This may come as a surprise to you, but there are a lot of fools on the internet. Shocking, I know. Thing is, in a world where the dumbest of takes are quite literally just a click away, something tends to happen to my writer friends – particularly those just starting out – that has serious implications for both their happiness and self-confidence.
They believe the bullshit.
I fell victim to this a few years ago, and it’s not hard to understand why. After all, if someone like Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Well, that’s it then. Guess I can’t be a writer because I don’t have the time or attention span to devour a couple of books every month. I suppose I’m just a wishful hack who should give up on whatever dream I have because some dude who sold a bajillion books says so.
I’m one of the lucky ones, or maybe I’m just stupid, because I didn’t take his advice, and found success as a self-published author.
This Is Not Advice
As writers we internalize a lot of emotion and typically have a very vivid inner world. We speak in characters, arcs, plot, conflict and resolution. We concern ourselves with the abstract of stories – often in fantastical worlds we’ve lived in while daydreaming. Is it any wonder that a piece of advice – a toxic piece of advice, at that – can cause us to derail? It’s a 4th wall break – a glitch in the matrix. It takes our vivid world and throws paint on it. It is as if you are watching a movie in a theater, and at it’s most intense, climactic moment, where you are fully invested in what is about to happen, the house lights come up. Now some buzzkill in the front seats stands up and tries to explain to you why the movie is trash cinema because it did not follow the conventional rules of filmmaking.
You’d be right to hurl the remainder of your peanut M&Ms at the fool, except he’d still be a fool, and you’d have less chocolate.
So let me throw some thoughts down in the hopes that it will make you think about the negativity you are absorbing. You have a passion for storytelling, and you are in full control of the flow-valve that lets this nonsense into your head. Let’s turn it off. That being said, we can have fun covering some common Stupid Takes that the gatekeepers out there want you to believe as a writer.
Do you love to write? Do you love storytelling? So do I. And I loathe this kind of reckless stupidity. Onward!
Stupid Take #1: You Must Write Every Day
Nothing sends me into an eyeroll faster than this ridiculous piece of “advice” dished out by pompous gatekeepers who are unable to recognize or acknowledge that the creative process is in and of itself, a form of art.
Look, you are a writer. If you write once a week, you are a writer. If you write once a month, you are a writer. Writing with frequency will increase your output, yes. It will allow you to practice your skills, absolutely. But “must” is incorrect.
Here’s what this ridiculous take misses – your creative process is unlike the creative process of any other human being. You work differently, you are wired differently, and that needs to be considered when finding the kind of workflow that works for you, not against you.
Do you know how much I’d write if I felt like I was supposed to write every day? Zero. Because I can’t write everyday. My creative brain does not allow for everyday writing. Instead, on the days where I am not writing, I am inside of my head, living in that world, watching the characters in it, and thinking freely of storytelling. When I am ready to write, I sit, and I write the movie I’ve already seen iterations of perhaps dozens of times before.
The notion that you are not a writer, or are less of a writer because you don’t follow some cookie-cutter script of what some idiot says a writer “should be doing” is ludicrous. Take advantage of the high-creative-motor days and put some words down. But if you have to go a week dealing with kids and laundry and work and life in general, then do that. You didn’t forget how to write, and you are taking care to not force words when you aren’t feeling it creatively. Do what you can to get in the mood, and go from there.
I wrote the book by putting down anywhere from 500 – 2500 words every Saturday. Once in awhile I’d throw down words on an alternate day, but Saturday mornings were my mornings to write. It didn’t always work. I skipped weeks at some points, but I always came back to my time and eventually created the conditions where I would always have some form of decent creative output.
Work the way you work, and don’t listen to the nonsense about writing every day, and sure as hell don’t make yourself feel guilty or less of a writer for it!
Stupid Take #2: Once you publish a book, you’ll be rich!
LOL no. This is not a thing. And it’s a stupid take that has been pushed into too many author heads and caused too many more to stop creating incredible stories because of a false sense failure. Because you’ll publish it. And you won’t be rich. And that’s the experience of 99+% of self-published authors. And that’s totally fine.
This is the last thing I want to see. I want to see writers shove their middle finger up at a false notion of “success” and “failure” and create their own awesomeness by whatever measure they wish. We can’t have wordsmiths quitting because some idiot told them they should have a particular type of success.
Be realistic here – it takes a long time to put a book together in finished form. You have all of the words, rounds of editing (or just a giant amorphous blob of time where you kind of half-edit half-write like I do), and much more. The cover costs money unless you do it yourself and also don’t be that guy, hire a professional (I used Fiverr and had my front/back/spine cover done for about $400 with a few rounds of changes). Hiring a professional editor costs money as well (I worked with Natalia at Enchanted Ink Publishing and she was wonderful and reasonably priced). You have subscription costs for support applications (I have a lifetime subscription to ProWritingAid as well as a yearly sub for Ulysses, my writing app of choice).
Now you throw all of this hard work together, as a finished product, on Amazon and …
Who are you going to sell it to?
And if you do sell it, you’re getting maybe $2/book by the time Amazon takes their chunk for printing, etc. You start off well into a financial hole, not even considering the time invested, all to make a crummy two bucks selling a copy to your Mom.
Welcome to being self-published!
Can you have success? Absolutely. At this point I’ve sold a few thousand copies of The Caretaker, and it has brought in some cash, but this isn’t a salary to live from. This is a cute bonus for creating a passion project and dipping your toes into an end of the business that is a struggle to wade through. However, your book is out there, and nobody can take that away.
I’ll cover what I did to market the book another time, suffice it to say that if you are writing the book with these massive dreams of quitting your job, you’re going to have to establish a real presence through social media that connects you to a lot of people vested in you and your work, and that takes time to build. Years, in some cases. It means going to events, getting out there, meeting people, creating content like podcasts, posts, videos, etc. and understanding a marketing strategy to get your book into the hands of people that will resonate with it.
Or, query agents for a year or so. And if you are fortunate enough to get representation, congratulations, you still have a ton of work to do. You are your book!
You can have all the success, whatever the path! Be ready for some reality checks and some very hard work to position yourself for it.
Stupid Take #3: You Aren’t a REAL Writer Until You’ve blah blah blah.
Bullshit. You’re writing words. You are a writer. Who is out there telling you what “real” is or isn’t in terms of writing? Someone as a gatekeeper with an arbitrary definition of success in their own head, that they are applying to you.
When I set out to write a book, I had one goal. Sell one copy to someone I didn’t know, and know that they enjoyed my work.
That was my entire metric of success.
And I did it, and I consider that a success, and now I’m sitting here:
That’s more than one person liking it, and so by my metric, this has been one of my most difficult and rewarding achievements I’ve had. Aside, obviously, from being able to sing every lyric of The Humpty Dance start to finish.
I’ve posted some of those reviews on the site, and it’s amazing to see something I wrote resonating so deeply with many people.
What we have in terms of “REAL” writer or “REAL” author talk is a simple logical fallacy called the “True Scotsman.”
Here’s a look at how stupid this “yOu AreN’t a rEaL WriTEr” garbage is:
I have experienced this stupid argument first hand on the nightmare-scape that is YouTube comment threads. Apparently I wasn’t a “REAL” writer because though I was writing thousands upon thousands of words and putting together a novel, it was unfinished. When the book was finished, well I wasn’t a real writer because it wasn’t published. When it was published? Well, I wasn’t a REAL writer because it was self-published. And on, and on, and on.
Allow me to be blunt. Fuck these people. Congratulations if you’re able to be a critic but never had a published book of your own. Congratulations if you are Stephen King, telling me that I don’t exist because I don’t read every day, I don’t write every day, and I am self-published.
Internalize who you are, and what measures your success, and do that thing. You are a writer. A REAL writer. Even if you haven’t published a damn thing or finished a damn thing or did it on some terms that some internet douche-nozzle didn’t agree with.
And I’m going to take a moment to slap your hands and admonish you if you’re the type of self-bullshitter that has negative internal energy that makes you say stupid stuff like, “I’m an aspiring writer,” or “I wish I was a writer.”
Write. Congratulations, you’re a writer.
Stupid Take #4: Writing is Serious Business
Writing is a reflection of life and humanity, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Assuming that the only real writing is serious writing is a trash take, typically shoved onto unsuspecting writers by narcissistic gatekeepers.
Tangent. I have always wanted to write a story about a Space Capybara named Captain Boom Boom Von Vanderquark who travels the galaxy as a swashbuckling hero intent on saving the various galactic species being overrun by the evil mercenary army led by the terrible warlord, Flim-Flam Obstaccoli. Also, Flim-Flam is like some weird alien worm-guy.
You know what? I don’t have it all worked out, okay, so cut me some slack. Also, there is some real creativity and fun to be had with this story, and it is totally and completely UNserious and that wouldn’t make it any more or less notable.
Back on the thought-train, take one of my actual short stories as a better example, because it exists: Alex & Toshiro Are Totally In Space
It’s a ridiculous story, much of it encompassing juvenile groin jokes and making fun of American politics, woke nonsense, and Karens. But within that low-brow story is a message about family being more than just blood, and that is something very resonant with me, and very resonant with most people. Beauty can indeed be found in the strangest of places.
Here’s the funny thing about written word – once it is done and out there, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It is up to the interpretation and internalization of the reader and that it’s within that transfer that the real magic of resonance happens.
You may be a reader of high-fantasy, where elves and mages have lived in conflict for ten thousand years and the political machinations of each society has underpinnings in long-established allegory and hey if that’s you, cool. I can’t do it. I can do Flim-Flam Obstaccoli hunting Captain Boom Boom Von Vanderquark though. And within my story I can put some piece of dialogue, or some event that may hit something in a particular reader’s head that has them crying because something deep down surfaced within the context of an absolutely ridiculous premise.
We are communicating. So whether your preferred style of communication is in the ridiculous, the satire, or the educated prose, it is worthy.
I’m going to leave you with this, as it is something I tell myself and I tell nearly every writer I’ve had the great fortune of meeting:
You are a writer. The world is in desperate need of your words. So, write.