(Welcome back to Penmonkey Boot Camp, ink-heads and word-punks. Once again it’s another dose of over-the-top tough love shoved unmercifully into your pie hole. As always, any dubious advice I dispense here should be taken not with a grain of salt but, in fact, an entire salt mine. Please to enjoy!)
Writers are liars.
We are liars of such a magnitude that our pants are not merely on fire, but rather, they immolate in a bright hot flash, sacrificing themselves to some dark and ancient word goddess.
We don’t mean to be, I suspect. It’s just part of the craft. Authors spend their days and nights constantly making shit up. We become masters of verbal chicanery, of fictional legerdemain. Sure, some writers say, “Ah, but with our fiction we secretly tell truths,” which I suppose is true, except those truths are wrapped in a dense layer of deception. It’s like handing you an appetizer and saying, “It’s prosciutto!” which is true, except for that little bundle of prosciutto is wrapped in a foul purse made from a moldering horse scrotum.
Best thing we can do is try to keep our lies contained neatly within our work and not let ’em live outside of it — though that is sometimes easier said than done. Our lies sometimes creep out of our fiction and get inside our heads like an insidious parasite taken on by accidentally ingesting flecks of cat poop. That’s when it gets problematic, when our lies become not a staple of our work but rather about our work.
And so it’s time to shine a flashlight in dark corners and call out the lies we writers tell to ourselves, to one another, and to the rest of the world at large. Let’s see if any of these sound familiar. (They certainly do to me — I know I’ve told most, if not all, of these whoppers once upon a time.)
“I Write Only For Me.”
Bzzt! Wrongo, you wannabe Emily Dickinson, you. I’m sorry, are you tweeting from your dark, musty attic where your parents have squirreled away Grandmother’s Victorian tampon collection in the hopes that one day it, like Beanie Babies, will see a resurgence in market value? The very act of writing is an act of communication. Communication is an act between two or more people. You don’t write for yourself. Shut up. Shut it. Shh. What, do you write a poem and then sit and read it to your toesy-woesies? This little piggy went to market, and oh, by the way, here’s my 10-book fantasy epic, The Fyre Lords of Slogmarn?
Stop lying. You don’t write only for yourself. Writers write to be read. Go ahead, say it again — I will grab your slithery forked tongue and knot that fucker up good and tight so you may not speak that lie anew. We should be thankful writers write to be read by others. That attitude has produced some — really, all — of your favorite books. This lie exists perpetuated by authors who are afraid to be judged by an audience. It exists to make them feel bulletproof — “Oh, you didn’t like that? Well, I liked it, and I write for me, so please enjoy my two middle fingers thrust upward, each kissed with a tincture made from my own tears.”
Stop that. Stop that right now. Join the rest of the world. Communicate with your audience.
Come down out of the attic, for Chrissakes. Still telling this lie to yourself? Fine. Then here’s your challenge: write in a notebook. Never show it to anyone. Die atop a mound of said notebooks in 100 years.
“It’s Okay That I Didn’t Write Today. Or Yesterday. Or The Day Before That.”
Nope. Nuh-uh. Not buying it. “I spent a day just chilling out, getting my head around this book, man.” No, you spent a day playing video games and drinking nail varnish to help kill your shame. I’m not saying every day has to be a 5,000-word slam-dunk-home-run-goal-unit-score-point-palooza, but if you didn’t put down 500 words of story, or a handful of editorial comments, or some notes, you didn’t accomplish Dick Butkus. It is a cliche for a reason: writers write. Is it the only thing they do? No, psshh, of course not. But isn’t it the priority? Writers live in their heads so often, you need to lance that boil. Writing is an act of trepanation; free the demons with the power drill of your choice. (Er, not literally. Put the drill down. We’re speaking in good old-fashioned metaphoricals here, y’see?)
Sad reality: we are all one day closer to death. If that day does not put you one day closer to finishing your manuscript, your screenplay, your transmedia epic opus, then this day of life is wasted.
We only get one go-round on this crazy carousel. Like I said the other day, that word count ain’t gonna autoerotically asphyxiate itself. Time to tighten that belt, word whores!
“I Just Don’t Have Time To Write.”
Lies! Filthy, septic lies! You have the same 24 hours in your day as I do — the question is, how do you choose to fill them? I’m growing weary of the narrative that goes like, “Chuck, you’re going to have a kid soon — say goodbye to your writing time, loser.” What? Seriously? Nobody says that to someone with an office job. “Hey, cubicle monkey, you’re going to have a kid soon — guess you’re going to have to quit your job.” Ohh, sure, okay, because my not writing is going to feed my child? I can conjure nega-words from the ether, and each word-not-yet-written will be like a draught of angel’s milk sating my son’s infant hunger.
I am fully aware that my sleep is going to get bombed out and any illusion of having an adult schedule is going to get squashed beneath a mound of dirty diapers. That doesn’t mean I stop writing — it just means I reapportion my time accordingly. Here’s the deal: nobody has time to write. Writers have to make time to write. You must take a meat cleaver and hack off a gobbet of your day and set that chunk of temporal viscera aside and say, “This is when I will write.” Maybe it’s two hours. Maybe it’s fifteen minutes.
Stephen King wrote some of his earliest work in tiny snippets in the middle of his work day.
You must steal time like a thrifty, thieving magpie.
“I’ll Write Later!”
End of story. Or, hopefully, just the beginning.
“This Helps Me Write (And I Need It).”
You don’t need caffeine. You don’t need diet soda. You don’t need meth, heroin, video games, German poop-porn, an iPad, unicorn blood, the love of a good woman, a clean desk, probiotic yogurt, cat videos, Twitter, Facebook, Livejournal, Tumblr, healthy self-esteem, double rainbows, a special pen, a lucky shirt, your blog, someone else’s blog, this blog, the word “blog.”
The only thing you need is you, a semi-functioning brain, a story, and a way to tell it.
Oh, and an ergonomic chair. Okay, you don’t need it, but shit, you could damn well use one.
“I Don’t Care About Money.”
Oh, aren’t you fucking special. You’re above money, are you? You have transcended the need to exist in this material world? “I write my inky words on paper and then I eat that paper and live within the ether of mine own storytelling!” Hey, good for you, you crazy little Bodhisattva, you. I tried not paying my mortgage and when you do that, the bank sends ninjas.
I do not have the luxury of caring naught about currency.
This lie is the sneaky mule-kicked cousin to, “I Write Only For Myself.” It is once more a deception sold by those who want to excuse their work not selling, who want to make themselves feel unique or somehow above other writers (“those greedy hacks!”) because they don’t care one whit about getting paid — it’s all about the art, you see. Mind you, this is a lie of artistes, not artists. Artists need to eat. Starving is neither glorious nor honorable — in fact, it’s not even that interesting, trust me.
Remember: Shakespeare got to get paid, son.
You don’t have to care about being rich. But you damn sure better care about money. As said in the past: your writing has value, so claim value for your writing.
“I Have To Build My Platform First.”
Sure you do, as long as you don’t mind getting up onto it and having nothing to say.
“I Don’t Need A Platform”
Sure you don’t, as long as you don’t mind mumbling about your project from down in that muddy hole.
Your first priority is writing. That’s the first barbarian banging at the gate. But it’s not the only one. Having a platform is like having a dinner table — the most important thing about dinner is making the food, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need somewhere to eat it.
“Oh, Drat, My Creative Spark Has Been Extinguished.”
Translation: “Ye Gods, someone has hanged my imaginary friend by the neck until he perished!”
Working on a long-term writing project is like marriage, and the creative spark is analogous to romantic love (or, rather, boner-inducing sexual magnetism). The creative spark is just the thing that gets you together with your work the same way that your goggle-eyed romantic need for rumpy-pumpy is what got you drawn into the marriage. But it is not the thing that sustains.
Get shut of this notion and stop telling yourself — and everybody else — that you’re clinging to this ludicrous and wholly imaginary idea. You don’t need it. Push past it. Keep writing.
“I Never Find Writing Advice Helpful!”
You’re just that good, are you? You are a perfect Beryllium laser, cutting through the bullshit and crafting the mightiest tale to ever grace the minds of men.
Your work leaves no room for improvement, it seems. Well-done. Now, tell your son Jesus to come back to Earth and start cleaning up the mess we’ve all made.
Every writer needs advice. Maybe it’s about commas. Maybe it’s about query letters. Maybe you don’t turn to books or blogs but rather to a friend. Could be that you find it just by reading books you love again and again looking for the secret advice buried within. But everyone needs advice. Don’t pretend you’re somehow outside of it. Don’t act like merely the act of writing is enough to improve itself.
Hell with your cranky meme! Down with this lie!
*voids bowels upon it*
“I’m Just No Good.”
Quitcher whining! The time for your boo-hoo ballyhoo is done. Here then, is the proclamation: shit or get off the pot. Really truly think you’re no good and won’t be any good and cannot write past the nagging self-doubt? Then stop being a writer. Right now! Let go. Loosen your mental grip on the notion and let it float away, downstream, where it will soon be eaten by angry carp.
Or — or! — shut up about it and keep on kicking ass.
If you keep writing, it’s because you’re good enough to keep writing. Stop telling the lie to yourself and to everybody else that you’re just not good enough. Maybe you’re not great. And certainly you have room to improve. So, drum roll please, improve. Don’t whine. Don’t cry. Don’t wonder how your diaper got full and then moan about it without ever taking it off. You’re good at something. You’re an author, a writer, a storyteller — yours is the power of the divine. No deity got where he was going by blubbering about the ice cream cone he just dropped. Write, motherfucker! Write like you give a shit! Write without doubt, without fear, without lies — those, I assure you, will come in time.
You are good enough. Snap the neck of your self-doubt.
“Insert Penmonkey Deception Here”
What lies do you tell yourself? Why do you tell them, and how can you be rid of them?