By Andrew Herold
Today's adventure into my twisted mind is a bit of a departure from the angry, acidic, profane trips you have come to know (and, dare I say, love?), although you may find this a bit more informative than previous forays. You may even view the subject matter a bit more seriously, though let's be honest here, I wouldn't know serious if it lovingly bit me on the ass.
I assume that at some point in every fiction writer's career, they take at least a moment to ponder the craft (art? magic? creative anomaly?) that is writing. And I'm not talking about why we write, or why we select the words we do, but rather the actual physical act of sitting down and writing—specifically how do we write best, and how could we make the process better?
I've recently re-entered a phase which I like to call the Thinking 'Bout Writing phase, (which is almost never as productive as the name might suggest). In doing so, I decided to inspire myself by looking around the internet for advice that published authors have given to struggling/newbie writers.
I found that I disagreed with a lot of it—please, hold your gasps until the end.
I know that I'm not technically in a position to be handing out writing advice, seeing as how my short stories and novels are currently unpublished (and somewhat unedited...), but some of the "words of wisdom" I found struck me not only as wrong, but potentially damaging to someone who wants to write.
For instance, a lot of people will tell you to Write What You Know. Now have you ever heard a piece of advice so useless? I know a lot of things: I know that I can't drink liquor anymore or I'll get violently ill. I know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I know that hotel work is the second dullest form of work on the planet (directly behind construction). None of these items does a story make. Oh they're certainly elements to briefly add to a story providing you can't think of anything more compelling, but they're not enough to be the focus of a story. Honestly, I almost fell asleep while writing those facts!
So fuck "write what you know" and instead Write What Matters To You. That's what writing should be. If you're passionate about something, it will come through in your writing. Who gives a fuck about facts while you're writing something anyway? It doesn't matter if you write the most factually bereft first draft in history; that's what the re-writing and editing stages are for! So write what matters to you. Write it any way you want, make it fun, try to make it coherent, and whatever isn't, fix it later!
And, going hand in hand with that, comes the equally unhelpful Know Who Your Audience Is. By all means, if you're writing something factual, a speech to the Lions Club, for instance, yes, you will need to know your audience. But in fiction? Writing fiction with the intent to impress someone else—anyone else—or to appeal to a market, is just a recipe for terrible fiction. It doesn't matter how well reasoned, well written, or well plotted your story may be; if you're writing it with someone else in mind, it will never be as good as if you had written it for yourself. Also, the markets are changing so rapidly, by the time you're ready to sell your book, they'll be on to the next major fad.
So let's change this into some useful advice by calling it Write For Yourself, Find Your Market Afterwards. There are markets upon markets, and endless niche communities out there—you will be able to find someone who thinks your writing is just aces if you try. Seriously, Google "Worst Books Ever Written" if you don't believe me, you'll find pages of books that are the literary equivalent of The Room. As long as writing makes you happy and you can honestly say it's done to the best of your ability (which, again, honesty time, if it's anything like The Room, it's probably not your best work) then who cares what anyone else thinks?
Writing fiction for the money it could bring you is wasting whatever talent you may have. If you write and the money follows, great! If you write and it doesn't, that's great too, just as long as you don't let the lack of money stop you from doing what you love. If you're only trying to break into this industry for the cash, you obviously don't know what writing is all about. Writing without feeling and passion is like jerking-off when you're not horny—disappointing and pointless.
This next bit of advice, I find, is more of an individual preference than a rule: I stumbled across a few people who encouraged writers to Carry a Notebook To Jot Down Ideas As You Have Them. On the surface, yes, this one seems to have merit, and I hesitate to attack it too roughly, but if you need to write down an idea to remember it, it's probably not worth the effort it'll take.
I speak from personal experience here—all of the stories I've jotted down notes on, and the scraps of paper that I've collected with ideas furiously scribbled on them have never amounted to anything more than filler for my trash can. There are some ideas that when they come to you seem new and revolutionary, but you should let them age in your mind for, oh, say a week. Think of it as a piece of fruit that has just fallen from a tree in front of you but isn't yet ripe. You're not starving, so we'll wait a bit for it to ripen, shall we? If the story holds together, and produces the same level of excitement and promise when you think about it, write that story. Bite into that fuckin' fruit! If, on the other hand, you pick it up and your thumb plunges through the rotting flesh down to the pit, throw the fucker out and move on to the next piece. (If you are starving, though, ignore everything I've said and cram as many pieces down your gullet as you can fit.)
So there. I've demolished for you three of the thousands of tidbits of advice floating around out there. In the wake of my act of wanton destruction I've offered up a few practical pieces of advice, but just for old time's sake, here are two more: First, write however it works for you, and second, just fucking write. If you can't write every day, don't pressure yourself to do it—forcing it usually produces substandard writing anyway, but do it as often as you can, as often as makes you happy to do it. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this shit. You may find out in the end that you're not any good at it, but if you enjoyed the journey, and the end result is a bunch of stories that you're proud to have written, who cares?
Then again, I've got no publishing credits to my name, so...you know, grain of salt...