41. Just because somebody else did it first doesn't mean that
somebody else did it better. At the same time, just because you think
you're going to do it better doesn't mean you necessarily will. Be just
as objective with reworkings of old stories as you'd try to be with
totally new ones. You actually need to work harder when you're dealing
with the familiar.
42. You are not the next Stephen King. You are not the next Emma
Bull. You are not the next anyone. You are the very first you.
Comparisons are wonderful things, because they tell people whether
you're working in a style or genre that they enjoy ('If you like Warren
Ellis, try...'). But don't let comparisons turn into a prison. You are
always allowed to bust out with something new and amazing and blow the
roof right off the goddamn nightclub.
43. Your ass is for sitting on, not for talking out of. If your
characters are supposed to be gun experts, talk to some people who shoot
guns. Read some books about guns. If the books don't make sense to
you, hand your manuscript pages to someone who knows guns and say
'please fix.' My original draft of Newsflesh literally included
'INSERT VIROLOGY HERE,' because when I wrote that chapter, I hadn't
finished designing my virus. I finished my virus, double-checked my
epidemiology, went back, and finished that scene. If you don't know
what you're talking about, learn enough to fake it.
44. You don't have to like your characters. You just have to
stay true to your characters. I may not appreciate the fact that Shaun
insults Mahir's wife on a daily basis, but it's what the character would
do, and I'm not going to change him just because I don't approve of his
behavior. Some people will assume you approve of everything your
characters do. Try to learn tolerance. Also, don't punch them.
45. You are brilliant and you are a hack. Sometimes you're going
to be both in the same day. Embrace these two sides of your soul.
Then bash their heads together until they start playing nice with each
other, because nobody likes the golden goddess whose every word is a
honeyed pearl, and nobody likes that other girl, either.
36. You're going to get ideas from wherever it is you get ideas.
There's no magic well. There's no 'proper source.' They'll come when
they come, and you can't force them to show up if you're not ready to
have them. The 'what if...' moment is one of the most amazing things
there is, and when it happens, you'll be the king of all creation,
you'll be so fucking cool that nobody can stop you from conquering the
planet...but you can't make it come. Just expose yourself to the world,
and wait, and see what happens.
37. Don't buy into your own hype. There will always be people
ready to tell you that you're so awesome you should be elected President
on the basis of sheer badass. There will always be people ready to
tell you that you're brilliant, that your books are the best things ever
written, that they can't imagine why you aren't winning every award in
the industry. That's okay. Those are not bad people. They're good for
your career, and frankly, they're probably telling the truth; everybody
has the one author that can do (almost) no wrong, or the one book
that's absolutely perfect as it is. Still, those six, or sixty, or six
hundred people? Are just six, or sixty, or six hundred people. If you
let yourself believe them, you're going to hurt yourself in ways that I
can't even begin to describe.
38. At the same time, don't sit around telling yourself how
horrible you are, and don't let a few bad reviews shatter your sense of
self. Look at the negative feedback as critically as you can, and if
everyone is saying the same things, try to figure out whether that's
something you can fix -- whether it's something you're willing to
fix. I'm not going to stop writing horror just because there will
always be people who hate horror. At the same time, if multiple horror
reviewers are going 'zombies, you're doin' it wrong,' I should probably
reassess. Don't buy the bad hype any more unreservedly than you buy the
39. Jealousy is useful; it motivates you to work harder.
Jealousy is toxic; the world is not innately fair. Acknowledge your
jealousy, take a deep breath, and let it go. You're going to find
yourself with a lot more room to work if you can do that, and you're
going to be a much happier person.
40. Talk to other writers about what works for them. Half the
things on this list may be pure crap from your perspective; that's okay,
because in order to decide that they were crap, you had to think about
them. You have put thought into what kind of writer you want to be, and
how you want to work. That's fantastic. Listen to everyone, and
decide for yourself what you want to take to heart.
31. Measuring your output against someone else's output is a game
with no winners at all. Maybe you write fast. Maybe you write slow.
Maybe you're somewhere in the middle. I can write an obscene number of
pages on a good day, and finish it off with a song and maybe a sonnet or
two. Another friend of mine considers herself to be doing amazingly
well if she finishes three pages in eight hours. Neither of us is doing
anything wrong. Some of the best books ever written took years to
finish; so did some of the worst. Write at your own pace, and know what
that pace is.
32. Deadlines are your friends. Learn how to work to them. If
you ever start publishing, you're going to be getting a lot of
deadlines, and you won't necessarily have any real say in the matter.
It's best if it's not a shock to the system.
33. Learn to be gracious to everyone who helps you. Thank your
proofers. Thank your editors. Thank your agent. Thank your readers.
They're doing you a favor. You're also doing them a favor -- you're
letting them play with your kids -- so don't be servile, but do be
34. The only people you owe your work to are your agent, your editor, and your publishing house. Don't let anyone pressure you.
35. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break from
time to time. I pretty much write every day of my life -- I'm a junkie,
and I admit it -- but there are days where the writing takes an hour in
the morning, and is then set aside completely, in favor of seeing
Flogging Molly perform. Sometimes, my 'writing' for the day consists of
jotting notes in my planner (also known as 'Seanan's second brain'). I
need those pauses to reset myself, and sometimes, to find new books in
the world around me. Don't hate yourself for needing to breathe.
26. Learn to be a hermit. Learn to say 'I'm sorry, but I can't
come to your party, I booked that night for revisions and I don't have
any other time to do it this week.' Learn to tell people no. Learn to
treat writing as a job -- one that may well be both unpaid and in
addition to whatever job pays the bills for a long, long time. If you
make excuses to let yourself skip writing, if you choose a social life
over that second job, you're not addicted enough. If you want to get
better, you'll learn.
27. People are going to act like writing is easy, because that's
all they know; they're not writers. People are going to say you're
being a snob when you say 'I'm sorry, I have to work,' because they
can't understand why you'd choose reworking chapter three over going to
the roller derby. Try not to take it personally. I'm sure they do shit
that seems crazy to you, too.
28. Kevin Smith said 'this isn't for the critics' when he was talking about Jersey Girl,
and the critics savaged it anyway. There's a lesson here. You can't
write to some imagined critical ideal, but if all eleven of the people
you trust to review your first drafts say 'wow, this makes no sense at
all, what the hell is going on here?', you should maybe consider taking
another look. Pandering is bad. Being accessible is not.
29. Outline as much as you need to. I have books where I've
written incredibly detailed outlines, including locations and characters
involved in every scene. I have books where I pretty much just plunged
in blind and started hacking around with my machete, praying that
nothing in my new-found jungle was going to give me Ebola. Even those
books eventually got 'event chains' written on Post-It notes and stuck
to my computer, because I needed to keep track of who was where.
Neither style is superior to the other.
30. If you're writing any sort of series, whether it be a series
of short stories or a series of novels, you need a continuity guide.
The format is up to you. The level of detail is up to you. But believe
me, even if you somehow manage to forget that your hero has green eyes and turn them hazel, your readers won't, and they will eat your soul.
21. We are all magpies. We are all going to pick up bits of
flotsam and jetsam from the cultural void around us. Part of the value
of having people edit you is the outside perspective they provide. If I
tried to write a book that was a climactic clash of good versus evil
following a slatewiper pandemic, there are people who would point out
its similarity to The Stand before I managed to hurt myself, and that's gooooooooooood.
22. Your writing style will actually change over the course of a
single day, not just over the course of your lifetime. I write very
crisp, sharp prose in the morning, and very purple, rambling prose at
midnight. My sentences start turning into spaghetti around ten o'clock
at night. A finished work is going to need to stick to one of these
styles of prose, and I need to be aware of that when I'm editing,
because otherwise, the transition can be so organic that it isn't
visible until someone else gets a look and starts screaming at me for
blinding them with adjectives.
23. For the sweet love of all that is holy, edit, proofread,
revise, and practice the art of self-critique. I mean it. There is no
one on this planet so good at this game that they can just throw a
fistful of words at the page and declare it brilliant. Needing to
revise does not make you a failure, and becoming a better writer isn't
going to take that need away. Embrace the revision process as a chance
to dig down into the heart of your text and make it everything that it
deserves to be.
24. Anyone who tells you that your first draft is brilliant,
perfect poetry and deserves to be published just as it is and you
shouldn't change a word and oh, you're going to be famous and make
enough money to buy a desert island is either a) lying, b) delusional,
or c) your mother.
25. If you're going to be a writer, you'll be a writer, because
if you're going to be a writer, you'll write. This is not a glamorous
profession. This is not something people do because they want to be
rich and famous and sleep with Hollywood stars. This is something
people do because, at the end of the day, they can't not do it. People
decide to be writers for a lot of reasons. People continue to be
writers because they can't figure out how the hell to quit. Writing is
bibliophile heroin, and we're all addicts over here.
16. Understand that what you want to write may not be something
that the market can currently support. There will be books no one wants
to buy because they can't figure out what genre they fit into. There
will be books you can't sell to anyone, period. And then there will be
the books where your editor says 'look, we can only take this if you're
willing to make the evil scientist a werewolf.' The decision is
ultimately yours -- I can't tell you what to do -- but you're going to
need to embrace the fact, right out of the gate, that your best-behaved,
most beautiful baby may be the one that no one wants to invite to their
17. A good editor looks good when you look good. They're
trying to help you. Listen to them. Not everyone is a good editor.
After a few experiences with the bad ones, you'll learn how to recognize
18. Using big words doesn't make you a better writer, it makes
you somebody who figured out how to use a thesaurus. Every word has a
purpose and a meaning, but there's no reason to clutter up what you're
trying to say with a bunch of words that will leave most readers diving
for their dictionaries. That doesn't mean you need to dumb yourself
down. It just means you need to really stop and ask yourself whether
you want to use the word 'expectorate' when what you mean is 'spit.'
Even Shakespeare used small words sometimes, and even the trashiest
popular novelist in the world is allowed to use big ones. Suit your
words to the task at hand.
19. Talk about writing exactly as much as you, personally, need
to talk about writing. I suggest finding tolerant friends. When I talk
about writing, I'm like a velociraptor gnawing on a brontosaurus bone
-- it's going to take me a while to get my head all the way around
things, and there's a whole lot to swallow. If I tried to work
everything out in the privacy of my own head, I would explode, and
nothing would ever get done. You may be on the opposite side of the
spectrum. There is no wrong answer.
20. You are absolutely allowed to say 'this is new, I don't want
opinions until it's ready.' You are absolutely allowed to refuse to
discuss something until you feel you're prepared. You get to set the
boundaries on your own work. That said, you do need to tell people
where the boundaries are, especially if they're used to reading
something of yours where the boundaries are different.