25 Realizations Writers Need To Have
1. The Story Is The Thing
“Publishing is on a collision course with the sun! Amazon has eaten all the books and shat them out as e-books! Development funds are drying up! Writers are shanking each other with Bic pens over a 1/4-cent-per-word!” Stop. Breathe. Refocus. Media companies will rise and fall. Technologies come and go. The story remains constant. More to the point, our need for stories remain constant. Storytellers and writers aren’t going anywhere. They may need to bend with the wind. They may need to find new ways to thrive. But they — we — will always have a place. The audience will be there. We just have to find them.
2. Old Stories, New Faces
As storytellers, we must adapt by adopting new ways of doing things — or, rather, new ways of telling stories. . The old roads may still work, but new paths through the jungle must be cut with our word-machetes. When you see a new piece of technology or social media, ask the question, “How can I use this to tell stories?” If you see a new publishing option (one that does not exploit the author), it’s wise to try it — if only to see if you can find new audience and a new vehicle by which to tell your tales.
3. Thrive, Don’t Survive
New models and new means open new ways for you to make a living by telling stories. That’s the goal, right? It’s certainly my goal. Yours might be, “Barely have enough to pay rent and buy myself a 9-pack of Ramen,” but I say, aim higher. Point is, if the old way isn’t giving you the living you need, you need to mix that shit up. Diversify. Feint right, then duck left — break free of the Conga line and do your own spasmodic seizure-dance on the Disco floor. You need to learn your own moves. Shake what your Momma gave you.
4. Embrace All Tools
In any career, it pays to learn all the tricks and tools of the trade. A carpenter doesn’t just know how to build chairs. A dominatrix doesn’t just know how to spank an upturned bottom or shove mascara brushes into pee-holes. A carpenter learns how to use the Laser-Nail 9009. A dominatrix learns how to build her own cat-of-nine-tails from the entrails of her gimp. (Okay, this is probably why I’m neither carpenter nor dominator.) Writers should learn tools old and new. Don’t just learn how to write a novel. Write short. Write long. Write scripts. Write games. Write blogs. Write creative non-fiction. Write psycho-vids for the HoloNet. Learn it all. Do it all. Stay relevant and diversify. The shark swims forward or he drowns. The monkey kills the monkey or the monkey doesn’t get the cupcake. Or something. Shut up.
5. The Myth Of The Perfect Path
Amazon is the savior! Amazon is a monster! The Big Six destroy authors! The Big Six will save publishing! Kickstarter! No, wait! Indiegogo! Love agents! Fuck agents! Hollywood rules! The studio system sucks balls! Brain! On fire! Fritzing out! Too many exclamation points! Too many opposing viewpoints! Can’t feel legs! Ahem. No perfect path exists. No one company or model is ideally suited to anybody and everybody. Amazon helps many. Amazon hurts others. Traditional publishing has fucked over some authors, and has unfucked just as many. No perfect path exists. We all choose which angels and devils to place upon our shoulders. Accept your nuanced and imperfect options.
6. Tribes Are Fucking Stupid
To build off that last point, tribes are fucking stupid. We create tribes to stroke our own egos, to confirm our choices to the world at large when we only need to confirm them to ourselves. Detonate your tribes. Destroy your cults. Tell your leaders you’re leaving for the secular life and if they fight you, bludgeon them with a femur and move along. Embrace a single inclusive tribe: the tribe of storyteller.
7. The Power In Clumsily Flailing About Like A Drunken Orangutan
Say “yes” more than you say “no.” Sometimes trying new things and learning new skills isn’t about a focused strategy or a well-meaning plus/minus pro/con list. You need to be savvy in business but you’re also a creative human being, goddamnit, and sometimes creativity is about wildly pirouetting and crashing into lamps and trying new things just because you got a bug up your ass to do it.
8. Your Work Has Value, So Claim Value For What You Do
Deny anybody who wants you to work for free. If you work for free, that’s something you do, not something someone asks of you — doubly true where they’re making money and you’re not. They might as well ask you to bend over and stick tennis balls up your poopchute for the pleasure of an audience without you getting even the benefit of a reach-around. Or health care. Or free tennis lessons! Stories have value. Storytellers have value. Anybody who says different should be thrown into a wood chipper and used for mulch.
9. Free Is Part Of A Strategy, Not The Whole Damn Strategy
That says it all but it bears unpacking: you can’t just give everything away and hope to thrive — or, frankly, even survive. You can give some stuff away. But don’t give it all away. Free is a zero sum, zero value game.
10. The Crass Reality Of “Monetization”
It’s an ugly word. “Monetization.” I gag a little when I say it. Whenever I hear it, a little trickle of blood oozes from my earholes. Just the same, storytellers need to eat, pay bills, support their deviant sexual habits, and that takes money, and that means you either work as a bag-boy and give your stories away for free or you find a way for your stories to help you make money. Sometimes that’s selling direct. Sometimes it’s a more circuitous path to the bill-paying and deviancy-having. Creativity without business sense will leave you starving. When you tell stories, ask the question (much as you may hate it): “How does this help me survive, and then thrive?”
11. The Internet Changed Everything
I’m not telling you something you don’t already know (and by the time you read this there will probably be something new, like, “THE MEMEGRID CHANGED EVERYTHING” or “THE NANO-BEES COLONIZED OUR STORY-PODS,” but fuck it, whaddya gonna do?), but I feel the need to remind storytellers that the Internet has made the tools of story creation and dissemination cheaper, easier, crazier, and farther-flung. Farther-flunger? Shut up. This is good in that it gives you and the audience greater connection, and troubling because it amps up competition and changes value. It is what it is. Take advantage.
12. Mother May I?
It’s time to stop asking for permission. Storytellers have been cast in a submissive role for a long time — “Please, Mistress, may I have another?” *WHACK* — and the worm is turning. Nobody’s doing you a favor by helping your story come to life. It’s not a treat placed on a dog’s nose while he waits patiently to chomp it down. This isn’t about killing gatekeepers so much as it is about redefining the gates. This isn’t about going DIY so much as it is about finding people — agents, editors, publishers, artists, other storytellers — who see you as a partner, not a peon. Symbiosis, not parasitism.
13. Bookstores Can Be Vital Places
This is not to say that new trumps old. That’s not the point. The point is, both exist, and both are likely to continue to exist. The real world — aka “meatspace,” aka “IRL,” aka “that place where I go to the grocery store and fondle overripe fruit” — is where people actually exist. And bookstores (and libraries, and movie theaters, and anywhere the audience gathers) still remain vital places. Reality trumps the digital space. Find ways to connect with the living, breathing audience. Leave room for those physical connections, which is not to say you should all be having some kind of author-audience orgy. I mean… y’know, unless you’re into that. *takes off pants, gently strokes mushy cantaloupe while moaning*
14. Speaking Of The Orgy
You can’t do this alone. Don’t think you can. Don’t think you can exist without some combination of partners, editors, artists, producers, agents, liaisons, lion-tamers, bee-wranglers, tweeters, whiskey procurement agents, sandwich-preparation-techs, and fluffers.
15. Other Writers Matter
Other writers are as crazy as you are, and trust me, I’ve seen what you do. (For the love of all that’s sacred, cover up those crotchless Naugahyde trousers. And put down the river otter.) Just the same, community in the writer’s world is key. Writers help writers. Storytellers help storytellers. They’re not competition. They’re partners. Cohorts. Drinking buddies. Folks who know how to properly dissolve a dead body.
16. The Audience Is More Active Than Ever
When fire touches water, the molecules go all batty and twitchy and that’s how water boils. The audience is the water, and they’re set to boil. The audience is an active element. They tweet, blog, post to Facebook, email the author, and create a generous (and alarmingly fast) feedback loop. And they’ll do you one better: prime movers in that space will create fan-fiction or involve themselves in the story in a big way. Open your door to the audience. Join the feedback loop. Get shut of notions of creative integrity and leave room for audience engagement, collaboration, and emergence.
17. Oh, And By The Way, You Need That Audience
Some creators treat their audience like an enemy. Do that and you’re dead. They’ll gut you like a fucking fish and stick a grenade where your heart used to be. The audience is the most important team member in any storyteller’s crew. Without the audience, you’re just a naked weirdo screaming at himself in the mirror.
18. Your Work Won’t Be For Everyone
The audience isn’t total. The audience is more and more fractured these days, like a hunk of hard toffee broken into pieces. But that’s okay. Smaller audiences are often more invested ones, creating a more vibrant ecosystem for creators. The age of the rockstar is fading, and that’s true across most of the artistic spectrum. But the death of the icon doesn’t mean the whole thing is going to collapse. When the big fish dies, the little fish can fill the space. You may not get to be Stephen King, but you can be a storyteller who makes a living — a good living — doing what he loves to do, and there is perhaps no more perfect thing than that.
19. It Puts The Word In The Mouth Or It Gets The Hose Again
Word of mouth is still the best driver for stories — it is the infection vector we all use and desire. But it’s changed. The Internet has widened the mouth so it can accommodate more words — our “circle of trust” has grown significantly bigger with the advent of social media. It’s no longer just the 10 people we hang out with at work or the bar. It’s the 100 people on Twitter, the 1000 on Facebook, the blogs and reviews we read.
20. Piracy Is Not Theft
A controversial point, but I want to put it out there: piracy, good or bad, is not theft. It is perhaps a kind of parasitism? Combat it where you can, find value in it where you can’t. Which leads me to…
21. You Can’t Control The Tides
Some forces lay outside an author’s control. You may be able to change some small things here and there, and you can certainly find new paths — but just the same, elements of this life will always be outside your control. Whether we’re talking e-book pricing or piracy or audience interest or Amazon or publishers or whether or not there are viral YouTube videos of me randily humping fruit at your local grocery store, some things are outside your control. When that’s the case, you can either go with the waves or walk away from the beach, but standing there and yelling at the tides will do you little good.
22. Be Generative
Do. Don’t just talk about it. Or think about it. Or play pretend. Put yourself out there. Tell stories. Lots of them. Learn the skill. Harness your talent. To be creative is to create. It’s all on you, motherfucker.
23. Storytelling And Writing Are Two Different Skills
I’ve said it before but I like it so much I plan on keep shoehorning it into your brain-hole: writing and storytelling are two different skills that feed off one another — a Yin and Yang, a pair of snakes biting each other’s tail. You must know the art of the story and the craft of communicating that story. One without the other is like a two-legged pony, dragging himself around all sad-ass, the most griefstruck pony in the world. Also, “Griefstruck Pony” was my nickname in the Crips. Or was it the Bloods? Whatever.
24. Maybe Time To Call Yourself A Storyteller?
I’m wondering if “storyteller” is more versatile than “writer?” Of course, it’s also probably worth even less respect on the open respect market. Try telling someone you’re a “storyteller” and they probably think you dress up like a goof and tell stories to wandering children for mere tuppence. Just the same, it’s a good way to differentiate between “I write technical VCR repair manuals” and “I write stories for an engaged audience.” And it also doesn’t pin you to any one format, platform, or medium. Shit, I don’t know. By the time I get to item #24 on these lists I’m usually drunk and dizzy. My nude body covered in fruit guts. So. Y’know. Enjoy that visual. *high-five*
25. A Good Story Is Your Best Defense
Your best defense against changing conditions and an uncertain environment is a good story. Book, comic, movie, game, cartoon, cave-based pictographs, whatever. By being capable and crafty, by being generative and progressive, by knowing how to do that thing you do, you insulate yourself from the chaos of the industry. The audience will always be there. The story matters to them, and they matter to you.
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