Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

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Beware Of Writer II: Revenge Of The Teenage Penmonkey From Mars

See that guy over there? The one in the alleyway with no pants, his big beard braided with bird bones? The guy twitching like he’s covered in ants? The dude stabbing an invisible demon with an invisible knife?

Now, see this guy here? Ahh, the writer. Sitting at his desk. Typing away. Clickity-clack. Clackity-click. Coffee by his side. Hair slightly mussed. Writing about murders and lost love and space opera.

Let’s say you have a choice to cozy up to one of these two individuals. Hang out with them for a day.

The one you’d choose would seem obvious.

And that’s where you’re fucked.

Seriously. Choose the Charlie Manson-looking motherfucker every time. He wears his crazy on his sleeve, same way he wears his poop on the outside of his body. But the writer? The writer hides his crazy. It’s like a little secret present inside filled with bees. A Pandora’s Box deep in the writer’s troubled heart.

It is time, once again, to beware of writer.

Your Attention Is Our Creative Heroin

Newsflash: we are needy little goblins.

Makes sense when you think about it. Our work — and thus, our lives — becomes geared toward seeking the approval of others. We’ll kill a dude just for the chance to have an agent request a full manuscript. It’s not just editors, agents, publishers, and producers. It’s the audience. We tell you we write because we love it, but the dark reality is we write because we need you to love us.

If you don’t justify our existence, we will wither like a frost-bitten petunia. We are junkies for your love and appreciation. The other night, I had my wife sit in front of the computer and read something I’d wrote. Thirty seconds in, I said, “You didn’t laugh.”

“What?” she asked.

“That part there. It was supposed to be funny. You didn’t laugh. Means it’s not funny.”

“It was funny.”

Squint. Shift. Twitch. “But you didn’t laugh.”

“I smiled. I laughed inside.” She saw the tendons in my neck standing out. Wet eyes trembling like those of a sad Japanime samurai girl. “Listen, if I’m going to read this, you can’t stand there over my shoulder.”

“Okay,” I said, not actually moving.

She rolled her eyes. Kept reading. Finally, I couldn’t take it. I said, “I will give you fifty dollars and a foot massage if you just laugh sometime in the next 30 seconds. Let me sweeten the pot. If you don’t do it, I will know that you don’t love me, and more importantly, you don’t love my writing. My only response will be to run to the bathroom and drown myself in the toilet.”

The lady knows the drill. She accepted the deal. Twenty-eight seconds later, a convincing little laugh. I could’ve licked the computer screen that felt so good. Creative heroin, indeed.

We Bite When Cornered, And Also, When Not Cornered

We look harmless. But we’re like hooded cobras. Very angry humans, we writer-folk. Not sure why, exactly. Maybe all those words get caught up in the pipes and chutes of our brain-plumbing, causing something along the lines of a spiritual arterial blockage.

A whole dictionary full of profanity and rage gumming up our think-machine.

Doesn’t take much to set a writer off. You tell us, “You know, I don’t like pie as much as I used to,” and next thing you know you’re wiping a gob of spit from your eye. Gets worse if you try to talk to us about writerly things. “I don’t think writers should self-pub–” but before you finish that sentence, we’ve broken a laptop over your head and shanked you in the jugular with a fountain pen.

In your blood we shall ink our first bestseller.

You Can See Our Libraries From Space

We like books the way crackheads like crack rock.

We collect books. We hoard them. Anybody who has ever moved from house to house with a writer in tow learns a very unfortunate lesson, very fast: books are the heaviest substance known to man. You’ll be thankful you get to move a fire-safe filled with dumbbells after you move 50 boxes of our books. Many of which we’ve never even read. Or we didn’t even like. Go ahead. Try to take one of our books away. “You didn’t even like this book,” you’ll say. “You said you hated it. That you wanted to find the author and shove this book so far up his ass he could taste his own shit-shellacked prose.”

“But I might like it someday.”

“We’re getting rid of the book,” you’ll say, and you’ll reach for it.

“YOU CAN’T STEAL MY DREAMS,” you’ll cry, then tip over the bookshelf. When the cops drag you away, you’ll casually note how much those feet look like the Wicked Witch’s feet from beneath Dorothy’s house.

We’re Probably Drunk

That coffee cup next to the desk? That’s probably wine in there. Or whisky.

Or paint thinner.


You Shall Be Destroyed! (Uhh, In Our Heads)

Revenge is a dish best served to a character who is secretly you inside a book we’re writing and in that book the dish is actually a platter full of scorpions and then you the character eats them and the scorpions sting your mouth and throat and they keep stinging you and your pants fall down and you slip screaming into a trough full of horseshit and all the townsfolk gather to laugh at you and throw Justin Bieber CDs at your head and finally the scorpions have babies inside your colon. The End.

Uhh. What I mean is, you know that disclaimer you read inside books? “Any resemblance to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental…?” That one? Coincidental, my left nut. We may not punish you in reality, but ye gods and little fishies, watch what we will do to you in our fiction.

“This character sounds like me. He looks like me.”

“I’m sure it’s just coincidence.”

“My name is Burt Smith. The character’s name is Bert Smythe.”

“Still. It’s a… common name?”

“He shows up in Chapter Seven, then is promptly beaten to death by a pack of housewives with double dildos. One of them says something about child support. Then they pee on his corpse.”

“Well, your ex-wife did write the book, Burt. Maybe you want to pay that money after all.”

Spoilery Spoil Heads Are We

“That guy did it,” we’ll say, pointing to some character on the TV. Or we’ll say, “She’s going to shoot him… right now.” Or, “No, you think she’s a hooker, but actually, she’s a he. And he‘s a space elf.”

Sadly, we’re usually right. We don’t mean to be. It’s not because we’re smart. It’s more because we’re obsessives. We watch a metric butt-ton of films. We consume gallons of television. We read a billion books and a trillion comic books. We play video games till our fingers look like rotten kielbasa. We write this shit. For a living. We know the tricks. We know structure. We know about Chekov’s gun and the bomb under the table and the act turns and the subtle-not-so-subtle clues. And we’ll blurt them out uncontrollably. Probably because we’re so goddamn needy.

We may be trying to impress you. Answer unclear, ask again later.

We won’t spoil things we’ve already seen. Well, not unless we didn’t like it.

“The unicorn killed her,” we’ll tell you.

You’ll punch us in the shoulder but we always feel justified. As if it’s not a spoiler if we think it sucks.

Man, we’re jerks.

As Writers, We’re Very Easily Distracte — Oooh Shiny!

When we’re supposed to be writing, we’re distracted by everything else: video games, the dogs, the vacuum cleaner, somebody else’s book, our genitals, a loaded handgun.

When we’re supposed to be doing something other than writing, we’re distracted by the writing.

“Honey, can you put the keyboard aside and stop typing for a minute?”

“Fine. Fine. What is it, you chirping harridan?”

“Well, you’ve been writing for the last fifteen minutes and I’d rather you be doing that thing you’re supposed to be doing? You know? Feeding the baby?” (Or, washing the clothes, driving the car, inserting the nuclear fuel rods into the containment unit, loading the handgun, etc.)

Our Stories Grow Like Viagra-Charged Erections

We are not only lying liars who lie, but we’re also wanton embellishers — the narrative equivalent of someone who cannot stop bedazzling an otherwise boring denim jacket.

When we’re telling a story, feign interest. Because that’s how you get the truth out of us. If you start to drift off — you start going through the mail, you stare off at a distant nowhere point, rivulets of drool begin creeping down your chin — we will crank the volume knob on the story louder and louder until we regain your interest. “I was at the post office today,” we’ll start. “Man, the line was crazy.”

“Nn-hnn,” you’ll say, paying only half attention.

Our eyes will narrow. We’re suspicious. Okay. Fine. Fine. You want to play it that way? Done. “The guy in front of me smelled.” This is true. This is part of the story. But then, we add: “He smelled like a corpse stuffed with a dozen Italian hoagies. He smelled like a dead guy exuding hoagie oil from his pores. I almost threw up.” Ah. Ah-ha. Yes. We’ve started to hook you. You’ll look up.

“Really?” you’ll ask.

“Oh yeah. And then he was mauled by a bear.”

“A bear.”

“Yep. A Kodiak bear. Not a record-breaker or anything.”

(We don’t want to seem like we’re embellishing, after all.)

“And where did this bear come from?”

Pause. “Uhhh. A hang-glider.”

“He came down from a hang-glider.”

“I took it too far, didn’t I.”


Of course, on the other side…

We Have Judged Your Story, And We Have Found It… Lacking

We wish the rest of the world would embellish. Everybody tells stories. We’re just dicks about it because we think we’re the experts. We’re not. We’re just bloviating gas-bags. (But don’t tell us that.)

You’ll finish up your five minute story: “… and then Jenkins gave the boss a look like, whatever, and he went back into his office. Then we all went to lunch.”

“That’s it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, that’s all you got? That’s the story?”

You frown. “What the hell were you expecting?”

“I give that story a D-plus. C’mon. It had no third act turn. The escalation was mostly a flat line from zero to zero, and I didn’t see a lick of character development. Jenkins didn’t have any kind of catharsis. God. Couldn’t you have thrown in a screaming porn star or a ninja or something?”

“You know, I don’t think that’s particularly fair –”


See? Beware of writer.

The first “Beware Of Writer” post can be found here. That post is this blog’s easily most popular, having gotten by now over 200,000 looky-loos by you, The Internet Public, and collecting 139 comments. Thanks, you crazy cats and kittens, for checking it out. If you like the post, spread the love.


Sucker Punch: Lessons Learned

Sucker Punch is five kinds of awesome mixed with ten kinds of terrible.

More on that in a moment.

I had a gift card for a local movie theater, and I was sitting around reading reviews of the movie, and I thought, well, fuck it. I know the wife doesn’t want to see it. I know I have two hours. And I know that if it’s good, I’ll want to have seen it in a theater, and if it’s bad, well, I didn’t pay shit for the ticket.

Two caveats:

First, if you saw and enjoyed Sucker Punch, don’t let me poo poo on your parade. Let your freaky geeky flag fly and shout your love to the world. Please don’t take anything I say as an insult.

Second, here there be spoilers. Light spoilers, very light, but spoilers just the same.

So, here we are.

The first five, ten minutes of the film are some of the most visually arresting five minutes I’ve seen in a movie in a long time, and they pack an emotional, erm, sucker punch. It’s hyper-stylized and very sad, and I don’t say it as an insult when I say it has the kind of kinetic power of some of David Fincher’s music videos (Janie’s Got A Gun, f’rex).

Unfortunately, the movie fails to really live up to the narrative oomph felt in the first act. The movie is about… 20 minutes of actual story, and a not-terrible story at that, crammed into a two-hour movie.

So, what fills the other two hours?

Masturbatory tech demos.

Zach Snyder is a fucking whup-ass director. The man makes visuals his squealing piggy. His work, as they say, has a real pretty mouth. The action scenes are cogent, too. They’re clear. I know what’s happening. They are elegantly choreographed and the effects will kick your teeth in.

The issue is, the action sequences mean nothing in terms of the narrative. No, really. They’re pit-stops. Outright fantasies. The film has in effect three layers of “reality,” ala Inception — first layer is the real world asylum, second layer is the fantasy brothel that stands in for the asylum, and the third layer are the various rabbit holes of action. (It’s the best I can put it, sorry.) The first layer is one we see very, very little of. The second is the setpiece of the movie so it is more or less our “baseline.” The third layer…

Well, that’s where we get into troubled water. All the awesome shit you see in the commercial takes place in this third layer. Hyper-psycho action sequences painted in the ejaculations of geeks everywhere. But what happens in these layers has no bearing on the first or second layer. None. It’s just… hot teen girls kicking ass for ten minutes. Doesn’t matter if they get hurt (they don’t). Doesn’t make a lick of difference if they achieve their goal (and we’re given no reason to believe they cannot achieve their goals because they are a stone’s throw from immortal). There’s not even a real strong metaphorical connection.

The action sequences, of which there are several, are without context, without meaning, and entirely without stakes. We learn nothing about the characters. We gain nothing in the story.

This makes these the most boring action sequences you have perhaps ever seen.

No, really. I found my mind wandering to grocery lists. Not kidding. Every once in a while I’d perk back up and nod toward some cool move — “Oh, that was neat” — before checking back out again.

What exists beyond these action sequences is where the movie lives, and it’s not a bad movie. It is, at times, kind of awesome. Plus: Carla Gugino and Jena Malone! Mmm.

But again, we’re talking 20, maybe 30 minutes of a two-hour flick.

Ultimately, that makes this a hot mess and something of a big disappointment, but since I was expecting it to be kind of awful, it actually came out somewhere in the “mmm, okay?” department.

Even still, I don’t like to outright pan a film if I can’t learn lessons from it. As a storyteller, you can learn as much from problem stories as you can from the best stories. Sometimes more.

So, three quick things I took away:

First: the school of cool has to stop. Just because something is awesome does not excuse its existence in the story. This movie offers a thousand darlings that should’ve been killed. It’s like Snyder had some sort of epileptic fit where he swallowed his tongue and had a fantasy involving every fanboy trope known to man: steampunk clockwork nazi zombies mecha samurai katana handgun gatling gun dragons orcs sailor moon tiny skirts hot girls robots sci-fi fantasy horror zeppelins hookers jon hamm. At first appraisal, that sounds super-cool. In reality, it is a dude painting with an uncontrolled hand.

Second: we need to know the stakes. Stakes are incredibly important in storytelling. The audience needs to know, If X happens, Y will not. Or, if X doesn’t happen, Y will fuck some shit up. We have to see potential consequence. We require want, need, fear, and the actions born of that. The action sequences that make up the bulk of the movie have no stakes. None. And that makes them very dull, indeed.

Third: context matters. In novel writing, you hear advice that says to start with a bang, like a movie. That’s hard to pull off, and here’s why: for an action scene to work, it has to be more than just action. It has to have context. We have to know our characters. We have to have, like above, stakes. We need some thread, some throughline, to carry us through and give the action meaning.

Is it a bad movie? No, probably not. Snyder can really direct and, when he has material to direct, it’s incredible. Here, though, there’s just not a lot of there there, as the saying goes. It’s a bit too hollow, a bit too shallow, which ultimately starts to drain it of its fun. So much so it just gets tireless.

Though, again, your mileage may vary.

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Portrait

Go visit last week’s flash fiction challenge — BABY PULP! It’s easily my favorite, so check out the stories.

Okay, so. See that photo?

When the wife and I were in San Francisco, we stopped in a kooky little antique store up near the Marina. It was truly eclectic, like many are, and particularly like many in the city of San Francisco are, and contained within were any number of strange delights and wonders. But then I found that portrait up there. Now, one suspects that the portrait — which clearly portrays a boy who is not, erm, precisely human — is Photoshopped and isn’t actually a real antique. But let’s be honest: that’s not the most interesting interpretation of that story, is it?

So, your task is:

Write some flash fiction about that portrait. Will you write about the monster in the picture? Or the photographer? Or the poor couple who buys the portrait? Or some other unseen angle?

Is it real? Is it fake? Will you write horror? Humor? Urban fantasy? Noir? Some weird mish-mash of genres that remains unexpected? Fuck it, go nuts.

You have 1000 words. (Though next week’s challenge? I’m giving you only 100.)

You have one week. (Next week’s challenge, you get one day.)

As always, post the stories at your blogs. Link to the stories here in the comments. And, if you’d be so kind, link to here from somewhere within your own post.

Once more, you’ve got till next Friday morning.

Please to enjoy.

Books Are The Tits

In fact, books are not only the tits, but it’d maybe be neat if tits were also books, because then in addition to playing with them, you could also read them.

No, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

What I do know is this: I’ve had some good weeks of reading, and I know I’ve got good weeks coming up. First, I read Stephen Blackmoore’s DEAD THINGS, which is a book you can’t buy yet and will be available in… erm, 2012? But fuck it, you need to know about it now. It is urban crime fantasy that is brutal, bloody, and pretty damn hilarious. A very cinematic book, too. Opens with a bang, ends with… well, let’s just go with a much bigger bang. It’s got mages, ghosts, Santa Muerte, fire elementals, murder, Tasers, and snark.

Then I just read Joe Lansdale’s DEVIL RED. Hap and Leonard, the two protagonists, are the clown princes of moral darkness. If you haven’t read any Hap and Leonard, well, what the hell is wrong with you? Do you hate fun? Are you allergic to good books? C’mon. Go grab SAVAGE SEASON and read the — what’s he got, now? Ten books about those two good ol’ boys? Hap is kind of a… what, a liberal softie who can’t help but be a bad-ass, and Leonard is his gay black vet buddy who breaks even worse bad on folks and is twice as funny as any other protagonist you’ve read. DEVIL RED, like VANILLA RIDE, gets back to the darker heart of these two characters. Funny. Sad. Violent as fuck.

Then, after that, I’ll soon get to read the newest from Robert McCammon: THE FIVE. Been eager to read this for a long time, since it’s his first horror book in a good while. McCammon, if you don’t know, is my favorite writer. If you tell me you haven’t read anything of his, beware. I may push you down some steps.

Anyway. I like sites like Goodreads well enough, but I never really use or explore the site to its maximum — social networks with such specificity are very cool, but they sometimes lack in context.

So, here we are. And here I am, asking you: what are you reading right now? Are you digging it? Or, what did you just finish reading? Give recommendations if you care to. Let’s talk the books that currently exist in your ecosystem. Fiction, non-fiction, whatever. Hell, if you’re reading something self-published or “indie,” share that, too. Anything you got, we want to know about it.

Revisiting The Culinary Canon

Yesterday, I made the kind of hamburgers that, upon tasting them, made a happy wet spot in the front of my trousers. It was as if I had shaved flesh from the thigh of a chubby angel and gently seared it on my Weber grill. That told me, “Okay. Nailed it. You have your hamburger recipe. It’s time to move on.”

Couple weeks back, I said to you crazy kids, “food me.” (That is not meant to sound salacious, in a R-rated movie on FX or AMC where they replaced all instances of the word ‘fuck’ with ‘food,’ as in, ‘Yippie-Kay-Ay, Motherfooder way.) I said, with my family growing by one here in the next few months, it’s going to be important to have a bunch of recipes nailed down to my preferences rather than be some kind of home cook gourmet dilettante prancing around the kitchen with a bottle of liquid nitrogen and a mortician’s rubber apron. Though, to be clear, I look fucking hot in a rubber apron.

I said, “Hey, I need to figure out this family’s culinary canon.” Just as everyone has family recipes — “This is Grammaw’s Barbecue Tree Grub Salsa! With picante horse scrotum!” — I too want to start getting down the so-called ultimate versions of certain recipes for here in Der Wendighaus before the heir to Der Wendighaus shows up and pitches a spanner into the gears.

You folks leapt to the fore.

You threw a major mega-awesome heapful of recipes into the pot.

You can find those magnificent recipes here.

But no, I’m not done.

I still need more. More. MOAR.

(Hey, sorry. I’m needy. Deal with it.)

Here’s the deal, then. I’ve nailed down a bunch of recipes now that I’m pretty comfortable with. I’ve got burgers down. I’m good with mac and cheese, papaya salad, prime rib, chili, sloppy Joes. I can make eggs that’ll jump up off the plate and kick your teeth in. I’ve got a canon forming.

But, as noted, I need more.

I’m looking to nail down recipes for the following (in no particular order):

  • Meatloaf.
  • Fried chicken.
  • Beef stew.
  • Mashed potatoes.
  • Potato salad.
  • Spaghetti sauce.
  • Chicken and dumplings.
  • Chocolate chip cookies.
  • Chicken noodle soup.
  • Brownies.
  • Pierogies.
  • Korma (chicken, lamb, whatever).
  • Thai curry (red, yellow, green, whatever).

I’m not necessarily asking for recipes. Should you have a recipe for one or several of these that you care to share, suh-weet. Feel free to drop into comments, point me to a link, or even write it to me via email. But what I’m also looking for is just… any little tidbits of information you have about these dishes that you feel is critical. An ingredient, maybe — “I thicken my mashed potatoes with an eyedropper full of milk from a witch’s nipple.” A technique, perhaps. “I bake my brownies in a used jockstrap to give them that humid, swampy stink of a football player’s salty nether-quarters. Can you say Umami?”

See, you gotta understand, I’m not trying to make my mother’s recipes. I’m not trying to make your recipes. I’m trying to make my recipes. I grab from here, I steal from there, and I experiment until I get the recipe I want. Then, I laser-engrave it into my brain. With an actual laser. It hurts a lot. I think I damaged my cerebral cortex. Whenever the dishwasher kicks on, I pee myself and do a little dance. Damn lasers.

Oh! If you want that burger recipe, it’s taken mostly from the Weber grill app. It’s pretty easy:

Pound and a half of 80/20 ground beef. Mix in a li’l dollop of ketchup, mustard, Worchestershire sauce, Frank’s hot sauce. Mix in a dash of salt, pepper, oregano, chili powder, thyme. Form into patties. Divot with a spoon. Cook on the grill for four minutes per side, toward the very end, pile on top a little cairn of grated Gouda cheese, let melt with the grill closed. Made the juiciest, most flavorful burger I’ve ever made.

It is the bee’s tits, that burger.


If you add anything into the culinary canon of the Wendighaus cookbook, whether it’s a recipe, an ingredient, a tip, a trick, a marriage proposal, a hate-filled rant, or a doodle of a pair of boobies, I’ll take it and offer a quivering Jell-O mold of gratitude.

Jumpstarting A Stalled Novel

You whip the old nag with a coat hanger.

“Move, you dang horse!” you shout, frothing over with piss and vinegar. You kick it. You pitch pebbles at its head. You hook cables to a car battery and stick ’em up its equine nether quarters and jam some voltage deep into the beast. And still it doth not move. Not a whinny. Not a tail-flick. You nicker at it. You pull your hair. You mumble something about this is why cars replaced you dipshits. You give up and stomp off.

Are you done? With your little poopy-pants hissy-shit-fit over there?

First, that’s not a horse. It’s not even a dead horse. It’s just a bundle of old blankets. You’re embarrassing yourself. Everyone can see what you’re doing. Plus, your underwear is showing. Tighty-whiteys? Really? With your name and the day of the week stitched in the hemming? For shame.

Second, that bundle of old blankets is a stand-in for something else. Come on, don’t lie. You’re a desperate novelist (or screenwriter or transmedia cyborg) and that heap of smelly fabric is a representation — a living emblem — of your stalled-out story. The old nag just won’t move and you think, “Well, you can just nuzzle my turgid teat, you stubborn old coot of a tale.” You lay blame upon it, heaping sins atop the pile the way they used to fill up old goats with present sins. But it’s not the story’s fault. It’s your fault. The story doesn’t exist outside you. Your characters don’t do things you don’t want despite what so many writers will tell you. It’s all you. That hill of nasty blankets will only move if you pick them up and move them. It’s your story. You have authorial agency.

Your story has stalled out because you stalled out. You are the reason that yet another unfinished novel will get shoved into the teetering tower of forgotten stories, reverse-Jenga-style.

And I’m here to jumpstart your heart-shaped derriere and shove your brain back into the game.

Your manuscript needs a cranked-up jolt of adrenalin. For that, I got a buncha tips to jam into your aorta. The first bunch is all about you as a writer and changing your habits. The second batch is about things you can do inside the story to kick free the story scree and get the whole thing moving again.

Think of this as a narrative laxative.

Flip It, Switch It

Sometimes, our brains get vaporlock. We’re idiots, us writers. A gaggle — nay, a mighty parliament — of OCD assholes. A handful of “stupid writer tricks” will go a long way into fooling yourself into overcoming your own tangled web of foolish fuck-brained folly. Here’s one: make a change as to your writing habits. Maybe for a day. Maybe for a week. Do you normally write in your office? Go write at the dining room table. Or at a Starbucks. Or at a Hungarian bathhouse. Do you write in the morning? Write at night. If you write on a laptop, switch to a desktop, or an iPad, or write a chapter long-hand. Sometimes, jostling your habits shakes loose some of the bad juju that’s gumming up the novel.

Discover Your Incubation Chamber

I have three primary incubation chambers: the shower, the lawn-mower, and outside taking a walk. No, these are not the places that I secretly masturbate. Sure, you could diddle your happy buttons on a riding mower, but dang, man, I have a push mower. Plus, I don’t need the squirrels judging me. No, an incubation chamber is my fancy made-up term for “a place you go or a practice you undertake where you can zone out and think.” In other words, you need to find time to let the story incubate. Take time. Bandy some shit around. Play the “what if?” game. “What if my protagonist became his own grandfather and then committed suicide inside Hitler’s bunker?” A good place to incubate stories? Right before bed. Set your brain like a slow-cooker. Introduce a problem or question, then go to sleep. Low and slow like beef brisket, bitches.

No Author Is An Island, Dumbass

Don’t internalize. Contact somebody. Call ’em. Write ’em. Just have a chat to discuss. Creativity lives on agitation. Call up a writer buddy and tell her the problem and see if you can’t work through it. Doesn’t have to be a writer, either. Any conversation can free it. Surely you have friends? You’re not just some mournful cave troll, right? Who do you normally call with your problems? If you were to call somebody and say, “Hey, okay, so. Ahhh, here’s the deal. I have four dead strippers. I am goosed to the nines on mescaline. This isn’t my shirt. And I think I’m on the Disneyworld monorail. What do I do?” — who would that person be? Identify them. Whoever it is that would help you with four stripper corpses is also the same person who can help you talk through your novel’s plot problems. Frankly, put that dude on your payroll, but quick.

A Little Dab Will Do You

Dear sweet chemical intervention. Hey, I’m not advocating illicit substances, but I do think that sometimes a mildly modified state of perception can be a win for a writer. It can be the machete to cut down through all the built-up bullshit inside your story. Caffeine is good to get the pistons firing. Liquor is good not necessarily during writing, but I’m not averse to a little responsible drinking after-hours where you can jot some notes down in a notebook or puzzle out some story problems in conversation with a buddy while under the influence of some adult beverages. Exercising releases other powerful chemicals, too, which can be good. Maybe take a little St. John’s Wort? Or eat a piece of chocolate for Chrissakes. Just a little stimulant. Bzzt. Zzzzt. Zap. No meth, though. I mean, seriously. You ever see a meth-head? Ghouls.

Write A Masturbatory Love Letter

You loved this idea once upon a time. You adored the book. I know you did, because we made fun of you on the playground. “You and the novel, sittin’ in the tree. H-A-N-D-J-O-B. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the Tijuana donkey show.” I think that’s how the rhyme goes. Anyway. This sounds super stupid, but bear with me: you need to fall back in love with the novel again. Write a letter. Or an email. Or a goddamn postcard, I don’t care. Start reminding yourself the things you loved about this book. Jot down why you wanted to write the thing in the first goddamn place. Surprise, surprise: you’ll find old reasons, yes, but you’ll discover some new reasons to love it all over again.

Envision The Cover

This? The epitome of shallow, but fuck it. I know, blah blah blah, you’re writing the book because you love the story, but sometimes you can’t help but look forward and get geeked while imagining some silly future shit. “On my wedding day, angels will descend from heaven and bring with them seven harpsichords.” “When my son is born, a wise shaman baboon will proclaim him the chosen one to rule the jungle.” “The first time I have sex, the hooker I nail will have two vaginas, and one of those vaginas will dispense chocolate coins.” So, hey, if what gets you going is looking forward and thinking, “Man, this book is going to look bitching on the shelves at Your Favorite Indie Bookstore,” then do that.

Boom Goes The Dynamite

Blow something up. (In the story.) Plunge the plunger. Light the fuse. Stephen King did this in The Stand, by the way, to jump start that stalled novel. He couldn’t quite figure out how to move the story forward and felt that the characters were… well, lost. So, in the second act he blew up the Free Zone with dynamite. Now, you don’t need to rely on an actual explosion in the text. “Explosion” is just another way of saying “Some properly dramatic shit that shakes everything up.” A murder. A breakup. The assassination of Santa Claus. The next Biblical deluge. The appearance of a cyborg orangutan from the future.

Feng Shui That Motherfucker

Feng Shui is probably bullshit. “This room has no flow. The chi is getting all gummed up in my heating vents. I need a mirror on that wall. I need something red on the opposing wall. In the corner? A duck carved from lava rock. In the other corner? Tom Arnold. And from the ceiling fan we must hang ribbons woven of my own chest hair and dyed with the blood of the infidel.” Still, there’s something there that’s altogether less mystical. “Hey, the arrangement of this room isn’t right; things feel off.” That can happen in the novel. So, rearrange some stuff. Start the novel at a different point. Change the flow. Move the timeline around — Chapter 5 is now Chapter 2. May require a little rewriting to bridge it, but just some minor rearrangement can feel productive. Rewriting and readjustment can be good voodoo.

Flip It, Switch It: Part II: Revenge Of The Switch-Faced Flippenator

Another flip, another switch. Change the point-of-view. Change the tense. Maybe you’re writing in third-person but it feels like you’d write it more easily in the first. Or, could be that writing past-tense isn’t as urgent as what you’d get out of the present. Yeah, sure, this requires rewriting, but, uhh, shut up. Nobody said this shit wasn’t work. Look at it this way: sometimes you gotta break something to fix something.

Turn Left And Take A Narrative Day Trip

Deviate. Deviate big. Start writing in a different direction. Pick a new character to follow. Explore some untold aspect of the storyworld. Create a sub-plot out of thin air involving submarines and the Christmas gifting habits of human-squid hybrids. See that door ahead? Forget it. Turn left and kick a hole in the wall. Walk through that. No, you may not use this stuff. Or maybe it’ll open up the novel in the same way that knocking down a wall in your house might open up a room. You gotta try something.

Shut Up And Put Your Back Into It

Alternately, if none of the above crap works, just shut up and do the time. Write through it. Flail about like a beached carp on your keyboard. Vomit words. Make shit up. Spasm. Smash together sentences with the grace and aplomb of a drunken moose. Writing isn’t magic. The end result may feel that way, but it’s just putting one word in front of the other. Do that until you feel the novel find its groove. It’ll happen. I swear. You might even go back and look at those vibrating word-spasms and think, “That was actually better than I thought. I expected literature on par with the holy books penned by a tribe of trilobites, but this is at least on the level of what a headless chicken could manage if you stuck a fountain pen in his neck stump.” There’s this feeling in exercise where you hit the wall but then, if you keep pushing past it, you suddenly get a surge of go-juice again. This is like that. Keep writing until you’re out of the dark and into the light.

Oh, and stop whining about it.

Howabout you, word nerds? What tricks do you use to fool your brain into lubricating the arthritic joints of that sluggish nag you call a manuscript? Share and share alike.