Or, Some Nutjob’s Opinions on What it Takes to be an Author
A few days ago—ahem, May 26th at 12:01 AM ET—a highly unpleasant individual named Stephen Hunter blogged about what they think it takes to be an author. This was very concerning, because the aforementioned person is indeed a published author of more than 20 novels, if his bio (and google) are to be believed. Heck, this man even has a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism. He has writing credits many authors dream of.
But in his post, ever so subtly titled If You Want to Write a Book, Write Every Day or Quit Now, he gives a holier-than-thou sermon about becoming a writing automaton, where efficiency is the main pursuit and is defined by the obscene number of words you can crank out daily.
Now, I’ll pause for a second, and let you go have a read of the Becoming an Automaton Writer Bot for Dummies manual in-progress.
Good, now we can get to the point of this post, which is about the lessons you could take away from this oh, so stellar “advice” from a jaded man with no life (he dumped his only lover for his craft, remember?) or what you really should learn from articles like this that want to simplify a creative process into a basic mathematical equation.
Lessons You Could Take Away From This Article
- You could compare yourself to other authors, even on the most basic level of appearance
You could lie to yourself and claim that the reason your manuscript wasn’t saved from the diabolical slush pile was that there were “smarter, more talented, better looking, have better teeth, more hair, better bodies, and in most other respects are simply better.” Because chronic external attribution is so helpful.
- You could think that typing “The End” at the end of any document means that you are somehow better than others
You could lie to yourself how writing is simply about finishing that first draft—that nobody but your trusted alpha readers and maybe family members will ever see—is the end all and be all of being an author. You’ve already best the others by typing “The End”, so who the heck cares what happens next?
- You could choose to kick your support system out of your life in pursuit of writing genius
Who needs a support system anyway? Not you apparently. Because having your significant other or your mom complain about, “undone errands and abandoned socks on the steps” isn’t grounding. It’s just the devil testing your faith in yourself and your writing. And your vocal chords don’t need exercise either. Human interaction is just a waste of time.
- You could write 3000+ words everyday
Because suddenly you’re the only writer out there who doesn’t experience burnout, writer’s block, or have RL taking up more time than you thought it would.
- You could treat writing clinically, like how you get to your dentist’s appointment and hope it’ll all be over soon
Just grin and bear it. It will become habit one day, and then you won’t even need to actively use your brain to write. Somehow your fingers will run across the keyboard while you focus on the sad lack of life you are experiencing. Just remember Merriam and Webster were lying when they said willing, fain, and ready are synonyms.
- You could mistake basic word vomit as craft
You don’t need to take time to improve your craft, or to really the master “time or dialogue, his gift for action or character, his ability to suggest verisimilitude in a few strokes.” Editors don’t look for that! All you have to do is chain yourself to a desk and concentrate on concentrating on your writing. It’s like mindfulness for authors.
- You could treat writing like it is a pain in your ass
Remember those painful 5,000 word essays your college professors assigned, which basically consisted of mystically regurgitating the partially digested words of content experts? That’s what writing is, but worse. Because not writing has side effects such as , “pain, doubt, fear, self-loathing, stasis, heavy legs, and halitosis.”
- You could treat research as an optional activity
Forget that you have readers who are probably subject experts on the matter. Their negative reviews, disappointment, and caustic hate mail will just roll off your shoulders, because you are an official non-procrastinator! Bullshit and placeholders are badges of honor your manuscript wears proudly until an editor knocks it off its high horse in preparation for draft two.
- You could embrace being a crappy writer, because fuck it, you wrote the words “THE END” and that makes you an author damn it
Because lesson one still reigns supreme. You are lesser, and every other author out there is just simply better than you. Just come to terms with your inevitable suckiness right now, and know that embracing it will lead to better things…eventually.
- You could believe that a magical switch in your brain (after an undetermined amount of time) will suddenly turn you into a brilliant author
This brain switch epiphany will happen…some time. But until then, drag yourself over hot coals, torture your readers with mediocrity, and “keep humping, every day.” You’ll fix it all later.
Lessons You Should Take Away From this Article
- You should celebrate that each author has a certain trait, characteristic, or writing thingamajig, that makes them successful because it means that you too have a certain je ne sais quoi that will have people interested in what you have to say
The reason that there are so many successful authors out there is because each of them brings something unique to their storytelling and to their readers. What you have to do is find your compelling trait, style, or voice and use it to your advantage. Don’t hate others for their God given talent. It’s petty, and the other authors won’t want to play with you anymore.
- You should know that typing “The End” on the last page of your first draft is just the beginning
The reason publishing is an entire industry is that it takes a village (or at least a bomb team) to make a good book. Beta readers, editors, cover artists, etc. are all there for a reason. Typing “The End” just means that you are one step closer to seeing your book published. It doesn’t make it a certainty, and it doesn’t somehow make you more accomplished. They are just words. I’ve read plenty of completed, even edited manuscripts that don’t have “The End” at the end. I still liked them, and so did many other readers.
- You should treat your support system like the holy grail
Writers, editors, people in publishing in general are crazy. We hear voices, talk about fictional characters like they are real, and form odd attachments to words on a page. Anyone who is willing to put up with that brand of crazy is a keeper. Hold on to them tight, because you are one of the lucky few to have seen a writer’s unicorn. The unicorn grounds us, makes us believe in something greater than ourselves, and force feeds us when we are on deadline mode, because God knows we’d die without them.
- You should write to your own muse, dance to the beat of your own drum. You do you.
Ever read a text message that says it’s from your sister, but it’s got your mom’s tone, style, and inherent parental judgement all over it? People can tell when you aren’t being yourself, because you come off sounding contrived, uncomfortable, and just plain awkward. If you force yourself to write 3,000 words a day, or even write when you’d rather be doing something else, then it will come across in your work. If you don’t feel it, the readers won’t feel it either, so spare both of you the trauma, and just do what works for you. Find your own writing beat, and stick with it because it is organic and authentic.
- You should know that writing is like walking a puppy
Dog lovers and pet owners will know that trying to get your pet to do anything on your schedule and without repeated prompts is hard. Your muse is like a puppy. It’s unpredictable, it has a mind of its own, but at the end of the book, series, whatever you are writing, it deserves a good pat on the head because all that struggle to understand it, corral it, and get to the end was worth it. Writing is not clinical. It’s a freaking hot mess, and that is why writers are a crazy, neurotic bunch.
- You should invest in improving your craft
No doubt about it; finishing a draft is important, but staying a stagnant writer is the kiss of death. Just like readers wanting to see a character grow over the course of a book or series, readers, editors, and agents want to see you develop as a writer. This is the number one reason that readers are very forgiving about the first book in a series. They understand it’s hard, that you are putting yourself out there for possibly the first time, but don’t take their leniency as an excuse to not improve yourself. You’ll get nailed to a wall for that shit. And who knows, as you work on your craft, you might even find yourself incorporating the things you learn into earlier drafts and saving yourself some time.
- You should treat writing as a labor of love
If you hate writing, then it will come off in your work. It will sound force, tired, and kinda angry. But if you love writing, even if you aren’t good at it, that is fuel for your creative fire. You’ll make a lot more effort to improve if you like what you are doing. If you have an idea, a story concept that makes you excited, you’ll put in the time to learn about the topic, and that research, that love will make the readers fall in love with the book and you too.
- You should know that every book requires some amount of research because you aren’t a freaking Jack of All Trades
Research is a part of craft. Respect your readers. They aren’t idiots, and some of them might actually know the truth of what’s up and see past the BS you’re trying to sell them. They will get pissed, flame you, boycott your books, and tout their real knowledge to the unknowing. Do the research now and you won’t have to do it later. Saying you’ll research something later is still procrastination, people.
- Every author thinks their writing is crap
You know what separates authors who readers just want to read their books, versus authors they want to meet? Humility. Humble authors, who laugh at their mistakes, tell you, “Hey, I didn’t think anyone would be interested, but now I’m on book twenty of this series,” are amazing. Why? Because they encourage you that your insecurities about your own writing or about your own life are normal. Every author thinks that their first few books are crap, and years down the line, as they improve themselves and their craft, they’ll still feel the same way about their twentieth or fortieth book. Because each day they get better at what they do.
- You should acknowledge it takes effort to improve
To become a brilliant, highly acclaimed author, you gotta put in the work. There is no mythical switch in your brain that will have you suddenly churning out bestsellers. You have to work on your craft, do your research, follow your muse puppy, and be happy your writer’s unicorn is there to keep you sane through all of it.
The act of writing, actually writing a semi-coherent sequence of events, character, and emotion, is by definition an art form. That means writers, and pretty much everyone in publishing uses nebulous words like “muse” or says phrases like “do whatever works for you,” because we understand that this is a non-scientific mode of communication. Write chapter seven before you write chapter one; I don’t care. Do whatever you want, I’m just here for the kicks I’ll get when you put all those chapters into the right order and give me a solid, enjoyable book. It might take you a while to hand me that book, but that’s okay. Just don’t quit because one idiot’s process discouraged you from finding your own beat.