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25 Things Writers Should Beware

The act of writing is awesome. The business of writing is, nnnnggghyeah, less so. Sometimes this thing we do seems like frolicking nude across a minefield while some shady assailant fires paintballs at your crotchparts. It’s hard to know which way to step. One wrong move and you’ve given some scam-artist all your copyrights or granted some publisher the right to tattoo its logo above your father’s ass-crack. We inkslingers have to stay frosty lest we get skuh-rewed.

Now, let’s be clear — I’m no expert on any of this stuff, and so I will defer right now, ahead of the post, to experts like Writers Beware (site and blog) or authors who are also pub-law experts like Susan Spann. My goal here is to wink and nod toward potential landmines so you can investigate them on your own sweet penmonkey time. Shall we begin?

1. Misinformation

The Internet is awesome because it’s all like HOLY CRAP ALL THE INFORMATION EVER, but it’s also less than awesome because it’s all also like HEY WHOA CHECK OUT THIS MOUNT FUJI-SIZED PILE OF HORSESHIT. Here on the Woven World Web, truth and bullshit are given equal time to parade around in their 1s and 0s; what that means for the writer is that we will encounter a mix of Genuine Information, Anecdotal Evidence (aka “Artisanal Data”), and Bold-Faced Deception. You’ll hear things about publishing or self-publishing or agents or contracts that fall into one of those categories but they all pretend to be in the category of Genuine Information even when they’re not. Always ask: “Is this true?” Then use your digital detective skills (and question-asking skills) to suss out the reality. (Please see yesterday’s post on the subject of dispelling misinformation. Pay particular attention to the comments.)

2. Self-Publishing Scams

Self-publishing is a great way for an author to assert control and take risks not supported by the more traditional (and often risk-averse) system. But outside true self-publishing you’ll find those interested in preying off writers who are bitter over rejection or who want it quick-and-easy, and so what forms is a scammy underlayer of scum-grease comprising assholes who want to take advantage of the potential self-publisher. So-called “vanity presses” will basically make you pay out the ass for a series of services (POD, marketing, whatever) that are designed to dip into your pockets and fill theirs while never replenishing what you lost. (Check out Writer Beware on Self-Pub and POD.) Oh, and some mainstream publishers are now launching their own “self-publishing” endeavors that sound suspiciously like vanity presses.

3. Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

The general consensus over an author’s potential finances seems to either be a) you’re going to be a broke-ass cubicle-monkey churning out novels for the monetary equivalent of Circus Peanuts (the candy, not the actual carnival legumes) or b) you’ll be the literary love-child of Stephen King and J.K. Rowling stuffing your library shelves with hundred-dollar-bills instead of books. The truth (as ever) is in the middle: you can do pretty nicely as an author. But those two polar opposites (shit-ass poor and holy-fuck rich) foster an environment of get-rich-quick schemes aimed at the writerly type. Here’s the key: when anybody guarantees that if you do X, Y, and Z then you can make phat bank too, get worried and do your research. Basically, if it sounds too good to be true? Mmmyeah, it probably is.

4. The Wrong Agent

The agent-author relationship is, at risk of belaboring the obvious, a relationship. It has to work as more than just a client-provider give-and-take — the agent has to be aware of your goals and work for you rather than for the industry at large. Thing is, authors taking that first icy plunge into the inky pools of publishing feel like they’d be blessed to get any agent at all, so they treat it the way a starving dog treats any piece of shit treat thrown on the floor. As a writer, you have power. This relationship isn’t meant to be parasitic. It’s symbiotic. Everybody wins or nobody does. Choosing the wrong agent could hurt your career more than it might help it.

5. Slopsucking Motherfucking Con Artist Agents

You can get the wrong agent, or you can get the AWOOGA AWOOGA WRONG AGENT — meaning, an agent who is basically going to milk you of your cash and your hope and, I dunno, run off to Barbados with some underage cabana boy. An untrustworthy agent will offer you constricting contracts, will demand money up front, will sell you additional “services” (editing! marketing! prostate massage!), and will rob you of your time and effort and good will toward men. Keep an eye on the Writer Beware Thumbs-Down Agency List.

6. No Agent At All

I hear this all the time: “The agent’s job is to get you a publishing deal, so if you already have a deal, you don’t need an agent.” An agent — or, more to the point, a good and qualified agent — does a whole lot more than that. Trust me from my experience: your agent will go well-beyond the offer and into the realm of negotiation. If you don’t want an agent, then you damn well better get a copyright or IP lawyer, because you’re going to get a contract from the publisher that at best will skim a little cream off your coffee for themselves and at worst will ensure that you can’t take a piss without them suing you because it counts as “competing content.”

7. Anybody Who Asks For Your Money

The saying is that money should flow to the author, not from her, and that’s still true — for the most part. Generally speaking, no publisher or agent or editor or producer should be asking for your money, and if they are, you gotta do your due diligence and sniff for the farty egg-stink of fraud. The exception to this is, of course, freelance services you might use on your own (editing, cover art, etc), but even there it’s on you to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

8. Anybody Without A Proven Track Record

More to the point, be wary of hiring or forming a business relationship with anybody who has no proven track record. Agents, editors, publishers, book designers, web-coders, porn-farmers, whiskey-distillers: they’ll all have a stable of authors they can point to and say, “I provided a service and these fine people will act as references.” Seek out proven work. Don’t get into bed — figuratively speaking — with folks you don’t trust. Don’t get into actual bed with them, either, because that’s how you get chlamydia. Seriously, the publishing industry is full of the stuff.

9. Contest Scams


10. Small Presses

Let’s be clear, this is not an indictment against all small presses. I like small presses. In this Age of the Cyborg Intertubes they can do a lot of the same things that a larger publisher can do but respond more quickly to change because their boots are not stuck in the mud of tradition. On the other hand, small presses can also pop up out of nowhere, created and manned by people who have literally no fucking idea what they’re doing, but they can talk a good game and sign some authors and then completely bork their books or even careers. As always: do research. Be wary. Sniff for bullshit. Hire a lawyer or an agent. Get defended against chicanery and legerdemain. (Behold: Writer Beware on Small Presses.)

11. Anything In Perpetuity

Forever is bad news in intellectual property. Damn, is forever good in anything? Would you buy a house that you had to own forever? Marriage is “forever” in theory, but legally, not so much. In publishing, forever ain’t so hot. You don’t want to give anybody rights to publish your work forever. You don’t want to staple-gun your mouth to the ass of any publisher, agent, or distribution entity. Any language that forces you into a lifetime-and-beyond relationship is there to hurt you and help someone else. Fuck it. Negotiate an escape.

12. Really Vague Language

You may recall that time that one publicity agency faked testimonials in the name of several authors including Myke Cole, Maureen Johnson and, ohhh, some dude named Chuck Wendig. Despite that little legal oopsie, there existed other clues that the Albee Agency just wasn’t on the up-and-up. For instance, evidence of their publicity efforts always came in vague data-bites: “We just got an author onto television to promote her book!” OH NO WAY. Hey, what author? What channel? What time? I’m sorry, no details available? Hey, could you turn up the ambiguity a little? The data-bite might as well have said: “WE JUST DID A THING FOR AN AUTHOR WHO WROTE THAT OTHER THING WE RULE HIRE US FOR OUR UNCERTAIN GENERIC SERVICES.”

13. Horseshit Publicity Services

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of a publicity service really doing great things for authors, but I’m sure you’ll find one out there somewhere. Just the same, plenty exist who will take your money and book you on some radio show that has a devoted audience of 14 “model airplane enthusiasts” who don’t give a marmot’s mammary gland about your novel. (And now I’ll go ahead and point to Writer Beware on the various writer services available.)

14. Fake-Ass Reviews By Fake-Ass Reviewers

Fake reviews of books exist. Fake reviews of authors exist. Fake reviews of everything exist (see above, with the “conjured out of the ether” testimonials of the Albee Agency). Don’t pay for fake reviews. Don’t be fooled by them. Don’t eat yellow snow. Don’t order fish on Mondays. Etc, etc.

15. Bullshit Social Media Services

Social media ain’t that goddamn hard, people. You know how, like, you’re a person who walks around and talks to people at the mall, or at work, or at the dinner table? And how it doesn’t behoove you to be a total fucking asshole there? Do the same thing online. There! Ta-da! I just saved you from hiring a social media guru who will take your money in order to infuse your social media presence with the rank snot-curdling odor of sour douchebaggery (“brand!” “platform!” “Klout score!”). Also: piss on anybody who wants to take your money to give you 10,000 new “followers” in the blink of an eye. Five hundred awesome followers are better than 10,000 non-followers carved out of the quivering meat-gelatin that is digital spam. Now, if they’re offering you 10,000 artificially-intelligent hunter-killer robots, hey, hook me up.

16. Anybody Who Gets Paid But Won’t Pay You

It’s really pretty simple: your goal is not only to be published but also to get paid doing it. (Well, okay, maybe you personally don’t give a shit, but I’m talking to the professional or hope-to-be-professional writers out there, and professional is a Latin word that means “Pay Me, Motherfucker.”) So, any publishing endeavor that publishes your work and in turn gets paid means some of that money should trickle down to you. Preferably a not-insignificant share of it because, drum roll please, without the creative content put forth by writers, the publisher has not one fiddly fucking thing to publish. In the business of publishing, creators are far more essential than publishers. A company who publishes squiggly margin doodles of ejaculating dicks still needs someone to scribble the jizzy dongs. If they get paid, you get paid.

17. Work For Exposure

Follow-up to that: exposure is not a measurable resource. If someone asks you to write for exposure, ask them how much exposure. Like, have them measure it. “Will it be ten picameters of exposure? I usually ask at least seven nanoliters’ worth.” If they can prove it, fuck yeah, great. But exposure is a hard thing to prove. Let me utter my refrain yet again: “Writers, like hikers, can die from exposure.” And, my second refrain, brought to bear once more with the Amanda Fucking Palmer TED Talk: “If you’re going to be exposed, expose yourself.”

18. Unqualified Editors

Editors are the unsung heroes of the publishing industry. They can shine dirty gold to a burnished gleam and can even help an author spin dross into pearlescent threads of unicorn colostrum. Just the same, you never want to hire an editor without getting some sense of their qualifications. Get some testimonials. Talk to their other clients. Follow up.

19. Anybody Trying To Pressure You Into Anything

Applying pressure is a famous bullying tactic that’s also a sign to duck and cover. Fake time constraints or disappearing opportunities or any attempt to force you to make a decision out of fear is always a steaming sauce-pot of rat urine. The application of pressure tells an author that you have something they want and they’re afraid they cannot get it. Kick them to the curb and find a better, healthier partner who won’t try to stick a gun up your keister.

20. The Loss Of Subsidiary Rights

The money in publishing isn’t just from the advance — it’s from selling a bunch of sub-rights like foreign (world translation), audio, film, radio, comic books, games, whatever. Some publishers will try to scoop those up, but you need to keep those for yourself. Is your publisher really able to handle all that, and do you really want them to? Again: the power of a good agent is made clear, because they get paid when you get paid, which gives them an incentive to drum up opportunity for you and your work in shiny new spaces.

21. Scary Non-Compete Clauses

My opinion is, any non-compete clause in a contract is probably a bad one. First, it makes little sense for an author to compete against himself. Second, the nature of that non-compete can be interpreted a little too liberally on the page: “You wrote a middle-grade novel about a heroic penguin who fights off evil walruses and now you’re publishing an erotic spy novel who fights psychic KGB agents and we regret to inform you that both penguins and spies appear to wear tuxedos and so we feel that these novels compete against one another and thus we are going to have you assassinated. Please stand by and hold still so the sniper bullet can compete with your brainpan.” POOP NOISE TO THAT. Competition is what keeps this cranky capitalist machine churning properly and its loss is dangerous for authors and publishers.

22. Anything In That Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

Imagine this: Dude drives up in a van. He opens the door (which is painted with a mural of a wizard firing rainbow magic from his fingertips whose colorful acid beams are skinning a bat-winged nightmare pegasus). This sweaty, panting dude offers you candy. Already you’re like, “Yeah, shit, I love me some fuckin’ candy, but something about this gentleman seems mighty sketchy.” Your instinct will serve you will in this, and it will serve you well in publishing. Anytime you see something in a contract or in a company’s promise that sounds off-kilter and it tickles your amygdala enough to pump you full of paranoia juice, do some digging.

23. Work Without Contracts

Don’t work without a contract. It’s like jumping out of a plane naked, with no parachute, covered in weasels who are trained to invade warm, moist cavities. A strong, zero-fuckery contract can save you just as it can save the person who wrote the contract in the first place.

24. Disinformation (AKA Agendas)

No one aspect of publishing is perfect. Nor is there a single way to write your book and get it out into the world. Anybody who espouses a Monotheistic (ONE TRUE WAY) approach to this whole gig is a person with an agenda, and anybody with an agenda is spouting propaganda, and propaganda is nothing but disinformation designed to support said agenda. Misinformation is one thing — it just means people got it wrong. Disinformation is someone willfully smearing their own feces into your eyes and ears so you don’t find truth.

25. A Lack of Education On Your Part

Finding the truth and vetting information and making the right choices is all on you. No agent is perfect. No publisher is untarnished. No self-publishing prospect is an Easter basket of puppies and kittens. You must get educated. You must stand vigilant against the rampant heinous fuckery out there. Don’t trust me. Don’t place all your trust in the hands of anyone. Ask questions. Seek information. Look for the pearls of truth in the oyster-spooge of opinion. Be smart. Protect yourself. You are your own best defender against all the nonsense.

Want another hot tasty dose of dubious writing advice aimed at your facemeats?


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25 Writer Resolutions For 2013 (And Beyond)

Tis that time of the year when the year’s just born — pushed from its temporal womb, squalling and wriggling. That means it’s also time to put forward a list of upgraded attitudes and mission statements for the year ahead. Some of these are for me. Maybe some of them are for you.

I don’t buy that we should rely on a single day to cleave to shame and fix mistakes — but I think the first of the year is a nice temporal marker to push ourselves to re-examine, to evolve, and to keep asserting our ability to kick as much ass as we are able and allowed.

With that said, let’s get to it.

1. Level Up, Ding

Up your game. Always. With every paragraph, every chapter, every script scene and blog post, we should be looking to level up our work and ourselves.  We level up, we gain new weapons in our fight against Shitty Writing (“I HAVE THE ANCIENT SWORD OF THE HAIKU MASTERS, IT IS +1 AGAINST RUN-ON-SENTENCES”) and we face new challenges in the road ahead (“NOW I MUST DEFEAT THE LITERARY AGENT IN BATTLE USING NOTHING BUT A QUERY LETTER AND SOME BAD-ASS DANCE MOVES”). We must never sit on our hands. We must pull our boots out of the mud. We must move forward and improve ourselves and our work. We must better our shit.

2. Let Art And Entertainment Have A Little Creative Love Baby

Once upon a time I thought, my goal as a writer is first to entertain. And that remains true, to a point — but the more I think about it, the more I realize “entertainment” is a lowest common denominator. If my only true goal was to entertain, I could achieve that by uploading a series of YouTube videos where various things hit me in the dick (Frisbee! Coconut! Bowling ball! Charging goat! A goat driving a lawnmower!). A good story connects beyond mere amusement; its tendrils sink into deeper earth, winding around the human heart. Let’s aspire to do more than merely entertain. Let us reach for meaning, for connection, let us present stories with purpose and power. (Or, at the very least, we could write porn. HEY PORN COUNTS SHUT UP.)

3. Cleave To The Human Condition

It’s oh-so-easy to get lost in all the fiddly bits of storytelling. All the plotty twists, all the crafty and conjurous worldbuilding, all the clever turns of phrase, all the wonderful ways to describe a person’s naughty bits (dangle rod love canal wizard’s wand swamp grotto turgid shillelagh lusty sex-pond). Thing is, we write stories for one reason: to talk about people. And we read stories because we want to read about people. Every story is a Rosetta Stone attempting to translate the human condition to the humans gazing upon it with knitted-brow and quizzical sneer. When we as writers drift away from that, we lose what’s powerful about stories: we lose the character. Stories are written by people, for people, about people. I mean, at least until the day comes when they’re written by robots, for robots, about murdering all the meatbags.

4. Face The Fear, Best The Beast

(Man, if those aren’t some of the lyrics to You’re The Best Around, then the 1980s has failed me.) Let every tale be a cage match between you and something that scares you. Death, life, rats, clowns, disease, lost love, parasites, credit ratings, God, Satan, the apocalypse, being awake during surgery, Kentucky, the dark, wizards, tiny children with straight razors in their jam-smeared hands, otters — find a thing that frightens you and write about it. Mine that struggle. Writing with that measure of genuine of emotion behind it creates a palpable effect: the prose grows stronger, the story becomes richer. Think of it as upgrading the story’s megapixels. Every page contains so much more when you write with passion and authenticity.

5. Have A Fucking Point

Every story is an argument. Have the argument on the page. Give it to the audience. Make the case for why love conquers all — or why love can suck a big quivering tube of elf dick. It’s not about being preachy; it’s about threading your fiction with theme and meaning.

6. Embrace The Unanswerable

On the other hand, just as sometimes we go into fiction with an answer already in mind, other times we approach the page with an unanswered question hanging over our heads like a reaper’s sickle. The ending of the tale, uncertain — its conclusion both in terms of event and theme existing as a Schroedinger’s Cat inside the narrative box, the outcome ever in flux. Can love save the day? What is love? Will human monstrousness win out over selflessness? How do I remove this skin tag? Do bears really shit in the woods or do they share a series of secret bear toilets?

7. Stop Letting Passion Ferment Into Poison

Passion can be a paintbrush — or it can be a gun. It can be a warm cup of go-go juice or an icy syringe jacked up with blowfish toxin. Passion is a horse that either carries you racing across the sunlit plains or stomps you bloody into the mud. Creators are passionate people; they have to be. Passion drives us to do what we do. But that passion easily goes septic and next thing you know, instead of pointing it toward our work and our desires, we’re instead letting it fuel some bullshit argument or be the rope that binds us into some crass emotional tangle. Writing the next great story from the deep of your heart is so much more valuable than EGADS SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERTUBES I WILL EXPEND MY CREATIVE ENERGON CUBES ASSERTING MY SUPERIORITY.

8. Lock The Bastards In A Box

We will forever meet those who don’t believe in us, whose apparent goal is to hold our heads underwater rather than teach us to swim. Those are our bastards, and fuck every last one of those human speedbumps. Don’t engage. Shut them out. Close the door and lock it. Let this be the year we populate our lives with people who challenge us and help us be better, not punch us in the balls (or lady-parts) and leave us groaning and gasping in a pile of canine excrement.

9. Read Widely

Our reading habits are creatures of comfort: we know what we like (urban fantasy novels where bad-ass were-dolphin girls wage war against a parliament of sexy demon-priests) and so we hew to those books we know will please us. But again, look beyond the boundaries of entertainment. As we challenge ourselves with our writing, so too should we seek similar challenge in our reading. Read that which you would not normally read. Seek new input. Don’t let your mind grow indolent and complacent, a sluggy psychic blob covered in mental Dorito dust.

10. Know More Shit, You Clod-Headed Ignorasaurus

If we are to assume that write what you know has any value at all (it does, in a sense, and more on that in a moment), then we can also assume that it is our mission as official penmonkeys to know more shit. Your mission: learn more, read more, do more.

11. Dig Into The Dirt Of Your Own Experience

Let’s talk a little about that last one: “do more.” When we write, we tend to write more effectively when we milk the udders of our own experience rather than come to the page cold and unaware. That’s not to say we must literally write what we know — otherwise, every story would be a biographical transcript. Rather, our experiences are filtered through the various sieves and strainers of fiction: we translate and teleport the events of our lives, finding those sensory moments, those essential elements (or elemental essentials), those core authentic “truths.” What that means is: strive to bring yourself to the page. And further, it means to do more. Have more experiences. Travel. Eat new foods. Try new things. Apply it to your fiction. (“Hey, honey, I went to a gangbang last night with a bunch of strangers. Don’t worry, it’s just me bringing authenticity to my novel. Yes, I smell like lube: a detail for my fictions.”)

12. Find Comfort In Discomfort

Fuck safety. Jump, then stitch the parachute on the way down. Comfort is the enemy of good fiction. As an author, seek some measure of discomfort — put it into your work, try new things, challenge yourself to take the difficult path because that is the path that will yield greater reward. Hell, break a drinking glass and pepper your office chair with the shards so that you’re experiencing constant enlightening buttock pain. *receives note from the official terribleminds lawyer* Oh, umm, wait, yeah, don’t do that last part. Just do the other things.

13. Find Opportunity In Change

The winds have shifted. The earth trembles beneath our feet. Genres warp and mash together. Age ranges for reading spawn hydra heads (Middle Grade! Young Adult! New Adult! Adult Zero! Pre-Adult! Post-Toddler! Geriatric Erotica!). The shift to digital is a change. The fact that big publishers are glomming onto big publishers and creating some kind of drug-resistant super-mecha publisher-kaiju is a change. The rise of self-publishing is — drum roll please — a big-ass change. And more unseen changes are surely on the way in the coming year. Each change is bad for those who cannot adapt, and great for those who can. So, adapt. Find opportunity and challenge instead of difficulty and misery. Surf the turning tide.

14. Find Signal In Noise

We can either fill our lives with meaning, or bog it down with distraction. The latter is easier, frankly: it’s so much simpler to lose ourselves to the Internet or video games or stupid arguments or Russian elk porn. But a life of writing requires focus. It demands that we tune out the noise and zero in on the signal. Signal will save us. Noise will drown us.

15. Stop Pooping In The Temple

They say the body is a temple; mine is probably a back alley pawn shop. (“Want to buy a cassette player and an off-brand Samurai sword?”) Just the same, I shouldn’t be savaging the architecture of my flesh with gross indolence and needless diet. The mind and the body are inextricably linked — it’s time to stop dragging down the mind with the negligence of the body.

16. Stop Defining Yourself By What Other People Think

Everybody wants you to be something. Some people want you to be nothing. None of that matters. The tiger in the cage doesn’t think, “The zookeeper wants me to wear this jaunty hat.” He just eats the zookeeper and then pees on that hat. Be the Most Awesomest You-Version that you want to be, and let everyone fall in line behind your ideals. Don’t fall in line behind theirs.

17. Love What You Write, Write What You Love

The thing about writing is, it’s easy to get caught up in work that isn’t “for” us — rocking out some freelance word count, or maybe in a pitch meeting you pitched something on a lark and under pressure (“Uhh, something-something astronaut family sitcom in a future world owned by robots who have not yet learned to love”) and you really don’t like the thing you pitched but now, here you are, writing it for money. You find it miserable and that misery translates. It always translates. The miserable threads wind around each word like a choking vine or a pubic hair caught in your teeth. Here’s how to fix this: first, make sure to save projects Just For You. Write projects that speak to you. But you can also reverse that: you can bring your love to the project at hand even if that project is not one you enjoy. There’s always a way “in.” Always an angle. Always a way forward that you don’t hate. Find that path through. You’ll feel better for it.

18. Be Inspired By All The Crazy Penmonkey Motherfuckers Out There

Jealousy is an ugly thing: it’s bitey like a plague monkey, empty like a mummy’s scrotum. The way we see other writers is sometimes through lenses smeared with the greasy unguent of envy, or worse, we think, “They did it, but I can’t, and now I’m just going to lay down and take a thousand-year-nap on this pillow soggy with my tears.”  Going forward, let your proper response to other writers be awe. Let it be inspiration. Let the collective efforts of a thousand penmonkeys be the fist of wind that punches your sails.

19. Forge Partnerships In The Raw Metals Of Awesome

Time to get shut of the notion that we do this thing alone. The author is always the tip of the iceberg: beneath the hoarfrost waters is forever an unseen pyramid of supporters. Editors! Agents! Book designers! Artists! Other writers! This year, go out. Find one other person in your creative ecosystem. Press your two magic artist rings together — bwing! — and form a partnership. Use that creative energy — and yes, sometimes, creative agitation — to be the fist of wind that… what? I already used that metaphor? Fine. Use that energy to get shit done.

20. Create Before You Consume

We often gain our desire to tell stories from consuming the stories told by others. This often becomes our default mode: we read! We watch! We play! The problem is when it remains our default mode and we never switch tracks from consumer to creator. That’s not to say we shouldn’t still hungrily stuff our mind-mouths with the narrative meals cooked by others — but there comes a time to give our own work that priority. Both in terms of time and in terms of regurgitating staid, tired tale-telling. Your story comes first. All other tales trail after.

21. Write Fiction Red In Tooth And Claw

Punch. Kick. Grab. Bite. Fuck passivity. We don’t get to be paid penmonkeys and crackerjack creators by lying on the ocean floor like a bloated sea cucumber letting food glom onto his turd-blob body. You’re not a morbidly obese shut-in who can order opportunity and creativity from Amazon (delivered with Prime Shipping to your double-wide trailer!). You are shark. You are wolf. You are shark-wolf hybrid with machete-flippers and fire-eyes and a deep and unabiding creative hunger. Creators must take aim at their goals. They must sniff out opportunity and stab it with their steely knives. You want that pound of flesh? You want your novel on shelves, your script on a screen? Move, motherfucker. Or get out the way.

22. Realize: Yesterday’s Gone And Tomorrow’s Too Late

Today is what you have, so use it. Don’t even think about what you didn’t do yesterday. And fuck putting aside things for tomorrow. It’s today. It’s Right Goddamn Now — a sharp dagger stuck in the pages and maps of this very moment. Grab the knife. Start cutting words off the block. Start arranging them into sentences, and start shoving those sentences together to make a story. Don’t look back. Don’t wait. Now is the only time you are promised. Now is the time to create.

23. Just Keep Swimming

Regret is for assholes. Hell, regret is an asshole — a giant flappy asshole that works opposite as it should, vacuuming up instead of purging out, suctioning up optimism and motivation and light and also, the cat. (Poor cat.) It’s easy to get caught in this mode, to have the thought running laps in your head that says, I fucked up, I did something wrong, that thing will haunt me. A query letter with a typo, some pissing match with another author, a book that nobody bought, a self-published tale with a cover so ugly it should be on trial for war crimes. Forget regret. Aim to repair. Seek to reclaim. (And other re- words!) Very little you do will mark you as a Permanent Dickhole or Forever Dumbshit provided you are earnest about moving forward and upping your game. Stop getting caught on the carousel of remorse. Stop turning in circles.

24. Fuck Good. Go Great.

Perfection is the enemy of the good. But does that mean we shouldn’t aspire to be better? Hell no. It doesn’t mean we can’t push ourselves and reach a little further. It damn sure doesn’t mean that we cannot seek to elevate that thing we do beyond the realm of merely “good” and — one hopes — into the stratosphere of “great.” (“THIS MONKEY NEEDS A PROPELLOR. THIS ICE CREAM NEEDS BACON! THIS BACON NEEDS CHOCOLATE! THIS TOASTER NEEDS A PINK FLOYD LASER LIGHT SHOW AND A BELT PUNCH AND THE INTERNET.”) I don’t know what makes something great. More of this? Less of that? A stronger flourish? A simpler elegance? Nobody knows. But that’s no reason not to try, is it?

25. Know Thyself

The biggest and bestest resolution going forward? Know who you are as a writer. This is, I find, the curse-iest curse that plagues us — and it doesn’t just plague us at the beginning of our journey. Oh, if only. It’s a nettling, nibbling, nattering imp riding on our shoulders years into the great egress from our old, uncreative lives. Find your process. Uncover what works for you. Find your voice. Find what you like. Discover why you tell stories. Discover your desires. Find your frailties. Find yourself in your fiction and find your fiction in you. The faster we can start to figure out who we are, how we work, and what we want, the faster we can move forward telling the kinds of stories we want to tell — and the more confident we become in doing it. So ring in the new year by… if not answering these questions then at least asking them, having them staple-gunned to the front of your cerebral cortex. Let your work and career be less of a question mark, and more of an exclamation point. And now for…

26. Shh, The Not-So-Secret Secret Resolution

Write till your fingers bleed.

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25 Things I’d Like To Say To My 18-Year-Old Self

I often describe this website as me yelling at myself from 18 years ago. It’s as true as it is not, I suppose — certainly the blog is also me yelling at me from last week, or from two weeks hence. I like to yell at Past, Present and Future Me and, by proxy, yell at you, too. So, seemed a good time to write a more direct version of that, which is this list. It’s in part about writing but also about a lot of other things. And the secret is, it’s just as much me yelling at myself now to stay vigilant about this stuff as it is about any teenage asshole version of myself. So, crack my skull with an ice hammer, and let’s see what’s inside!

1. This Shit’s Gonna Take A While

Soooooo. You want to be a writer, right? Mm. You’re vibrating over there. So eager. Ready to have all your atoms disassociate and reform you into the complete and total package. You’re like a squirrel with ants all up in his butthole — just itchy to get moving. I have bad news, lad. This thing you want to do? This “writing” thing? Yeah, it takes a long time. This isn’t a microwaved burrito. It’s smoked pork shoulder. A writing career is a long, slow roast. Hunker down for the long haul. Know that you’ll get there. But you gotta settle in. Tame your impatience. At the very least, conquer it with the stubbornness of an old, cantankerous donkey.

2. Kick The Muse

The Muse ain’t your boss, big guy. She doesn’t push you around. In fact, most times, she’s the one who needs a kick. If you sit around and wait for her to show up, you’ll find that the words come only in fits of incontinence: a dribbled splash here, an unexpected pants-stain there. Your Fairy Wordmother dances for you, so shoot at her feet to get her shimmying and shaking. Listen, there might be magic in this writing and storytelling thing. But with that magic, you can either be its slave — or its sorcerer. You can be the one worshipping and appeasing, or you can be the one with the spellbook and the wand. You’re either it’s dog, or its master. The sooner you figure that out, the happier you’re going to be.

3. Focus Up, Motherfucker

You’re a kid, so I’ll afford you some measure of distraction, but eventually you need to stop digesting entertainment and start dishing it out. And not just entertainment, but stuff that digs past the topsoil and into deeper, richer layers of earth (more on that later). For now, slow up on the video games and the MUSHing and the sex… ah, right, you’re 18. You’re trying to have sex all the time, aren’t you? You’d bang a set of dressers if the light was right. All I’m saying is: comes a point when you need to hunker down and focus up. Put away shiny things. Rubber meets road. No, not that kind of rubber. What are you, 12? Jesus.

4. Some People Will Weigh You Down

One of the harder lessons to learn is that some of the people you want in your life are sadly not good for you — these are people you think of as friends or girlfriends or even family. Their best interests are not your own. They don’t mean to, but they’ll drag you down. They’ll point your nose in the wrong direction. You deserve better. And frankly, so do they. Sometimes relationships don’t work out like you think they should. You can’t force it. You just have to cut the rope and float away from one another. Maybe one day you float back into each other’s little patch of seawater. Most likely, you don’t. You’ll both be healthier for it.

5. Anger Only Gets You So Far

Sure, sure, you’re all pissed off at the world. You’re all fire and vinegar, all swinging fists and stompy boots. GRUMPY WASPS AND THIRD-STAGE SYPHILIS. Anger will get you moving — it’s like the first blast from a rocket booster. You want to spite those who said you couldn’t do it? You want to blacken the eye of the world to prove that you deserve to be here? That feeling will carry you for a while. But it’s not sustainable. And it’s not healthy. And — *checks your hands* — sometimes when you don’t have ways of processing how you feel, you punch lockers and fuck up your knuckle. Or you break things. Or you let that anger sit and ferment until it’s just a gutful of acid sadness. Let the anger go. It’s hollow fuel. It’s empty carbs.

5. Shame Is A Half-Ass Motivator

Like anger, shame actually fucking works. It does. Those twin serpents of shame and guilt chasing you down will move your ass forward — it works because you feel bad and you don’t want to feel bad anymore, so you make motions to counter it. But shame is a broken ladder. It’ll get you halfway there but the rest of the rungs are snapped. It’s because “not feeling bad” as a motivation is just enough to get you off the ground and out of the mud but that’s it. You need something bigger, something better, as motivation. You need to want to feel good, not just want to avoid feeling bad. Victory is rarely the product of avoiding internal misery.

6. Mistakes Have Value

You’re going to fuck up a lot. No, no, don’t get pissy — remember, I AM FUTURE YOU. (And yes, we have hoverboards and teleporters in the year 2012. And sex-robots and cyborg dildo attachments.) Here’s the thing: we are the culmination of our successes but our successes are the culmination of our mistakes. Mistakes and failures beget success because we learn from them. Success is a slim margin — a narrow door — and everything outside that door is considered error. And that’s okay. My toddler knows how to walk now — oh, right, you have a kid but we’ll get to him — and the act of getting up and noodling around on those two pudgy cake-pillars he calls legs only happened through lots and lots of experimentation. Translation: he fell a lot. Still does. Into everything. You’d think he was drunk. He looks like Baby Fight Club most days. Point is: you need to fall. Falling is how we learn to walk. It’s painful, but the pain is instructive.

7. Walk Before You Run, Dumdum

Ah! Yes. Speaking of walking — you fall, then you walk, then you run. In that order. (And after that, you earn your cyborg leg-pistons and you can jump over buildings. MAN 2012 IS PRETTY RAD.) This translates to writing: to your gravest disappointment you cannot just spring forth fully formed out of Athena’s head and write a masterpiece novel that will get you a six-figure advance. You will not at age 18, or 20, or 25, or even 36, be the cherub-cheeked darling of the literary world. You’ve got to take this thing in order. You can’t short circuit the skills you need to learn. So-called “overnight sensations” are like icebergs: you only see the tiny peak above water. Below the surface lies an epic glacial mountain representing all the months and years spent pushing the peak above the slushy sea.

8. Figure Out What Actually Fucking Matters

Some shit really matters. A lot really, really doesn’t. Everything can’t matter equally. The loss of a parent does not equal a fight on the Internet. The look in your kid’s eyes does not equal a bad review of one of your books (yes, yes, calm down, you actually get to be a paid professional writer, stop wetting your Iron Man underoos.) You’re going to be a lot happier when you start figuring this out.

9. Wow, You’re An Entitled Little Cockbite, Aren’t You?

Hey, whoa, don’t get lippy with me, kid. I’m willing to forsake a couple of my teeth to knock yours out right now. I got bad news, sport: see this pile of shit with twigs and bugs in it? The world doesn’t even owe you this much. You are not the center of any orbit, elliptical or otherwise. I sound like such an old man but dude, listen, things you accomplish are far better than things that are handed to you. Your first publication (soon!) will be the product of you putting ego aside and listening to some editorial notes and putting in the fucking work. It’s not their job to publish your potential. They don’t owe you a bucket for your word-barf. It’s your job to earn that space. And it’ll feel like the angels are giving you a full-body massage with their thousand genderless eye-nipple mammaries when they do. (Hey, read the Bible, angels are freaky as fuck.)

10. Mister Right, You Ain’t

You’re not right all the time. In fact, every year that passes my estimation of how often you’re right goes down by about… three percent, so at this stage I figure you’re — er, I’m — er, we’re? — in the neighborhood of 40% correct most times (and that number’s shrinking). More importantly, you don’t need to be right all the time. Yours is not the only way. Further, convincing folks of the validity of your argument is not best done with a 2×4 studded with rusty nails. It’s best done with a hand-job using a velvet glove. …okay, hey, shut up, things get kind of weird in your early 20s. Don’t tell your eventual wife about the glove.

11. Only You Can Fix You

You are at or near the point where feeling fucked-up — meaning, depressed or angry or having that hive of bees you call a brain freak out — seems like a badge of honor, like it’s justification to demand things from the world in a Fiona Apple-style THIS WORLD IS BULLSHIT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME STUPID HUMANS meltdown, but it’s not. The way you feel is not unique. And it’s not the world’s fault. Only you can fix you. Stop inflicting yourself on others. Like a weapon, or a disease, or a humpy terrier. I know, “fixing yourself” is easier said than done, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good excuse not to do it. Everything is easier said than done. Suck it up, Strawberry Shortcake. Get right with your head to get right with the world. (Be advised that this remains an ongoing process of maintenance and repair.)

12. You Must Leave The Idea Of Art Behind

For a long time you’re going to hold up the idea of “art” as a defense for… well, all kinds of dippy shit. Don’t like an edit? Art. Don’t want to learn how to write an outline? Art. Want to get naked in the college gazebo while guzzling Irish whiskey and singing AND I WOULD WALK FIVE HUNDRED MILES –? Art. Not an excuse. Set it aside. Focus on craft. Focus on skill. You want to think raw talent and the defense of art are everything and then you want to hold up James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and be all like, “Look! None of the rules apply here!” but here, let me squeeze that blister — You’re not James Joyce, knucklehead. You’re an 18-year-old dumbfuck with a self-importance problem. Splurch.

13. (But Don’t Worry, You’ll Get Back There)

Eventually you’ll figure out that writing isn’t this beast with a single face. You’ll see that writing is craft, and storytelling is something bigger, weirder, stranger. You’ll find the art again, like a sunset through a chemical haze. But it won’t be a thing you can control and it won’t be a defense for anything. It’ll be a thing that has its own measure of skill and talent. It’ll be a thing that other people see better than you. It’ll be a thing that is less ART in all caps and more “an art” all in gentle, unassuming lowercase. You’ll find poetry in language that doesn’t need to be called that to survive. You’ll find that you learn the rules to know when to break them, and you need to break the rules to learn why we have them in the first place.

14. You Will Leave A Wake Of Word Corpses

Behind you will be a miles-long heap of story wreckage. You’ll litter the earth with carcasses of manuscripts finished and unfinished. They will be mostly a steaming trail of eye-watering, nose-blistering manure. This will sadden and frustrate you. Don’t let it. Accept that in each were things you learned that carried you to the next one (“Oh, don’t write a novel in all caps? Interesting“). But also realize that there will come an evacuate your bowels or unplug the fecal vacuum moment (we don’t have toilets in the future, we have vacuums that siphon the waste from your body), a moment when you need to stop flicking your dick and get things done.

15. Creativity Is A Muscle

Creativity is not some external force. It is not the breath of the gods breathed into your mouth. It is neither gift nor entitlement. It’s an intellectual muscle. It needs flexing. It needs exercise. Discipline yields creativity. Whenever you put thought to words and words to page, you’re taking that muscle and making it bigger. (And when you do, you should squint and tell people, “Who bought a ticket to the gun show?” and then tap the center of your forehead and stare at them menacingly.) If you want to think of it as a more magical thing, go for it — think of it as stimulating the elf gland. There. See? Now it’s magical! Because elves!

16. Work Is Not A Four-Lettered Word

*receives whisper from an advisor* Oh, yeah, I guess it is a four-letter word. Fine, whatever. PEDANT. Don’t look at me that way — yes, you’re still kind of an idiot 18 years later. Point is, at this time in your life there is a very strong disconnect between “work” and “creativity.” You associate writing and storytelling with pleasure and desire rather than difficulty and effort. That’ll fuck you up for a while because as soon as a story reveals its inevitable difficulty or feels no longer “fun,” you’ll abandon it like a colicky infant in a cardboard box marked FREE COOKIES. This thing you want to do isn’t easy. Gird your loins. Which is Bible-speak for “protect your genitals from the flurry of karate crotch-kicks life will deliver to your junk drawer.”

17. Happiness Is A Many-Faced Beast, Actually

They say that the Romans had a lot of words for love and Eskimos have a lot of words for snow and Klingons have a lot of words for “why the fuck are you actually learning Klingon,” but writers — and perhaps humans of all intellectual configurations — should compile a great many words for happiness. Writing is happiness for me at this age, but that’s because I modified my definition. At your age, you powder-bottomed squall-baby, you’re upset whenever it doesn’t make you happy at that moment. You’re like a goldfish, unable to remember yesterday or gaze forward to tomorrow. Fuck that. You’re aiming for a deeper, longer happiness. A pervasive satisfaction. That only comes with prolonged effort. It only comes through learning and doing. It comes through finishing what you begin, good or bad.

18. Your Voice Is In There, Somewhere

You will for a long time copy the voices of the writers you admire. Lansdale, McCammon, Brite, Hobb, Denton, Moore. You’ll worry about what they did or do more than what you should do. You’ll try to sound like them. You’ll try to mimic what you love and emulate their success. Eventually you’ll stop. If I could convince you to stop sooner, I would, but maybe you can’t. Maybe it only comes with time and the confidence and instinct born of great effort. But here’s a tip: your voice is your voice. It’s who you are. It’s how you speak. It’s how you think and what you believe. The harder you try, the deeper it hides. It’s a sneaky little fucker. Stop trying. It’ll come out to play all on its own.

19. People Die

Sorry to get morose and bring this disco party to a record-scratching halt, but people die. People you love. People you know. And I don’t mean this in a poetic, Gothy-romancey emo-bullshit way. I mean, people die badly, without much poetry, and one day they’re there and the next they’re not. And that’s fucked up. But it’s also very, very important. Because you will realize that life is not permanent. The impermanence of the flesh is why life actually matters. Yesterday and today won’t ever happen again. Own that. Make progress. Do awesome things. SEIZE THE CARP. No matter how hard that fucking fish wriggles.

20. But Ideas Don’t Have To

People die but who they are and the ideas that form their lives and experiences most certainly do not need to expire. It’s why we write. It’s why we tell stories. Words are idea containers. Stories are our experiences committed to ears and eyes and minds. Books are the best grave markers because they contain so much more than the dates of our births and deaths. That’s why what you write should matter. That’s why you shouldn’t fuck around and waste time merely trying to entertain. Put yourself onto the page. Bleed into the story. Embrace the Viking immortality of having your ideas live forever.

21. Never Confuse Fear With Instinct

Okay, listen. Life is full of these binary pivot points, right? Where you can choose to do something or remain the same. Sometimes, remaining the same is the right choice: there will come a point where you will think about giving up writing because certain dissenting voices in your life suggest it’s the practical thing. But your instinct will tell you that you can really do this, that this shit is real. Sometimes, though, fear masquerades as instinct. It’s good instinct to say, “I’m not going to try to ramp this jet-ski over that feeding frenzy of hammerhead sharks even though it’d be awesome.” It’s bad fear to say, “I’m not going to seize this opportunity because, frankly, it scares me and gives me a rollicking case of the spiritual pee-shivers.”

22. You Have Died Of Dysentery

See? It’s a settlers joke. An Oregon Trail joke. Right? Old school. High-five! … no? No high-five. Whatever. Fuck you. Philistine. THE JOKE IS, don’t settle. Every year presents brand new opportunities to settle for less, to hunker down and get a “real job,” to quit pursuing that which you so desire. Nope. Mm-mm. Don’t do it. Fuck settling. Ride that unicorn to the end of the rainbow, motherfucker. Like I said: life is short. Fear is powerful. Fortify your spine. Cement your genital stamina. Build an exoskeleton of calcified confidence. Do. Not. Settle. That way lies a doorway to regret. It’s a door that locks and has no key.

23. Grow Up

Growing up means taking responsibility for who you are, what you want, and what you’ve done and will do. But growing up is also about knowing when to power down the adult side and let the crazy T-Rex that is your childish side loose on those poor goats in the goat paddock.

24. Haters Gonna Hate, But Diggers Gonna Dig

Haters are everywhere. Even inside in the form of self-hatred, and it’s that self-hatred that magnifies the hate of others. Don’t let that worm into the heart of the apple. Because just there shall be haters, you’ll also have the power of an engaged audience, of people who dig what you’re doing. You will find the audience. They will find you. You’ll arrive together in an orgiastic lovesplosion greased up with the heady lubricant and giddy froth of storytelling. Dismiss hate. Embrace love. Fuck pants.

25. Love Is Your Jetpack

Love, love, love. It’s everything, man. The love of your fans, the love of books, the love of and from your wife, the love seen in and felt for that spark of wonder in your child’s eyes, the love of dogs and friends and characters and ideas and other writers and other stories and love love motherfucking love. Love, as they say, will save the day. It will carry you. It will save you. I know, you’re 18, you’re cynical as fuck, black-coffee-bitter like you’ve seen it all, but you haven’t seen shit, kid. Go ahead and mock. One day, you’ll see. You’ll feel it. You’ll receive it as the unexpected frequency that it is. And it’ll give you reason to keep on keepin’ on.

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In Which My Toddler Helps Me Think Of “Character” In A New Way

Our son, the one we call “B-Dub,” thinks of the people in his life abstractly.

Example: if he sees a magazine ad featuring the car you drive, he’ll point to it and say your name. If he sees a spot on the floor where one of the dogs likes to lie down, he’ll say that dog’s name. But it can be even more abstract, to the point where it takes us time to figure out what the connection is —  like it’s a little bit of a puzzle. He pointed to a picture at one point of very grungy, work-dirty hands and said, “Pop-Pop,” and it’s not like his grandfather is some kind of filth-caked, rail-riding hobo. But — but — his Pop-Pop is in fact often working outside. In the literal sense, he’s frequently getting his hands dirty.

Sometimes it’ll be a color. Or an image. Or a sound.

But he’ll associate people with things both concrete and abstract.

And I thought, what a darling way to help us writery-types conceive of character.

We’re used to writing out descriptions of character — we may in our notes list a series of traits (selfish, two kids, has a pet monkey despite being allergic to monkey bites, is a zombie, obsessed with Law & Order: SVU). But it’s interesting to instead — or, more appropriately, in addition to — conjure a series of images that call to mind that character for you.

Say, ten images. Or however many you need to find the character in there.

A cigarette burning on a porch rail.

A copy of a 1970s-era MAD magazine. Shoes with clayey mud clinging to the treads.

A cup of coffee so lightened with cream it might as well be milk.

A monkey bite on the Achilles’ heel.

An infected nipple that looks like a human face.

Whatever, etcetera, blah blah blah.

Some of the images can be literal. Some more figurative or at the least more distant from the character’s actual present-day existence. What do the images mean? What do they say about the character?

Show, Don’t Tell is a piece of advice that’s mostly right and occasionally very wrong, but we generally think of it in terms of the end result — we put the practice into the prose. But here it we could put the practice into the practice, meaning, we can show ourselves rather than tell ourselves all the little pieces that go into the stories we want to share. It’s a good way to think visually and abstractly instead of textually and literally.

Hell, you could even cut images out of magazines and hang them on a corkboard.

I have a corkboard in my office.

Of course, it’s covered in images cut out from TIGER BEAT magazine.

Don’t judge me.

Don’t you dare judge me.

I guess it’s time to take down my spread of sexy Star Trek boy-toy, Wil Wheaton.

25 Ways To Unstick A Stuck Story

You’re teats-deep in a story. And it feels like instead of swimming forward, your boots are stuck in the wet mud below. You need something to churn the waters. Loosen the mud. You need to unstick the stuck story.

Here, then — a list of 25 ways to help you do that. Most of these are plot- or story-focused — meaning, practical efforts to open that pickle jar. If you’re looking for solutions that lie beyond that focus and, say, land on you as a writer, maybe check out “25 Ways to Defeat Dread Writer’s Block.”

Now, let’s do this.

1. Form Of: Flopsweat! Form Of: Retroactive Outline!

Sometimes, being stuck is the same thing as being caught at the crossroads of indecision — you don’t know which way the story should jump. Will Bob kiss Mary? Will Mary stab Bob? When does the Ancient Demonlord Humira-Adalimumab reveal himself? You ever open a refrigerator and stare into its depths for like, 15 minutes, completely paralyzed by your inability to decide what to eat? (“Chicken noodle soup? Old ham? New cheese? Daikon radish? AAAAGHH.”) This is like that. So: take the pressure off. Pull yourself out of the word-treacle. Do an outline. If you’ve done one already: re-do it, because this one hit a wall. Outlining can take whatever form you choose: chapter-by-chapter, index cards, mind-map, human centipede.

2. Roadblocks, Speedbumps, Stop Signs, And Angry Dragon Crossings

Obstacles. Conflict. Pain and suffering. Sometimes, being stuck on a story is just because things are too easy. And “too easy” translates to *poop noise* BOOO-RING. Tease out your inner sadist. Tickle the taint of your own psychic Marquis de Sade. You need to start making life harder for the protagonist. Disrupt his quest. Set him back. Put everything you can in his way — and then even more as the story tumbles forward. Hurt him. Move the goalposts. Demand sacrifices. Complicate the journey. Remember, the worst business advice happens to be very good storytelling advice: elevate costs and eliminate convenience.

3. Diversify Your Character Portfolio, Motherfucker

You’ve got all these characters and yet, you’re hovering over one character like a fly over a stinky diaper. Realize that you’ve got a kickass superpower: you can possess and take-over anybody inside the story. With the power of Point-of-View, you can drag us along for the ride. You can shove us into their eyes, their minds, you can force us to piggyback on their experiences past and present. Sometimes untangling a knotted-up tale means looking at it from different eyes: what better eyes than those of the other characters inside the story?

4. Recalibrate The Motivation Matrix

You might be stuck because your characters are strangers to you. And that won’t do: you need to use this time to get to know them. Likes. Dislikes. Favorite ice cream flavor. Panty size. Sexual peccadilloes. And most important of all: motivation. These crazy assholes want something! So, what is it? It’s more than just a base level survival instinct — they need something. The desire, gnawing at them like rabid hamsters. Find out what that is. Once you know that, their path becomes clearer, their decisions certain. The story will move because they will carry it that way — and often straight into the thorny maw of conflict.

5. Jock-Straps And Under-Wire Bras

Your story needs more support. One of the ways we do that is to beef up the supporting cast. A strong and active supporting cast is powerful stuff — all those B-tier players who want to be A-tier. They have their own motivations, their own fears. Let loose a cabal of free-thinking characters into your story, it’s like dumping a sack of coffee-guzzling cats in your living room: shit will start to happen. Motivations cross! Agendas clash! CATS ASPLODE. Plot and story is really just a chain reaction of character motives put into action.

6. Partygoers Come And Go

You’re at a party, old guests exit, new ones enter. Two folks bail to go fuck each other on the fire escape. Two more arrive bringing an eight-ball of coke and a circus bear. Treat your story like just such a party: re-energize the narrative by pulling away from some characters and introducing new ones. A mysterious assassin! A prostitute with dubious motivations! An untrustworthy circus bear named “Mister Tickles!”

7. Sequins Of The Vents!

PLOT IS MADE OF SEQUINS WHICH ARE MADE OF VENTS OOOOH SO SHINY. *receives note* Oh. Okay. Sequence of events. I swear, my life is plagued by homophone problems. Someone says, “Meet me at Starbucks,” I show up at Starbucks and pelt them with ground beef. Anyway. Sometimes, a story trips itself on a snarled-up sequence-of-events, AKA, “plot.” The word plothole is not precisely accurate in describing what’s really happening: a plothole is really a gap in the sequence of events, where that gap would and should feature the proper information that would bridge Point A to Point Z. You say, “I don’t know how Dave gets to the moon, he’s just… there.” You’ve failed to provide the proper connection, to bridge that gap with the necessary narrative data. Simply put: the bridge is out. Which means the journey cannot continue. Find these gaps. You probably already know where and what they are. Fix them now. Writing needn’t be linear. Go back. Add content and context. Fill the holes. Mind the gap. SHINY SEQUINS.

8. The Plot Beneath The Floorboards

Sometimes our stories get constipated because of a too-samey, unvaried diet. You live off of Eggo waffles and buttermilk for a couple weeks, your personal plumbing is going to get boggy. A story is like that: we have one major plotline and it chugs along without any time for anything else, and somehow it seems to grow enervated, slowing down before eventually miring itself in grave ennui. ENTER THE SUBPLOT. One or several subplots perform a powerful task: they create alternate related stories that distract from the larger plot while also making us pine for it. Further, when done correctly, they prove energy and narrative information to the larger plot. The big plot feeds off the little ones. The little stories contribute to the larger.

9. Drop Acid, Have Flashbacks

Consider the reported therapeutic value of LSD, wherein psychologists used to use it to jar loose those mental boulders that are jamming up our brain-canyon. Now, consider the value of running your story through the same gauntlet — meaning, maybe it’s time for your tale to trip balls. Flashbacks. Hallucinations. Dream sequences. Cryptic visuals. Foreshadowing events. All of these force the story to take a (temporary) left turn. Deviations from the expected course, as with subplots above, do a lot to give extra impetus and urgency (and a booster shot of valuable uncertainty) to the narrative. Give your story a little acid. Let it run naked through Wal-Mart, fighting invisible goblins with a soup ladle.

10. The Mysterious Mystery Of The Questioning Quest

Introduce a new mystery. Something that just doesn’t add up. The story seems to be going one way, and then suddenly the protagonist gets a package: a steamer trunk full of severed heads, a strange journal written by a long-dead reanimator, or — *crash of thunder* — A FRUIT-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB DELIVERY THREE MONTHS AFTER THE DELIVERIES ENDED. Okay, maybe not that last one. Point is, jamming a big fucking shiny-ass question mark into the ground like you’re planting the flag on Iwo Jima is powerful: question marks have gravity. They draw us toward them. (If you’re really brave, introduce a mystery to which you do not yet have the answer. That can give you major juice — but it can also sink you further into the mire.)

11. Steal Your Protagonist’s Shoes Then Make Him Walk On Glass

Storytelling is an act of cruelty. We are cruel to our characters because to be kind is to invite boredom, and boredom in storytelling is synonymous with big doomy death-shaped death. So: be cruel to your protagonist. Rob him of something. Something important. Something he needs. A weapon. An asset. A piece of knowledge. A loved one. A DELICIOUS PIE. Take it away! Force him to operate without it. Conflict reinvigorates stale stories. New conflict, or old conflict that has evolved and grown teeth.

12. Someone Isn’t Who They Say They Are

Consider the value of the midpoint twist. No, it’s not a new dance. It’s a bit of narrative stuntery. Stuntery isn’t a word? IT’S MY BLOG YOU SHUT UP OR I’LL THROW YOU OUT AN AIRLOCK. I’m sure I have airlocks around here somewhere. Point is: there comes a time in the narrative when you have an opportunity to take pre-existing elements and twist them sharply. (The next several items on this list actually lend themselves toward that notion.) One option is that someone in the story is not who they say they are. A criminal is actually a cop. A loved one is a secret monster. A parent is a butthole-sucking tapeworm alien from space. Someone’s mask comes off. Someone’s true face is revealed.

13. The Knife In The Back

A dread betrayal! A turn of friend to enemy! Someone betrays the protagonist. Or more than that: betrays the plan, betrays the town, the Earth, the Omniverse. At the last second, he sabotages the MacGuffin Machine! He urinates in the water supply! He steals the protagonist’s keys and throws them in a storm drain! HE EATS THE LAST OF THE LUCKY CHARMS. I’m sure you can think of far better betrayals (murrrderrrr). Any impactful event in a story — particularly one that pivots the tale in an unexpected direction — takes that story and shakes it like a baby. Er, metaphorically speaking. Please don’t shake babies.

14. “No, Father, I Did Not Poop In Your Toolbox. It Was. . . A Ghost. It’s Ghost Poop. Totally From A Ghost. Please Do Not Investigate This Further.”

Someone has a secret. And they’re forced to lie about it. That there is a kick-ass one-two punch combination to give some oomph to an ass-dragging story. Secrets and lies are a simple and surprisingly effective way to introduce fresh conflict born from pre-existing characters and plotlines. Someone is fucking someone they’re not supposed to be. Someone makes a mistake. Someone has a part of a dark past that threatens to be revealed. Lies aim to cover up, but lies beget more lies: deception is a gremlin you get wet and then feed after midnight. It multiplies and turns into an uncontainable monster.

15. Kill Some Poor Sumbitch

Storytelling feels like an act of magic, and some magic is ritualized, and a great deal of ritual magic requires a sacrifice upon its altar. Your story is full of precious lambs — I mean, “characters.” Take one. Preferably one that matters (not, say, “Tom the Cab Driver who shows up for one paragraph in Chapter Four”). Then: off them. As a part of the plot, of course; I don’t mean like, drop a fucking anvil on their heads. But just the same: kill them. Death is a boulder dropped into a lake: it doesn’t just create ripples. It creates waves. It splashes on everybody. It gets still waters moving.

16. Ill-Advised Romantic Pairing

Take two characters who should not be making kissy-kissy (or, fucky-sucky, or, bondagey-wondagey) and make them do exactly that. It works because we know it should not work. Forgive the deviation, but here’s a valuable note: suspense and tension is created when characters we love perform actions we hate. They make mistakes. They choose poorly. They open doors they’re not supposed to open, they steal something we know they shouldn’t steal, they smoosh their genitals up against someone whose genitals should be caution, cuidado, verboten. This works because we, the audience, know to fear certain acts as we (wisely) suspect the outcome will be bad. We love our protagonists. We want them safe! We want them to choose wisely! Which is why we, as writers, work often (and work hard!) to punish the audience through the characters on the page. The “ill-advised romantic pairing” is just one example of a particular path of storytelling which goes like this: “Identify the thing that the audience fears will happen, then engineer that very thing so that it happens in a way that’s worse than they ever imagined.”

17. Keep Throwing The Story Off The Cliff

Dickens knew it. The old pulp serials knew it. Sometimes, you have to keep the audience’s attention by throwing your entire storyworld (plot, characters, ideals) into perilous imperiled peril. And, since you might be considered Audience Zero for your own story, this works when writing, too — constantly drop-kick your story off the cliff’s edge. Make that poor fucker hang there by his fingernails. Create interesting problems. Invoke certain danger. Write your way out of the trap. The challenge may engage all your creative synapses.

18. Raise The Stakes

I like to raise the steaks to my mouth and EAT THEM YUM YUM NOM NOM wait I’m doing it again. Goddamn you, homophones! Ahem. Raising the stakes, narratively speaking, means that the consequences of failure get worse. It means that the task becomes harder. It means that new information makes everything more complicated. You are, in storytelling parlance, “stickying the wicket.” Fine, whatever, nobody says that. (But it makes a charming euphemism for masturbation!) Suddenly the protagonist’s goal isn’t just about saving the love of her life — it’s about saving the world. Or it’s about making a choice: save that love or save the world or find the needle-threading third option that saves everybody. Amp the conflict. Make it harder. Make it cost more. Make it even more important. Boom.

19. Hero Grabs The Story By The Yam-Bag

This one’s simple: a story will suffer log-jam if the hero has been passive. So much relies then on external events it grows tiresome and, in some cases, narratively prohibitive in terms of the effort you have to put into the way the world constantly acts upon him. Reverse that. Time for the hero to grab the story by its story-balls and take control. This isn’t the same thing as making the hero successful — it’s just about making the protagonist active and complicit in the narrative.

20. Threat Level: Physical, Emotional, Philosophical

Your story might be firing on one cylinder, when really, it needs to fire on three: the goals of the protagonist and the conflicts that work against him must cross three axes: physical, emotional, philosophical. Physical: “I am in danger of being eaten alive by a starving were-badger.” Emotional: “But the starving were-badger is my true love, Betty McGoohan.” Philosophical: “If I cannot reconcile this and the story demands I slay my true love, then love cannot succeed in the face of evil and I am forced to accede to a cynical worldview in which monstrousness is ascendant and all my victories are Pyrrhic and were-badgers are neither cuddly nor sexy.” Harness all three axes for powerful story-combo power-up extra-life ding.

21. Sit Down, Right Now, And Figure Out Your Ending

Sometimes, it’s nice to just get in the car and go. Enjoy the scenery. No destination. But other times, you end up just driving in circles and seeing nothing of value. A story is a journey with a very specific function. A story is a journey that has a destination at its culmination — it is not a disconnected series of pretty pastoral vignettes. (“Look, honey, cows. For 300 pages. Cows. Just standing around. Chewing cud. Pooping. Goddamn cows.”) Your journey needs an end point. It needs a thumb-tack in a map that says, “THIS IS WHERE I AM FUCKING GOING.” Sit down. Right now. Figure out your ending. It may not be the ending you use, but you’d be amaze at how unstuck you’ll get when you know what direction you should be going.

22. Play The “What If?” Game

Being stuck in the story often means hovering at a single point and saying, “I don’t know what happens next.” The simplest game to play to get you out of that is to ask “What If?” like, several dozen times, answering differently each time. Write each what if down, even if unanswered. What if he kills the antagonist now? What if he fails and gets captured? What if he snaps and goes nuts? WHAT IF HE BECOMES A MAGICAL OWL-MAN WHO RIDES A STEED MADE OF CLANKING TIN-CANS AND CARRIES A SWORD MADE OF SQUIRRELS? Don’t worry. It’ll get crazy. It’s supposed to. But it’ll set the pot to boil. Somewhere in there, you’ll find the answer presents itself. Like a flower to a bee desiring sweet pollination.

23. Determine The Most Insanely Unexpected Course Of Action, Then Do That Shit

True fact: storytelling isn’t always an act of precision. Time comes, a story’s gotta get messy. Untamed. Unhindered. Sometimes, a story just gets fucking weird, which means you, the storyteller, gotta get weird with it. You say you’re stuck? Fine. Take your story and drop a nuclear narrative event upon it. Change everything. Go crazy. Ruin the world. Make the antagonist the protagonist. Blow things up. Whatever the audience expects would not — could not — happen? Do it. It’ll unseat that stuck story right quick.

24. Kill The Last Ten Thousand Words

Another rather extreme assertion, one that will surely turn your gut sour: go back five thousand — maybe ten thousand — words, highlight, then click delete. You’ll gasp. You’ll gape. You’ll pee five, maybe ten, drops of anxiety-urine. But then: ahhh. A sudden sigh. A giddy elation. Whatever was jamming you up is now gone. You are free to move forward. This seems extreme but consider: storytelling is sometimes walking a maze and walking a maze means hitting dead-ends. When you hit a dead-end, the only solution is to backtrack until you can find the proper path. It is hard. But you will move forward, unfettered.

25. Punch, Kick, Think, Then Write Your Way Through It

You’re stuck? Poor you. Fuck it. It’s a mental thing. Don’t give in. Think through it. Karate-punch the story. Kick it in the teeth until it yields. You’re the boss. Worse comes to worse: write around the gap. Got a section where you don’t know what happens? Write in 144-point font: WHO THE FUCK KNOWS? FIGURE THIS FIDGETY SHIT OUT LATER and then write the next section. A stuck story might be you feeling stuck when really, the story’s zipping along just fine. And even if there really is a problem, you can’t always identify the problem until you’re done the whole damn thing. So: you’re stuck? Fuck it. Fuck you. You’re not the horse. You’re the rider. The one with the spurs, the buggy whip, the carrot at the end of a stick. Make it move. Get it done. Your words are a battering ram: knock the door down and walk on through.

Want another hot tasty dose of dubious writing advice aimed at your facemeats?

500 WAYS TO TELL A BETTER STORY: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

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250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING: $0.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF


REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

25 Motivational Thoughts For Writers

With NaNoWriMo about to storm surge the writer (and wannabe-writer) community, this seems a good time to both tickle your pink parts and jam my boot up your boothole in terms of getting your penmonkey asses motivated. So, here goes — 25 motivational thoughts for writers, starting in 3… 2… 1…

1. You Are The God Of This Place

The blank page is your world. You choose what goes into it. Anything at all. Upend the frothy cup that is your heart and see what spills out. Murder plots. Train crashes. Pterodactyl love interests. Vampire threesomes. Housewife bondage. Demon spies! Cake heists! Suburban ennui! You can destroy people. You can build things. You can create love, foster hate, foment rage, invoke sorrow. Anything you want in any order you care to present it. This is your story. This is your jam.

2. Infinite Power, Zero Responsibility

Not only are you god of this place, but you have none of the responsibility divine beings are supposed to possess. You have literally no responsibility to anyone but yourself — you’re like a chimp with a handgun. Run amok! Shoot things! Who cares? There exists this non-canonical infancy gospel where Jesus is actually a little kid and he’s like, running around with crazy Jesus wizard powers. He’s killing them and resurrecting them and he’s turning water into Kool-Aid and loaves into Goldfish crackers — he’s just going apeshit with his Godborn sorcery. BE LIKE CRAZY JESUS BABY. Run around zapping shit with your God lightning! You owe nobody anything in this space. It’s adult swim. It’s booze cruise.

3. The Rarest Bird Of Them All

The easiest way to separate yourself from the unformed blobby mass of “aspiring” writers is to a) actually write and b) actually finish. That’s how easy it is to clamber up the ladder to the second echelon. Write. And finish what you write. That’s how you break away from the pack and leave the rest of the sickly herd for the hungry wolves of shame and self-doubt. And for all I know, actual wolves.

4. You’re Not Cleaning Up Some Sixth Grader’s Vomit

You have worse ways to spend a day than to spend it writing. Here’s a short list: artificially inseminating tigers, getting shot at by an opposing army, getting eaten by a grue, mopping the floors of a strip club, digging ditches and then pooping in them, cleaning up the vomit of nervous elementary school children, being forced to dance by strange dance-obsessed captors, working in a Shanghai sweatshop making consumer electronics for greedy Americans, and being punched to death by a coked-up Jean-Claude Van Damme. Point is: writing is a pretty great way to spend a morning, afternoon, or night.

5. Abuse The Freedom To Suck

Writing is not about perfection — that’s editing you’re thinking of. Editing is about arrangement, elegance, cutting down instead of building up. Editing is Jenga. Writing is about putting all the pieces out there. It’s construction in the strangest, sloppiest form. It’s inelegant. And imperfect. And insane. It’s supposed to be this way. Writing is a first-time bike-ride. You’re meant to wobble and accidentally drive into some rose bushes. Allow yourself the freedom — nay, the pleasure — to suck. This is playtime. (Or, as I call it: “Whiskey and Hookers” time.) Playtime is supposed to be messy.

6. And Embrace The Authority To Be Fucking Awesome

It’s your rodeo, hoss. You have the authority to write with confidence, to puff your chest out, to slap your ink-smeared genitals on the table as you utter your barbaric yawp. Aim big. Go bold. Don’t hide from your own most kick-ass desires. Don’t unfurl the story with hands trembling from the fear of what others will think. You have the power to do different. Yours is the authority to choose the road with your name on it. Write the story the tangle of desires and neuroses that comprise you so desire: A love affair between a man and a parking meter! A civil war between robots and other robots! A SPACE OPERA STARRING ROOT VEGETABLES. Fortune favors the bold. And being fucking awesome favors being fucking awesome.

7. You Can Clean Up The Mess Later

Writers are afforded the glorious possibility of endless do-overs and take-backs. Every draft a new chance to go back and clean up messes and untangle the tangled wires that hide beneath the narrative. Can you imagine that privilege in real life? “Hey, when you go outside today, anything you do can be undone and the whole day can be recreated.” Holy crap, the day you’d have! Bath salts and dolphin sex, car crashes and muddy graves. I’d have an orgy at a candy factory. (So sticky!) I’d kill someone just because I could. I’D EAT DEEP-FRIED LIPO FAT AT A COUNTRY FAIR SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF AMERICA. If I didn’t like it, I’d go back and wipe the slate clean, start over again. That’s your story. Your story is a madcap day whose minutes and hours subject to your whims of rewriting — or unwriting.

8. A Room Full Of Starving Story Addicts

For all the dire predictions about writing and publishing, I’m going to make a promise to you: the audience is waiting. They’re a subway car full of twitchy story tweakers going around and around, looking for any stop that will give them good story. They’re there for you. They’re waiting for your tale told. Writers often feel like they’re just sobbing into the void, but the audience will hear your plaintive cries, young storyteller. You may feel like a story flunky, but be sure that the audience is full of story junkies. Hey, snap, that rhymed and I didn’t even mean it to. FUCK YEAH WORDS.

9. I’m Talking About Motherfucking Ice Cream, Son

You are allowed to live a reward-driven life. You want me to motivate you? Go motivate yourself. (That is not code for “go fuck yourself,” unless I don’t like you, then it totally is.) Set a various goals and when you hit them, do something nice for yourself. I mean, the goal shouldn’t be, “Every time I write a sentence, I get an ice cream cone,” because that sir is a high-speed rail straight to the heart of Diabetesburg. But hit your mark of 2000 words a day? Write a chapter? Finish the book? Accept how kick-ass that is and reward yourself. It’s okay. You have my permission. (As long as you don’t bogart that ice cream. Dick.)

10. Nobody Else Writes Like You

When all your force fields and filters are down, when you’ve stripped yourself of your presuppositions and your fears and needs and your pants, you discover that nobody in the world writes like you. Nobody has your ideas. Nobody has your narrative memetic code. You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake, no. But your writing — your writing is your fingerprint. Your voice is yours and yours alone.

11. We’re Totally Built For This

Someone will look down on you at some point (or, if you’re me, at frequent points throughout your day) for being what you want to be. Writer. Author. Artist. Storyteller. Here’s why that’s a dumpster full of shitballs: we are built for this. One of the things that lashes us all together with rope and chain and psychic plasm is our desire — nay, our sacred fucking need — to tell stories. We’ve been doing it since we drew Neanderthals chasing unicorns on cave walls. We tell stories about the weather, about work, about family and friends, about pets and sex and about that time that friend we have at work had sex with his pet python while a hurricane raged outside. This is what we do. You’re just codifying it. Making it real.

12. One Word After The Other

The technical side of writing — by which I mean, the physical act itself — is one of the easiest things you can do. It’s literally one word placed after the other with some appropriate punctuation thrown in between breaths and ending thoughts. Yes, it gets more complex once you start thinking about narrative, character, meaning, text versus subtext — but for now, fuck all that. Just breathe. Let the tension go out of you (not so much you pee yourself). This is like LEGO. One block upon the other. One word after the next.

13. Just Write 100 More Words

A frequent phrase said when I was a child or a teenager: just ten more minutes. Meaning, it was time to go to sleep (as a child) or time to get up for school (as a teenager) and all I wanted to do was avoid sleep (child) or sleep longer (teenager). As a writer, play the same game with yourself: you want to give up, close the notebook, save the story? Just 100 more words. That’s all. Push yourself just a little. A hundred words ain’t much (it’s about the size of this text block). And you’d be amazed at how 100 words just isn’t enough.

14. This Is How You Get Better

Writing is a muscle: the more you use it the stronger it gets. Writing is like a dog: the more you train it, the smarter it becomes. Writing is like one of your orifices: every time you allow a bigger object to be inserted within (pinky, buttplug, fist, cucumber, wiffle ball bat, railroad tie) you train it to gape wider the next time. …okay, maybe not so much the last one. Still: writing begets writing. You may not be great — or even good — now. But effort yields fruit. Fruit you may later jam up your ass for pleasure. Wait, what?

15. The More You Do It, The Easier It Gets

It’s not just about getting better. It’s about it becoming easier. More natural. More intuitive. The act of writing cultivates both calluses (a metaphorical hardening the fuck up, Care Bear) and instinct (where your decisions as a word-captain and story-slinger are less the product of rigorous thought and more the result of you just having a gut feeling and going with it). Hard at first. Easier over time.

16. You Are Not The Omega Man

You are not alone. You are not Lonely Writer Person on Planet Nobody. We all get what you’re going through. We know your triumphs and terrors. The future of writing will be us uploading ourselves to The Cloud (probably on Amazon’s servers), our spirit animals glomming together to howl a single song, but for now, we’re all located at our individualized story pods, cranking out the words by ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we’re alone. We have community. We have shared understanding. Reiterate: You are not alone.

17. Your Love For Writing Is Enduring And Imperfect

Some days will be great and other days will be hard. Some days you will love the thing that you’re doing so intimately and so completely that you feel like you achieved some kind of narrative orgasmic apotheosis, whereas other days you will feel nothing but septic hate gurgling in your empty belly and every word slung will feel like a brick flung into your own nose. Your love for this thing you do needn’t be there every day. Every day won’t feel like winning the championship. But the love endures, imperfect as it is.

18. It’s Okay That Some Days Are Really Fucking Hard

Some days are difficult. The words feel like dead fish flopping out onto a dirty floor. Hell, maybe they don’t fall out at all but feel like they must be yanked one by one, the act both painful and slow, as if you’re extracting teeth. Some days are shitty. Is what it is. All writers go through it. You want to do this thing then don’t look at the shitty days as a problem: see them as a challenge that prove your pudding.

19. Writer’s Block Is Not A Real Thing

You can be blocked. Everybody gets blocked. But it’s not special. It’s not unique to writers. It doesn’t deserve its name or the credit it receives. More importantly, it isn’t a physical thing — it isn’t a gorilla with a croquet mallet who smashes your hand every time you reach for the keyboard. You can get past it. You think past it. You write past it. You kick it in the teeth and step over its twitching body.

20. How To Imagine The Haters

If there is one thing we have learned upon this old Internet of ours, it is: haters gonna hate. You will ever have disbelievers among your ranks, those who pop up like scowling gophers, boring holes through your well-being, your hopes, your dreams. It is very important not to prove the haters right. It is very important to know where to place the haters in rank of importance, which is to say, below telemarketers, below any television show on TLC, below crotch fungus and garbage fires and anal cankers. Imagine the haters herded into a pen. Eaten by the tigers of your own awesomeness. Then digested. Shat out. And burned with flamethrowers. The only power you should afford the haters is the power to eat curb.

21. Multiple Shots At Goal

Just as you get multiple chances to fix a single story, you get multiple stories to fill your life — as many as you care to cram into your days, months, years. Our lives are a series of stories untold, and it’s up to you to tell them. This one might not be successful. But the next one might.

22. The Leprechaun’s Gift

At the end of this rainbow are whatever rewards you want. Money? It’s there. Some say writers don’t earn out, that you can’t make a living doing this thing that we do. That’s a quiver of broken arrows: don’t sling it over your shoulder. I do it. I know a lot of writers who do it. So can you. But it’s not just money at the end: it’s self-fulfillment. It’s love. It’s confidence. It’s the things you’ve learned about yourself, about the craft of writing, about the art of storytelling. You never know what you’ll find until you climb that motherfucking rainbow. (One time I found a cardboard box of vintage porn and tasty grilled cheese sandwiches.) Writing is a journey. Each story just one leg of the trip. So start walking.

23. You Are Your Only Enemy

You have no enemy but yourself. You’re the only one that brings a story into existence, or, as it may turn out, fails to engineer that existence. Your enemy is not your spouse, your kids, your boss, your neighbor, your dog, your mother, your buddy. It is not time, work, addiction, distraction. It is not video games or Twitter, Facebook or television. Your enemy is fear. And indolence. And lack of discipline. And: uncertainty. And: lack of self-esteem. And all those things live inside your heart and your head. That’s hard to hear at first, but the trick is, that means you have the power to sweep all that shit off the table until it clatters and shatters against the floor. You’re the only one standing in your own way so, knock down your own worst inclinations and get to it. Disclaimer: actually, unicorns are frequently the writer’s enemy and if you got a unicorn problem best thing I can recommend is to call a priest. You can’t kill those things with weedkiller. And they deflect bullets with their horns. That’s no lie. Unicorns are pesky assholes.

24. This Matters

Story matters. Writing is important. Stories make the world go around. Many things begin as words on a page. It matters to the world. And it matters to you. Don’t let anyone rob you of that. Don’t rob yourself of it, either. Don’t diminish. Don’t dismiss. Embrace. Create. Accelerate.

25. Um, What Are You Still Doing Here?

Uh, hello? You should’ve bailed on me ten list items ago. What the fidgety fuck are you still doing here? Whatever it is you want to write — novel, script, short story, blog post, haiku out of fridge magnets — go forth and do it. Don’t wait for me. Don’t wait for all the answers. Don’t wait for permission, motivation, inspiration. It’s time to saddle up and gallop forth — through the white dust and the red sand, through the darkness of your own fears or inadequacies and into the light of a tale told to completion. Quit lookin’ at me. Quit looking for reasons. Quit dicking around. Close this browser and go tell a story, willya?

Want another hot tasty dose of dubious writing advice aimed at your facemeats?

500 WAYS TO TELL A BETTER STORY: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

500 MORE WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING: $0.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF


REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF