Lately, I’ve seen some writers acting like no writer should. And it occurs to me that there’s an unholy host of behaviors that writers sometimes manifest — myself included! — that we need to watch. So, here’s a whole list of said “bad behaviors.” These are not all equal and they’re not all going to bury your career or anything, but you should stand vigil against them just the same.
1. Being An Unprofessional Fucking Asshole
Most of the items on the list fall into this category, but it feels like this needs to be said just to act as a net to catch all the naughty writerly behaviors that will slip through — don’t let your “brand” become, “That unprofessional flaming shit-bird who did that really unprofessional shitbird thing and now it’s a stain on his career like a permanent skidmark that bled through his tighty-whities and onto his khaki shorts.” If ever you’re about to perform a questionable action in person or online, ask yourself: “Is this how a professional acts? Or is this how a rampant jabber-jawed cock-waffling jerk-monster acts?” Choose wisely!
2. Responding To Negative Reviews (With More Negativity)
Fact: some people are not going to like your writing. Some people will not like your writing for reasons that are incomprehensible to you or for reasons that may cause you to sit and simmer and twitch and pee a little. Some will write negative reviews that are insightful. Some will write negative reviews that have all the wit and wisdom of a moldy stump. Do not engage. Or, at least, do not engage with negativity. Sometimes, I like to kill them with kindness. Crushing them in an eerie robotic embrace where I politely thank them and recommend for them another work of mine or perhaps the work of another author I respect. But they’re due their opinion, even if their opinion is, “I read the first five-and-a-half pages and it made me so mad I had to write this cranky one-star-review on Goodreads.” Such is the Internet. Leave it alone.
3. Fighting With Other Authors
You know who wins when authors battle authors online? Time-traveling Nazi grizzly bears. Because they win whenever anything bad happens. Authors: don’t get in a scuffle with other authors. Or, frankly, with anybody. Disagreements are one thing. Discussions, fine. Arguments are even okay, long as everyone stays polite. But don’t let it become a scuffle. Don’t be prickly. Don’t call anybody names. Because even if you’re right, you’re wrong. Wrestle with pigs, you’re gonna get muddy. Not worth it.
4. Not Reading Submission Guidelines
Submission guidelines — be they for a literary magazine, a blog, an agent or a publisher — exist for a reason. They’re not arbitrary. A bunch of editors didn’t just get high one night and giggle-snort their way through a bunch of absurd guidelines (“I’m supposed to include an SASE, a hamster, and a naked photo of my mother?”). They’re not pulling the wings off a fly; these guidelines exist for a reason. It’s making somebody’s difficult job (a job that entails fishing through dumpsters of sludge to find a rare gem) just a wee bit easier. Guidelines aren’t suggestions. Follow them.
5. Querying An Unfinished Manuscript
“Here, I half-cooked a chicken. White on the outside, pink and gooey on the inside. I call the raw parts ‘cluck butter.’ It’s like salmonella sashimi. It’s so good.” You don’t hand someone half-cooked food. You don’t half-paint a room then trumpet your proud accomplishment. So don’t query your half-a-dick manuscript (or, for the ladies, a half-a-vagina manuscript) to the world. Finish. Finish strong. Then send.
6. Annoying Editors And Agents
Editors and agents have it tough. They get a lot of shit for being gatekeepers, but here’s what happens at the gate: they stand there, arms and mouths open while a garbage truck backs up (beep beep beep) and unloads a mountain of submissions upon them daily. And, spoiler warning, ninety percent of those submissions won’t cut it. Hell, a not unreasonable percentage are toxic enough that I’m surprised Homeland Security doesn’t show up with hazmat suits and flamethrowers. So, when you annoy them with constant emails, unedited manuscripts, work that’s already been self-published or with crazily presumptive tweets, well, it just puts them one step closer to a water tower with a rifle. I’m not saying every editor and agent is a shining example, but they don’t deserve you acting like a grit of sand in the elastic of one’s underoos.
7. Responding To Rejection With Rageface
I’ve gotten some really strong rejections that taught me about the work. I’ve received rejections that were as tepid and nutritional as a cup of warm salt water. I’ve gotten rejections that were mean — mean the way a yellowjacket is mean, mean the way an unsexed Internet troll is mean. Your response should be to learn something, then move on. Your response should not be to kick a hole in your drywall and then formulate the perfect scathing response (“I REJECT YOU, SCUM-SLATHERED GUARDIAN OF THE ELITIST PUBLISHING GATES”). Calm down. Drink some chamomile.
8. Rageface, Part II: Revision Time
Your work is an ugly rock that, when thrown into the rock tumbler, comes out a polished stone. The rock tumbler is, in this clumsy metaphor, the process of revisions and that often involves getting notes from others aimed at improving the story. Such critical notes are by no means automatically helpful, but what you should never do is dig your heels in and act like a petulant whiny-head who feels threatened by the editorial process. Editors and note-givers are trying to help. Be nice, even if you disagree.
9. Drunkenly Tweeting Awful Things To People
10. Spamming Anybody With Anything Ever
There exists a not-so-fine line between self-promotion and spamming-the-shit-out-of-people. The line is, in fact, thick as a brick. Self-promo becomes spam promo soon as you become annoying with it. Soon as you stop pushing anything but your ME ME ME solipsistic fap-wank and gain equivalence to some out-of-control spam-bot. Yes, you can promote your work. I don’t follow a writer hoping he’ll keep shut about his new book, film, comic, or pornographic memoir. I just want him to talk about other stuff too. Your self-promo needs to be a pair of pom-poms, not a pair of claw hammers. Oh! And if you Auto-DM me anything ever I will find you and throw you out of one helicopter and into the spinning blades of another. Your blood-mist will rain down on an unsuspecting populace and they will cheer me.
11. Acting Racist, Sexist, Misogynist, Any Of The Hateful -Ists
I don’t even need to tell you this and, if I do, you’re probably not going to listen anyway. But don’t be a prejudiced, hate-fueled fuck-muffin. Okay? Not on purpose. Not accidentally. Not at all. As they say on the tough streets of America: “You best inspect thyself beforest thou misdirect thyself.” Or something. I’VE GOT STREET CRED SHUT UP. *gesticulates made-up gang signs then weeps quietly under desk*
12. The Authorial Meltdown
Ahh, the writer. Greased up in his own fluids, sloppily slamming himself against the walls of his Plexiglas enclosure. Melting down in public (and trust me, “on the Internet” soooo counts as being “in public”). Something-something gatekeepers. Something-something some publisher did. Something-something Amazon. Or maybe just inchoate wails of gibberish. Button that up. No meltdowns. I know that’s easier said than done — it’s not like we control our meltdowns, exactly, but forewarned is forearmed.
13. Plagiarizing Somebody Else’s Hard Work
That’s a dick move, dude. And also so obvious I shouldn’t need to tell you that writers live and die by the things that come pouring out of their headbuckets and when you repurpose their creative brain-juice as your own, Zombie Ernest Hemingway rises from the grave with a double-barrel shotgun with one barrel for your face, and the other for your crotch. We are what we write. You be you. I’ll be me.
14. Blowing Out Your Deadlines
Somebody didn’t just draw your deadline out of a deck of cards. It’s a date that somebody needs you to hit so that things can happen as they’re supposed to happen — editing and design and whatever. You miss it, you just made someone else’s life harder. Now, if you’re a writer who assumes himself the center of the creative universe, well, hey, fuck it. But if you’re a writer who realizes his impact on others: maybe hit your deadlines so that somebody isn’t scrambling to cut the slack in your rope.
15. Ignoring Your Assignment
If you’re a freelance writer, you are likely to receive instruction — “I need 2,000 words on bear-sexing by Tuesday.” What you should not do is come back on Tuesday and say, “I’ve written 5,000 words on how Ukranian falconry created the secular celibacy boom of the late 1980s.” Do the work that is assigned to you. When developing games I saw this with some frequency, and man, it always irritated my peehole into a ragged, flaming crater. Though that might’ve also been, uhh, something else.
16. Making A Butt-Ton Of Excuses
I see you, writers. And I judge. Because I’m a judgey-faced judge-hole from Planet Motherfucking Sizing-You-Up whose sole hobby is analyzing the cut of your jib. I see you on the Twitters. On the Faceyspaces. In your bloggery cottages. I see your excuses. Time. Children. Work. Sick. Writer’s block. Sleepy muse. Elk attack. Ennui. And all I think is, “It’s awfully easy for us to dig a hole with a shovel made of our own excuses.” What you think are reasons, mmm, well, probably aren’t.
17. Writing Without Editing
Writing without editing is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Or dressing yourself with your eyes closed. Or trying to have sex with a bear without ever having read a manual on bear-sexing and also without wearing chainmail, which is a critical part of the “bear sex” equation, I’ve found. Haven’t you?
18. Self-Publishing Your Worst Instead Of Your Best
“I invented this thing when I was drunk last night. It, like, chops onions really fast. I guess. So, I’m going to slap my name on it and stick it on the shelf at Target. I wouldn’t let any children touch it because I’m pretty sure it’ll cut their fingers off. It’s also dog-fuck ugly, like, I mean, it looks like mannequin poop. But my name’s on it! It’s all me! Tell your friends!” Nobody does this anywhere but publishing, I suspect — and yet, that’s basically what too many “indie” authors do, they shove a blob of Play-Dough onto a dirty paper plate and call it a meal. Stop that. You earn a special place in Author Hell for that.
19. Fighting In The Trenches Of The Any Imaginary War
Indie punches traditional, Amazon karate-chops B&N, print pees in the eyes of digital, whatever. The only side you should fight on is the side of your audience. With weapons forged from the steel of Good Story.
20. Flinging Sour Grapes At Authors More Successful Than You
Your envy is not productive. Not when you keep it inside and, when you let it out, it actually runs the risk of being counter-productive. Eat a fistful of sour grapes, you’ll get that “looks-like-smells-shit” face. And nobody wants to be around anybody making that face. Jealousy is unattractive. And frankly, boring.
21. Bludgeoning Folks With Your Ego
Guy rides by on a super-noisy motorcycle or whips by in some psycho-fast sports car, I like to smile and wave and loudly compliment that dude on his very tiny penis. The louder and more ego-fed you are, the less you usually have to back it up. It’s like a butterfly trying to look like an owl. Fuck that. Be the owl. The owl doesn’t need to advertise because he’s a motherfucking owl, son. Cool the ego. Nobody wants to see it.
22. Acting Like A Bully
Taking the ego up a notch is when authors act like bullies. They have an opinion or a story or some measure of success and they use it to shove everybody around. It’s gross. You should be ashamed.
23. “Hey, Will You Read My Manuscript?”
First, this: “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script.” Second, consider aspects not mentioned there: like, say, the fact that there exist legal concerns for an author reading another author’s unpublished work — I read your book about Hot Mummy Erotica and then decide one day I want to write my own Completely Different Hot Mummy Erotica tome (50 Shades of Mum-MAY? I’m so sorry), then you’re going to get all litigious on me. As a sidenote, this is very much one of those laws I broke early on. I asked Christopher Moore to read something of mine and he was very nice and very polite in putting me in my place.
24. Failing To Appreciate Your Audience
Don’t be rude to your audience. Don’t dismiss them. Don’t treat them like idiots or like they owe you something. They’re the reason you’re here. They’re the reason you get to do what you do.
25. Talking About Writing Without Actually Writing
I distrust writing advice from writers who appear to never write anything. So too do I see too many writers talking about writing without actually committing pen to paper (or fingers to keys or, I dunno, ink-dipped genitals to linoleum floor), and that’s a super-huge-mega-no-no. Now, I’m not averse to talking about writing. I talk about writing a lot. What do you think I just did for the last 2200 words? But I also wrote 2000 words today not in the blog, 2000 words today of “I’m walking the walk, talking the talk, slinging the ink, punching the panda.” Talking about writing is just another way to waste time, in public, except here the clever ruse is how very productive it feels. It ain’t. Writing means writing. Writing doesn’t mean talking. So get off the soapbox. Set aside the microphone. Pick up that pen before I stab you with it.
Want another hot tasty dose of dubious writing advice aimed at your facemeats?