A friend on Twitter suggested that I write a book on writing. I think that’s a bit premature, as there is a plethora of writers giving advice out there. But I try to make a habit of distilling the essence of an idea and filtering out the bullshit. So here goes.
Writing is a muscle. You must flex it. You must use it. Does this mean “write every day?” For me, it does. For you, maybe not. Whatever works. But to find out what works, you need to try a lot of things, which involves writing.
In weightlifting everyone wants answers. The articles are a lot like articles on writing- the same stuff, then some new radical idea that everyone tries a while because this one person saw amazing results, and everyone talks about it a while, then it fades away, and then maybe a few years later it gets rediscovered when someone has a deadline. What works is lifting heavy things. You want a better bench press? Do a lot of bench presses with proper form, adding a little more weight each cycle, no more than you can do with proper form.
Part of this came to mind from Steve Weddle saying that some story writers should build a set of stairs before they try to build an escalator, or a Wonkavator for that matter. I think those are two totally different fields of construction, but I see the point. Before you can write a complex story, you should write a straightforward one. And write some more.
This is where the yabbits come in.
Yeah, but Tarantino’s first movie was non-linear and stuff. Yeah, but David Foster Wallace. Yeah, but this bro at the gym with thunder guns said… Yeah, but. Yabbit, yabbit, yabbit.
Write. Don’t agonize over it. Just write it. I still agonize, way too often. I don’t trust my voice all the time. I worry about building the roof when I’m putting in the basement. I want to take the elevator when I haven’t built the stairs. We all do it. It takes discipline not to do it, and discipline falters now and then, but we don’t tear the house down or abandon it, we go back and build the damn stairs.
Six metaphors later, I get to the point. My writing advice is simple. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Does every story have to be great? Certainly not. I have a few turds in my pocket I’ll never share. (Unless you approach me nicely and say, “Tommy, can I hold the the dessicated turd you keep in your pocket?” Then I’ll gladly let you fondle it.) This also doesn’t mean you need to construct the perfect, master carpenter spiral staircase before you let your imagination run free. Just be aware that the tough, complex stories will take a lot of work. Sometimes you need to build them later, after you’ve tackled stuff that’s a little easier and more fun.
Because no matter what people say, writing should be fun. It can be tedious, brain-racking work. But so is working out, or building a set of stairs. You can learn to enjoy it, but it’s always work. It’s the results that are the fun part, when you’re proud of what you’ve done, when you read it yourself and don’t cringe, or when everyone wants to squeeze your biceps like Brad Pitt’s booty, those are great moments. Like riding the Wonkavator. But before you get there, build the damn stairs. And climb them a few times. Writing is sedentary. You don’t want to die of heart disease before you finish your bullet train escalator novel, do you?
To distill this…
How I Write.
1. Daydream often. You need ideas. Daydream in the shower. On the train. In the car. Try not to daydream while other people are talking.
2. Read everything. News, books by authors you love, books by authors you’ve heard are great but aren’t “your thing,” old books, new books.
3. Sit down to write regularly. To quote Jack London, “you can’t wait for inspiration. You have to chase it down with a club.” Talk yourself into writing for five minutes.
For real advice, I recommend these books.
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block. The one book that I read first. LB is funny, tolerates no bullshit, and is one of the greatest short story writers working today. Let him be your Writer’s Block. Haw haw.
On Writing, by Stephen King. Half memoir- which made me like the man even more- and half no-BS writing talk. He eschews notes, which I disagree with. I use Evernote to take notes on my phone. But solid advice.
Break Writer’s Block Now! by Jerrold Mundis. This is the advice you’ll say YABBIT about. But it works. Whether you want to begin writing, write regularly, or break a dry spell this book is a must. Some sounds like bullshit- relaxing before you write? WTF? but it makes sense once you actually think about it, and try it. Anxiety is the root of most blocks.
And when you quit being a yabbit and start writing the big ponderous novel, I recommend Scrivener. It helps keep me organized, lets me write the scene I want to write, no matter where in the book it is, and keep things sensible. You can compile in Standard Manuscript format, Screenplay, as an e-book, paperback templates… truly a powerful tool, and great for taming that wild imagination:
And Steve Weddle’s debut novel COUNTRY HARDBALL is available for pre-order. Steve is a fine writer, and I’m sure these stairs won’t creak or send you plummeting to the basement.