you call a domicile. You can only learn so much from someone teaching you how to write. Eventually you just have to write.

13. Reading Does Not Make You A Writer

That’s the old piece of advice, isn’t it? “All you need to do is read and write to be a writer.” You don’t learn to write through reading anymore than you learn carpentry by sitting on a chair. You learn to write by writing. And, when you do read something, you learn from it by dissecting it — what is the author doing? How are characters and plot drawn together? You must read critically — that is the key.

14. Here Is Your Tin Cup, Your Hobo Bindle, Your Rat-Nest Undies

You’re going to starve for a while, so just get used to that now. Don’t quit your day job. Yet.

15. Commerce Is Not The Enemy Of Art

If you think commerce somehow devalues art, then we’re done talking. I got nothin’ for you. Money doesn’t devalue art any more than art devalues money — commerce can help art, hurt art, or have no effect. The saying isn’t Money is the root of all evil. It’s The love of money is the root of all evil. Commerce only damages art when the purpose of the art is only money. So it is with your writing.

16. Overnight Success Probably Isn’t

Suddenly on your radar screen is a big giant glowing mass like you’d see when a swarm of xenomorphs is closing fast on your position and it’s like, “Hey! This author appeared out of nowhere! Overnight success! Mega-bestseller! Million-dollar deal!” And then you get it in your head: “I can do that, too. I can go from a relative nobody to America’s Favorite Author, and Oprah will keep me in a gilded cage and she’ll feed me rare coffees whose beans were first run through the intestinal tract of a dodo bird.” Yeah, except, those who are “overnight successes,” rarely appear out of nowhere. It’s the same way that an asteroid doesn’t “just appear” before destroying earth and plunging it into a dust-choked dead-sun apocalypse: that fucker took a long time to reach earth, even if we didn’t notice. Overnight successes didn’t win the lottery. They likely toiled away in obscurity for years. The lesson is: work matters.

17. Meet The Universe In The Middle

My theory in life and writing is this — and it’s some deeply profound shit, so here, lower the lights, put on a serious turtleneck with a houndstooth elbow-patched jacket over it, and go ahead and smoke this weird hash I stole from an Afghani cult leader. The theory is this: meet the universe halfway and the universe will meet you in return. Explained more completely: there exist components of any career (but writing in particular) that are well beyond your grasp. You cannot control everything. Some of it is just left to fate. But, you still have to put in the work. You won’t get struck by lightning if you don’t run out the storm. You must maximize your chances. You do this by meeting the universe halfway. You do this by working.

18. Self-Publishing Is Not The Easy Way Out

Self-publishing is a viable path. It is not, however, the easy path. Get shut of this notion. You don’t just do a little ballerina twirl and a book falls out of your vagina. (And if that does happen, please see a doctor. Especially if you’re a dude.) It takes a lot of effort to bring a proper self-published book to life. Divest yourself of the idea that it’s the cheaper, easier, also-ran path. Faster, yes. But that’s all.

19. No, Total Stranger, I Don’t Want To Read Your Stuff

I really don’t. And neither does any other working author. It’s nothing personal. We just don’t know you from any other spam-bot lurking in the wings ready to dump a bucket of dick pills and Nigerian money over our heads. That’s not to say we won’t be friendly or are unwilling to talk to you about your work, but we’re already probably neck deep in the ordure of our own wordsmithy. (Or we’re drunk and confused at a Chuck-E-Cheese somewhere.) We cannot take the time to read the work of total strangers. Be polite if you’re going to ask. And damn sure don’t get mad when we say no.

20. Your Jealousy And Depression Do Not Matter

All writers get down on themselves. It’s in our wheelhouse. We see other writers being successful and at first we’re all like, “Yay, good for that person!” but then ten minutes later we get this sniper’s bullet of envy and this poison feeling shoots through the center of our brain like a railroad spike: BUT WHY NOT ME? And then we go take a bath with a toaster. Fuck that. Those feelings don’t matter. They don’t help you. They may be normal, they may be natural, but they’re not useful and they’re certainly not interesting.

21. Talking About Writing Is Not The Same As Writing

Needs no further comment.

22. Pack Your Echo Chamber With C4 And Blow It Skyward

Aspiring writers lock themselves away in echo chambers filled with other aspiring writers where one of two things often happen: one, everybody gives each other happy handjobs and nobody writes anything bad and everybody likes everything and it’s a big old self-congratulatory testicle-tickling festival; two, it’s loaded for bear by people who don’t know how to give good criticism and the criticism is destructive rather than constructive and it’s just a cloud of bad vibes swirling around your head like a plague of urinating bats. If you find yourself in this kind of echo chamber, blow a hole in the wall and crawl to freedom.

23. Learn To Take A Punch

Agents, editors, reviewers, readers, trolls on the Internet, they’re going to say things you don’t want to hear. A thick skin isn’t enough. You need a leathery carapace. A chitinous exoskeleton. Writing is a hard-knock career where you invite a bevy of slings and arrows into your face and heart. It is what it is.

24. You Can Do Whatever The Fuck You Want

As a writer, the world you create is yours and yours alone. Someone will always be there to tell you what you can’t do, but they’re nearly always wrong. You’re a writer. You can make anything up that you want. It may not be lucrative. It may not pay your mortgage. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what’s going on between you and the blank page before you. It’s just you and the story. If you love it and you want to write it, then wire your trap shut and write it. And write it well. Expect nothing beyond this — expect no reward, expect no victory parade — but embrace the satisfaction it gives you to do your thing.

25. The One No-Fooling Rule

Is “write.” Write, write, write, motherfucking write. Write better today than you did yesterday and better tomorrow than you did today. Onward, fair penmonkey, onward. If you’re not a writer, something will stop you — your own doubts, hate from haters, a bad review, poor time management, a hungry raccoon that nibbles off your fingers, whatever. If you’re a writer, you’ll write. And you’ll never stop to look back.

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  • Lord, I feel old. I don’t know what NSFW and NSFL mean. Oh, well. Maybe somebody at Hallmark will like my stories. Still, #1 through #25 were helpful and entertaining. Thanks.

  • I love the blunt vulgarity, the honest truth! Especially write motherfucking write. I finished all my old shit and am sitting on three new ideas, yet to make a fucking dime but no job at the moment so I’m going to start writing full time based on this list of 25, thanks for putting it online!

  • Oh, wow. There is a novel that I never finished writing. The characters still roam around in my head and haunt me. Can I breathe enough life into it? Won’t know until I at least try…..hard.

  • This has got to be one of the funniest writing-advice blogs I’ve ever read. I had to stop reading for a minute because I was laughing so hard. Great article! Keep it up, I loved it!

  • I’ll end up being a tipsy bitch. And I only drink cheap, sweet red wine, so I’ll be a cheap tipsy bitch. Cheers to me… Great post, though 😉

    • April 25, 2013 at 6:00 PM // Reply

      A friend of mine inspired me to pick up the pen again, even though most people in my life keep telling me that writing isn’t a realistic goal. I know I’m not the best writer in the world, but my dream is to have my work enjoyed by others, even if I don’t make millions off of it. I’ll just keep writing, even if I have to write nothing but fan fiction for the rest of my life.

  • I really appreciate your words and passion…i will remember your inspiration always…and I give thanks to you…

  • Respect for this advice, especially the last point: “Write, write, write, motherfucking write”, I think that that’s going to be my mantra from now on.

  • I have been writing for many years: novels, short stories, articles, etc, with only two articles being published in 1979 or thereabouts. I’ve had hundreds of rejections, and at the age of 76 have finally decided to just keep on writing, an enjoyable daily experience for me, and the hell with the publishers, agents, readers, and naysayers. I can totally relate to this article and I thank Mister Wendig for sharing it with us.

  • Tastes great to me, Chuck. Your advice bears fruit with me because it was sent and received as suggestions, not rules. Thanks. Reminds me that writing is, among many other things, standing in the spotlight, unmasked, butt-naked, terrified, cajonical, confused and confident all at the same time but absolutely committed to finishing what it started.

    And you did. Thanks. Reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s questions, which I took personally: “How long has it been since you wrote a story where your real love, hate, prejudice and passion slammed the page like a lightning bolt? What are the worst and best things in your life? When are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?”

    I hate writing but love putting words together to take things apart and put them together, on the page or the stage, for me and my listeners. Yeah, that’s silly. How can you hate writing while loving what makes it writing? But I’d do anything for words. Buy ’em ice cream, send ’em to Maui, arrange conjugal visits with their prefixes and suffixes.

  • So, I like this. I like this quite a bit actually. I was wondering if you could e-mail me. I understand that it would be pretty annoying to respond to all of this. I, however, would legitimately be worth the time to respond to. I am a writer, and a pretty good one. I am wondering mostly about schooling and the looming future. You should hit me up via e-mail sometime.

  • I’m so glad that when I googled “finish your shit” looking for this particular post, it was the first result. I was a little afraid of what Google might do with that search string…

  • This is GREAT advice!! Might I suggest, for anybody that struggles with #9, my editorial services? If you don’t know some of the rules, but you still have a great story to tell, I can help you get your manuscript standardized so you have a fighting chance to stand out from a sea of junk on a publisher’s desk! 🙂

  • Everybody should read this, and not only writers. It’s the best advice I’ve read on the Internet – or anywhere, quite frankly – so far. Thank you so much! I’d like to say more but I have to do some writing. I hope you understand.

  • I normally hate reading any kind of writing advice because, fundamentally, I’d be better off writing instead. But I can’t resist coming here. What you say really resonates for me and you manage to make it funny too. *salutes*

  • I love the poster/badge at the top of this post and hence it is now my screensaver 🙂 I loved reading the 25 points and admire your ability to use animal-based analogies to drive your points home. Lol! Subscribed 🙂
    I am an aspiring penmonkey and am glad to have found your site. Looking forward to reading your other posts!

  • Possibly the single best, most informative, no nonsense, practical and logical piece of advice about writing I have ever read and I have read a lot of them. I now I know what to do. Thanks Chuck

  • Well, hell, thanks for this. I’ll need to read this whenever I feel knee-deep in the shit I call my writing and on the verge of setting fire to my laptop. You can tell me to “FINISH YOUR SHIT” because, honestly, that’s my biggest problem. I came across this looking for colleges to help me with writing but when it all comes down to it, and you’re so right it’s crazy, further education just doesn’t really matter. I’m thinking of just majoring in Psychology while I write when I can (I still want to have a back-up plan) and hopefully, I pray to whoever the hell is up there, I’ll actually make my name known. (I’m just about to be a junior in high-school so I have some time to change my mind and make a couple of more mistakes) So, I just wanted to say thank you for setting my shit straight. Thank you for this wonderful advice. Thank you for the laughs. And thank you because this article just made my freakin’ day.

    Oh, and one more thing, WILL YOU READ MY STORY? (just kidding)

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