Writing Advice Is Bullshit

Looking at that title, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was my snapping moment — that finally I have achieved total author meltdown, and now I’m running through the streets, pants on my head, frothing on about how WRITING ADVICE IS MADE OF PEOPLE and CONTRAILS ARE HOW GMO BIG PHARMA SOMETHING SOMETHING OBAMA and BEN CARSON SHOULD BE PRESIDENT.

This is not that moment.

I know, I know, it’s very disappointing.

It’s just — it’s that month. It’s the month where lots of folks entertain the idea of being a novelist and they hunger for information, for direction, for truth.

My blog hits go through the roof during October and November.

I sell a lot of books about writing during this time.

Which is nice.

It’s all perfectly lovely.

It’s also all bullshit.

Now, before I go further into the cuckoo mines, I want to say — here’s another thing that happens during this month. People get mad at me for telling them how to write. I am, quite admittedly, a privileged guy even beyond the Normal Reasons. I’m a full-time writer. I make actual money writing. Not like, fake money. But the kind of money where I can support my family on it. I can pay all my bills and then buy Star Wars toys. I can buy myself a magical fucking writing shed to plonk down in the woods like a very pretty apocalypse bunker where I have an arsenal of books instead of an arsenal of guns. I’m not wealthy, I’m not famous, but I’m doing more than just surviving. I’m plump (hey shut up I lost weight) and pleasantly keeping on.

So, folks get galled that I would be so presumptuous to tell them how to do this thing. Which is both fair and also strange — yes, I’m privileged, but I like to think that I earned it. I didn’t buy my way into this gig. I have been working at it for almost 20 years (*weeps into open hands at the ineluctable march of time*). I have gone through many full time jobs, most of which sucked mightily. I have had years where my writing made me alarmingly little. I have endured the tooth and claw of rejection, countless rejections, so much rejection, goddamnit rejection. Plus: hey, occasionally crippling anxiety. That’s always a hoot.

Oh, and I still get bad reviews. I still get rejected. Writing is hard. Easier for me than many. But still hard. And publishing is harder. Publishing can be “passing pumpkin seeds through your urethra” hard. It can be “pushing a rock up a hill until the rock rolls back down onto you and then vultures eat your fingermeats but now it’s time to push the rock again, dummy” hard.

That’s me yelling at the clouds and shaking my fist at trees, screaming: I EARNED THE RIGHT TO YELL AT YOU ABOUT WRITING. And then I hiss at birds. Stupid birds.

I have an educated, practiced — if also narrow! — view of writing, storytelling, and publishing.

But please, let me reiterate: it’s all bullshit.

To explain:

Nothing I say is right.

Writing advice is not science.

About the only provable thing you can say about writing is that to be a writer, you have to write, and hey, it’s probably a very good idea to finish most, if not all, the things you begin. My “secret to writing” message remains: WRITE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN, AS FAST AS YOU CAN; FINISH YOUR SHIT; HIT YOUR DEADLINES; TRY VERY HARD NOT TO SUCK. And that’s it. That’s the end of it.

Everything else is just opinion.

Gassy, half-formed opinion.

What works for one person won’t work for another.

What reads well by one author will read poorly when written by another.

A technique works for me, fails for you. Or for you it is amazing and for me it is puzzling.

I love my word processor. You hate it.

Don’t ever open a story with weather, except when you should.

You should write in the morning unless you can’t or shouldn’t or won’t or whatever.

Be more literary! Be more genre! Be less this more that wait no the other thing.

This won’t sell until it does and then it sells a lot until it stops selling and nnngh.

You should do XYZ except unless ABC or 123 or wuzza wooza buzzy fuzzy.

Here you might be saying: well, then, why do it? Why yammer on about writing at all? WHY ARE YOU WILLFULLY HORSESHITTING US, YOU FANCY ASSHOLE?

It’s for a few reasons.

First, because as I have noted in the past, because I like to yell at myself, and this blog provides a convenient platform to scream at my presumed Audience Of One.

Second, because I am a noisy, opinionated jackhole.

Third, because bullshit still works as fertilizer. What I mean is this: the things I say at this blog and in my writing books is just advice. It’s not right. It’s also not automatically wrong. It’s just advice. It’s like if you ask me about sneakers and I’m like, “I wear these sneakers called Hoka One Ones, and they’re really great.” They are a real sneaker. I actually own and wear and love them. They’re great for me. It’s true. It’s like walking on air. It’s improved my running. They’ve ended my plantar fasciitis and also ended other associated running pains. And they might be great for some of you. For others? You might fucking hate them. But these shoes are what I know and so I will recommend them if you ask. Hell, even if you don’t ask.

My writing advice is that.

I have been doing this for a while.

I have learned lessons applicable to me and possibly applicable to some of you.

And so, I share them in the hopes that you will swill this briny brew around your mouth — maybe you like the taste, or maybe you make a face like you just licked the ass-end of an irritable llama. The goal is that somewhere in the spongy fungal morass I grow here at the blog you will find that the bullshit sprinkled about has been a proper fertilizer instead of just a nasty-ass, stink-making air-destroyer. But at the same time, don’t treat what I say — or what anybody says — as gospel truth. Consider it. Taste it. Smell it. Lift it in your hand. And then use or or lose it. You do you. I mean, shit, even if the writing advice gets you pissed at me — good. Then it’s making you think about this thing that we do. It challenges you. That’s a good thing. Maybe it clarifies why you do what you do even if it’s not how I do it. Good. Great. Rock the fuck on.

So, yes.

Writing advice is bullshit. But maybe, just maybe, you can use it to fertilize your own work.

78 comments

  • Locked down here in NaNoWriMo hell and needed a boost. This post went right into the IV and I’m starting to feel the effects. Or is it “affects”? See… that’s where I’m at right now. 😉 Thanks for this one!

  • I just really love reading your rants. I notice people tend to be pretty chill when commenting, too, even when they disagree. Nice blog. And nice disgusting metaphors that make going to class or work more bearable on crappy mornings.

  • Awesome tips, Chuck. As an active commenter myself I can totally relate to all of your points. If you want to get noticed you have to be thorough. “Be present” is an awesome advice. Thanks for sharing your valuable information.

  • This point cannot be stressed enough. Almost all successful writers have a few methods and practices in common…and Chuck summarized those in the first few words of this post. The rest is all personal, unique and random dependent on the writer’s situation and personality. Make YOUR OWN practices that are right for you, that you can commit to and believe in. In fact, that’s what most truly successful people do in any career. They make up their own way based on what they know works for them. It’s a cop out to say, “Well, I tried Stephen King’s advice for writing and I just couldn’t stick with it…blah, blah.” Of course you couldn’t, you’re not Stephen King. Great people don’t emulate one example, although they may borrow from a number of others who have passed on their knowledge–great people use their best version of themselves as their example and strive to be that person.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds