6. Kill your darlings. You can save their wordy little corpses in a
file where you can look back on them with love -- I do -- but often, the
little bits of text that we're the most proud of have no business being
in the middle of the narrative. Nothing is sacred once the editing
machete comes out.
7. The phrase 'write what you know' is innately flawed. I don't
know what it's like to be a changeling detective working the mean
streets of San Francisco, or a hard-boiled journalist with a crazy twin
brother, or a teenage lycanthrope with a serial killer problem. Write
what you're willing to know. Everything will begin with a kernel
of pre-existing knowledge -- I know folklore (Toby), zombies and
blogging (Georgia), and coyotes and high school (Clady) -- and expand
into a fabulous orgy of learning. Toby taught me San Francisco history
and lots of ways to kill people. Georgia taught me virology and
plagues. Clady taught me about snack foods. If you're not willing to
write anything but what you already know, you're going to be restricted
to autobiography, non-fiction, and writing the same plot ten thousand
times. And that's just not fun.
8. You are the author. That makes you, effectively, God. God
created the mosquito. Sometimes, God can screw the pooch in a very big
way. Being the author doesn't mean that you're incapable of being
wrong. Sometimes, you'll write things that are out of character.
Sometimes, you'll write things that are out of place. And sometimes,
you'll write things that are just flat-out incorrect and inaccurate and
insane and wrong. That's not a bad thing. The bad thing is refusing to admit it.
9. You know those parents with the totally out-of-control kids
who run around the restaurant sweeping things off tables and screaming
in the faces of all the other diners? And you know how they just sit
there looking serene, because their kids are precious little angels and
everything they do is wonderful? Don't be one of those parents. If
your book spits in somebody's metaphorical soup, the appropriate thing
to do is to apologize and discipline your text, not tell the person with
the saliva slowly dissolving in their minestrone that they 'just don't
appreciate the beauty of spit.' Not everyone is going to like what you
do, but you can damn well make sure your kids don't trash the place
before you pay the check.
10. When a book or an idea is new, it's okay to want validation.
You're standing at the mouth of a tunnel that's probably thousands of
pages long, once you calculate for discarded text and revisions, and
that's scary. Ask people 'do you like my idea?'. Tell people you need
to hear good things about what you're doing. It's okay to say 'it's my
first time, be gentle.'
1. You're going to suck when you start.
Sucking when you start is okay. Every new project, no matter how
brilliant the idea at the heart of it happens to be, is going to start
by sucking. Just deal with it, and soldier through. Every sentence is a
2. The rules of English
grammar were devised by an evil linguist who had a bone to pick with the
adherents of the more traditional schools of the written word.
They laughed at him in the academy, and we bastards are still paying
today. You don't need to have a perfect grasp of the seventeen thousand
(occasionally conflicting) rules to be a writer; that's what editors
and proofreaders are for. At the same time, you can't just throw a
bunch of words at the page and expect to have all your work done for
you. Learn the basic rules of punctuation and grammar before you
subject other people to your work. They can squabble over the Oxford
commas at their leisure.
3. Putting fifty thousand words on paper does not make you a novelist.
It makes you someone who successfully put fifty thousand words on
paper. You should be proud of yourself for that, because dude, it's
difficult to stick with a plot and a concept and an idea and characters
for that long, and I salute you. At the same time, you're not a
novelist. Sweating over those fifty thousand words until you're
confident that at least forty thousand of them are good ones is what
makes you a novelist. Good luck.
4. People are going to be mean to you. Full stop, absolutely, people are going to be mean to you.
Some of them will be mean because they like what you're doing, and
they want to see it work. Some of them will be mean because they feel
like being jerks. Learn to see past the mean and get to the actual meat
of what's being said. "I don't like romance" is not the same thing as
"This scene makes no sense," and they don't have the same potential to
benefit your work.
5. People are going to be mean to you: that's axiomatic.
And sometimes, those people are going to have good and vital things to
say. But people who are being mean for the sake of being mean have the
potential to do more harm than good, and when you encounter those
people, it's okay to walk away. Don't refuse to let anyone tell you
that you're flawed. That way lies madness and pretentiousness. But
don't stand around to be told that everything you think is fun is a
steaming piece of shit, either.