Your 2016 Authorial Mandate Is Here: Be The Writer That You Are, Not The Writer Other People Want You To Be

That blog title is way too long, but fuck it.

A handful of weeks ago, some presumably well-meaning tickledick posted a comment here at the blog. It was a comment that I chose not to approve because, really, I don’t need your shit, Rando Calrissian. This blog is my digital house, and I don’t let strangers inside just so they can take a dump on my kitchen table, especially so we can all sit around, smelling it and discussing it. But the comment was a splinter under my nail, working its way up into the finger-meat. And then reading George R. R. Martin’s end-of-the-year message about not finishing the newest SOIAF also was something that crawled inside me and starting having thought-babies.

Being here on the Internet is a bit like hanging out on a clothesline — some days are sunny and warm, other days are cool and breezy. Some days it pisses rain and the wind tries to take you, and other days it’s daggers of ice or a rime of snow or smoke from a wildfire or some pervert streaking across the lawn and stropping up against you with his unwanted nasty bits.

Being on the Internet means being exposed.

You’re just out there. A squirming nerve without the tooth surrounding it.

That’s good in some ways because you’re exposed to new people, new ideas, new ways of doing things. You’re not an isolated creature here. You are an experiment being observed and are in turn an observer of countless other experiments, and that makes a subtle-not-subtle push-and-pull. But can also be erosive or corrosive — it can wear off your paint a little bit.

As a writer in particular, it has its ups and downs, too. Here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a gaggle of ink-fingered cohorts who know what it is to do what you do. You’ll have a herd, a cult, a clan, a tribe. You’ll have smaller communities who know what it is you write or want to write, too, whether it’s young adult or epic fantasy or erotic sci-fi cookbooks. And here on the Digital Tubes, everybody is has an opinion, everybody is an expert. And that’s extra-true with writing. Other writers have their processes and their hang-ups and their wins and their losses, and they share it all. Which is, on a whole, a good thing. Information is good. Camaraderie is good.

That, though, can muddy the waters at the same time. This Person is doing This Person’s thing, and That Person is doing That Person’s thing, and Other Person is really loud about what WILL SURELY WORK FOR EVERYBODY (translation, will probably only work for people who are or are like Other Person). And advice gurgles up around your feet like rising floodwaters. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t say that, don’t write this, this isn’t selling, that is a no-no, publish this way, sell that way, don’t publish that other way, drink this, wear houndstooth jackets with elbow patches, drink that, snark here, snark there, with a fox, in a box, wearing socks, eating rocks, with a bear, without hair, anywhere. We have a whole lot of writers trying to figure out who they really are, and in the process, do a very good job at also telling you who you should be in order to conform to their notions of who they want to be. To confirm who they are, it’s easy for them to also confirm who you should be, too. That’s not sinister. That’s just human nature. It’s easier to become something when others are along for the ride. And it’s also the joy of confirmation bias — what worked for me confirms that I WAS RIGHT AND SO YOU ARE A HEINOUS DIPSHIT IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW PRECISELY IN MY FOOTSTEPS. I do it. You do it. Most of us do, I think.

It then gets further complicated once you have readers. Or, Uber Readers, aka, fans. Because they, too, have opinions on you and your work. They will have opinions on your process. And it’s not that they’re wrong, it’s that they’re — no, wait, they are wrong, never mind. They’re totally wrong, because they’re not writing the stories. They’re right about what they want to read and when they want to read it, but not about how to create it. It’s hard to tell someone how to do their job. It’s extra-hard to tell them how to make their art. Because process and prose and authorial intent are all intensely personal to the creator. Personal and twisted further by the pressures of creation and the potential mental stresses that come along with it — remember, a great many writers and artists also suffer from depression or anxiety or other ghosts in the gray matter.

It’s not just one type of writer over another. This is true of new writers who are just finding their way. This is true of mid-career or mid-list writers who are out there in the wilderness surviving, not sure how to get out of the forest just yet. This is true of super-successful authors who are trapped under the magnifying lens of a massively public fanbase — the sun likely focusing into a laser-hot beam upon their foreheads. All artists of every level are exposed here.

Here, now, is the comment referenced at the fore of the post:

“There is no skill floor or ceiling to being a writer. Anyone who speaks a language, who tells a story, can write. To be published is a stricter process that requires an adherence to professional guidelines and to a standard of quality that is dictated by the publishing office. That you’ve been published so many times is no small feat, and I commend you for it.

But having read Aftermath and Blackbirds, I feel that there is…a laziness to your style that you seem to be either unaware of or have come to terms with. It’s difficult to quantify, but it gives me the impression that you don’t value writing as an art. As a job, certainly. But not as a form of expression. Because otherwise you wouldn’t spend 45-90 days on a book. A soul isn’t bared in three months. Professional or no, no book you truly care for should go from start to finish that quickly.

To know an art is to break established rules in the hopes of producing a truer version of your vision. And you certainly break the rules of writing craft. In the first three paragraphs of Blackbirds you’ve disregarded flow, used inappropriate comparisons, and introduced the main character through a mirror scene. And while these things are permissible, they are not the hallmarks of someone who cherishes what he writes.

Great writing seeks subtlety. It’s the words that are unwritten, the descriptions that are inferred, the meaning that comes across through the subtext of what is explicit that writing excels at communicating. But your writing doesn’t ask me to look within myself for answers. It asks me to look no further than the page. And that, to me, is a tragedy. Because we’re all capable of greatness. But greatness comes from being dissatisfied with how things are, and with pushing the boundaries of what you believe yourself to be capable of in order to achieve your absolute best. And even then, you won’t be satisfied. You’ll push yourself further in your next pursuits, because now you’ve touched on what you’re capable of, but you won’t be satisfied.

To release your books in such a short time frame tells me that you’re satisfied, and that breaks my heart.”

I tried for the better part of a week to conjure a more cogent response than “fuck you,” and I got as far as “go fuck yourself.” Like, I tried to go through it once and conjure point-by-point rebuttals — well, no, because of course I value art and art is not beholden to any timetable and it takes the time that it takes short or long and — but eventually my rebuttal dissolves into a gargled cry of “eat a bucket of deep-fried fucks, you squawking chicken-fucker.” With an added, “HOW’S THAT FOR SUBTLETY,” and then a crotch-grab as I cackle and yell, “CHERISH THIS.”

This is someone who wants his vision to be my vision. He has very explicit ideas about how art is made — ideas that, by the way, are provably false. (For writers in particular, looking at the daily word counts of famous writers is clarifying in its sheer variation.) Great writing is not one thing any more than great paintings are, or great music, or, or, or. The variation in art is glorious. The variation in the process that puts the art into the world is equally amazing. Music can be operatic, or punk, or dub-step. A sculpture might be an alabaster goddess or a bunch of fucking cubes stuck to a bunch of other fucking cubes. Food can be subtle and airy or unctuous and heavy or whipped into a foam or shoved between two buns (tee hee buns). Comedy can be a routine that takes years to write, or an improv session that took 30 seconds to conjure.

There’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you’re doing it.

There’s no timetable, as long as you’re taking the time.

Nobody can tell you how you do it. They can only tell you how they do it or what illusions they hold about the process — illusions that often wither under actual implementation.

They can offer suggestions. And you are free to take them, hold them up in the light, and see if there is anything there of value. And if there isn’t? Then you can fling it into the trash compactor on the detention level where it will be ogled and eaten by the one-eyed Dianoga.

That’s not to say there aren’t people you should listen to — a good editor or agent, a trusted friend, a beloved author. But even there, you want to find people who will clarify and improve your process and your work — not substitute it with something that isn’t really yours.

So, in 2016, I advise you to give your middle fingers a proper workout and elevate them accordingly to any who would diminish who you are, what you make, or how you make it. You don’t need to wall yourself off from it, but you also don’t need to be a sweater hanging on the clothesline, either. Get some tooth around that nerve.

Know who you are. Learn your process. Find your way. And don’t let anyone else define who you are as a creator, as an artist, as a writing writer who motherfucking writes.

Happy 2016, writers.

You do you.

*explodes in gory human fireworks*

236 comments

  • I love this post. And I needed it today. Whenever I see someone (daily) on Twitter saying, here’s what you MUST do to be a writer, I mutter nasty frikkity-frakking words at my computer. It flashes me back to my 10th grade teacher who insisted you MUST do this (outline! outline! outline!) or you CANNOT be a writer. Ever! And when that didn’t work for me (still doesn’t), I gave up. Didn’t write a thing all through high school. I wish I’d had your blog post to read back then. It’s perfect. It would have given me back my belief in myself, years sooner. I have it now. Most days. Ok, some days. I may only post my short stories free on my website, but they’re my style, my voice, my way (and Frank Sinatra just began singing in my head). Thanks for reinforcing that belief. And for reinventing the English language. ;-}

  • This is spot on, Chuck! If I want to read a book that makes me reflect upon myself while I read it, there are plenty of THOSE kinds of books out there and I have sought those out from time to time. But I mostly read for pleasure and to escape the boredom of my own life and that around me, which is why I read horror, science fiction and the occasional mystery. I don’t want to reflect while reading these and I don’t want the authors to force me to reflect. I want to be entertained! And when I write these kinds of stories, I want to also entertain my readers! Apparently the one who left you that comment expects to always reflect and expects all writers to give him/her that. Bleah! Fuck ’em! Thanks for another well-written and enlightening post!

  • You crack me up! I absolutely love your honesty. I had an experience earlier this year and trust me, although I want honest feedback, you better have the credentials to give it. Everyone has an opinion, but it doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. I am who I am. Thanks again for a wonderful and entertaining post.

  • Oh, great. Another anonymous hero who is out to correct the world for their own fucking good. I wouldn’t even be so bothered that a person had an annoying criticism about a thing, any thing, but that they keep trying to remind you that they’re fucking helpful. If you have a get-up-everyone’s asshole fetish, call it a fetish. It isn’t a public fucking service, you transparent, condescending prickhole. Also, I agree with other commenter: “Fuck you” does suffice.

  • I’ve been writing since I was 15 years old – and I mean seriously writing and trying to get publish. I’m now 42 years old and still haven’t got a book out there with my name on the cover; but it’s going to happen.

    Don’t know when, but it will.

    However, I’ve been writing exactly what I’ve loved for a few years now, and not everyone loves. My Mum thinks that writing horror is my way of pushing her away; but it’s just me. My brother has told her that I’ve always been ‘living the darker side of life’ and to deal with it; and just jump in and read a few of my flash fictions. Then, my niece, jumps in and reads my blog and reckons it’s great and sits with me and we dissect the story bit by bit… 😀 very cool.

    My writer friends wonder exactly where my brain is at when I write; as I seem to just go into automatic writing and blurg out some amazing, unedited crap onto the page which I can’t cut down to the normal 600 words I have to take to my group… and they don’t want me to either. A lot of them read to 600 words, get darned curious and read the rest. 😛

    But you’re right, Chuck… writing what love is all that matters. I’ve tried writing what makes other people happy – and I was downright miserable because I putting off my own work. I’ll never do that again because I’m happiest doing exactly what I’m doing now.

  • Dear Broken Hearted:

    There is no skill floor to being a troll, either. Really, who are you to decide what is and isn’t permissible?

    Oh, and just because *you* can’t see the subtext don’t mean it ain’t there. Get over yourself.

    Best wishes for a healthy and word-filled 2016, Mr. Wendig. Rock on.

  • January 4, 2016 at 9:02 PM // Reply

    OFFS! Who needs that kind of kitchen table dump. Pour the wine or roll a joint and let’s natter about the important stuff that has nothing to do with ego and all to do with discovering whatever there is to find in conversation. Cheers. Bill van Oosten.

  • January 4, 2016 at 10:19 PM // Reply

    Chuck, the best I can say is that I like your art well enough to repeatedly pay hard-earned cash for the privilege of reading it, and so far I’ve never felt I’ve gotten anything south of a solidly good deal. So fuck that guy.

  • This post comes at a great time. I recently watched a Q&A where an author laid down a hard-and-fast rule (something minor and well-meaning, like, your debut book can’t have more than two POV characters.) And this was an author I loved, trying to encourage writers basically not to be GRRM, do their own thing.

    And I’m writing the final quarter of my 4-POV book, and I’m thinking of all the debut novels I love with multiple POVs, and I was really thrown off my groove. The idea that the art *is* this and thus *can’t* be this, that because you’re new you *shouldn’t* do this. Things like that at the wrong time for a beginning writer can really ruffle your duck.

    It took time, and realizing that I’m writing something that nobody but me is capable of writing. So I got my groove back, I unruffled the duck. And your post is a great boon to helping me hold on to it. So, thanks for that.

    • Well hey! Small world. *clinks glass, points to Scribophile’s Writing That Novel and then to Terrible Minds and then to you and then to me, drains glass*

  • Fuck ’em. I notice this guy valued your work so little he read not one but two of your books. Perhaps you should consider adding a time card appendix to your books. Then he can tell you when you’ve logged in the appropriate number of hours to achieve “art” status.

  • “To release your books in such a short time frame tells me that you’re satisfied, and that breaks my heart.”

    To take the time to write this email tells me this person needs to get out more; their malfunction breaks my heart.

  • It’s YOUR story, to be told the way YOU experience it with all of YOUR senses. The reader is privileged to be invited in to your world and have the opportunity to share it. The least they could do is appreciate that every page, every word is you sharing a part of your soul with them and respect the absolute courage that takes for an author. We write because we have OUR story to share – not theirs…

  • As someone who writes fiction by the schedule the commenter suggests (ponderous/slow), I’m here to say that there is no greater artistic merit to writing fiction slower. I write that way because school, jobs and full-time nonfiction freelancing leave only so much energy. One day I’d like to get faster. Not for a second have I believed that writing slower somehow makes my art more legit, and the idea that someone has to spend years laboring at their one piece of art they’ll be known for forever is a myth people pick up in English class thanks to your Harper Lee types. Everyone wants to forget the sheer prolific qualities of Shakespeare and Dickens because work is hard.

    The rest of that comment reeks of an ego run amok and some of the unfortunate writing program elitism I’ve witnessed firsthand. Everyone wants to be an expert, and in a realm where there are few right answers, anyone can. Just like, apparently, “Anyone who speaks a language, who tells a story, can write.” Just not to his own-fart-smelling standards.

  • In 2013 I started a fantasy novel about a protagonist called Maria (“what to do about a problem like Maria?”) who is a victim of domestic violence. Apart from the fact that university tutors didn’t like FANTASY, students told me “you should have her pregnant here otherwise she’d leave [because of a small hint of domestic abuse]”. Haha.

    I’ve studied domestic violence and I’ve counselled women in domestic violence relationships. On average, it takes SEVEN times for a woman in a domestic violence relationship to leave and stay left and that is SEVEN TIMES AFTER the woman decided to leave. Women can put up with a heap of abuse before they even decide to leave. The story was about a woman trying to leave and about the people who considered her to be “a problem” because she didn’t leave while not supporting her in wanting to sort shit out.

    At the end of 2014 I started a new novel set in a high school and, for most of 2015, I carefully omitted all fantasy elements only to be told “If you’re going to include racism, why set it in a fantasy world? Why not set it in Melbourne?” and “I don’t want to read a novel with a disabled protagonist, either get rid of her or make someone else the protagonist” for example. Really encouraging shit. And these people saw me walk in to class with my cane. Hell, some even saw me in hysterics in 2013 because RMIT staff refused large print photocopies so I couldn’t participate in Introduction to Editing classes in first semester and they saw Dr Michelle Aung Thin refuse to enlarge an overhead after I politely asked that she do so and, instead, she reduced its size so I, with my binoculars, could never hope to participate in lectures.

    I haven’t touched either novel since my last assignment, handed in during October 2015. I want to write both stories but I feel throttled. I also manage a website that supports others while costing me money (I’ve been told “you’re disabled, you shouldn’t want to earn an income because you’re not as good as everyone else because you need disability access” and, basically, [misquote but the intent is there] “fuck off and die, crip bitch”. This is from “feminists” and others alike because how dare I point out inequity, especially the discrimination of those claiming to be fucking feminists while ranting and forgetting crips (People With Disabilities if you’re not akshully disabled yourself).

    Thanks. Your post is a reminder that I should get in there and not just focus on applying for jobs that I’m not going to get. Nor should I support writers by reading/reviewing when they don’t support me. I should finish my stories that involve people of colour, people with disabilities, people out of the mainstream and write for those who, like me, have no voice.

    Because my partner works, we’ll have food on the table. Without me being in paid employment, I’ll never be able to attend crucial professional development events like WorldCon, World Fantasy Con, Clarion or even Australian events though, so I’ll probably never be anything other than self-published. Still, with my crip networks, my stories might be read by crips if not by “real” humans. So, win. Kinda.

    • Hello Dark Matter Zine,
      I don’t know you at all, but couldn’t ignore your comments here. It sounds like you’re very discouraged, which happens to all of us at some (or many) points. But please don’t give up on what you want to do, whether that’s getting a job, or writing full-time, or whatever. I guess you’re Australian, and I’ve no idea what sort of provisions or laws they have for accommodating folks with disabilities, but if those things are severely lacking, perhaps you could be a voice that helps to change that. Frankly, there are a lot of assholes out there who will try to tear you down, and tell you what you can’t do. Please do your best to ignore them. Don’t settle for lesser options in your life or career because you don’t think you can get anything better. Also, attending writing conferences is probably awesome, but I wouldn’t know. I do know that you can write, improve your craft, and seek publication without attending conferences.
      In case you’re wondering where the hell I come off giving you any advice, my husband is a military man who will soon be out of a job due to service-related injuries. He will then be a disabled veteran who walks with a cane. Things are going to be tough for both of us, but the “disabled” lable does not define him, and I earnestly hope you don’t allow it to define you.

    • I love fantasy. The issue of racism and how characters deal with it is also all over the fantasy genre. Don’t let others discourage you from that. I would also love to read a story with a disabled protagonist. There are many protagonists out there who overcome crazy circumstances and setbacks in order to achieve their goals; a disabled protagonist introduces an additional feat for the character to work around and I don’t understand why that would be disregarded. Please keep fighting the fight and writing the stories. Meanwhile, I can do my part to find, read, and recommend authors who create disabled protagonists in the hopes that it will become common-place one day. Hang in there!

      • Let’s start the disabled protagonists list right now with Charlize Theron’s character (Imperator Furiosa) from MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

    • Hey there. I read your comment, and could not scroll past it. First let me say that I am outraged on your behalf. How dare anyone tell you who your protagonist is! And the fact that you have direct experience with both domestic abuse and disability means that you would be in a MUCH better position to write those characters than anybody who would criticise your character choices.

      Secondly, PLEASE don’t give up. To my eyes, what you have experienced is nothing short of outright discrimination and one of the ugliest sorts of prejudice. If anything, all of these people saying you nay are only more proof of why the world needs more books like yours, more writers like you. More voices from people who have never been able to speak before (coming from a queer perspective, I have some little experience with this as well). Be as diverse and exploitative in your writing as you want, people who criticise you for your protagonist or your genre are simply being close-minded culture snobs. One of the points of writing, and one of the reasons I love both writing and reading so much, is it’s ability to shift our conciousness, to look inside lives and minds that are not our own. The world is vibrant and diverse, with around seven billion different definitions of the word ‘human’ and our books (media in general, but let’s focus on books here), should reflect that.

      And finally, people who say you should set a book in Melbourne just because you tackle real world issues in it miss the point of Fantasy. It can be an escape, but it can also be a lens, a powerful tool through which we can look at our world and see is differently. It can help us step back and take a good long look at ourselves (something I think a few of the people you quoted sorely need). Fantasy done well can be immensely powerful. Like all genres, it is a tool. Not more or less than any other tool. No one thinks a hammer is inherently better than a screwdriver. If your stories sit best in Fantasy then use it, and take pride in it.

      When you finish your books (and I sincerely hope you do so), you have a reader in me. And if you have a free afternoon and are in Melbourne or Central Victoria in general, drop me a line. I would love to grab a coffee and talk books with you.

    • While I’m sure writers appreciate the support, at the same time, yeah, you gotta do you and if what you really want to do is write books and not a blog — go forth and keep on truckin’ no matter what anybody says.

    • Can I just add my crapload of outrage and disgust at the way you’ve been treated to this list, please? Thanks.

      These people are doing far too much talking and not enough listening. The point of any creative writing course is to help people improve the writing they do, not tell them how and what they should be writing instead. The incidents of refusing you large print course material are blatant discrimination, pure and simple. I don’t know how the legislation in Australia works, but here in the UK those University staff would be having their chestnuts roasted on an open fire for that kind of bullshit.

      You’re in a horrible dilemma, I know. On the one hand, this is a toxic environment for you to be in (and, from the sound of it, any other disabled students) and YOU DESERVE WAY BETTER THAN THIS. Even without the bigotry toward your disability, it doesn’t sound as if you’re exactly getting the best tutoring on this course (University tutors don’t like Fantasy, so students don’t get any help if they write it? Sorry Prof.s, but unless your course is specifically titled to EXCLUDE Fantasy that aint how it works!) But on the other hand, if you quit this course – even if it’s to go to a better one at a place with a better attitude – it might feel like they won, and I can understand you not wanting to give them that satisfaction.

      Is there anyone you could talk to at the University – a counsellor or someone who would be on your side? Are they any local disability support groups who could advise you – because you ARE being discriminated against, and it’s NOT right. Otherwise, my deep fear is that this polluted environment is going to suck the heart out of you and you’ll lose faith in yourself and your writing abilities. This cannot be allowed to happen, because the world NEEDS the kind of novels you’re writing, no matter what this bunch of bigots might have told you. I can understand if you feel as if you ‘have’ to stay to make them change their attitudes toward you and other disabled students for the future, but the ‘we must all stand together’ thing only works if there ARE actually others standing with you. If it’s just you on your own, fighting the cause… well, you need to take care of you first, and no-one would blame you if you did decide to leave and go elsewhere.

      I wouldn’t want to sway you either way, just remember that it’s your life and your future, and your feelings and your wellbeing MATTER. Whatever you decide to do, please please do not give up on what you’re writing. We wants it, Preciousss – we needs it. 😉 Seriously, you could be one of the trailblazers that give loads of other writers the courage and the motivation to include disabled main characters in their fiction.

      • The POSITIVE WRITER website is asking people to nominate their favourite writing blog. Here’s a chance to convert all the collective angst and vitriol expressed over the last few days into a show of positive support for Chuck with a vote for TERRIBLE MINDS. My just completed nomination read –

        ‘Unique’ and ‘mindblowing’ hardly begins to describe Chuck Wendig’s TERRIBLE MINDS blog. Be prepared to take your mind not to mention turns of phrase to places they’ve never been before. Nearly 9000 subscribers can’t be wrong.

        http://positivewriter.com/nominate-2016/#disqus_thread

    • Hey, Dark Matter Zine, ditto Meagan’s encouragement. Write the characters that mean something to you and don’t give up. I write about racism in many of my novels — from my debut through my latest — despite plenty who claim that historical romance readers don’t want that (rather, that they want ballrooms and pretty gowns and light high jinx and lots of white people). Thanks to my wonderful readers, though, I’m selling enough books to make this my living, and I’ve started to think the “plenty” are vastly underestimating readers. You keep writing what’s in your heart to write. There are readers out there waiting for your stories.

    • Hi Dark Matter Zine,

      I’ve never commented on this blog before, but like the others below, I couldn’t scroll through past your post. I am so deeply sorry about the awful discrimination you’ve experienced. I just wanted to say too that I totally get where you’re coming from re: Prof’s not approving of fantasy in university courses. I took two creative writing classes at uni and for the first half of both courses the prof was almost literally tearing his hair out at every workshop because so many of us kept bringing fantasy works to class. In the end he caved and told us all to go read Ursula Le Guin’s book on writing fantasy because there were so many of us and we wouldn’t quit, but you could tell he was just DYING to ask us all why we couldn’t just let go of all that baby nonsense and write something REAL. Urgh.

      Also – not sure how the laws apply to university, but I’m an Australian high school teacher and I know that if we pulled the kind of crap on a kid that you had pulled on you re: provision of resources etc, we could have the pants sued off us and funding pulled. It might be more emotional trauma than you’re willing to commit to, but if you /did/ want to investigate I think the law is on your side.

      *hugs* and *cookies*. If you’re on twitter, get in touch – I’m @Inkylaurens 🙂

    • Seems like we need your stories more than ever, Dark Matter Zine, given people’s startling ignorance over what its like to live with these experiences.

      The great thing about reading and writing is the shared experience and the feeling that someone out there understands what you’re going through and that you’re not alone. That keeps me going even when the going gets tough. I’m willing to bet that there are people out there – particularly domestic violence victims and disabled people – who need to hear your stories, who need that feeling that someone understands what they’re going through.

  • This is a very encouraging post. I am just starting off writing. I wrote my first novel last year and it was horrible. I was quite discouraged upon finishing. I knew about halfway through that I had major issues but I forced myself to finish because I have problems finishing things and I didn’t want my first attempt to fall into that pattern. I just seat-of-the-pantsed the whole thing and it didn’t turn out well at all. Since then, I have been paying more attention to narrative structure and attempting to cobble together a method for outlining with which I am comfortable. I stumbled upon your blog tonight and loved your 25 ways to outline because it gives so many different and unique ideas.

    I’ll get to the point now I suppose. I confess to not being familiar with your novels (that will change soon) but I found the comment you featured in this article particularly egregious. I felt compelled to point out that Kerouac’s On the Road, and Dostoevsky’s The Gambler were both written in under a month.

    Thanks for this blog. I love reading writings on the craft. I look forward to working my way through your posts, and checking out your novels.

  • Had to comment because I *need* to applaud this. I have had many ups and down in my 10+ year writing career (that has only really become a public career in the last fourteen months, and by “career” I mean “place to spend my money on editing and covers because I write faster than I build the mythical beast that is ‘platform'”).

    I have seen so much lately about how too many people “rush” books out, and I’m thrown heavily into that camp because of the number of books i published in my first twelve months (mostly written long before I pushed publish on my first, during the time when I was trying to build up a sufficiently thick skin to put my work out for public consumption).

    I’ve read plenty of posts about how books written fast have ‘not enough of this’ or ‘too much of that’ or how each manuscript ‘needs to be slaved over for years, with words being bled onto the page one at an agonizing time.’ Here’s the thing: I love the written word. I love playing with tropes, twisting them around and seeing where they fall. I also write fairly fast. My current WIP was started 27 days ago, and is just under 55k, and that’s around working a day job. 6-8 weeks of solid work is norm for me to first draft. I then polish that draft over a number of rounds of edits, get the professionals involved to do the final clean-ups, and then get it ready to publish.

    Phrases like “churning out books” are raised. People lament the fall of literary masterpieces. My opinion? Not every book needs to be a literary masterpiece. Some literary masterpieces are so literary and masterpicery that they’re not enjoyable as a story any more. Maybe I’m cheapening the art, but sometimes all a book needs to be is entertaining. An escape for a few hours. Yes, I want memorable characters that people will think about in months to come. Yes, I’d love for people to return for a second or third read and find a new layer, a new depth to the foreshadowing that is impossible to pick up on the first read because no one knows what is being foreshadowed until it’s revealed, but ultimately, I want my books to entertain. That’s what I want as a reader too. My response to the comment you received (at least internally) probably would have been very similar to yours. Kudos for sharing the critique and your honest thoughts on it.

  • Wow, that commenter had some nerve. And, I guess they’ve never heard of Stephen King, who wrote his way out of a job he hated decades ago, and puts out new books faster than I can keep track. I read your blog because I am a writer, and I appreciate your humor and balls-out writing style, even on the occasions when I don’t agree with you. I only started reading your novels recently, but I like them. I admire your fast-paced storytelling, interesting and flawed characters, crazy comparisons and descriptions that make me go, “I would never have thought of that,” and yeah, entertainment value. Because once you start reading like a writer, it’s damned hard to turn off the internal editor and lose yourself in the story. Ponderous ponderings on art do not make that kind of story, not for me (I dislike much of what other people term “literary”). Ah, this got rambly. The point is, I like your writing because it is crazy and unique and fun. Please ignore douchebags, and keep doing your thing.

  • The commenter’s prescribed vision of what “real” writing must look like reminds me of the prescription put on people who are grieving the loss of, say, a spouse. Back in the day, grieving was very ritualistic, and could take years to satisfy polite society. Not so these days. We can’t know a person’s inner work (or their true relationship with said spouse) which may render their grief cycle a couple of months instead of a couple of years.

    The commenter seems to forget, perhaps, that we are all very different, and blessedly so. One’s process is highly unlikely to be another’s; at least, effectively.

    Happy New Year, Chuck! Write on. 🙂

  • Delany wrote Empire Star over a period of eleven days to finance a trip to Europe. Suffering for your art is all well and good, but money is cool sometimes.

    Your voice *seems* effortless, so people will dismiss it when they should be celebrating it.

  • Opinion: “I don’t like this book because of the naughty words and Chuck is a poop-head.”

    Review: “Chuck’s new book is a tale of [well meaning synopsis that often contains a critical spoiler.] The unusual writing style made it a tough read, but I found myself caring enough about the characters to finish it. I’m glad I did, because the ending was awesome. Stick with it, you won’t be disappointed.”

    Criticism: “Mr. Wendig’s decision to write his latest book in 2nd person palindrome haiku, including starting every sentence with a profanity, was bold and interesting, but missed the mark because . . . [smart stuff]”

    Critique: “Chuck, we’ve discussed this. It’s concrete, not cement. I’m an engineer, I know these things. And you missed a comma on page 78.”

    Unctuous Prickishness: [Insert that comment here]

    Yo, Mr. “Art Critic.” What I want are well-constructed stories written in such a way to carry me along. I don’t need the writer to “bare his soul” in every book. That is rather tedious at times. I want the writer to get the fuck out of the way and let the story reveal itself to me. That is craft. Craft can be done on a timetable. In fact, the one constant I see among the writers that I admire is a disciplined workflow and consistent output.

    Terri

  • I usually don’t comment, but this post made me smile … widely. As a “new” author, trying to market my debut novel and working on the sequel, I find myself checking my latest reviews and letting them dictate my mood. If the reviewer liked or loved my novel, I feel satisfied and carry on. But if a reader didn’t care for my work and leaves a bad review, I feel deflated, questioning my self-worth. So much of my energy is wasted on other people’s opinions. Thank you for this. It gives me permission to keep going.

  • I keep trying to put adequate words here to state an appropriate level of fist-shaking, fist-bumping, profanity-belching, fire-starting wonder… but my words are being used elsewhere right now.

    I will attempt, anyway:

    I love to read what you write. Don’t know why that guy felt compelled to tear you down, but whatever. Fuck him. He’s obviously got problems. And it seems like maybe you might not actually need the encouragement I feel compelled to offer but just in case that guy actually got under your skin for longer than it took to write this post: Don’t let people like that ruin what you’re sharing with and doing for the world — not only are you a damned good writer, you’re inspirational, generous, and good-hearted, and I thank you for all of those things.

  • Yes, and I love the article. You are the only person that can write the way you want to. People should not tell you how to write your story. There really is no timetable for it either. I agree with you 100% since you will write the way you want to, and don’t let anyone stop you from being you.

  • The great Neal Stephenson wrote a piece about the difference between Dante writers, who have a patron, and Beowulf writers, who write for the people. Your critic seems to adhere to the school of Dante art created under the auspices of a patron. To me, you are a Beowulf writer.

    You should explain that to your critic. But “Eat a bag of dicks” works, too.

  • I have just published my first novel and the first few reviews have been criticism that my characters didn’t fall into the correct category for the type of book I wrote. Which was exactly what I had intended to do. I wanted to write something a bit more realistic. Maybe it won’t be popular in the genre I am writing in but it’s the way I see the characters. I really appreciate your blog since it made me feel better about having gone against the trend. I’ll probably do the same thing in the next one.

  • January 5, 2016 at 6:46 PM // Reply

    Once again, Monsieur Wendig, your words leave me squirming as if being licked all over by hairy-tongued goats. Thank you.

  • Excellent blog post and an entertaining read. Good words to begin a new and improved writing year for all of us many writers out there. All you can do is work word by word, page by page.

  • 2016 is headed to be the year when I figure out what kind of writer I want to be, mostly. I thought I knew in 2015, and spent a lot of time focusing on writing that could get published instead of just writing whatever came into my head, and sold my first story, and then…. didn’t like it very much. I mean, I still love the story! But the process of professional publication didn’t feel all that good to me and now I’m wondering whether I want to just self-publish. Or write Star Wars fanfiction for the rest of my life. One of the two.

  • Do I detect the sour stench of perpetual graduate student or the bitter tang of repeatedly-turned-down-for-tenure professor wafting in the air around that quoted section? (Ducks and runs for cover)

  • Thanks for this, Chuck. I can only write the way that I can – I’ve come to this conclusion (not for the first time) after spending time (once more) trawling the internet for – what? Gems? The gems are all in your own back yard – no one can tell you how to do it. It’s up for genuine discussion, but at the end of the day, it’s you and the page (digital or paper).

  • Anyone who can come up with this sentence is an artist in my book: “eat a bucket of deep-fried fucks, you squawking chicken-fucker.” With an added, “HOW’S THAT FOR SUBTLETY,” and then a crotch-grab as I cackle and yell, “CHERISH THIS.” THAT is my kind of soul-moving poetry! And, for what it’s worth, I’ve found your blog to be the most useful to hone my writing of any other I’ve come across. Applause.

  • Sounds like an embittered literary writer who’s lashing out at the commercial world b/c he hasn’t yet been published.

  • Hear, hear!

    Not to be too blunt or anything here, but there are many different kinds of art when it comes to writing – or anything. You, sir, are probably not in the particular niche that will ever net you a Nobel Prize in literature (though perhaps you may see a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize some day for your blog alone – people who are entertained and laughing rarely wage wars, and you certainly entertain!) but you are certainly a skilled writer, pen-monkey, art-maker and some such and so on and so forth.

    The quality of art lies in it’s ability to entertain or provoke or in some other way make us feel things and think things – what exactly that is will be different for everyone and what is highly regarded in the halls of academia is usually different from that which is highly regarded in the temples of consumerism that is modern book stores.

    In short: no individual’s opinion matters, really (unless that individual is your editor or publisher or agent or the like), we are only slaves to the opinion of the Collective.

  • (Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day. Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He finishes a 180,000-word novel in three months.)

    So what seems to be ignored by most trolls/idiots, is the fact that each and every author write at a different pace. Steven King can finish a book in three months, while others may take seven.

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