This week I decided to look up the websites of two current authors who write in the fantasy field and who I admire greatly. Brent Weeks, and Patrick Rothfuss. They are both magnificent writers. I have been quoted (to myself) that after reading their books I was depressed enough by their outrageous talents to give up writing. Which isn’t true – I happened to not be bothering that much at the time, and being awestruck by them was a handy excuse to keep on doing nothing. They are ridiculous though. And I did write again, suitably inspired by their example. Brent’s website (Should I call him Brent? Or Mr Weeks?), contains an excellent advice for writers column. I read it. I have read a LOT of advice for writers, and his is very to the point and honest.
The heart of it? It is hard work. Keep doing the hard work. Don’t stop.
In Patrick’s (Mr Rothfuss’) blog there is an epic entry called Punctuation, which is both very amusing and very instructive. I think he introduced it as a way of telling his faithful fans why he is taking so long on his next book, as he pays such attention to detail, illustrating this tendency by going through many versions of punctuating one short burst of speech. (My first instinct was the comma splice, what can I say?) So imagine him then puzzling over every sentence in a not inconsiderable book. It is likely to take some time. Again – that points to dedication and hard work as required attributes of the successful writer.
Anathema for myself – the haphazard writer. But both of these gents are of course correct, as are so many others who advise discipline above all, do the work and keep the writing muscle active, do not let it atrophy waiting for inspiration to strike, for if it does, will you be able to match said inspiration with your sluggish, under polished prose? (No!) You know the advice is correct, that you need to work hard, and that even with the hard work you might get nowhere, but success is virtually impossible if you don’t at least work on it. Insert proverb here about failing to plan, or in this case put forth effort = planning to fail. Done! And it was harder back in the day when you had to persuade agents and publishers to take you on…, when they quite correctly had to have an eye on their bottom line, which could mean that perfectly good writers could wither unpublished because what they produced was at the wrong time, in the wrong market. Imagine how much that sucked. Or you got picked up, quick print run, lukewarm response and oblivion. Nowadays you can just go for it online with your finished work, take your chances in the e-reader market. Yes, I may be a lost drop in an ocean of variable quality wordage, but I’ll have put myself out there. That is an option to be explored, at the very least. After some (lots of) hard work, to which I am constitutionally highly averse.
I’m imagining that many folk out there who want to write and be successful, by whatever criteria they have devised, are more like my slacker self than those shining beacons of persistence who have actual careers in writing. Boys and girls I think it is time for us to abandon old bad mantras. Not that anything I am about to write is technically a mantra, so maybe set aside bad ideas? Old habits that help you not? Meh – bad mantras works for me.
Bad mantra #1) The universe doesn’t owe you anything for finishing ‘your book’. Sadly the universe regards ‘your book’ as a first draft of dubious quality. I personally have now finished at least 3 ‘my books’ if you include the stories hammered out on the farm, and strangely the universe did not convulse with joy and drop fame, book deals and pots of cash in my lap just because I had managed to write a lot of words loosely related to each other. Dammit. I’ve been holding out for that for quite a while. It is an achievement to finish a first draft – many don’t get that far. But no laurel wreath is bestowed for doing just that and stopping. Push on buddy!!
Bad mantra #2) The phrase deathless prose was not invented for us. Or perhaps it was, but only in mockery. Tough as this may be, we’ve got to get over it, some of that stuff we wrote definitely needs buried. And we should be the ones with the shovel. Better us than some other guy, right? Editing, not editong!
Bad mantra #3) The whole solitary genius in a garret who doesn’t have to obey conventional rules shtick. “Grammar is for suckers, I have my style.” (I type this looking up at some very unthumbed grammar guides.) “I don’t need outside help because they are fools who couldn’t understand my work.” (I just barfed a little at that) “X writer never got edited! Everything came out perfect first time! I am the next X!” (drowns in pool of self delusion still ranting) We can lie to ourselves and pretend it isn’t because we are self conscious or insecure and come up with all kinds of passive aggressive BS for sabotaging ourselves and refusing help, but you will not get far if your only endorsement is from strangers you describe your book to who think it rocks without ever having read a word. That means you have a future in sales, maybe, depends how drunk those strangers were when you were talking to them. And how drunk you were. My favourite audience of this type were two Dutch guys I met on a train to Luxor. We were all sober. I made believers of them… in the year 2000. Oh yeah.
Bad Mantra #4) Later, next week/month/year. How much time do you have? Speaking as one who has procrastinated heavily into EARLY middle age, and obviously having my midlife crisis minus the Corvette, sitting on things can be disastrous. Death is around the corner – we just choose to ignore it. (I am highly morbid by the way) Do something before you get any older. If nothing else – what if it takes off? Wouldn’t that be great, and wouldn’t it be great less than 5 or 10 years from now? You have the opportunity to live better sooner if your dream comes true – why are you delaying it? (I wake up and ask myself this one a lot, then get a cup of tea)
There are many more bad mantras I am sure. But those are the ones I recognise from personal use. Feel free to add your own bad mantras to the scrapheap!
Until then keep working hard and being disciplined in your writing efforts! I am trying to embrace this new reality, but my arms are too stubby. Think I’ll go for a walk now.