Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

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Stupid Writer Tricks

Writing Advice

The writer’s mind is an unruly chimp.

He steals your beer. He throws your Sports Illustrated football phone through the glass patio door. He defecates in your blender and makes a monkey dung smoothie. He mauls you and eats your extremities.

Like I said: unruly.

The only way Mister Tinkles is going to stop making your life a living hell is if you get down to some hardcore chimpanzee training techniques. You’ve got to fool that monkey into primate compliance. For the record, none of that is meant to be a euphemism for engaging the chimp in sexual activities. That is not what Darwin had in mind. I’m just saying, you need to tame the monkey. Non-sexually.

Same goes with taming your writer brain. Your mileage may forever vary, but me? I’m constantly my own worst enemy in terms of Getting The Work Done, and that’s just not good eats. You need to start tricking yourself, giving a leg-up here and there to get you where you need to be day in and day out. And so I give unto you: STUPID WRITER TRICKS.

These are little tips, tricks and techniques that bear minimal relation to one another except for the common bond that each are geared toward Finishing The Shit You Done Started, Wordmongers.

Let us open the cabinet of curiosities.

The Mini Tiny Itty Bitty Micro Outline

Two words: trail of breadcrumbs. (Wuzza? That’s three words? Shit. See, this is why I’m an ink-slinger and not a sorcerer of numberology.) Writing any big project, be it a novel or a screenplay or a giant epic game doc, an outline provides a way through the madness, looking both forward and backward. But, some folks don’t dig on the outline proper, and that’s okay: whatever gets the shit done.

That said, do consider the option of the micro-outline.

Here’s how it works: when you stop your writing for the day, take five or ten minutes to write a quick slapdash paragraph of what you plan on accomplishing during your next day’s worth of writing. “Jimbo slays the Humbaba. Mary-Ellen becomes queen of the vampires. Jojo eats some bad eggs.” You’re leaving a trail of breadcrumbs not to look back, but to make your way forward.

It helps me because my thinking organ is riddled with so many holes you’d think termites live there. So, when I open the document the next day and there’s a paragraph — I highlight it yellow because, mmm, yellow is the color of caution and crazy people — telling me what I wanted to do, I feel relieved. “Oh, right, I forgot that I wanted to have Gerry meet the dolphin in this scene. Nice. Thank you, Me From The Past! A little nipple squeeze from me to you, bro. Tweak!”

Maintaining Your Word Boner

The same thing that gets readers through reading your book  should be the same thing that gets the author (erm, you) through writing the damn thing. The reader must have sustained excitement.

And so too must the writer.

So, you know how a cliffhanger creates suspense? Leaves the reader’s mouth and other orifices juicy with narrative need? This is that. End your writing day in the middle of something. As penmonkeys we are often trained to finish things, not leave them hanging, but here as a course of action leaving your writing for the day a bit open-ended can help you complete the project in the long term.

The goal of this is to get you excited for the next day of writing. Sometimes starting a new chapter or scene can cause you to suffer some of that same sluggy and uncertain ennui you might have felt at the beginning of the project when all you had was the ceaseless snowy expanse of the white page to taunt you, so ending in the midst keeps your mind champing at the bit (word-nerd trivia: not chomping at the bit) to get back and complete the scene. Leave yourself room for excitement. End with the need to go back and keep working.

Behold The Fanciful Power Of The Newfangled “Inter-Net”

You may be saying, “Whaaaaat? What’s that? What’s an… Inter…net?” And to that I respond: “You’re soaking in it!” And then we all share a laugh and do lines of blow off this dead hooker coffee table.

Still, you’re probably saying, “Your big writer trick here is to… tell us to use the Internet? Yeah, that’s great, Wendig. Should we also, I dunno, use our words to tell stories? Because, wow, revolutionary.”

Shut up, you. The Internet is soggy with snark these days, innit? Anyway. The Internet is home to resources you may not at present be considering in terms of your day-to-day storytelling. First, if you’re writing about a world that is not a fantasy realm or some weird sci-fi future and you need to know what Main Street in Duluth looks like, or you want to check to see what’s on the corner of Numbered Ave and So-and-So Street in New York City, ta-da: Jesus invented Google Street View just for you.

Second, Flickr. Flickr is a great resource for finding all kinds of inspiration. Looking for some descriptive meat? Or a location? Or an animal? Go to Flickr, search for the term. You’ll get an unholy host of images, many of them quite beautiful, and many of them beautiful in a way that might stir a new layer of metaphor and description that you’ve been looking for.

Third, social media hive-mind. Get on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever hot new social media tool is out there by the time you read this article (“I use Circlehole!” “Won’t you become my companion on Flurg?”), and you can ask folks questions that Google can’t quite grok.

Embrace Your Inner 12-Year-Old Girl

Make a collage.

No, yeah, I get it. You’re an adult human being. What’s next? Shoebox dioramas? (Don’t be ludicrous. That’s reserved for a later post.) “Collages?” you stammer. Yes. That’s right. Collages.

Wait, sorry — collages, motherfucker.

I’m working on a personal project right now and I wanted to get my head into a certain space with it, so I whipped out a sack of National Geographics and went to down on those sumbitches with a pair of scissors (safety scissors, as the government mandates I not be allowed the real deal — also, if you ever see me with an uncorked fork, run for the fucking hills because somebody is gonna bleed). Next thing I know, I’ve got a wall full of cool images and neat quotes about all manner of awesome shit. I go over to that collage, meditate on it for a couple-few, and my head neatly aligns with the story and the world. Snap-tight.

Next week: training bras, and how they can help your creativity blossom!

Make Out With Marginalia

Marginalia: scribbled notes in the margins of a book.

A delightful practice, and I love to see it in books I pick up, whether I take them out from the library or steal them from a frozen hobo. “Oh, on page 5,462 of James Joyce’s Ulysses, this person has written, And Molly Bloom represents Penelope out of the myth. On page 5,463, someone else has drawn a lobster with a giant human penis. And hey, look! Oh page 8,922, bloodstains!”

Sometimes, you’re chugging along on your own manuscript and you start to get bogged down in something — maybe you’re not sure about a name or don’t really know the word you want to use but damn sure know that “semen-shellacked” isn’t it. Instead of slamming on the brakes and cutting your rhythm in twain, jot a quick note in the margins and move on.

Most word processing programs have some kind of note or comment function — so, use that. Highlight the word, paragraph, or bloodstain, drop a quick comment into the margins, and sally forth.

Do The Editmonkey Shuffle

Hemingway reportedly said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” I would amend this to, “Write without pants, but drunk; edit with pants, but maybe also still drunk if you want to, because, y’know, mmm, drunk.”

Whatever the case, the takeaway from that isn’t so much that you should write whilst pickled on bourbon and edit whilst clear of head. For me, the takeaway is more about the change in state.

When editing, shift as much as you can away from the way you wrote, which is to say, edit differently than you wrote.  I don’t know why this is, but by shifting certain elements, it becomes easier to view the edit more objectively. What kinds of state changes are we talking about here? You’ve got multiple options, and surely you’ll come up with your own, but here are a few:

Change the font size. Change the font. Print it out instead of editing on the screen. Edit in a different word processor. Edit on a different computer (desktop -> laptop, for instance). Put two pages on screen at a given time instead of one. Edit naked and covered in bacon grease. Whatever it takes to view the work in progress differently so as to more easily catch those things you need to catch.

Oh, also?

Track all changes when editing.

And read the work aloud.

I don’t consider many pieces of writing advice inviolable, but for me, this one comes close: reading your work aloud is the best way to catch mistakes and sense problems in rhythm.

If you don’t read your own work aloud, you make Story Jesus foul his diaper.

That’s gospel.

Spreadsheets Suck Unicorn

(Remember: if something sucks unicorn, then it is awesome.)

I sometimes see a sentiment that puts forth the notion that using a spreadsheet during the writing or editing of Your Big Writing Project will kill the creativity necessary to complete that thing. To this I say, if your creativity is killed by a mere spreadsheet, it must have been a weak and wormy thing, like the sad wang of a mangy anorexic possum. Be careful, because exposure to any of the banalities of life (checkbooks, mailmen, bowel movements) could easily destroy your papier-mache “creativity.”

Seriously, spreadsheets are the bee’s boobies. (That’s a thing, right? “The bee’s boobies?” I always feel behind all the hot new slang.) You can use a spreadsheet to do any of the following:

Track word count. Track deadlines. Determine character arcs. Do outlining (light to robust). Figure out plot tentpoles and the rough word count for those tentpoles. Figure out (and rearrange) plots and sub-plots. Track freelance payments. See how often a character shows up. Track critical beats like those from Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT. Track days without pants. Chart your descent into madness. And so forth.

Your Turn

You writer-types out there. Surely you’ve got your own weird little bucket of tricks. Whip one out, dangle it in front of our dewy eyes and tell us all about it. Share and share alike. Join the hive-mind.

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Three-Sentence Story

Before we begin: last week’s challenge will be tallied up throughout the day, so go check that sucker out: “Five Random Words” awaits your seeking eyes. Now, onto this week’s challenge…

Hey! It’s my birthday.


Oh. Ahem. Sorry. That was a tad… aggro.

Still, I’m making this challenge easy to execute, perhaps difficult to execute well.

Here’s the deal:

You have three sentences to tell a story.

It can be about anything and anyone. It can take place anywhere, at any time.

But it must be three sentences only.

Further, it must — must — not be a mere vignette. Each of the three sentences should roughly correspond with Beginning / Middle / End. The goal of storytelling is to show some kind of movement through a tale, a movement that could comprise a changing character, an escalating conflict, a timeless challenge.

A good tale doesn’t merely hang on and linger like a gassy dog but, rather, finds a conclusion of some ilk.

And that’s what you must do with your three sentences.

Easy to do. Not so easy to do right.

So, that’s that. You think you’re up for the challenge?

You can, as always, post to your blog and share the link. That said, if you’re so inclined, you’re free to drop the three-sentence-story into the comments below if that’s easier. (As such, I won’t be tallying these this week, I’ll just leave the comments to speak for themselves.)

You’ve got one week. This ends next Friday, April 29th.

Three sentences.

One complete story.

Beard the fuck on, penmonkeys. BTFO.

Search Term Bingo Don’t Give A Shit

Man, it’s been a while since I did me up a Search Term Bingo. You know why? Because, I gotta be honest, the search terms coming in to this site have been… disappointing, at best. It’s either people searching for content about writing advice (booooo-riiiiing) or really trite searches for pornography — big dick, donkey dick, goat porn, and so on. One supposes I brought this upon myself. After all, here in this bloggery-space I speak frequently about writing, doling out dubious advice to any who will listen, and further, I do so with great sticky gobs of pornographic language.

Still. Given a long enough period of time, some truly absurd search terms still have managed to float into my analytics page, and thus I give them to you for your abemusement (not a word).

Please to enjoy another incarnation of Search Term Bingo.

pictures of bingo tattoo on ass

This — this — is forethought. See, my biggest concern about getting a tattoo (besides the fact my father once told me and my friends that you never get a tattoo because if you ever have to kill somebody that’s how “they” will find you) is that, man, when you get old, that shit might look nasty. I get an anchor on my arm, by the time I’m 80 years old that thing’ll look like it was made of chocolate and got left in the sun long enough to a) melt and b) get skin cancer. It’s worse you get a tat in less, erm, public places. That tramp stamp of a thorny vine now looks like a tangled briar full of skin tags. That tasteful butterfly on your boob starts to resemble something out of a Salvador Dali painting (“is it dripping? Am I on mescaline again?”).

I mean, how do you explain that to your Grandkids? Last week, and this is for real, I went to baby class with a dude who had a kick-ass almost full-arm ink-job of the Predator. Except then I’m thinking, geez, when this guy’s like, 79, what’s he going to tell all the grandkids? “That scary motherfucker is Predator! Predator gonna hunt you! He’s invisible! Eat your Wheaties! Stop stealing my teeth!”

After that, all the kids are just like, “Dude, Grandpaw has lost his shit. And he smells like pee.”

But, you getcherself a bingo tattoo — bingo board, chips, etc.– suddenly you’re hot shit at the Old Folks Home. “Didja hear? Old Lady McGee has a bingo card tramp stamp. That Debbie McGee is a cup of tea!”

cooking light magazine screams at you

Do magazines scream at you? Really? Like, actually yell? “Hey! HEY! HEY HEY HEY! Raaaar!” Right from the magazine rack? You might wanna check your meds there, hoss.

And, frankly, even if magazines did scream, I don’t know that I ever imagined Cooking Light to be the type. I kind of envision Cooking Light to be a fairly polite magazine. A light clearing of the throat, a soft and gentle entreaty to buy, perhaps a golf-clap should you decide to procure.


I guess if you ever walk by a magazine rack and you see someone just weeping next to a copy of Cooking Light, now you know why. A very rude magazine, that Cooking Light.

boozing out my wife

My favorite thing about weirdo search terms is how often they’re poorly or oddly phrased. I don’t know if it’s a translational issue or people are, I dunno, just dumb as a sack of kickballs, but “boozing out my wife?” What does that mean? You fill your wife with tequila, spring a hole in her with a crochet needle, then drink the booze that squirts from the puncture wound? She’s not a balloon. I mean, unless she is? Weirdo.

book about judge who can suck the spirit

That’s my favorite book. It’s the latest from Stephen King and John Grisham: HABEUS CORPSEUS: ADVENTURES OF THE SOUL JUDGE, BOOK ONE. It’s not even out yet, and it’s still my favorite book.

masturbation with beef tongue

See, I just didn’t need that image. And neither did any of you. But that’s just how I roll. When bad shit gets into my brain, the only way I can feel better is if I shake my head like a dog with an ear infection and get a little on you. Now you have to live with the image and it’s your curse to either keep it to yourself and go cuh-razy, or share with others. It’s like an Internet meme version of THE RING.

college sucks unicorn

Is “sucks unicorn” part of the new lingo? “Man, that new movie sucks unicorn!” “Mom, this Beef Stew is so bad, it sucks unicorn!” Except maybe it’s like, the opposite — so, if something sucks, it’s bad, but if something sucks unicorn, it’s really awesome. Because college was great. College was all booze and orgies and reasonable grade-point-averages. College totally sucked unicorn.

You heard it here first. If something sucks unicorn, then it is actually really rad.

when your family won’t read your novel

“When?” Heh. Hah. Yeah. Your family won’t read your novel. At least, not if you’re me.

“Mom, I wrote this hyper-violent book about vampires and zombies.”

“That’s nice, muffin.”

“Mom, you never call me muffin. What’s up?”


energy drink enema

That will fucking kill you. It’ll just — I mean, seriously, don’t do that. If you’re shoving a can of Four Loko up your keister and doing hand-stands to get a fast buzz, just go buy some meth. I’m not condoning meth use. I am, however, condoning meth use over jacking up your colon with a ice-cold flush of Red Bull. Neither’s a good choice, but at least with the meth you’ll get a lot of vacuuming done.

what sexual favor would you do for money

Uhh, hello, I’d do them all.

You didn’t specify the amount of money, did you? High enough dollar value, I’ll do whatever crazy sex monkey maneuver you got on the books. The Omaha Steam Vent? The Crispy Parrot? The Albanian Goat Herder? The Garden Weasel? The Filthy McGlinchey? The Winking Narwhal? The Anal Robot? The Eisenhower Lemon? The Cadbury Egg? The “Speak Into The Microphone, Mister Mayor?” The Panna Cotta Di Vida? The Eddie Munster Goes To Church? The Bishop’s Asterisk? The Stinky Ampersand? The Sad Donkey Meets The Happy Rabbit And Together They Destroy Democracy? The Brown Note?

I’ll do ’em all for the right amount of cashola.

Hell, for ten bucks I’ll do ’em all twice.

what does goose poop look like

It’s amazing, because the only way I can answer this is by saying, “like goose poop.” Because it’s true. Goose poop looks like nothing else, ever, except goose poop. Goose poop is self-defining.

hunch hunch, what what, buh bo

And seriously, why are you not watching ARCHER?

porn on my milk in my cup of tea porn

I like the symmetry of beginning and ending your weird little poem with “porn.” How artful.

artful sphincter

Well, not that artful, no. The “Artful Sphincter” is the name of my movie review column where I critically destroy pretentious foreign films with words like “poop” and “sack-licker.” Because, y’know, artful.

im in the water and what the fuck is that


No, I dunno what it is, c’mon. For reals, I too believe in the power of Google. If I need a recipe, I go to Google. If I need to know when the next SOUL JUDGE book is coming out, I Google that shit. If I’m looking for a step-by-step explanation of how to do the famed sex move, The Elephant Leg Trashcan? Google.

All that being said, if you’re in the water with — well, something, be that something a shark, a gator, a sharkogator, a pugranha, the Pope — then what you need to be doing first in your order of operations is get your stupid ass out of the water. Then — then — Google your little question. If you’re on your smartphone and Googling that while still in the water, you’re totally going to get eaten. Or your orifices are going to be home to the offspring of some kind of mutant catfish. You’re in a horror movie, is what I’m saying, where you’re the dumb guy who gets dead. Google can’t save you now.

buckingham mountain ghost goat stare

Ahh, the fearsome “ghost goat stare.” I remember it so well.

Wait, what? I used to live on Buckingham Mountain (grew up there, and it’s not a mountain but rather, a very large hill), and while I remember ghosts, I do not in fact recall any of them being goats. Especially goats who stare. There was, however, a living goat on Buckingham Mountain. He hung out with a donkey. This isn’t a sexual move, by the way, but rather, an entirely true story. Why is it that donkeys and goats get along? I’ve seen that pairing many times in my travels. And by “travels,” I mean, when I drink Windex and stroke out on my kitchen floor for a couple hours.

books and tits

I smell a new blog name.

Forget “terribleminds.”

This blog is now called “Books And Tits.”

fat guy pink pony

I smell a new sitcom. Or maybe a new sexual move.

beard the fuck on

I want to marry this search term. This is a great exclamation to say to your friends to encourage them.

“John, I’m going to ramp my Vespa over a seven coffins full of bees. Then, when I land, I’m going to speed-write SOUL JUDGE, BOOK 4: MAGUS OPERANDI while hatching a falcon egg in my mouth.”

“You know what I say to that, Steve? I say, beard the fuck on, sir. BEARD THE FUCK ON.”


Beard the fuck on, faithful readers.

Beard the fuck on.

Another Round Of YAIA: You Ask, I Answer

Sometimes, I go to write a blog post and all I find in my skull is a hollowed-out cavern bereft of even the meagerest crystal or the squirmiest eyeless centipede. It’s all just echoes and dripping water; nothing to see here, quite literally nothing at all. It doesn’t help that today — the day before you’ll actually read this post, as I tend to prep my posts one or several days in advance now — my bowels feel like they’re filled with chewing rats. Rats with ebola. Microwaved ebola. And the rats all have sharp fingers and mining helmets and by god, they’re building a warren.

What I’m saying is, got a small gutty-bug working it in my meat-plumbing. It’s not as bad as the last time I had a gut-bug, because then I was horking up valuable tracts of intestinal real estate and actually pulling neck muscles I was puking so hard.

This is probably very exciting reading for you, isn’t it? Me describing violent regurgitations?

Some might say that’s all this blog is. Violent regurgitations.


What I’m saying is, I got nothing for a new blog post today, but I’m going to be that some of you have something. Thus I introduce the old standby, YAIA: You Ask, I Answer.

Spelunk into the comments. Deposit a question into the dark chasm.

And I’ll answer it. If it’s too long for me to answer in a comment, I’ll take it and turn it into a blog post. Sound reasonable? You can ask me anything. Obviously, writing is a hot topic roundabout these parts, but don’t feel constrained by the chains of that subject, either. Ask me about anything. Favorite Easter candy. Porn. Portal 2. Movies. Twitter. Food politics. My dogs. Whatever.

I don’t know that I’m all that interesting, but I’m happy to have people pick my brain.

My dark, dripping cavern of a brain.

Ready? Let’s do it. Fire when ready.


What’s The Frequency, Wendig?

I haven’t done a status update in a while. I have no idea if any of you actually care about this, but I’m just going to float here in my ego bubble and pretend you do. If you’d do me the kindness of golf-clapping or some shit so I know you’re out there? Sweet. Thanks, all. You’re good people.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s what’s up in The Life Of Wendig.

Irregular Creatures

Flying cats. Demon vaginas. Family problems. Mermaid love.

Been out for three months now, and my short story collection continues to sell, though no longer as consistently. It’ll go a couple days with no sales, then suddenly earn a weird sharp spike. That’s okay, though. Any sales are good sales, and it still evens out pretty much.

I am now fortunate enough to have 27 reviews, all four- and five-star. If you want to add a review (presuming you read the book), I would be mighty appreciative of that action.

I’ve now sold just shy of 600 copies, which means I’ve earned about $1000 off the collection. Though I earn about two bucks a copy, remember that I had two periods where I dropped the price to a buck, which cut that two bucks down to about thirty cents. Worth noting: my last $0.99 sale lasted a week and saw a much less significant jump in sales than the first time I did it. I’ve seen other authors report similarly: that initial drop in price brings a flush of activity that offers diminishing returns. I’m doing better at $2.99 than at $0.99, ultimately. I have to sell six copies at $0.99 for every one copy at $2.99 to earn out the same. To make the money I’ve already made, I would need to have sold 3000 – 3500 copies rather than 600.

Also continuing to hold up: the PDF/ePub sales directly through this website. Those sales account for about 22% of my total sales. Not insignificant. If you’re a self-pubbed writer and are not offering a product directly to the reader, I’d politely suggest you get on that shit like flies on roadkill. Not only does it allow them to bypass channels they may not like or utilize, but it also puts you in more direct contact with the readership. That, to me, is a clear win.

So, here’s the deal.

I’ve sold ~600, and I want to sell another 400. That’s my goal at this point. Will you help me do that? I’ll keep a periodic tally here to see how far we have to go — but I’d love to nail that number.

Anybody wants an interview, I’ll grant it. Want a review copy, I can do that, too. Want to pimp the collection, you’ve got my gratitude.

Let me know what will get you to either buy the collection or spread the love.

You can buy on Amazon (US).

You can buy on Amazon (UK).

You can buy right through the website here.

You can check out my many-headed sales pitch.

At this point, I can only reach the goal if you folks love it enough to convince others to jump in and nab a copy for themselves. My thanks, glorious readers. You’re the wind beneath my wings.

Double Dead

Double Dead is double done. Er, for now. I wrote it, I gave it a quick editing pass, and now it’s out of my hands. But really, that’s not the important piece of information. What I want to share is:


That’s right. You can pre-order at Amazon with but a clicky-clicky of your mouse. Like vampires? Like zombies? Want to know what happens when a vampire awakens in a zombie apocalypse? Two great tastes that taste great together, friends. If you dig the idea, feel free to pre-order.

[EDIT: You can pre-order at Amazon UK, too.]

Why pre-order, you might be asking? Pre-ordering is good for the publisher and great for the writer. The publisher gets an idea of preliminary demand and can produce accordingly. The writer also gets a boost — your pre-orders send a signal to the publisher that, hey, this writer is worth holding on to. So, we author-types appreciate your commitment.

Everything Else

Blackbirds is… well, I’ll just say, hey, keep your fingers crossed for me, will you?

HiM is out the door. We reached a draft of the script that feels like we nailed it, and so it is once more out in the world, ideally impressing folks. I think the script is rock-hard, so here’s hoping.

Have another film property bubbling up. Very excited about it.

The TV pilot is… well, it’s still out there.

Just finished up two small pieces for White Wolf.

Will also have two pieces coming up in The Escapist.

Am prepping my next e-book release, a book of writing advice: Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey. Got the cover slowly coming together thanks to Amy Houser (she of Irregular Creatures‘ cover). I’ve put the book together, and it tops out over 100,000 words. It features revised iterations of writing advice found here, as well as a kind of “director’s commentary” on each piece. Look for that in the next month or so?

I turn 35 very, very soon. Like, in a handful of days.

My son turns zero also soon — in a handful of weeks. If you didn’t see, we finished the nursery. If you want to know about that tree and owl on the wall, it’s this decal right here, from Etsy. Also: got a new camera, the T3i. Reason being, I wanted something that takes video, something better than a Flip. This will allow me to snap baby photos and flip a switch and move right into baby videos without grabbing new gear.

For those seeking updates on the old dog, he’s… well, not every day is a winner, but by and large he seems happy and still has a handful of good days in him, I think. I hope. You know, except the ones where he has diarrhea in the mornings? Yeah, that’s fun. Can I just say, my new best friend in the world is the Bissel SpotBot? That little robot fucker is a dream. If this is the future of robots, I’m in. Even if a SpotBot comes back in time to “clean” Sarah Connor. COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT CLEAN CARPETS.

And I think that’s all she wrote.

How About You?

How are you doing?

I like to hear what other writers are up to, so, hey, drop a comment.

Give us a status update. Whatchoo got going on?

Anything I or anybody else can help with?

Six Signs You’re Not Ready To Be A Professional Writer

Writing Advice

“I want to be a writer when I grow up.”

Sure you do, kid. Sure you do. I wanted to be an astronaut once upon a time, but then I realized, I’m afraid of outer space. Well, not so much “outer space” as the “space dragons that live in outer space.” Oh, I know. You’re saying, “Chuck, dragons do not live in outer space,” and to that, I scoff. Just because CNN isn’t talking about it doesn’t mean our astrophysicists don’t know the truth. Dragons hide behind moons. And they wait there for unsuspecting astronauts so they can plant their spiky dragon ovum into the moist orifices of our space-walking heroes. This is all true, don’t look at me like that.

Okay, one part of that isn’t true: I never wanted to be an astronaut. I pretty much wanted to be  writer from like, eighth grade on. The point I’m illustrating here is that, were I to desire membership in the great fraternity of astronauts, I would be deemed UNFIT by a big red stamp on my Astronaut Application Papers. Reason: “Unready due to unreasonable fear of space dragons.”

Unreasonable. Uh-huh, NASA. Sure. *wink wink*

We both know what’s up.

Anyway, point is, you’re maybe sitting over there thinking it’s time to hike on the ol’ hip-waders and go slogging through the mire that is the life of the professional writer.

And I’m here to tell you that you might not be ready. You might earn a big red stamp — *fwomp* UNFIT — on your Authorial Acceptance Exam. Not sure if you’ve got what it takes to carry the pens? To churn and burn through barrels of ink? To march forth across the bleached and cracked earth with only your word count on your back?

Let’s check you out, then.

You See Yourself As King Of This Castle

It’s easy to feel like King Shit of Turd Castle when you’re a writer. You sit there in your impenetrable bubble of creativity, banging out masterpiece after masterpiece that nobody ever sees, a Muse in your own right, one of Hell’s own glorious maestros. (Or Heaven’s, but let’s be clear: we probably see ourselves more as diabolical geniuses than as the artificers of God’s own glory.) Time to lance that blister, Sugar-Boobs. Being a writer means lurking far lower on the totem pole than you’d prefer. I don’t mean that to be a good thing or a bad thing: it’s just a thing. A thing you can’t change except by getting better at what you do and earning respect. But even still, you are ever at the feet of clients, publishers, and editors. Check your ego — which has swollen in isolation, like e. coli on an agar plate — at the door.

I Still See That Glint Of Magic And Hope In Your Eye

At a distance, writing is a magical thing: it’s candy-floss made of God-stuff. It’s the weaving of tales, the singing of bard-songs, the creating of characters that will gain life like Frankenstein’s monster with a bolt of lightning shot from your own magnificent mind. A lot of things look nice at a distance. Hell, I flew over Detroit once, and I was like — “Aw, what a nice-looking city.” Once you get up close and personal with the writing life, though, the magic dies on the vine. You rip down the facade and find there a kind of abattoir, the floors thick with the chunky blood you’ve spilled in order to make a deadline. Somewhere you hear the sound of a saw chewing through bones punctuated by the hoarse wails of the broken and deranged.

You cannot maintain the illusion of writing being this precious act when you’re working to make a living wage. I mean, I guess you can if you’re Stephen King. But me? And you? This illusion is dismembered by the reaper’s scythe. Writing is a job. A wake-up-at-the-perineum-of-dawn-and-churn-out-a-fast-two-thousand-words job. The kind of job where, if you don’t write, you don’t get paid, and if you don’t get paid, you will die in a gutter wearing only that one pair of pants you own. (Who am I kidding? We do not wear pants.) If I can tell you a little secret, though, this, to me, is a kind of magic all its own. Er, not the dying pantsless thing, but the “writing as a job” thing. But it’s a real magic — or, rather, a science. And science is hella tits. (Do the kids say that? “Hella tits?” Spread that lingo for me, will you?)

You Still Suffer From Writer’s Block

Living the life of a professional writer will either a) remove your illusion that writer’s block is a real thing (it isn’t) or b) remove your ass from living the life of the professional writer. Writer’s block is not real. It’s just some fake-ass mental shit that writers made up (during the Grandiloquent Penmonkey Council of Dusseldorf in 1456) so they can excuse a day of not-writing. You get writer’s block, you don’t write, and you don’t write, you don’t get paid, and, well — see earlier comment, re: gutters, pants, death. You don’t hear about other professions suffering this kind of nonsense, do you? “I’ve got Spreadsheet Malaise.” “I suffer under the callous yoke of Engineer’s Ennui.” Writer’s block? Pfft. When your actual income depends on the words you produce, you get shut of that shit reaaaal quick, hoss. The only writer’s block that matters is the kind where a horse steps on both hands and breaks all your fingers. That’s all you get.

You Are A Uni-Tasker

Ever hear the term “biodiversity?” An ecosystem thrives when it has greater biodiversity, meaning, a greater variety of life forms. Diversity is also the king of investment: if you don’t have a diverse portfolio, then when that one stock you own goes down the poop-tubes, so does your fortune. Once the public learns that Bobo’s Hot Dog Hut uses cat meat to make its sausages, your stock in that company is done for, son. Life thrives with diversity. Financial portfolios depend on diversity.

The writer survives on diversity, too. If you do one thing really well — “I write snarky articles about Doctor Who!” — then good for you. Your blog appreciates it. But that way is not the way of the pro-writer’s life. You best be ready to write all kinds of shit you didn’t expect to write. Thou shalt not earn a steady living as a single-serving uni-tasker. I’ve written: pen-and-paper roleplaying games, video games, articles about video games, essays, transmedia projects, short stories, novels, films, ad and marketing copy, brochures, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime, and so on, and so forth. You need diversity in projects as well as diversity in clients. You will learn that, starting out, the word “YES” is more your friend than “NO.” That changes over time as you become more established, but early on, the word “no” might as well be, “no, I don’t want to eat this week, starvation is awesome.”

Linking Writing And Commerce Makes Your Butthole Itch

Writing is the act of putting words on paper. Professional writing is the act of beating oneself about the head and neck with a tire iron putting words on paper for money. That last part is key: “for money.” Some writers, you bring up money and business in terms of being a writer, they twitch and spasm and make faces like you just jizzed in their milkshake. Pssh. Amateurs. These folks are the not-yet-ready-for-prime-time writers. You wanna go “pro,” you have to embrace what “pro” means — which is to say, this is your livelihood. Going pro means doing all kinds of things that go against that idea that writing is this lordly, artsy profession. It means attending to deadlines. It means reading and understanding contracts. It means pushing past the pain and learning how to create a spreadsheet that shows income, expenses, writing schedules, liters of Bourbon consumed, tears shed. It means knowing how to create and send invoices. There’s a whole seedy sub-layer to being a pro-writer that, for some reason, writers don’t want to deal with. Fuck that. That’s like owning a toilet and not knowing how to unclog it. Elves don’t come and handle it, for Chrissakes. This is your job. Keyword: job. Oh, and for the record, if you’re one of those fuck-hats who sneers whenever anyone puts “art” and “money” in the same sentence, do me a favor: take off your shoe, and smack yourself in the crotch again and again like you’re trying to kill a centipede.

You Love Stability, Loathe Disorder

You know how some people make, like, $50,000 a year? And then next year, they make that again? And the year after, they make, I dunno, $52,000 a year? And that’s their life? And you know how these people get things like health care, vacations, 40-hour-work-weeks, and the respect of their families? Wad all those things up in a ball and feed them to a goat. Those are gone. Done. Kaput. Stability and certainty is not the life of the writer. Even a writer who writes full-time and gets all those benefits is more likely on the chopping block because writers are seen as expendable. (Never mind the fact that we write the world into existence. It’s like nobody appreciates gods anymore.) Still, for the most part, pro-writers are freelance, or hop from job to job. As such, your yearly income? Not steady. Health care? Pay for it yourself or be lucky enough to have a spouse who brings that home. Vacations? I just laughed so hard I threw up. Hell, you don’t even get paid immediately for a job. Sure, you wrote “NET 30” on your invoice. You might as well have written on there, “And please deliver my check duct-taped to a pink pony.” That money’s still going to take six months to wind its way through the proper channels to get to you. If there was an ad in the paper advertising a freelance writer’s job, it would read, “WRITING WORK AVAILABLE. MUST LOVE CHAOS AND BUDGETS. ALSO: LIQUOR AND SHAME.”

Check Yourself ‘Fore You Wreck Yourself

Pro-writing is not a gig for those with weak constitutions, frail bladders, or creative integrity. Think very seriously before stepping into that arena, because you walk into that battle largely unarmed and unarmored. You’ve got to measure up. You’ve got to ask yourself the hard questions. I’m not saying it’s not satisfying; it is. But you may not be ready for that kind of life. Not yet, at least.

After all, Here There Be Space Dragons.