Bad Advice for Writers
(first appeared at mariaviolante.com on 12/19/12)
If only good writers wrote books there would only be about a dozen released every year and the entire publishing industry would collapse. Authors such as me are vital and ride in to the rescue to champion bad sentence structure, poorly executed narratives and unimaginative plotlines. Fuck twists and turns, get to the point I always say.
Let’s back up a bit and I’ll try to explain what I mean. You’ve no doubt heard of writers that write down each sentence of their book on a notecard and then review it over and over to make it the best sentence it can be. Then they put all these sentences together carefully over the course of years to produce a final product that they deem worthy of publication.
That’s not me.
I try not to even read anything I’ve written until it’s time to throw it in a book. My rough draft is what I post on my site. It was hard enough to write let alone having to subject myself to it again. If you’ve never read my blogs you won’t understand but if you have accidentally stumbled upon one then you’re probably nodding your head in complete agreement. I mean to say sometimes a turd can be interesting. I’m not saying every turd is interesting but the one thing I can guarantee is that polishing a turd will not improve things. In fact, if you were to use one of the big electric floor polishers on a turd then the results will be unfortunate … i.e. if I wrote down every sentence of my story on a card in order to improve it I would just end up with shit all over the place.
I view myself as a literary janitor, sweeping up after the parade for a New York Times Best Seller that has come through town. Not everyone enjoys a parade. Most people do I’ll grant you but not everyone. Usually there are a few people who are looking down and finding something more interesting caught in a storm grate or written in fading spray paint on an alley wall.
They buy books as well.
Just not my books.
And they deserve the very least I can provide. I prefer short stories because if the idea is a good one I can hand it over to the reader without mangling it too badly and if it sucks then I won’t be wasting too much of their time.
It starts with a single random thought. The one thing I’ve learned is that I can’t force it. If I try and think of something it will never come. Most of the time it doesn’t even appear so much as hint at itself. It’s like a squirrel that I see out of the corner of my eye. I have to pretend I don’t see it at first or it will sprint off. I will make small talk to myself as I slowly reach for a pen to jot it down. Sometimes despite my best efforts it will take off and no amount of chasing will give me a good look at it. You know squirrels; they have that annoying habit of racing behind a tree and then keeping it between you and themselves. The only thing to do is scream “Fuck you squirrel! You weren’t such a great squirrel anyway!” and then retreat to a discreet location and hope you can see it jumping around in the treetops later on.
You see what I mean about turds?
I can write that squirrel metaphor down on a hundred notecards and it’s not going to help. Those of you who enjoy a good parade are going to openly question if I’m retarded and wonder why anyone would ask me to describe my writing process. I think the only two bits of advice I got from other writers were to avoid using exclamation points, to which I told them to mind their own fucking business!! and to revise revise revise. To which I told them to mind their own fucking business.
I write when I want to write. If I don’t want to I don’t. I write for as long as I want. When I get bored or frustrated because I suck at writing I stop and go do something else. It seems like common sense but you’d be surprised at the number of opinions on the topic. Never be fooled into thinking that writing is some higher calling. People write because they have nothing better to do. Writing is not life; it is the absence of life. You do it to fill in the gaps between real experiences. Reading can be real and powerful and meaningful but writers are just the suckers who trade hours of their life to provide people they’ll never meet with a few hours of entertainment.
In a perfect world I’d be happy and busy and never have time to write another word. But that’s not going to happen; I have too much free time on my hands so I choose to fill it by writing stupid shit that comes into my head.
Happy? Instead of writing tips you got a confession.
So to wrap this up: The “process” is simple. Just write it down. Don’t worry about the “craft,” that only applies to about a dozen people. The rest of us are just churning shit out. Write it down, make sure it’s about as honest as you can be and then keep your expectations low. With the new eBook technology and self-publishing tools out now there are more authors than readers. You’re not going to make a penny. If you want to get paid for writing then become a journalist.
I once wrote this as a Facebook update:
I hate when you take a swig of a drink you’ve left in the car awhile only to find your mouth full of mosquito larvae and algae because ‘awhile’ is 3 weeks.
I wonder what the Aztecs would make of escalators. Probably worship whoever showed one to them.
Always eager to find the connection between 2 unrelated thoughts I came up with a mosquito escalator. Of course, their long thin legs might get caught in the grooves of the moving stairs so that makes the idea implausible. I picture there being all these legs that have been ripped off sticking up all over the place as the escalator endlessly rumbles upwards and all these mosquitoes at the top pissed off.
Words are awesome. I don’t even know you and I put that image in your head.
Then someone posted the following reply:
The legs sticking out of the escalator steps reminded me of the time my dad was painting his boat. I pointed out all of the bugs landing on the wet paint, then getting their legs stuck in the paint. He said, “No problem. I just let the paint dry, then use a very fine sand paper to sand off the bodies & legs. You’ll never notice the microscopic portion left in the paint.” This is also the man who would swallow whatever was drowning in his beer, just to gross us out. My dad, Bug Destroyer.
So much better than what I originally wrote and the closest I’ve ever felt to being validated as a writer.
To help spark a memory like that made me feel, even if it were only a few minutes, that writing isn’t a complete waste of my time.