Seen a lot of folks giving advice to so-called “aspiring” writers these days, so, I figured what the hell? Might as well throw my dubious nuggets of wisdom into the stew. See if any of this tastes right to you.
1. No More Aspiring, Dingbats
Here are the two states in which you may exist: person who writes, or person who does not. If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not. Aspiring is a meaningless null state that romanticizes Not Writing. It’s as ludicrous as saying, “I aspire to pick up that piece of paper that fell on the floor.” Either pick it up or don’t. I don’t want to hear about how your diaper’s full. Take it off or stop talking about it.
2. Kick Your Lowest Common Denominator In The Kidneys
You can aspire to be a lot of other things within the writing realm, and that’s okay. You can aspire to be a published author. Or a bestselling author. Or a professional freelance writer. Or an author who plagiarizes his memoir and gets struck with a wooden mallet wielded by Oprah live on primetime television. You should aspire to be a better writer. We all should. Nobody is at the top of his game. We can all climb higher.
3. Aspiring Writers, Far As The Eye Can See
Nobody respects writers, yet everybody wants to be one (probably because everybody wants to be one). Point is, you want to be a writer? Good for you. So does that guy. And that girl. And him. And her. And that old dude. And that young broad. And your neighbor. And your mailman. And that chihuahua. And that copy machine. Ahead of you is an ocean of wannabe ink-slaves and word-earners. I don’t say this to daunt you. Or to be dismissive. But you have to differentiate yourself and the way you do that is by doing rather than be pretending. You will climb higher than them on a ladder built from your wordsmithy.
4. We All Booby-Trap The Jungle Behind Us
There exists no one way toward becoming a professional writer. You cannot perfectly walk another’s journey. That’s why writing advice is just that — it’s advice. It’s mere suggestion. Might work. Might not. Lots of good ideas out there, but none of it is gospel. One person will tell you this is the path. Another will point the other way and say that is the path. They’re both right for themselves, and they’re both probably wrong for you. We all chart our own course and burn the map afterward. It’s just how it is. If you want to find the way forward, then stop looking for maps and start walking.
5. The Golden Perfect Path Of The Scrivening Bodhisattvas
Point is, fuck the One True Way. Doesn’t exist. Nobody has answers — all you get are suggestions. Anybody who tells you they have The Answer is gassy with lies. Distrust such certainty and play the role of skeptic.
6. Yes, It Always Feels This Way
You will always have days when you feel like an amateur. When it feels like everybody else is better than you. You will have this nagging suspicion that someone will eventually find you out, call you on your bullshit, realize you’re the literary equivalent of a vagrant painting on the side of a wall with a piece of calcified poop. You will have days when the blank page is like being lost in a blizzard. You will sometimes hate what you wrote today, or yesterday, or ten years ago. Bad days are part of the package. You just have to shut them out, swaddle your head in tinfoil, and keep writing anyway.
7. Figure Out How You Write, Then Do That
You learn early on how to write. But for most authors it takes a long time to learn how they in particular write. Certain processes, styles, genres, character types, POVs, tenses, whatever — they will come more naturally to you than they do to others. And some won’t come naturally at all. Maybe you’ll figure this out right out of the gate. But for most, it just takes time — time filled with actual writing — to tease it out.
8. Finish Your Shit
I’m just going to type this out a dozen times so it’s clear: finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit! FINISH YOUR SHIT. Finish. Your. Shit. Fiiiiniiiish yooooour shiiiiit. COMPLETO EL POOPO. Vervollständigen Sie Ihre Fäkalien! Finish your shit.
9. You Need To Learn The Rules. . .
…in order to know when they must be broken.
10. You Need To Break The Rules. . .
… in order to know why they matter.
11. What I Mean By Rules Is–
Writing is a technical skill. A craft. You can argue that storytelling is an art. You can argue that art emerges from good writing the way a dolphin riding a jet-ski emerges the longer you stare at a Magic Eye painting. But don’t get ahead of yourself, hoss. You still need to know how to communicate. You need to learn the laws of this maddening land. I’ve seen too many authors want to jump ahead of the skill and just start telling stories — you ever try to get ahead of your own skill level? I used to imagine pictures in my head and I’d try to paint them in watercolor and they’d end up looking like someone barfed up watery yogurt onto the canvas. I’d rail against this: WHY DON’T THEY LOOK BEAUTIFUL? Uhh, because you don’t know how to actually paint, dumb-fuck. You cannot exert your talent unless you first have the skill to bolster that talent.
12. Oh, The Salad Days Of College!
Why are the days of our youth known as “salad days?” Is “salad” really the image that conjures up the wild and fruitful times of our adolescence? “Fritos,” maybe. Or “Beer keg.” I dunno. What were we talking about? Ah! Yes. College. Do you need it? Do you need a collegiate education, Young Aspirant to the Penmonkey Order? Need, no. To get published nobody gives a flying rat penis whether or not you have a degree. They just care that you can write. Now, college and even post-grad work may help you become a better writer — it did for me! — though, I’d argue that the money you throw into the tank getting there may have been better spent on feeding yourself while you just learn how to write in whatever mousetrap you call a domicile. You can only learn so much from someone teaching you how to write. Eventually you just have to write.
13. Reading Does Not Make You A Writer
That’s the old piece of advice, isn’t it? “All you need to do is read and write to be a writer.” You don’t learn to write through reading anymore than you learn carpentry by sitting on a chair. You learn to write by writing. And, when you do read something, you learn from it by dissecting it — what is the author doing? How are characters and plot drawn together? You must read critically — that is the key.
14. Here Is Your Tin Cup, Your Hobo Bindle, Your Rat-Nest Undies
You’re going to starve for a while, so just get used to that now. Don’t quit your day job. Yet.
15. Commerce Is Not The Enemy Of Art
If you think commerce somehow devalues art, then we’re done talking. I got nothin’ for you. Money doesn’t devalue art any more than art devalues money — commerce can help art, hurt art, or have no effect. The saying isn’t Money is the root of all evil. It’s The love of money is the root of all evil. Commerce only damages art when the purpose of the art is only money. So it is with your writing.
16. Overnight Success Probably Isn’t
Suddenly on your radar screen is a big giant glowing mass like you’d see when a swarm of xenomorphs is closing fast on your position and it’s like, “Hey! This author appeared out of nowhere! Overnight success! Mega-bestseller! Million-dollar deal!” And then you get it in your head: “I can do that, too. I can go from a relative nobody to America’s Favorite Author, and Oprah will keep me in a gilded cage and she’ll feed me rare coffees whose beans were first run through the intestinal tract of a dodo bird.” Yeah, except, those who are “overnight successes,” rarely appear out of nowhere. It’s the same way that an asteroid doesn’t “just appear” before destroying earth and plunging it into a dust-choked dead-sun apocalypse: that fucker took a long time to reach earth, even if we didn’t notice. Overnight successes didn’t win the lottery. They likely toiled away in obscurity for years. The lesson is: work matters.
17. Meet The Universe In The Middle
My theory in life and writing is this — and it’s some deeply profound shit, so here, lower the lights, put on a serious turtleneck with a houndstooth elbow-patched jacket over it, and go ahead and smoke this weird hash I stole from an Afghani cult leader. The theory is this: meet the universe halfway and the universe will meet you in return. Explained more completely: there exist components of any career (but writing in particular) that are well beyond your grasp. You cannot control everything. Some of it is just left to fate. But, you still have to put in the work. You won’t get struck by lightning if you don’t run out the storm. You must maximize your chances. You do this by meeting the universe halfway. You do this by working.
18. Self-Publishing Is Not The Easy Way Out
Self-publishing is a viable path. It is not, however, the easy path. Get shut of this notion. You don’t just do a little ballerina twirl and a book falls out of your vagina. (And if that does happen, please see a doctor. Especially if you’re a dude.) It takes a lot of effort to bring a proper self-published book to life. Divest yourself of the idea that it’s the cheaper, easier, also-ran path. Faster, yes. But that’s all.
19. No, Total Stranger, I Don’t Want To Read Your Stuff
I really don’t. And neither does any other working author. It’s nothing personal. We just don’t know you from any other spam-bot lurking in the wings ready to dump a bucket of dick pills and Nigerian money over our heads. That’s not to say we won’t be friendly or are unwilling to talk to you about your work, but we’re already probably neck deep in the ordure of our own wordsmithy. (Or we’re drunk and confused at a Chuck-E-Cheese somewhere.) We cannot take the time to read the work of total strangers. Be polite if you’re going to ask. And damn sure don’t get mad when we say no.
20. Your Jealousy And Depression Do Not Matter
All writers get down on themselves. It’s in our wheelhouse. We see other writers being successful and at first we’re all like, “Yay, good for that person!” but then ten minutes later we get this sniper’s bullet of envy and this poison feeling shoots through the center of our brain like a railroad spike: BUT WHY NOT ME? And then we go take a bath with a toaster. Fuck that. Those feelings don’t matter. They don’t help you. They may be normal, they may be natural, but they’re not useful and they’re certainly not interesting.
21. Talking About Writing Is Not The Same As Writing
Needs no further comment.
22. Pack Your Echo Chamber With C4 And Blow It Skyward
Aspiring writers lock themselves away in echo chambers filled with other aspiring writers where one of two things often happen: one, everybody gives each other happy handjobs and nobody writes anything bad and everybody likes everything and it’s a big old self-congratulatory testicle-tickling festival; two, it’s loaded for bear by people who don’t know how to give good criticism and the criticism is destructive rather than constructive and it’s just a cloud of bad vibes swirling around your head like a plague of urinating bats. If you find yourself in this kind of echo chamber, blow a hole in the wall and crawl to freedom.
23. Learn To Take A Punch
Agents, editors, reviewers, readers, trolls on the Internet, they’re going to say things you don’t want to hear. A thick skin isn’t enough. You need a leathery carapace. A chitinous exoskeleton. Writing is a hard-knock career where you invite a bevy of slings and arrows into your face and heart. It is what it is.
24. You Can Do Whatever The Fuck You Want
As a writer, the world you create is yours and yours alone. Someone will always be there to tell you what you can’t do, but they’re nearly always wrong. You’re a writer. You can make anything up that you want. It may not be lucrative. It may not pay your mortgage. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what’s going on between you and the blank page before you. It’s just you and the story. If you love it and you want to write it, then wire your trap shut and write it. And write it well. Expect nothing beyond this — expect no reward, expect no victory parade — but embrace the satisfaction it gives you to do your thing.
25. The One No-Fooling Rule
Is “write.” Write, write, write, motherfucking write. Write better today than you did yesterday and better tomorrow than you did today. Onward, fair penmonkey, onward. If you’re not a writer, something will stop you — your own doubts, hate from haters, a bad review, poor time management, a hungry raccoon that nibbles off your fingers, whatever. If you’re a writer, you’ll write. And you’ll never stop to look back.
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475 responses to “25 Things I Want To Say To So-Called “Aspiring” Writers”
I just wanted to say thank you. This post literally haunts me in the best way.
[…] airport fiction and stuff for children and teens and literary stuff. And read critically (thanks Chuck Wendig) – that’s how reading helps you become a better […]
Thank you. You have helped me see what I want more clearly. As from now I will keep writing until I finish that shit! I will stop worrying that no one will like it or that it will be no good because I will be writing what I want to write and at the end of day that’s the whole point!
[…] TerribleMinds wrote an article on the “25 things I want to say to aspiring writers“. The most important point? Write. Write, write, then write some more. Sounds obvious that […]
[…] 25 Things I Want To Say To “Aspiring” Writers […]
[…] What I said… […]
If only I’d known #13, 30 years ago. Shared this everywhere….
Thank you for that vocabulary-expanding romp through the hard-knock lessons of your scrivening career (one of the new words I got from you). 9 out of every 10 of these, I’d already heard. Also, I disagree with you when you say that reading cannot make you a better writer. I find that something happens in my subconscious mind when I read all the time–I can’t help but absorb what I see. People learn to talk by listening, and I think we learn more than we know by reading. But you’re right in the other 99% of the things you said. Thanks for a great article.
This article magically appeared during a moment of weakness when I googled “I have writer’s block because someone told me I’m not good enough.” Ouch. I know. Desperate much?
Anyway, thanks for kicking me in the no-writing ass. This is shit I needed to hear. I’m going to go back to writing things that aren’t good enough now because I need to write, even if it’s shit. Especially if it’s shit. How else am I going to get better?
[…] words. They exist in many places but the first time I read them was at Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds. The first thing this will do is give you something to edit which is the first step to […]
Chuck! You are SO right.
Very few genius people will be there in this world to advise to those who would like to start their career as writers and to make every one know ones own talent of writing by reading this beautiful piece of article and I personally feel this will certainly help me to know more about writing skills.Thanks a lot for this good effort.
Nothing short of brilliant. So good I read it in the glare of the sun in my den and didn’t move, sat in an uncomfortable position, thought what a shit I am for breaking a variety of these rules already (like quitting day job, smart!) et cetera et cetera. A good war cry to shave my head and go into battle, smear blood on my face and die living. Thank you.
Everything you’ve said here is like “duh, no shit” and then it’s like “hold up, why the hell am I not doing any of this?”
What’s the difference between a submission letter, pitch letter, query letter and a cover letter?
This is great! You are awesome. That is all. 🙂
Thanks for that , ive recentaly woke up at 35 yrs old , a few less teeth and covered in bad tattoos , tired of killing myself with drugs and depression , reading has always been an escape for me and ive always kinda thought id like to try myhand at writing .Well lately ive put my money where my mouth ( or pen ) is and actually started filling pages with words ,it never seems to sound as good on paper as it did in my head , and the thought of reading it aloud scares the shit out of me .So for that very reason im joining a writing group , at this point im tryin to just make myself as vulnerable as possible and develope that ” thick skin ” you speak of , im not after fame or money , just the abality to truely inspire other humans with my own orginal words .Hopefully a desire coupled with indominable will, might just help me create something im actually proud to call my own , thanks again , stuff like this dose help
I got made fun of for being on my “writer island” after crawling lose from the wormhole of co-writers. And yes, your friends become mother writers telling you every rule they keep reading on blogs that are…about rules.
What’s funny is one day I loosed myself, and the next I’m almost done with novel three.
Head down, chin up.
This article has changed my life! I feel as though I have just been slapped in the face with a good dose of hard reality. For too long I have let the sneaky little voice of doubt slither into my head and interrupt my writing. So what if my finished work doesn’t please the masses? I love to write!! And that’s what I’m going to do!!! No fear. No unrealistic expectations. Thank you for this!
Good for you. Your attitude is encouraging and inspiring. Love it! Love this article. And yes, it is a slap in the face with reality.
[…] 25 THINGS I WANT TO SAY TO SO-CALLED “ASPIRING” WRITERS […]
Sounds good. I’ll think about it….
Loved this article. I have been hoarding ideas and adding to them for a long time but haven’t done any actual writing, always telling myself, “Just a little more research, just a little more..”. You have really inspired me to shut the fuck up and do it, so I’m going to start now… just after a little more research 😛
Anyway, my favourite of the tips is no 24. Of course, I have always known that as a writer I have complete control over my story and setting, but I have never consciously thought of it the way that you made me think. My mind feels a lot more free now. Thank you.
I loved this article – the best advice I’ve ever read and I’m proud to say that I’ve finished my shit – a 105,000 word psychological thriller that I’m now preparing for publication – and I don’t care if no-one else likes it because it’s mine and I love it. Thank you, Chuck Wendig, for your hilarious words of wisdom.
[…] Chuck Wendig, smashed the dream that I was an “aspiring writer” on the rocks with this blog post. I’m not going to try to rehash everything he says because it’s all really good advice […]
[…] http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/02/21/25-things-i-want-to-say-to-so-called-aspiring-writers/ […]
I am convinced you are a genius my friend. Thank you for this blog, I’ve read it multiple times and I enjoy it each and every time.
Real man of genius. I need to print these out and plaster them all over my work area. I have no f&*(&%# clue what to write about at any given time and reading this just reminded me to get over myself and just F@#$& write.
Was actually going to pass this article over in my google searching because, at first glance, it seemed over-the-top harsh and I was afraid it would blast out my inner drive to keep going. I went on with my searches, but found myself hovering several times over the link to your piece…decided to read it and glad I did. Harsh?–yes. Necessary?–hell ya. But I’m real good at eatin’ the watermelon and spittin’ out da seeds.
Thanks for taking the time to write this, Chuck…like, over a year ago anyway, lol
I found this article brilliant and hilarious. I especially agree with the aspiring writer bullshit. Either you write, either you don’t.
[…] is a novelist, screenwriter and game designer who runs the blog Terrible Minds, where I found the following article. Be warned, he uses a lot of NSFW language, but makes a brilliant point to aspiring writers. If […]
I entered the most random CAPITOL LETTER google search, and got this… The ballerina twirl line made the organic Trader Joe peanut go up my nose.
This was the most refreshing writing inspiration. I also like the nice raccoon biting off your fingers, and jealousy, anger, and politeness ETC.
Who wrote this?
aaaargh—you just killed an aspiring writer- lol
this was the most honest way I have ever heard it put thank yo very much I am a firm believer in honesty no matter how harsh it seems so yeah thanks alot
“As a writer, the world you create is yours and yours alone. Someone will always be there to tell you what you can’t do, but they’re nearly always wrong. You’re a writer. You can make anything up that you want. It may not be lucrative. It may not pay your mortgage. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what’s going on between you and the blank page before you. It’s just you and the story. If you love it and you want to write it, then wire your trap shut and write it. And write it well. Expect nothing beyond this — expect no reward, expect no victory parade — but embrace the satisfaction it gives you to do your thing.”
… is what I’ll read before I start writing. Thank you.
[…] – Chuck Wending (Terrible Minds) […]
This. Is. The. Best. Advice. EVER.
This was like a punch of masala on a boring dish. Like Oregano and chilli flakes on a pizza. Thanks for giving me the kick-ass motivation to actually get up from my sofa and WRITE.
This is one of the most rock solid (and funniest) article on writing I’ve run into, and I’ve been reading about writing for 30 years. Great stuff we all need to learn, or be reminded of. Well done
In all honesty, this is one of the most encouraging articles on writing I have ever read. It cuts through all of the coddling bull that ‘aspiring’ writers feed each other and gets to the honest truth. You have to work. You just have to work.
I think it encourages me because I know I can do that. I don’t have to wait for a miracle or for my muse to inspire me with some magical idea. It’s all on me. And I trust myself with my writing far more than some mystical muse who I’ve never heard so much as a peep from.
[…] If you’re interested in becoming someone who writes, let me know. These are for you. Gift 1. Gift 2. Gift 3. […]
I’ve been enduring the woes of editor’s apathy, and this gave me the wet-palmed slap I needed to stop pouting, and move my ass. Thank you Chuck. Advise may not matter to everyone, but sometimes it only needs to matter to someone.
this blog was recommended to me.My writing just got a kick writting better than yesterday
You either write or don’t at all, reads were not meant to be butchered
Writing is more than art and talent
This was inspiring, insightful, and badass-cool. Thank u ♡
Lol noice. You seem so mad lmao its funny love it.
Wow….I don’t know how I found your article but thank you for your candor. It came at the right time as I never aspired to write but feel called to do so. I got scared after my brothers suicide and just talk about writing but haven’t put in the work….because it is work and I feel over whelmed. But you made me see that I need to work and am expected to do so. Thank you Chuck as I can tell my story about my brother Chuck.
#3 Mistake? “But you have to differentiate yourself and the way you do that is by doing rather than BE pretending.”