Stupid Answers To Common Writing Questions

I receive questions over email. I get questions at conferences. I thought I’d sum up some of my answers to those questions here! Please to enjoy.

How Do I Write?

I don’t know how you write. I know how I write. And how I write is, I line up a bunch of words and jam them together into sentences, then I jam those sentences together into paragraphs, and those paragraphs cram together into pages, pages into chapters, chapters into a whole story, and when all of it is said and done I try to make sure all of it is saying something, that all of it has a point, a purpose, a narrative connecting ideas and characters and events and that all of it is buoyed by some kind of hidden but not-that-hidden message called a “theme.” I do this a little bit, every day, until I’m done, and even then I’m not really done, because writing is rewriting is rewriting is rewriting is [insert me wandering through a hedge maze covered in ink here].

How Do I Find The Time To Write?

You do not find the time to write. You make it. You snatch it from the jaws of whatever temporal beast has your minutes and hours clamped between its gnarly teeth. We all fight for our time, whether it’s time for a meal, time for a TV show, time to mow the lawn, time to masturbate wantonly on the neighbor’s front porch so that their cat can watch you from the family room window. Time is not a lost set of car keys. It’s not extra money you find in a pants pocket just before you wash them. Time is a thing for which you fight. And if you want to write, you need to fight for the time to accomplish that task. Because time doesn’t care about you. It keeps on keeping on until you’re mulch for the fucking marigolds. Seize it. Or don’t. It doesn’t care.

How Long Should It Take Me To Write My Book?

It takes between one hour and one glacial epoch. Jesus, I dunno. Every book has its own clock. I know, that’s a dumb and obvious answer but that’s the goddamn answer. This book over here can be written in three weeks. That book over there can be written in three years. It takes the time it takes. You can make it go faster with practice and determination. Faster doesn’t always mean better, though — it just means faster.

How Do I Edit My Book?

I dunno. You just… you just fucking do, okay? Imagine that you want to take a sentence, any sentence, and edit that sentence. You might rearrange the words. You might excise words or add new ones that are more appropriate, that have more dramatic weight. You would aim to make the sentence be both clear and interesting to the ear. That’s editing. Now do it with a whole paragraph, page, chapter, book. And now it’s not just about little sentence-flavored bits but about character and ideas and events and theme and blah blah blah — there’s no “one way” to edit. You just do it. It’s like crawling through an earthquaked city in the dark, through the mud and the broken glass, trying to put the whole thing back together again. It takes time. There’s no magic, no equation. It’s just you putting the world right, one thing at a time.

How Do I Get Published?

You write something that doesn’t suck, maybe something that you even love a little bit, and you either flash a little narrative leg to an agent or an editor or you publish it yourself. Write the best book you can write.

How Do I Get An Agent?

You find a way to get your book in front of them, ideally via whatever means they prefer. Query letters, pitch sessions, a hand-up from a fellow writer. Whatever. If an agent says, “I want you to give me your logline, except you should tattoo it onto the back of a shaved grizzly bear and that bear should be trained to fight four New York City taxi cabs in front of my office,” then hey, there’s your way forward. Do all this with the best book you can write.

How Do I Market?

I have no fiddly fucking idea. Writers are supposed to be good at writing, not marketing — I wasn’t trained in that particular discipline. I feel like asking a writer how to market best is like asking a writer how to grow good string beans or how best to dismantle a rogue mechanical chimpanzee. Here’s how I market: I try to be the best version of myself, and I try to be a human being engaging with other human beings as much as my time allows, and then sometimes I will say, “Hello, I have this book, and you might like this book because XYZ,” and then once in a while I’ll try to do some kind of other shameless gallumphing about where I give books away or do a nude cam show or something. The best way forward is to get other people to market your books because we’d all much rather be sold something based on love than shameless self-promotion. If I say BUY MY BOOK you’re going to nod and hmm and, “Well, of course he’d say that, its his book.” But if someone within your circle of trust says to buy my book, suddenly you’re a lot more motivated because that person’s only motivation is to share love.

How Do I Build My Brand?

You — you just — please, don’t. Blech. Blargh. Myeaaaaargh. And other pukey-poopy noises. I have a whole schtick about brands that you’ve heard before but I’ll schtick it up again which is this: a brand is what you put on a cow to represent ownership. A brand is about keeping the herd in a fence. A brand is artifice: a thing levied by a corporate entity onto a product so that we all think a specific thing and get a particular feeling about that product even if that is a lie. A brand burns you. A brand marks you. It is a vulnerability because if you brand yourself one way and then find that doesn’t work or need to re-brand, you’re going to have a hard time. Many authors have found themselves trapped by their own brands. Who wants to read a book by a brand? Who wants to interface with a carefully-orchestrated persona? Be a person. Find your voice. Let your voice be the thing that identifies you. Resist branding. Resist other corporate, businessy labels. Again: be the best version of yourself. And write the best book you can fucking write.

How Do I Build My Audience?

You do not build an audience. They’re not a set of shelves. You earn your audience. By — drum roll please! — being a cool person who writes good books. Ta-da!

How Do I Build My Platform?

Every time I turn around I receive divergent definitions of platform. Is it the technical apparatus by which you reach an audience? Is it the audience itself, or the immeasurable reach you have with that audience? Is it your social media account, or the stats that come with that account? Is it your expertise in a given field, or the audience you already possess in that given field? Is it a blog? Is it a box you stand on, a bullhorn you scream through? Fuck platforms. Platforms sound like you’re up on high, talking down. Wade into the crowd. Be amongst the readers and the writers and shake hands and kiss babies and — whew, I dunno how many times I can say this but here it is, write the best book you can and be the best version of yourself.

Should I Blog / Tweet / Facebook / Slather Myself In Social Media?

Your publisher said you should, maybe, or you read that in a book of advice that writers need to blog. You don’t need to blog. You don’t need to do anything except a) best book b) best version of yourself. How you convey those two things to the world via the Internet is up to you. But for fuck’s sake, don’t blog if you don’t want to. Don’t tweet if it doesn’t make you happy. Writing can be lucrative but it’s not so lucrative a career you should tromp around in ugly spaces just because someone said you should. I’ve seen no confirmed correlation between Blogging and Book Sales. Every tweet doesn’t move copies. Especially if the only reason you’re doing that is just as some kind of social media obligation, some ham-fisted marketing strategy. If your publisher demands you blog because of marketing, tell them that’s their job, and they can write the blog themselves.

What Trends Are Hot Right Now?

I don’t know because I don’t care and you shouldn’t really care either. Again: this is probably bad business advice but it’s great creative advice. Fuck trends. Trying to write to trends is like trying to thread a needle whilst riding the back of a bucking bull. Don’t be the dog chasing the car. Be the car driving away from the dog. You know what’s great? A trend-setting book. You know what’s less great? The ten weaker reiterations that come down the line from authors and publishers hoping to chase that trend.

How Do I —

I don’t know. The more and more I go, the more I know that I don’t know. The more I realize that a lot of this thing we do is very random and very uncertain and is given over to two notable forces, two forces that I have repeatedly screamed in your poor ear this whole post: Be the best version of yourself and Write the best book you can. Do these things as often as you are able. More shots at the goal, y’know? Everything else is uncertain. Nothing else is confirmed. The ground is moving beneath our feet but those two things are the constants amidst the chaos. And even then, you’ll find jerk-ass authors succeeding with awful books and that’s just life, and it’s not worth getting upset about. Beyond that? The facts aren’t facts. Everything is theory. I can’t tell you how to do things. I can only tell you how I have done them and am doing them now and if you take something away from this that helps you, then I’m happy. If it doesn’t help you, then at least I’ve hopefully entertained you. Writers have no one way forward. We have so many ways through this wild land. And every one of us — accidentally or on purpose — burns the map after.

Best book you can write.

Best version of yourself you can be.

Demonstrate these things.

Go and write.

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