Writer Resolution, 2020: Write With A Knife To Your Back, The Cliff’s Edge At Your Feet


Every year, for those who don’t know, I like to do a kind of writerly resolution — a mission statement to guide you, and us, meaning mostly me, into the new year and out the other side. It’s not marching orders. It’s not even meant to be good advice. It’s a springboard, an idea, a notion, and one that will work for some and not for others.

You know the thing you do where you try to figure out, “If I had six months to live, what would I do in that time?” Learn basejumping? Fight a bear? Fuck a robot? I dunno. There is of course the authorial version of this, which is, what book would I write? What book would I write if i didn’t know if anyone would read it, if I’d even get to finish it before The End gets me, if it would even matter at all? What weird-ass, particular-as-hell, little-or-big book lives in the deep of my heart and would emerge ululating its mad goat song upon hearing a potential death sentence? What curious narrative creature would crawl out and hiss, giddily: “It’s my time, now, penmonkey!” — ?

Well, you’re dying.

Here it is: your terminal diagnosis.

You’re gonna die.

Whole world, too. Gonna die.

Kaput. Kathunk. Dead. Doornail. *fart noise* *flush sound*

No, I’m not saying it’s soon — I’m not standing behind you with, as the title suggests, a knife to your back. I don’t have ESP. But I needn’t be an oracle to confirm for you that it is, in fact, eventual. Assuming of course that you’re not Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living —

— you and me and everybody else are gonna eventually meet our makers. (Spoiler alert: your maker is a rogue 3-D printer in Schenectady.) And, I dunno if you’ve looked around recently but, uhhhh.

*clears throat*

Shit is weird.

Shit is weird.

SHIT

IS

W E I R D.

It’s not even that it’s bad —

I mean, ha ha, it is. It definitely is. But it’s also just fucking goofy. Our world is theater, and it’s currently being staged by a gaggle of goony dipshits. Political upheaval and social chaos and huge leaps forward in technology and regressive tumblebacks of justice and progress — it’s weed and fireworks and drones, it’s Twitter President and hellscape wildfires and flat-earthers, it’s coins to witchers and yoda-babbies and for some reason people are watching Friends? It’s way the fuck off the map. It’s not really dystopian — it’s dyspeptic, it’s twist-topian, it’s what-the-fuck-a-lyptic.

We know that. We can see it.

And we can then couple that with the recognition that, yep, we’re all dead. Not today, probably. Ideally not tomorrow. But tock’s ticking. Fuse is hissing.

Pair those facts together, and from that you get what is for me — and maybe also for you! — a writing resolution for 2020.

And that resolution is this:

The world has gone weird.

So meet it on equal footing.

Get weird in return. In revenge. In recompense.

Write whatever the fuck you want. Because, honestly, why not? This year, I’ve had the privilege of continuing to know and meet writers of great repute and wonder, who are telling stories that are brave and bold and uncompromising — and I don’t mean “unflinching” in the sense of wow that was brutal, I mean uncompromising in the sense that these writers did not compromise against anybody else’s vision. Sure, they have publishers, and yes they have editors, but the book that exists — be it Starless Sea, or Steel Crow Saga, or Cabin at the End of the World, or Book of M, or Calculating Stars, or The Warehouse, or Nobody People — are books that came not merely from these authors but rather, out of them. Like a spirit, summoned. Books that are emblems of these writers, that are (or at least feel like) the culminations of who they are and what they think and what gives them both fear and hope. These books are summations, the end of an authorial equation, and I really love that. In a less dire, more consumerist age, I think the advice would be (or used to be): you need to write to a market. Examine what sells. Blah blah blah.

But, as noted, shit’s weird.

Nobody knows what sells.

Nobody knows what the audience wants, or needs.

It’s all gone cuckoo. The old rules are broken. The expectations of what is ABC ends up being XYZ — the compass is spinning wildly and we cannot figure out what the alethiometer is trying to tell us.

So? Fuck it.

Not “fuck it” as in, don’t write anything.

“Fuck it” as in, write the thing you wanna write because there are no guarantees anyway. There’s no certainty it’ll get published. Or you won’t be dead before you finish. Or the world won’t die under the fist of a meteor we somehow didn’t notice. There’s no way to know if there will be an editor for it, or an audience to read it, or anything. But we hope. We write. We pull something out of us and then we pull another half-dozen things out, and we mash them together and see what monstrous thing we have made. We meet weird with weird. We tell the tale that our heart must tell.

I’m not saying to tell it poorly. Or not to think about an audience — that first draft is for us, but all the subsequent drafts are for them, for the audience, for you more than for me. This isn’t saying your narrative vision is impervious to criticism, that no editorial oversight is needed to course correct. You still want to tell the best version of that story, whatever it may be. But don’t pre-reject your weird-ass idea before it’s out there. Give it legs, let it run.

I’m often noting that writing is a song sung into the void — a song of hope, where we hope our words will reach someone else’s ears, and that the act of telling a story is a plea with the universe that begs, please tell me I’m not alone. If even one reader out there likes the curious peccadilloes you popped onto the page, that’s not nothing. It’s something. It’s a huge something, because it means there are others like you out there. That you’re not alone. Storytelling is that act: setting down in front of the firelight with the hope others will come to join you and hear whatever tale you gotta tell.

So, do that.

Tell the tale. The one that’s yours. The one that’s weird. The one that feels off-kilter, that other people aren’t sure about. This is not a safe era, and so we are not beholden to safe storytelling. Go as big and bold or as small and strange as you see fit. The world’s gone wacky and we gonna die (someday!), so step into the firelight, and we’ll join you by the fire to hear what you have to say.

And together we’ll push back the dark.

Cheers.

Onward into 2020.

Go write.


37 responses to “Writer Resolution, 2020: Write With A Knife To Your Back, The Cliff’s Edge At Your Feet”

  1. Thanks, Chuck. My particular writery world is the uncertaintest of uncertainty at this moment, so while I’m working on “supposed to” projects, they feel…scary. I dream of just going with it to write something totally crazypants! Well, crazypantser than normal. Maybe I will! Have a great New Year and thank you for being here!

  2. Thanks Chuck. I’ve been writing my weird shit novel on and off for four years or so. Taking weird shit from my head that’s been there for 2/3 of my life. My resolution is already to work on it more, and this post certainly helps.

    BTW, you ever gonna bring back Flash Fiction Fridays, or is that a thing of the past now?

  3. This was a little too relevant for me. I have been given that terminal death sentence, and it certainly does alter your plans. For writing. For everything. It comes with a tectonic-level plate shift of every part of your life. And really, if I could remove the whole “Oh fuck I’m gonna die young” part, it would be a beautiful thing. What and who matters in life comes into clear focus, and everything else falls away. It’s like a casting off of a great weight, all the layers of social shoulds and material wants, and worries about people and things that ultimately don’t matter. Who you love and who truly loves you becomes immediately, abundantly clear. Okay Okay. Now that I’m done being a philosophical downer, when it comes to writing, my terminal diagnosis changed my course drastically. I stopped writing what I was ‘supposed’ to write and started the series that I had always wanted to do… and ironically, that new series is the one that people love. So there’s that.

  4. Have I told you lately that I love you? Not in the physical sense (that would be creepy). But, your words, your stories, your advice – gods, it’s good. Thanks for being around.
    Jeannie Leighton

  5. Funny, I decided to go with a very short list of resolutions this year (previous years have been unwieldy at times). Resolution number the first? I’m not living into my fears any more. Fears of failure, inadequacy, letting people down.

    Which seems to mesh quite nicely with the challenge above.

    If you will excuse me, I need to go turn over some rocks and peer into some dark corners…

  6. I had an idea for a book and then I thought: who would want to read that? (besides me, obvs). Would people even be ok with me having written it? (Note to self: avoid Twitter.) Is that even A Thing?
    I don’t even know how it would be classified (BISAC codes: a problem for another day), but I know how it makes me feel and maybe if I try really hard I will be able to give someone else that feeling too. The least I can do is try.

  7. 9Well, then when the men in the white coats who are pretending to be the men in the white coats) come for me. Ill blame you, Chuck. I’ll throw right under the bus (metaphorical) and say the word monster I created was all your fault.

  8. Thank you so much for saying just what I needed to hear at just the right time. This year is going to be much bigger and better for me than the last, in which I squandered too much writing time (and every other kind of time) watching Netflix. Thanks for lighting the fire.

  9. This was just what I needed to hear/read today. I’ve been mulling a different kind of story idea over for the past two days and wondering, “Is it worth it to even try?” You answered that question succinctly: “Hell, yes!” Wonderful advice, as always. Thanks. And Happy New Year.

  10. I just wanted to say thank you. After SO many years of pissing about, I finally buckled down and finished a first draft for my novel. In part, that was due to plastering one of your quotes everywhere. “An abandoned story at page 1 or page 356 has the same value as the story you never told in the first place.” On to the next stage…

  11. Okay Chuck, you beautiful fuck, ya got me this time. It’s been 10 years since I wrote a word. There are things in me that have been howling to get out. I guess I’m crazy enough now to give in to them.
    No time like the crazy present, eh? Gotta go write.

  12. I have an edge there – *nothing* I’ve written seems to have an audience. (Most of it is fanfic about my Star Trek Online characters, so there’s a pretty limited audience to start with right there, and also it’s not that great.) So I can continue to write what pleases me, because hell, why not?

  13. I found this post spooky because I finally started bearing down on myself and getting my life together. (SPOILER: that involved getting the wheels moving on a divorce.) My New Year’s Resolution was to deal with the guy already and then FOCUS on my WRITING. And I haven’t waited for the divorce process to finish. I’m already figuring out how to tell the definitely weird story inside of me that I’ve been trying to figure out how to write since 2015 when it started coming out of me in fits and bursts.

  14. “When the going gets weird the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson
    Abso-freakin’-lutely. Happy New Year, sir!

  15. Thanks Chuck, I’m from Sydney and our world has been turned upside down by a bunch of numb nut politicians who refuse to acknowledge climate change while my beautiful country burns and one of the most sparkling cities disappears in smoke haze. I’ve felt both depressed and angry and this post was a wonderful call to arms and my weapon will be words. The story will start….. First we lost the horizon …..
    Judith

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