2015 Resolution For Writers: Be Big (And Then, Be Small)

Resolutions born of the new year are always a curious breed. They’re often criticized as change-filled (but empty) promises born more of the tradition of the date rather than as something you should do daily as part of the normal growth-and-learning cycle of we hairless orangutans prancing about on this little blue green bouncy ball winging its way through space.

New Year Resolutions are perhaps like cards at Christmas: bought, filled with the rote script, placed on a mantle for a few weeks, then inevitably tossed in the bin with the other holiday trash.

It’s true, to a point. But, just the same: one year to the next, one date to another, is a mark in time. Artificial, but hey, all of human society is artificial and it’s no less significant for its invention by us. The year is a bone suddenly broken — snap. And in that sharp shock of transition, if what we get is an urge to change? So fucking be it. The ideal state would be that we change when we need to, not when the calendar suggests it, but let’s also remember that the holidays and the transition from one year to another are vital times to reflect. We build up to the orgiastic rush to Christmas, and then are left with a startling, almost shocking void — all that’s left is cleaning up the wrapping paper and throwing the Christmas Hobo on the bonfire. Ha ha ha, I didn’t say Christmas Hobo, you said Christmas Hobo. I said tree. Christmas tree.

So it is that we reach a time of the year that is indeed very good for reflection. In that reflection, it is reasonable to look back at the year behind us — littering the carpet like so much wrapping paper — and peer ahead to the year ahead. We mark time because it gives us perspective. And we make resolutions because sometimes that perspective yields the desire to be different.

Evolution does not always come on a schedule, but no reason we can’t give it a stun gun in the ass-cheek to get it moving. And so, here I am, once again considering for me — and, if you care to embrace and adopt it, for you — what changes, what evolution, what crystallization of This Thing That We Do, may come with the year 2015.

Writers and other creative folk:

This year, I want you to be big.

And, perhaps puzzlingly, I also want you to be small.

Wait, What The Fizzy Fuck Are You Talking About?

By big and small, I do not mean your physical girth or footprint — I’m not asking you to tromp about like an ogre, or fold yourself up into a paint can. What I mean is that I want you to embrace the curious polarities that often result in being a creative person. We are this very strange combination of preening Narcissist and trembling, knock-kneed fawn. Inflated senses of self, puffed up like a blimp and filled with a sucking void of lost self-esteem. I don’t want you to grab a hold of those parts, though — I don’t find much value in being a bellowing blowhard whose self-importance is so rock-hard (meaning: fragile like spun glass) that every negative review sends him into a paroxysm of pants-shitting rage. The goal here isn’t to become a monster, but rather, to find the power in those two warring aspects — to find function and truth and momentum in what it is to be both big and small.

Being Big

You have to want it, and you have to mean it.

Writing a book and putting it out in the world is an act of ego — not egomania, but the willingness and decision to create a story out of nothing and push it forward into the world is a bold, brash, unflinching act. You say: this story matters, and it matters that I wrote it. It is a demonstration of your belief in the story and the belief you possess in yourself as a writer, storyteller, and a creator. It takes a rather epic set of genitals to write something that’s 300 pages long and then say to someone: “You’re going to sit down and you’re going to read this and you are going to love it the way I love it. You are going to take hours, even days out of your life to read the little ants dancing across the page, ants that make words, words that make this one big story full of people I just — I mean, seriously, get this, I just fucking made them up. They’re not even real. None of this is real! Can you believe it? It’s phantasm and ectoplasm and fairy-spun pegasus shit. It’s all from my own weird-ass brain. I cracked this massive egg, and now I want you to eat what spilled out.”

It’s you as a wide-eyed housecat, shoving forward a half-eaten mouse carcass, its fur sticky with your spit and blood, and you say with intense stare and low mrowl: I MADE DIS. YOU HAVE IT.

How amazing! How presumptive! How… totally fucking psychotic!

That’s you being big.

You get even bigger by writing the stories you want to write. By defying convention and eschewing advice and putting to paper the tale you want to tell. Own it! We worry so much about writing original stories that we forget about the one ingredient that will make all our stories as unique as a snowflake melting into the grooves of a fingerprint: you. You, your voice, your ideas, your experiences: those are the reagents of rare and powerful alchemy — as extraordinary as phoenix feathers! powdered unicorn horn! lightsaber crystals! — that go into your writing.

Be big enough to accept that. Be big enough that your books are your own. Do not flinch. Tell fear to fuck off. Don’t run from your own voice. Be your books. Have ideas. Anybody who runs a blacklight over your books should be able to see the blood and spittle and mysterious fluid spatter you sprayed over the whole thing like a randy skunk.

Be big enough so that the books are yours. So that the books are you, in a way.

Being Small

But you must also be small.

You write this thing, this massive chunk of yourself, and then you offer it up on a silver plate — and here, you have a choice. You can say, this is my work, it is indefensible and perfect, and it is all that matters. Or you can acknowledge that you’re part of something greater. A square in a mighty quilt, a star in a celestial sky, a glint in the Christmas Hobo’s eye. (No, you said Christmas Hobo. I said… uh, something else. *smoke bomb*)

What I mean is:

Be gracious. Be humble.

This Thing That We Do is a right, in a way — but it’s also a privilege. A privilege to be a part of something greater. You’re not stepping on a new planet, here: other people have blazed the trail, tamped down the vegetation, hunted the monsters that would’ve disemboweled you in a heartbeat. Others have colonized your genre. They’re there on the shelves. You can be big enough to have your own voice and to write that voice while at the same time acknowledging that you are not alone: others have been here, are still here, and will keep on coming. Other writers who need your help. Other books that need your championing. Other voices not your own.

Be gracious to other writers. And editors, agents and other publishing professionals. Be appreciative of your readers. Be kind to booksellers and librarians and reviewers (both of whom will help you reach those readers that I just told you to appreciate). Yes, it’s a thing often said that all writers really need is an audience, and perhaps that’s true in the purest of sense — but that’s also incredibly short-sighted, like saying the only thing a Widget-Maker needs is someone to Buy The Widget. It forgets about the truck drivers, the shelf-stockers, the Widget-polishers — it neglects to remember the ecosystem. Writing and publishing is a powerful and weird ecosystem: full of wonderful people who honestly give a shit about books and stories. How amazing is that? They’re here because they love it. Because they accept the bigness of the act of tale-telling, because they respect the need for stories in their lives. Be good to them.

And be humble. You ripped a massive pound of flesh out of your own body with the certainty that it matters — but you can’t go around beating people about the head and neck with it. You’re not the only one doing this. You are indeed the special snowflake: one that forms a blizzard of so many other special snowflakes. The takeaway: you are not alone.

So don’t be alone.

Be small. Be the tiny, glittering, mad fractal snowflake.

Be beautiful on your own, but be part of the blizzard, too.

Eat Me, Drink Me

Be big enough to create a first draft, and small enough to tear that draft to pieces, to write a second draft, then a fourth, then an eleven-hundred-and-fifty-sixth if that’s what it jolly well takes.

(Translation: be big enough to be a writer, but small enough to be an editor. The writer and the first draft is the block of marble and the shape coming out of it. The editor and the resultant drafts are the chisel that chips it away. Big, to small.)

Be big enough to be proud of your work, but small enough to appreciate every reader who picks it up and every bookseller, librarian, blogger or anybody who shares your work with the world.

Be big and ask to be paid for your work, but be small and donate your time and energy and kindness to others — what we are paid, we can help pay back.

Accept that your words are important and that your story matters, but not to the extent that it drowns out the voices of others.

Acknowledge your successes while never letting them be the end-all, be-all.

Be small enough that you are willing and able to fail without letting failure destroy you.

Be big enough that that you stand tall for the things you believe in. But be small, too, so that you can be fast and flexible for when the time comes that you need to change.

Be the writer you want to be, full of power and might and confidence, but one who also is gracious and nice and part of something larger. Earlier I mentioned the stars in the sky, and perhaps there is no greater metaphor, here: each star is impossibly large, a massive shape of fire and gas and light. And yet, when seen at a distance: tiny lights across the night, like sequins cast on the floor, like holes pricked in a dark blanket with a prodding pin. Big stars, but small stars, too.

Be then like the star: both big and small at the same time.

Have a great 2015, folks.

P.S.: Art hard, motherfuckers.


  • Another sublime rant delivered from the the mountaintop from The Master. As usual worth framing, quoting, and most absolutely, definitely at the very least forwarding! Can things can any better from 2015 Chuck? That’s a Bram Stokerish scary thought but there’s not long to find out..

  • I really like reading your posts. So unlike me, but what I need to hear, and written in such an entertaining manner. I WILL hatch this egg this year! But only due to the vast amounts of help and inspiration from others. I hope. I have had way too much wine tonight. But sadly, it is all gone. Nighty-night. Hic.

    I will read it again tomorrow when sober, if only because I don’t close the tab tonight. No! I am not closing the tab *because* I want to read it again! I should stop.

  • A call to arms! Galvanizing, yet resounding with kindness and the faithfulness of living well. How do you do that and still be funny? So annoyingly good!

  • Was that a fortifying red or a fruity white you were downing Nefer? No mater. We agree Chuckie’s the current reason for the season. Inspired or what!!? You also hit the nail on the cranium Moya with ‘annoyingingly good!’.

    P.s The grammatical mistakes in my original post were not wine induced but a ploy to make everyone sit up, take note and go, ‘Tut tut’.

  • You’re points about Christmas/New Year and the artificiality of marking time are so very true. I do an informal review (sometimes very brief, sometimes more detailed, including defining goals, setting targets and picking up the shattered pieces of previous goals/targets to start fresh) every New Year, every birthday, every new month, every new week and, sometimes, every day. If I fuck up today, well, tomorrow is another day. Much as I loathe and detest Gone with the Wind, it got one thing right.

    Every day is an opportunity for me to start fresh, working towards my goals, getting up earlier, getting more organised, working on my exercise routine, telling bigots to fuck off, and, most importantly, entering into the battle between the tyranny of the urgent and the important.

    This year I started working on an adult fantasy novel. My teacher hated it. People pass this class — “Building a Strong Narrative” — with minimal understanding of the concept that actual plot, narrative, grammar and punctuation are things of which we should be aware while the people who get good grades write angsty Litterachure. Meanwhile, I scraped through with credits until moderation time when my grade miraculously jumped to a distinction. My teacher’s criticisms of everything — need lots more descriptions of food but never say “knitted woolen cap”, “wooolen hat” is all that is necessary, telling me my characters are in the kitchen BE MORE CLEAR, then, when they move into the kitchen ‘WTF aren’t they in the kitchen already?’ — after all this I don’t feel I can engage with that novel at this time. While writing excerpts of this novel, I wanted to do more: more research, develop maps for clarity to ensure consistency, etc. I thought “it’s a lot of work for just one novel” then started thinking what I could do with a fully developed world… How I could do a Kelley Armstrong… Suddenly a YA novel was developing…

    At first it was only in my head. A couple of weeks ago I started putting things in 1s and 0s and writing notes on paper. This week I started learning Scrivener then, when I wanted to headdesk because I hated the Scrivener tutorial, I started using the product instead… This resulted in my ideas for several characters getting out of my head into more 1s and 0s, research to define the exact latitude for the novel (location, location, location) and the antagonist, more a vague thought than a character or plotline, suddenly had a backstory, a family life, interests, goals in life and even dance school, times of classes and a weekly schedule surrounding it.

    All because I have a goal: develop this novel before classes start next year. Originally my goal was to finish a draft. Now I think it’s to finish a draft of all assignments for the subject “Fiction YA” before semester starts, plot the story and finish a decent amount of research for setting, characters etc.

    All because I had a goal: don’t fuck with NaNoWriMo, do it write (pardon the pun) and develop this story ready for semester 1 2015.

    And I’ve gained an understanding of why full-time writers can take a year to write a novel. Win/win.

  • I feel small when I think about what it is going to take to turn these rough drafts into what I see in my head. It feels like a very long way off. Start trudging. Good thing I got new boots for Christmas.

  • Reading bad reviews, turning into a monster in a paroxysm of pants-shitting rage? Now we know the TRUE story of how Dr. Bruce Banner became The Increidble Hulk. I knew Dr. Banner was a scientist; I just hadn’t realized he was a writer too.

    “Hulk SMASH puny reviewer!”

  • Thanks for the reminder to see myself in context. It’s all too easy to see yourself as either a superhero or a nerd. It’s also too easy to not appreciate the many roles others play in helping you get your book into readers hands.
    Have a good 2015!

  • You also ptmulraney have spoken truth. The superhero/nerd personas are certainly ripe for the picking but Chuck has led us out of the darkened valley of self loathing once more and made us all feel powerful and great.

  • Thank you for the inspirational words. Your words of wisdom and your sense of humor have been invaluable in my writing journey and whatever comes out of this adventure, I am very grateful that I found your blog. Have a great year!

  • Reading your blogs is so often like dancing to a new song with rhythms that astonish and delight. This one will go on my favorites playlist.

  • Great post. Seen some similar things said around the Blogosphere, twittersphere, whateverspere, in the last day. Sadly, I think some of the folks that should be taking this advice are too stubborn/prideful to open themselves up to it. Be small, indeed. Thanks again for the words of wisdom.

  • Sir as one of the many pigeons who wait anxiously each day by your park bench of wisdom for that breadcrumb of knowledge you toss to us I just want to say Thank You from the bottom of my pigeon sized gullet. I am about to start rewriting a story I have tried to finish on and off for nearly ten years and I would not even attempt it if it not got your constant cries of just fucking fit down and write. So thanks DNS best wishes for the New year big and small

  • Thank YOU Chuck. I’ve been reading your blog (and books) for years now, and you never disappoint with excellent advice, a forum for some very interesting discussions, and always great stories. I’m looking forward to all of your upcoming books, and I hope you have a great 2015

  • Great post, Chuck. Happy New Year to the Little Big Man . . . Wait. That was a movie with Dustin Hoffman that was probably made before you were born . . . Happy New Year to the Big Small Guy with the Wise Words and the Awesome Style. May your muse be good to you this year. :)

  • Splendid!!!! This is why I will write a scifi short story every day in January and publish (a book) at least four times this year in addition to lending my experiences to folks who need a gentle and continual kick in the rear to ignore the haters and do the work. Keep it mind the point is to get the work done not create perfect work.

  • Good article. It gave me a shot of adrenalin I needed. I hear so many people saying they want to write, but are waiting for inspiration. The answer is write something, go to a writers group and have it dissected. Thank you, and have a happy new year.

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