Writing Advice

A compendium of grumbles

Disclaimer: most of the following material does not apply to my circle of acquaintance. I have some great supporters. If you recognize yourself in any of the following paragraphs, however, if you feel a wee twinge of guilt…well, then. Good. Begin Rant:

 Does your heart sink when a buddy mentions that he spent his weekend glued to a word processor instead of bellied up to a bar or attached to a game console? Do you quiver in fear of being asked to read someone’s fan fiction or offer an opinion on a drawing? Are there awkward silences when a fictional character is mentioned in conversation? Do you wish that the amateur or semi-pro creators(s) in your life would just shut up already?

Tough shit. Put on your grown-up hat, pull up your panties, and stuff your hypocrisy in a nice tight hole somewhere. You aren’t a sparkling font of excitement 24/7/365 either. You, too,  have at least one cherished activity that your friends tolerantly support. You show off baby pictures and recent purchases, vent about work horrors,  talk about sports, or relate celebrity gossip with the full and reasonable expectation that your friends will enthuse along with you, at least vicariously.

That’s what friends and family do, right? They encourage each other in their passions. Right. Unless there’s an artist in the room. Then people make with the mumbles and the squirms, and the “oh, gawd, please change the subject” sweats. This is the death of a thousand cuts, for a creator.

You’ve probably ego-slashed someone in your life more times than you know. You may even inflict  bloody havoc on their self-confidence with the  best of intentions. Painful injuries don’t care about intentions. Scars are scars. Let’s analyze a couple of classic damaging admissions and look at some field-tested alternatives.

1. “I say I like the art because I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but she sucks.”
Oh, please. Do you think you’re fooling anyone? A generic “That’s great!” followed by a hurried change in subject is like a needle to the heart. The technical term is “damning with faint praise.”
Support score: D- You suck like a vacuum.

Try this instead: “Not my style, but it looks like you worked hard. How long did it take?” 
2. “It sucks/I’m too busy/I don’t read/ I don’t like that kind of story/art/craft.”
Aw, poor baby. If your friend ever listens to you bitch about anything, ever, (and you know he does) if you’ve ever asked for help moving, or needed help choosing an outfit while shopping (and you know you have) then you can suck it up and spend a little time with his avocation.  Unless you’re a jerk.
Support score: D- You’re a jerk.
Try any one of these instead:
Pre-emptive strike: “Gee, if I read dinosaur porn, I would read yours first…but I don’t. Who’s the market for that, anyway?”
Wellness check: Encourage the creator to tell you all about the work. And by encourage, I mean, “bring it up in conversation independently, and ask follow-up questions.” Repeat regularly. Creative types tend to introversion, and if they’re over age 12, they already carry the scars of damaging lukewarm interest. They’ll either gush or be clams who need tickling open. Respond as needed. 
Warm Fuzzies: Become superficially knowledgeable and discuss the work. This takes real effort (see clams vs geysers.) Not for the weak of heart, but criticism isn’t rocket science. If someone made cookies that tasted like crap, would you lie and say they were tasty? You’d get stuck with those cookies every Christmas for decades. Be direct but gentle. Worst case/best case, you’ll never have to critique again.
The point in common with these alternatives is the gift of your time. Your interest. Your affectionate indulgence, even. Think about whose passion you’re slicing to ribbons with the edge of your silence. You might be squirming. Someone else is bleeding.
3. “I bought his work didn’t I? I support my friends/family with their artistic endeavors. I just don’t want to talk about it.” (see #1 and 2 above for the usual reasons)
Newsflash: a purchase without a personal commitment is not support, not when you know the artist. It’s the consumer equivalent of a pity-fuck. One participant walks away feeling smug and self-righteous, but the other one got screwed out of any genuine connection. You may think you’re saying, “Look, I spent money on you. Isn’t that nice?” The real message is: “I’m sure your work will never sell to anyone who doesn’t know you, but I’ll give you a few dollars so that we need never speak of this again.”
Support score: F- Everyone loses. You’re out cash for art you don’t want, the artist is stripped of all dignity and left dangling in the wind.
Try this instead: If you don’t like an artist’s work, don’t buy it. Do tell others about it. Even if you think it sucks. Different strokes for different folks. Brag, big-time, at every opportunity,, about your cousin the potter or your bestie the purveyer of dinosaur porn. Whatever. Spread the word. Silence kills art. Word of mouth is the breath of life.

If you do buy someone’s work, read it or display it, and offer your freaking opinion to the creator at the first opportunity. Don’t make people beg for feedback, for frick’s sake. And speaking of feedback…

Do you lose that feeling of freshness when you think about writing a few words of praise about the creators in your life? Tough titty-cakes. Get your ass up to DeviantART, Wattpad, Smashwords or Amazon, wherever their work is posted, log in and start typing and sharing.  If you have trouble with the technical side, enlist a bright nephew or a neighbor child–or better yet, invite your starving artists to lunch and ask for help. If they’re online, they know the ropes. Bonus point: the flattery and attention will make them squirm. Fair retaliation for your past discomforts, and productive, too!

Stop being an ego- slasher. Start being a true supporter. That’s all I’m saying. Here endeth the Rant.

Now, in gratitude for your reading, here’s an anarchist punk penguin from a talented artist on Pixabay:

Writing Advice

Words Don’t Count Like That

I’ve read my fair share of writing guides. I’ve attended writing classes. I’ve studied tropes, themes, and character types, the 3/7/20/36 basic plots and the four types of storyline.  I know the three-act structure and the Hero’s Journey. Over the years I’ve absorbed tons of advice aimed at improving my wordcraft and at making my work more appealing to readers.

Yet the more I know, the more I read, the more I find myself snarling, rolling my eyes and arguing with my computer screen. Fighting with the Internet seldom ends well. I’ll vent here instead.

It’s a rich vein of material. There is so much advice out there, half of it contradicting the rest, that I may never run out of bitch-worthy topics.

Today’s burr under my saddle: word counts. Love ’em, hate ’em, or don’t care at all; there’s no escaping them. Writers post them everywhere, as proud as parents relating the length and weight their newborns. I do understand the urge to shout every achievement to the skies, but when did words become the point?

Quantity has become an end in its own right, as if it was the only important measure of quality. There are reams and reams of suggestions on how to push those pixels out at all costs.  Don’t self-censor. Don’t over-edit. Write first, revise later. Don’t worry about cohesion or coherence or connection. Just get those words written!

Forward momentum! Words, ho! How many words did you write today? Did you make a goal? Did you meet your goal? Did you write-write-write-write-write? DO YOU FEEL GUILTY YET?

I always do.

My heart sinks whenever I see those counts posted. When I look at my measly hundred words…or fifty…or none…for the day, I know myself defeated. How can I possibly succeed as a professional with such minimal output? Yet at my measly pace, at that pathetically inadequate drop-drip-drip of word production, I’ve still completed two long novels, a novella and two novelettes in three years. Huh. How’d that happen?

It happened because once down, my words stay. I would rather write a single sentence twenty times in twenty different ways to get it right than to write four hundred sentences that suck like chest wounds. I can’t imagine going back and burying myself to the bloody elbows in full-text revision. Instead, I write the way I write, and it works for me.

I wonder if I would’ve had the courage to keep writing at all, if word counts had been so ubiquitous when I younger and my stubborn sense of self-worth wasn’t as hardened as it is now. To focus with such laser-precision on one tiny aspect of such a multi-tentacled beast as the writing process can bore right through the fragile membrane between ego and creativity and destroy both.

I’m all for writing even if I don’t feel like it, for the sake of discipline and practice, but not on a project that isn’t ready.  I’ll write something else. I’ll write two somethings. Forward momentum isn’t always the best. Sometimes it’s just as valid to go forward by sliding at things sideways.

When I feel really guilty, I pretend I’m a poet or a lyricist. Can you imagine Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, or Gwendolyn Brooks worrying about word counts? Bob Dylan? P!ink?


Language that sings, sentences that soar, words that dance…these are the true goals of quality prose, not numbers and tallies and totals.  In my not-so-very humble opinion, of course.

Writing Advice

Writer’s Banes Episode 1: Procrastination and Inspiration

A recent discussion about procrastination on a Facebook board (of all places) got my dander up about the Great Art Versus Boring Grind debate. It’s a false argument that permeates articles about creativity too, and it toasts my temper, it really does.

People, procrastination is normal. It’s inevitable. and it’s avoidable. The one thing that WON’T help you get back in front of your writing is avoiding the keyboard or the journal or the notebook.

Here’s my take on getting successfully to the end of a project despite lack of motivation, based on my experience completing five novels, two novelettes, a novella and a bunch of shorts. I’ll be mixing my metaphors with abandon and sprinkling in similes like a hipster putting cinnamon on a latte, so brace yourself.

My advice: write. Just that. If you’re having trouble getting going or keeping going, start doing it on a schedule. Start with five minutes. Time yourself. Resolve to sit with your tools of choice for five minutes every day (or every other, or on your days off, whatever) and WRITE. Write anything, up to and including five-minute rambling stream-of-consciousness rants about how stupid the whole idea is.  If you can’t get your project to gel, be water around a rock and flow in a different way, but keep moving. That’s all it will take.

“Oh, noes!” you say, all internet-speaky and full of tips and tricks gleaned from  lists and blogs and articles written by Real Professionals. “But I’ll start resenting the writing process if I force myself to sit down and write! I’ll stifle my Art! I’ll smother my creativity! I couldn’t possibly. Ooo, scary! I should stay away from writing if the ideas aren’t coming. Avoiding writing gets the juices flowing.”


Forcing yourself to do anything can make it a chore. That’s a matter of attitude, not action.  Discipline generates transcendence like rubbing your shoes across the rug generates electricity. There is no art whose construction will always be enjoyable or easy, without periods of resentment, angst and sometimes even loathing. One thing and one thing only will make you a better writer: writing.  To believe that discipline will poison your drive to create with such a petty emotion as resentment insults the power of your own imagination and sells your

To forbid yourself release of words and vision in hopes of inspiring motivation is like holding one’s breath in hopes of gaining oxygen. It’s self-defeating, however heady the temporary rush may feel. Treating creativity  as a commodity that must be stored up — as if it will eventually run out if you don’t husband it and deny it release — is a mental trap. Don’t fall into it. Procrastination lives at the bottom.

Ideas are much more like living things that need attention and nurturing. Yes, there’s a real need to step back at times, to get some distance from a given project to relax your mind, but that’s not the same as waiting passively for inspiration to strike or holding yourself aloof from it.

Inspiration doesn’t strike, it grows, down in the dark parts of your mind where you can’t see it, until it burst out in bloom when you least expect it. You’ll get no glorious blooms of genius without first putting down roots deep in the stinky, boring soil of constant practice. To believe otherwise is to cripple yourself before you even start the artistic journey.

Discipline is a choice. Not an easy one, no, but no one questions the value of forcing yourself to take a shower so that your body does not offend, or forcing yourself to do unfulfilling work to get money to live. How can you give your art any less effort?  And yes, I sometimes resent having to shower and go to work too. Don’t we all? Yet those acts have lasting value that make them worth doing despite an occasional bout of resentment.

Regularly challenge and stimulate and IMPROVE your writing by…writing. It really is that simple.

Simple isn’t easy. It’s hard, even sometimes immensely painful. Anything worth doing is worth doing even when you don’t want to do it. Especially then.

It could be worse. Imagine writing on paper when paper looked like this: