On Writing Tools and Bullshit Excuses

This isn’t going to be a how-to post on writing; I’m not nearly full of myself enough to do one of those. I have no real writing credits under my belt, and I lack the energy to get really in depth on how I feel you should go about scribbling down words and getting them printed. And hopefully be paid for doing so. No, I’m not that girl. What I am is someone who’s struggling along with trying to find my own pace and place in the world o’ writing.

If you want to read a blog about tips and tricks to help you learn how to write, this is not the place for it. Try over at Chuck Wendig’s place; he’s a shameless hussy who sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, even though he smells slightly like guacamole and stale beard. Publisher sites like Tor, Harlequin, agency websites, Google searches for “how to write [whatever genre/style]”; finding appropriate podcasts. Individual authors’ websites often contain links to helpful articles, some of them even written by the authors themselves. The #amwriting community at Twitter has a billion and two links on advice and helpful tips run through it per hour. Research is your friend, my friend. Do some.

No, this blog is none of that. This blog is opinion-based, and thus is biased towards me. If this is helpful to you, great! What a serendipitous thing! If not, too bad. It’s not meant to be, and fuck you if you think it is.

Writing is a craft. There’s no two ways about it. Of course, if you refer to it as a craft or, more commonly, the craft, you’re often regarded as a pompous dickhead who needs to choke on a cock ASAP. The kinds of people who refer to it as “the craft” are the kinds of people who sit in their cubicles dreaming of winning the Pulitzer Prize, or a Hugo Award, or an honourable mention in Writers of the Future but never do anything to get off their asses and write the shit they dream of writing. They have no real idea of what writing actually entails; they dream instead of Parisian cafes, baguettes and tiny cups of coffee while they wear berets and type world-changing literature on ultra-slim laptops. They don’t see, or don’t want to see, the blood, sweat and tears that goes into birthing a novel, or a blog post, or an article for the paper.

Let me emphasize this with a story: Once upon a time, I dated a guy who could hold me riveted by telling me all about his characters and the world he’d created for them. I seriously sat in the pub with him for well over an hour, just drinking and letting him weave me this tale rich with fantasy, intrigue, betrayal and humanity. The relationship ended not long after and we stayed friends. As a year or so passed, we drifted apart. Different interests cropped up, I got married and started focussing more on new circles of friends that came with the new relationship… But about a year or so ago, I got back in touch with my old boyfriend. I asked him casually how his writing was going, and he told me the same thing he’d said in that pub on that long-ago night of magic and storytelling: “One day, I’ll quit my job and write something real.”

He’s like a lot of want-to-be-writers I know. He dreams, but he does not do. He can weave stories that will enthrall and spellbind you… but he can’t be bothered to actually put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, foot to ass, and write about it.

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional “one day”. I have them myself. I mean, let’s face it: despite assurances that I’m perfectly well excused from writing because I’m the size of a house and due to give birth in 5 days, I am a lazy little shit. I’ll half-finish something, or outline something, or go crazy on note-making and mind-mapping for days – and then I’ll lapse. It’s not that I lack the drive or the motivation. I lack the discipline. Sometimes, all I have are “one days”. I’ll get around to editing and doing a second draft of that short story one day this week. One day, I’ll finish the worldbuilding on either of my two fantasy worlds. One of these quarters, I’ll submit that short story/novella/query letter to Writers of the Future/OnSpec magazine/agency.

But I’m trying to get better. I need to be better. I have to be better.

To that end, I’ve decided that some things I’ve always believed are nothing more than cheaply-veiled excuses. Some reference books are lovely to have, but ultimately unnecessary. Some writing tools are wonderful things, but hold a dangerous potential for distraction. Recognizing when something is going to be useful, and when it’s going to be worse than worthless is really the key to successfully organizing, researching and writing your grand opus. The rule of thumb for me here is this: if I’m writing more with this tool in hand, it’s useful. If I’m spending time and showing no progress in my work, the tool is worthless.

Take the internet, which is one of the primary tools. What a wonderful research device. What a great tool for connecting to other writers, bloggers, social media, communities, family, friends… You see the problem inherent in the system. While the Internet literally drops all the combined knowledge of the whole world at your fingertips, it also drops porn, flash games, MMOs, memes, chain letters, torrents, YouTube videos of puppies who can’t roll over, instant messengers and spam email at your fingertips too. It’s one of the best tools you can use, and one of the most massive distractions to which you can fall victim. And sadly, most people (myself included) don’t have the discipline necessary to get the fuck off FarmVille and do that research on ancient Indian ritualistic practices they’ve been meaning to do for the last week, so they can understand what they need to do in their horror novel. As an example.

Google Earth is another great tool; I use it in lieu of actually having the cash to visit the places I intend to set my stories. With Google Earth, I can get a feel for the physical layout, architecture and general atmosphere of a setting, all from the comforts of my home workstation. And then, sometimes, I’ll look for places I dream of one day visiting. Google Earth is as close to the Acropolis, or the Pyramids of Giza, or Big Ben or freaking Boca as many of us will ever come. And while those sites sure as fuck are interesting and important in some respects, they have (usually) nothing to do with whatever I’m working on. So I’m wasting valuable writing time, and wasting time in general by visiting them in all their 3-D rendered glory on GEarth.

Someone a whole lot wiser than me once said: “Procrastination is like masturbation. In the beginning, it feels good. But in the end, you’re only fucking yourself.” Sometimes, we feel we need to procrastinate to recharge our brains, our batteries, our creativity. Whatever you want to call it. Taking a break is advisable, especially if you’re falling into the bullshit excuse of “writer’s block”, which I firmly believe is nothing more than something writers tell themselves they have in order to feel better about being lazy, putting-off-til-tomorrow, excuse-making shitheads. (Yes, I’ve pulled the writer’s block excuse before. I still think it’s a bullshit excuse.)

A week or so ago, there was some hullabaloo about the Ten Rules of Writing. Now, these are different for everyone, and each individual writer is going to have their own. My husband’s are different from mine, which are different again from the ones linked in the article, which are different again from the rules of half a dozen other writer friends. I’m going to end this post with mine; like the Internet, Google Earth, FreeMind (mindmapping program), MSWord, pens, pencils, index cards and cork boards, the rules are another tool of writing. And just like any other tool, they should be updated, ignored, utilized or discarded according to their usefulness to the actual process of you putting foot to ass and writing.

Maggie’s Ten Rules for Writing

1. You will never have enough time to chase after your kids, do all your housework, manage to eat something, pay all your bills and write 3000 words a day if you don’t learn how to properly schedule and organize your life.
2. Fuck wasting 20 minutes looking for that “perfect” word that’s “on the tip of your brain”. Use a word that isn’t going to bog you down.
3. Disconnect your computer from the internet. Turn off Twitter and Facebook for a couple of hours. Unplug the cable. The “Power” button on your cell phone? Yeah, kill that too.
4. Reference books will only get you so far. Stop buying them, stop reading them over and over, and start putting into practice the things they’re advising you to do.
5. Self-editing is not as helpful or as vital as you think it is.
6. Look at your progress as something manageable to you. Instead of “Shit, I only have X out of 50k words”, look at it as “I only have X out of my daily goal of 2000. Or “I have one scene out of my goal of two written for the day”.
7. Constructive criticism rarely feels helpful when you’re hearing it for the first time. Get over yourself. There might be something worthwhile in there your butthurt feelings are preventing you from seeing.
8. You are not an artiste. You’re a writer. Learn the difference and drop the pretension.
9. Dreams will not come true until you get off your ass to make them. Telling people “I want to quit my job and write something real” is only going to get you laughed at. Write something, then get it published. Do not quit your job, you jackass.
10. Find a style and a rhythm that work for you, and don’t waste too much time agonizing over “so-and-so does it this way, so I should too”. You are not so-and-so, so don’t think that you should be.

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