Scriveners Dept.


After reading Nick Mamatas's sarcastic advice to would-be writers, I have to agree with him on one point: there is a great deal of advice being flung around for writers, and most of it is little more than a way for some writer to justify what worked for them. From what I've seen, most of the writers out there who have made it are too busy actually writing to bother with such overbaked homilies.

That said, here's my take on his rules. Nothing dogmatic here, just some observations from my side.

1. Don't give up, but don't get a swelled head either.

If you want to write, you almost certainly will continue to do so without any incentive other than the reward of writing itself. What you need to want even more than that — assuming you have it — is the willingness to look at your work as egolessly as possible and improve it.

2. Show what needs to be shown and tell what needs to be told.

There is no golden rule for this; you have to figure out on your own what the thresholds are. Look for other examples of showing and telling that seem to work; compare notes with others whose opinions you trust.

3. Be yourself.

You're a writer, sure, and you want your work to be noticed. But you're a lot of other things, too. Don't crowd that stuff out of the picture, because those things feed back into making you a better writer (and, most likely, a more balanced person.)

Most people are going to be more interested in you as you-the-person instead of you-the-writer, especially if you aren't published yet — and sometimes even if you are. If you're a schlub, work on that first. It'll benefit more than just your writing career.

4. Be yourself on the Internet as well.

See #3. Just remember that anything you type in anger at 2 A.M. is probably not going to help your position.

5. Aim ahead.

Don't aim for the top; aim forward. The "top" is arbitrary. Selling a million copies of something is a very narrow definition of "success" — it's nice, but it's not the whole picture, and it can be misleading.

Finish the work you have in front of you, make it the best possible work you can in this moment in time, learn from what didn't work, and move on to whatever else you have planned. Kurosawa said it best: "When I am asked what my favorite of my films is, I say 'My next one.'"

6. It is what it is.

It helps to be able to see your ego for what it is and what it's trying to do to, and, in, your work. The more you practice this, the better you get at listening to it when it matters (as in when you need that voice to give a story its particular force and energy) and ignoring it when it's just getting in the way (as in when it's telling you to leave in things that simply do not help).

7. Revise as you must.

The more you actually write, finish, and revise, the easier it gets to tell what needs another round and what doesn't. Some things are best left as-is in their first white-hot incarnation. That said, you should always consider anything you produce worthy of a second look.

8. Write every day.

Sorry, I have to dissent on this one. The question of how much is open-ended, though. A thousand words, two thousand, five hundred — none of those are absolutes. Pick something that fits your life. If you find the ideal number is zero, at least then you won't be kidding yourself.

9. Don't think about the goals.

This is my way of stepping around all those other recommendations in one swoop. The more you get hung up on addressing arbitrarily goals (and believe me, they're all arbitrary), the less interesting writing itself seems.

If you dread the idea of sitting in front of the keyboard that much, either confront the dread or get another hobby. You'll be much happier either way.

10. Get out and live a bit.

Writing isn't like anything else, and neither is life itself. Go get some life under your belt so you have something to write about. Watching movies is not life. Reading other books is not life, either. They can add to life, and they often should, but they aren't substitutes for direct experience. Don't draw on the way people interact on TV when you can draw on how they interact right in front of you. And if you're not paying attention to that stuff in the first place, why cheat yourself?

Will any of this work for you? I have no idea. Why not go find out?


Tags: humor writing


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2012/01/22 22:25.

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