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Frequently Asked Questions

(aka: On Writing…Poorly)

Here are some writing questions I pretend imaginary people ask me in that alternate universe where I’m actually a successful writer and not just some hack with a blog. What follows is quite possibly some of the worst advice on writing that you’ll ever get. You have been warned.

 

Why do you write?:

There are writers who say they simply can’t go a day without sitting down at their computers and banging out a thousand words. Me? I’d rather watch television or play Call of Duty. Occasionally, though, I’ll get an idea that, for some reason, I feel compelled to share with other people, and the best way I know how to do that is to write it down. The process is painful, labored, and about as enjoyable as a root canal whilst being fisted by Popeye. It can take me anywhere from a few days to several weeks to finish a short story, and, in the end, I rarely like anything I’ve written. After that, I spend countless hours fretting about whether or not I should even bother submitting it for consideration. Once I do decide to submit a story, I can rest assured that it will only be a matter of weeks before I start receiving the first in what will be a seemingly endless volley of rejection notices from editors. On the odd occasion that I do sell something, I usually quell any sense of joy or accomplishment by questioning the sanity or motivation of the buyer. Being a writer is grueling, humbling and, occasionally, quite humiliating. So why do I write? Fuck if I know.

 

Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?:

Quit. Quit writing now! I just told you how grueling, humbling, and humiliating a profession it is, didn’t I? Jeez, some people…

 

What, you still want to do it? Really? Cripes, you’re a masochistic son of a bitch, ain’t ye? Well, fine, if you really want some advice, here’s the best I got. It ain’t much.

 

1 ) Read: Read everything. Read novels, short stories, poems, magazines. Read the sides of cereal boxes and those little pamphlets you get from the bald guys at the airport. Read business cards and billboards. Read the tags on your clothes and mattresses. Read as much as you can, and then read some more. The more you read the better you’ll feel about your own writing as, the truth is, most writers are horrible. Pick up a romance novel or one of those insipid Twilight books. They’ll make you feel like fucking Hemingway. Seriously.

 

Note to Twi-hards: I don’t care how many millions of people read Stephanie Meyer’s books. Millions of people buy Jonas Brothers CDs, too. That doesn’t make them good!

 

2 ) Steal: Occasionally, you’ll come across something that’s good. Really good. Something so monumentally awesome that it makes you want to quit writing altogether. Resist the temptation and, instead, learn from it. Determine just what it is about the writing that make it so good and steal it! That’s right; I said steal it! Writers are a despicable lot. We’re little more than thieves and charlatans;  an amalgam of the writers (who are, themselves, thieves and charlatans) that inspired us to do this shit in the first place. Think Stephen King’s an original? Read some Richard Matheson and get back to me. Clive Barker? H.P. Lovecraft. Neil Gaimen? Clive Barker! Take whatever it is about your favorite writer that makes them your favorite writer, and hone it to fit your style. After awhile, you’ll develop a unique voice of your own, and then somebody else will come along and steal that. That’s the way we roll, muthafuckas.

 

3) Steal Some More: There hasn’t been an original idea in writing since Neanderthals learned how to dip their fingers in feces and smear it on the walls of their caves. The trick is to start with something someone else wrote, and then write it all over again using different characters, locations, and antagonists. You don’t have to limit yourself to books, either. Steal liberally from movies and TV shows; after all, they’ve been stealing from books for decades.  Take, for example, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. It’s basically Nosferatu moved to a jerkwater town in Maine. The reason it’s such a great read is that King has inhabited his story with dozens of relatable characters who live in a relatable place and do relatable things. Otherwise, it’s just a pulpy vampire story he probably cribbed from a hundred other vampire stories he’d read over time. Now take Salem’s Lot, change the main character from a celebrated author to…oh, I dunno…a female pop star, move the setting from rural Maine to the Florida Keys, change vampires to zombies, and…woah…lookie here; you’ve got yourself a fresh and exciting “new” horror novel. Basically, writing is like Mad Libs, only longer and, potentially, more profitable.

 

4) Write When You Want To: In his admittedly awesome and essential book, On Writing, Stephen King stresses the importance of writing at least a thousand word a day, every day. And that’s great. If you’re Stephen King. He’s rich and writes for a living. Plus, once again, he’s fucking Stephen King! The guy probably writes a thousand words when he fills out the customer survey cards at TGI Friday’s. For the rest of us - the 99.9 % of us who work, have children, go to school, or…you know…have actual lives – it can be difficult (if not downright impossible) to find the time to write at all, let alone every day. Don’t feel pressured to do it. Write when you can. More importantly, write when you really want to. There’s nothing more discouraging than having someone tell you that you have to write when you don’t have the desire to do it.

 

King isn’t the only proponent of this approach; there are hundreds of “how-to” books out there aimed at writers, and almost all of their authors live by one motto;

 

Write bad and fix it in editing.

 

I live by another motto:

 

Shit’s still shit, even if it's covered in caviar.

 

If what you’re writing genuinely sucks, no amount of editing in the world will make it better. While I agree that writing of any kind can help to sharpen your skills and get the creative juices flowing, feeling as though you’re obligated to do so on the daily basis can just as easily stifle those creative juices and make you that much more critical of your writing (especially when what you’re writing is rubbish). Sit down and write when you feel as though you have something to write about. If you really get cooking and you’re loving what it is you’re writing, you’ll find the time to finish it. If you don’t, well, it probably wasn’t all that good in the first place.

 

5) Know When to Give Up: If your story is going nowhere, that brilliant seed of an idea you had has gone to hell, or you’ve hopelessly painted yourself into a corner,  give up! Seriously, if you’ve hit the proverbial wall with a project and there’s no hope of getting beyond it, just stop. Don’t waste the time or energy. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written 3,000 words or 30,000; if you think it’s crap, odds are everyone else will, too. Writing another 30,000 words to “fix” things won’t do you or your readers any good. You’ll just end up with a longer piece of crap. Move on to something else. Take a break. Adopt a pet. Make a pasta sculpture. Just remember not to delete anything! You may get a late night epiphany that cures all of your stories woes (unlikely), or you might want to go back later and cannibalize it for something else (much more likely). Life’s too short  to waste any of it slaving over a story that doesn’t want to be told.

 

6) Know Your Market: In the event that you actually finish writing something you feel is good enough to be published, you’ll probably want to start sending the thing out to various magazines, anthologies, and websites for consideration.  Now, before you go ahead and send off that e-mail or stick the stamp to that envelope, make sure what you’re sending them is actually what they’re looking for. Be sure to go over their submissions guidelines very carefully. Most publications have a fairly specific set of these guidelines, replete with formatting instructions, contact information, and, of course, a description or list of what it is they will or will not publish. Nothing’s more embarrassing or unprofessional than sending out a story to an editor and discovering that you’ve completely misinterpreted their publication’s needs (or ignored them altogether). I once sent a pornographic sci-fi story to a podcast site only to discover later, upon rejection, that said site catered to a pre-teen audience, while the podcasts, themselves, were read by children. The moral of this story? Don’t mail romance stories to Popular Mechanics, don’t submit vampire tales to Better Homes and Gardens, and, for the love of all that is holy, don’t send robot-bukake-porn to a site dedicated to children’s science fiction. Your parole officer will thank you.

 

7) Don’t Sell Yourself Short: Many writers are just happy to see their stuff published and will often give their writing away to the first editor who offers to print their work. There seems to be a school of thought that new writers need to “pay their dues” by offering up their work for free until they establish a name for themselves. That’s bullshit. Writing is a job, and, if someone considers your work good enough to publish, you should get paid for it. Period. Now I’m not suggesting that you hold out for pro rates; I’m just saying you should try to get something for your work, even if it’s as little as few bucks and a free copy of whatever it is you’re being published in. You’ll see a lot of markets out there that offer nothing more than exposure. Avoid them. Odds are, if these guys can’t afford to pay you, they probably can’t afford to print up many copies or publicize the work enough to give you enough exposure to make it worth your while.

 

The one exception I make to this rule are “contests” where you know there’s a decent audience to be had. There are a lot of sites that publish several stories during a particular period and then award the best (either judged by the viewers or editorial staff) a monetary prize. A few of these sites have a good following, and, If you’ve got faith in your stuff (and the site’s legit!), this can be a good way of getting solid exposure with the added bonus of a possible payday. Think of it like scratching a lottery ticket…naked. In a mall. You may not win, but you can certainly make a name for yourself!

 

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Haven’t you been paying attention? I already told you! I steal them! Of course, occasionally, I’ll come up with something all on my lonesome, but, even then, there’s a certain degree of “theft” involved. Usually my ideas come from something I saw on TV, something I heard somebody say, or something as seemingly innocuous as standing in line at a convenience store. I keep an inventory (ie; a messy Word document in haiku form) of different scenarios, snippets of dialogue, or locations that have inspired ideas over time, and, when I’m in the throes of writer’s block (almost always), I go back to that list and see if I can make anything good come of it.

 

Why Do You Write Horror?

I write horror because I like to read horror. If I read romance novels, I’d probably write those, instead. God knows, I’d probably have an easier time getting an agent. I’ve actually written some comedy stuff, and dabbled in mysteries, but I always end up coming back to horror because it’s a style that just suits me. I’m a weirdo.

  

Why Is Your Writing So Vulgar/Profane/Gross/Unprofessional?

I am the way God made me.

 

Who Are Your Favorite Writers?

I don’t have one particular favorite, but I read everything and anything by Palahniuk, King, Bret Easton Ellis, Jack Ketchum, Dan Simmons, Clive Barker, and J.A. Konrath (who also writes killer horror stuff under the pseudonym  of Jack Kilborn). I’m also a big fan of Charlie Huston, Dennis Lehane, and Neil Gaiman. I’m not very literate. I mean, sure, I've read a fair amount of the classics and all, but I tend to gravitate toward genre stuff, procedurals, and the occasional helping of trashy true crime stuff. Oh, and smut. I love me some smut.

 

Will You Read/Critique My Stuff?

The real question is, why would you want me to? 

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