Wednesday, September 7, 2011

And the Truth Shall Set You Free... to write!

"To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write." Gertrude Stein

As I was thumbing through old issues of the Hellnotes newsletter I used to edit and publish, I came upon this old editorial column of mine, written in 2006. It's still relevant, so I reprint it here, along with an added note at the bottom.

A Day in Hell

The things writers will do to avoid actually writing truly amazes me. It used to be that merely sitting down at a keyboard might afford that lightning strike of… well, writing.

I mean WRITING could happen IF… (circle one below)

… the music playing was (rain-tinkling piano/eardrum-puncturing guitars/manic-producing violins);

… the "special" cup from the (convention/writers' retreat/mom) was brimming with perfectly blended (coffee/cappuccino/tea);

… the reach of (darkness/moonlight/sunlight) was (slithering/stroking/slapping) its way through the (open/half-closed/nailed shut) blinds.

But wait! A writer should read first, right? Reading; writing; more reading; then writing are the stepping stones on the path toward being a better writer. But, read what? The latest bestseller? Something by a friend? Something classic? How about something about writing?

Of course!

The publishers of WRITERS DIGEST have made a bloody fortune off magazines and books about writing. Authors who have actual books under their belts blog and journal and forum and message about their particular methods and secrets to writing. Some -- Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, David Morrell, Richard Laymon, Tom Monteleone -- even write books about writing books.

Oops! Time to take a break and play a short game. (As is the New Age Writer's Method.) It'll get our writing juices up. Okay, less than a porn break, but indulge me. Would I lie? I'm a writer and an editor and even a publisher. I want YOU, the writer to get cracking, so when I say let's take a break and play, you should trust me. (I'm a Mom, too, did I mention that?)

Let's play a version of MAD LIBS®. Give me these words:

1. A word ending in –ing

2. Book title

3. Number

4. Book title

Place them in the following sentences.

"This is how I go about (1)." "This is where I went before I wrote (2.)" "I did (3.) years of research on (4.)"

Were your words "writing"; the name of one of your novels; actual years; another of your book titles?

Then you trusted that this piece wasn't about writing.


In writing and publishing, you should never trust anyone. Even your parents. Or children. I'm also a former writing teacher who once gave her class a hundred questions in class to which there were no correct answers. Boy, did that throw them!

Sitting down to a keyboard here in the 21st Century means little. The writer jumps on the Internet, scours the message boards, spews whatever vitriol he cares to because who will hit him and make him stop? His mother? Ha!

A number of those helpful authors in the writing magazine laugh all the way to the bank. "Yeah, that's how I write," they say. The inference is that all you have to do is follow their tried and true method and you, too, can be a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders.

Sadly, it doesn't work that way.

Let me tell you right here and right now that they're holding back. What you read from famous authors in writing magazines and online writing sites is skewed. Yes, that's how THEY write. But THEY are not you. YOU are YOU.

Yes, it may prove enlightening to know how other writers write. On my bookshelf I see books on writing by Bradbury, King, Koontz, Morrell, Monteleone, Gene Wolfe, Joe R. Lansdale, Orson Scott Card, J.N. Williamson, William F. Nolan, Annie Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, Edo van Belkom, and the horror Bible, WRITING HORROR, edited by Mort Castle.

Yet, here is their biggest secret. I'm giving this to you today for free. You don't even have to click a link and read through a lengthy piece.


Writing is hard work. Disciplined hard work. 1500 words a day of actual fiction work. A limit on the Internet. Few posts. Butt in the chair; fingers perched above that keyboard; mind engaged... writing. And when they hit a wall -- everybody does -- they figure out what works best for them and they do it. Then they get back to writing.

There is no magic.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

There's a huge difference between wanting to have written and actually writing. It's thrilling/mesmerizing/fulfilling. And a heck of a lot of work.

Find your own niche/methods/discipline, but do it: WRITE.

ADDED NOTE: I failed to mention writers' conferences in this piece, but must add them here. I've attended two and found each to have been worth the money and the time, but... Nothing is gospel. What works for one writer oftentimes does not work for another. It's important to consider and study and evaluate the styles of others, but it's more important and valuable to simply write.

Well, why are you still reading this? Ferris Bueller has already left the building. He's writing, and so should you.

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