I titled this post so you would understand that this is opinion and what works for me. If, one day, I get published, then maybe I’ll retroactively change the title. Until then, if you’re looking for expert advice, I be not the one to which you should turn.
I mean, Gawd, look at that sentence. What does it even mean?
But, dear Internet user, perhaps writer, perhaps good friend of mine or family member, I want you to take this to heart with the force of my sincerity behind it.
The thing is: Not all of these writers are experts. You don’t need to listen to what they have to say. Even Chuck Wendig is full of shit sometimes. Only sometimes. He’s a good one to look at (plus, he has published books!).
I’m not often one to admit this, but writing is hard. There is no easy advice out there to help you write a book. There’s even less to help you get published. There isn’t a rule book, there isn’t a yellow brick road. The best you can hope for is reading about something that works for someone else and finding out that system works for you.
Here’s what works for me:
1) Write more better.
I got this one from A. Lee Martinez. It means write more and you will eventually get better. Or, writing more will eventually lead to better writing. I don’t know, but it means something.
There is a time to put aside a project that isn’t working and start something new. Don’t write one book and bank on that as the one that leads you to fame and fortune. Write more better.
2) Don’t expect fame and fortune.
Do you know how many authors are on the midlist? Do you even know what the midlist is? If you are a bestseller, congratulations! Honestly, good work! But, there are plenty of people who are published and still can’t quit their day job.
Be aware that your little book might not change the world. It might not get you published. It might not even get you an agent. But, if you follow the advice in point #1, maybe, eventually, you will land on something that resonates with enough people to get you published, agented, or off the midlist.
3) Finish it
You can’t keep it up forever. Slap an ending on that sucker, give it a round of revisions, and see where that leaves you. In the mean time, start thinking about something new.
You can always improve. Read good books, read bad books, read magazines, read YA, read Stephen King. Read something and see if you like that style. Read something that you hate, but make sure you identify why you hate it. Keep looking for improvements.
Your head is an echo chamber. Sometimes, the voices of doubt, confidence, paranoia, suspicion, and anxiety bounce around so much, you lose objectivity. Give it to outside eyes.
I went to a public group that involved reading your piece out loud. There are plenty of ways to do this. Someone you trust to tell you the truth, another writer, anything. You need someone to look at your work to answer at least one question:
“Is it a book?”
So, yeah. I guess writing is hard for the simple fact that it’s not easy. You have to work at it. You have to want to improve. You have to do the thing that works for you and, if it doesn’t work, try something else. There aren’t rules, so much as guidelines.
If you try to take a shortcut, you might be disappointed with where the path leads.
Good luck. Be aware. Be careful. I care about you and want you to succeed.
Up front, I’m sorry.
This blog was supposed to be the meandering thoughts that run through my head on the nature of the universe, a true home for my philosophizing, a place where my friends and family had a chance to gaze at my psyche from afar without being forced to engage me in the long, meticulous, and ultimately exhausting conversation that my introverted nature would drag them into.
Well, I have readers beyond my friends and family, and I have friends and family who don’t even know (or don’t seem to know) that this thing exists. Thanks, followers. I hope my post-intellectual-age philosophy is amusing, thought-provoking, distracting…whatever you’re looking for. If you’re looking for more hipster cats, well, no promises.
I did not want this to be the blog of an aspiring writer, documenting each step of the journey. Most of that stuff is best kept on the inside.
But, here I am. Writing another post on writing. I can’t help it. My brain itches and this is the only way to scratch it.
Writing is an art form.
Yes, there are plenty of books that people scoff at and would not call art, but the truth is, writing is a form of art.
In jazz, the listener is told to listen to the notes that aren’t there as much as the notes that are. This isn’t just a load of crap. Music (no matter what kind) cannot be enjoyed unless people have a sense of expectation as to what is about to come next (Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music). The idea is that jazz musicians toy with listeners’ sense of expectation. When you believe one note will be played, it isn’t. Or, better yet, there is harmony and adjustment, giving the listener a different tone, pace, richness, exposing a new aspect of the piece merely by not living up to expectation.
There is a balance in this impromptu styling and the sense of expectation. Stevie Wonder’s Superstition features a steady but unpredictable hi hat in the drum line (again, Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music). This unpredictability makes you feel like you’re listening to a new song every time. Maybe not that far, but it still feels fresh, and, no better word, groovy, with every listen.
It’s the same with writing.
When reading, you need to read the words that aren’t there as much as the words that are. Writing isn’t a simple delivery system, from the page to your brain without that space between. It requires subtlety, subtext, and implication.
Every story has been told. From a young age, we are inundated with story. We absorb the master plots. We know what to expect in everything we read. Writers must learn to write the right words and leave some words unsaid. Embrace subtlety. Let it flow. You can surprise your reader by advancing a trope, then switching it up. You can calm your reader by sinking into something familiar and slow.
When you do it right, people will want to read your book over and over, steady put unpredictable; fresh and smooth; nuanced.
Get out there and write.