Thoughts on Fiction: Novice Mistakes, part 2

Yesterday I chose to start talking about mistakes novice writers often make in the hopes that I may be able to help someone out there who perhaps is having doubts about their own writing, and may recognize some of these mistakes in their writing, and be able to improve.

I started with dialog introductory paragraphs, because it tends to be the most immediate indication of a fledgling writer. Again, not all introductions that begin with dialog are wrong, but they can certainly go south rather quickly. Please read the last post to catch up, if you haven’t already.

The next, most glaring mistake I see that indicates writing inexperience isn’t necessarily in the first line, or even in the first paragraph. Regardless, in new writers’ work, it almost always rears its nasty little head.

Tenses.

I see an immense amount of misuse, or switching of verb tenses. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why this is such a problem–possibly the use of too many confusing clauses in certain sentences–but I do know that this is a MAJOR problem. It pops up in almost every single critique I do, where it’s clear the writer hasn’t quite figured out the craft.

The problem with tenses also seems more prevalent in writers who seem to not quite know the most effective point of view in which to tell their story.

New writers often use first person, present tense to start. I’m not sure why on that either. In my opinion, it’s by far the least effective way to tell your story. Some authors have done it, and done it well, but I could never get the emotion to come across whenever I had tried, and maybe that’s why I’m biased. Still, when reading it now, no matter who the author is, I feel less like I’m connected to the author, and more like the character is a tour guide, and I’m just being told things, instead of being moved and made to feel things.

It seems that this POV is also where the tense problems mostly occur.

Examples often look like this:

 

The rockets explode right where we intend. The side of the great machine is awash with flame, hunks of steel and molten metal rained down to sizzle in the snow. The beast slowly wavered and knelt toward the ground. With a groan, it’s knees buckle, and it collapses head-first, burying its face entirely into the powder.

The soldiers and I cheered.

 

It can be hard to catch, but there it is. I switched from present to past tense verbs five separate times. It’s a massive hiccup when you’re reading it through, and it causes any person who is an actual reader to have to go back to make sure they read the damned thing correctly.

Novice writing is rampant with this, especially when writing in first person, present tense.

Another problem with first person present tense, and another area where people tend to royally fuck up their tenses, is when trying to describe what the character is thinking.

Newbies: you don’t always have to write, “I thought: what a well-placed rocket!”

Newbies: you don’t always have to put thoughts in italics.

What’s much more effective in streamlining emotion and thought processes, is to just type the damn thought as its own damn thing.

After the last sentence of the example, “The soldiers and I cheer(ed)”, if you want to show your character thinking that the rocket was well placed, for christ’s sake, just say:

 

The soldiers and I cheer. What a well-placed rocket.

 

Since it is first person present, it’s apparent that the majority of the prose is going to be feelings and thoughts that your character is having. You don’t need to tell us it is a thought, and good god, you don’t need to italicize it.

The problem with tenses being switched, though, seems even a tad bit more prevalent in stories where the character of which the point of view is being written is switched to another character. Where one character was first person, present tense, the next character is suddenly first or third person, past tense.

And that, in novice writing, can be even more muddied, when the change in character isn’t made at a clear break in the the scene or the beginning of new chapter.

We’ll fix the problems of tense in our previous example, and use it again to demonstrate further how tense and POV often go hand in hand, and present problems together.

It often looks like this:

 

The rockets explode right where we intend. The side of the great machine is awash with flame, hunks of steel and molten metal rain down to sizzle in the snow. The beast slowly wavers and kneels toward the ground. With a groan, it’s knees buckle, and it collapses head-first, burying its face entirely into the powder.

The soldiers and I cheer. What a well placed rocket.

Grenn, the solder that fired, the soldier that saved the village, was hoisted up on the shoulders of his brothers. His fingers still shook, adrenaline failing to let his heart slow to a normal pace.

What if he had missed? The village was mostly women and children. Looking at them now as they cheered and sang him praises, tears began to spill from his eyes. It was overwhelming. They all lived now, all because of him. His brothers, his ragtag group of men-in-arms, most actually still but boys, all lived, all because of him.

He wanted to scream out in joy, to cry out in elation. But just as easily, he could have crawled into his tent and cried.

I watch him as he’s carried off, and I smile to myself. Grenn, our savior. He looks back to me with a frown that scars his lips, and somewhere deep down, I understand.

 

Now, even with the writing being good (for the sake of argument, not terrible), the changes in tenses are distracting, and the change in POV is confusing at first. Even though it’s clear whose head you are in with each change, something about it immediately stands out as wrong.

If you read a lot, or if you write a lot, the problem is noticeable immediately.

If you do this, you can avoid it easily. My suggestion is that, especially if you are new, stick to third person, past tense. The section with Grenn’s POV reads the smoothest. It’s the most coherent. There is a reason it’s the most common point of view used in fiction. It works the best.

Also, you must stick to one character per scene while you’re perfecting your writing. Third person, omniscient–where you’re constantly jumping around inside the heads of all of your characters–can be done reasonably well, too, but it’s much more difficult to do, and I would say, really only effective when used by a very seasoned author. It’s use usually has a purpose, and that purpose is to show things like lying, or manipulation, things that aren’t always recognizable right away when you’re limited by one person’s point of view.

For now, stick to one character per scene, or one character per chapter. Write in past tense, and keep your verb tenses in the past. Just like you are telling somebody a story about an action of someone you know. My dad crashed his car. William went hunting and killed a deer.

Don’t overthink it. Remember, simpler is almost always better.

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Thoughts on Fiction: Novice Mistakes

Before I go into what I want to talk about, I need to apologize to those of you that still follow this page. I have a well-documented history of posting regularly for short bits of time, and then neglecting this page completely for months, and sometimes well over a year. This is an example of that. As are much of my posts. If you’re still here, I thank you endlessly.

I’ve still been writing through this entire 18 month spree of absenteeism, but it’s almost entirely been fiction related, and I haven’t been too keen on posting free fiction lately. If there is something I like enough to where I would like people to read it, I’ve been reserving it for eventual publication. If it never meets the needs of traditional publishers, I will probably deem it worthy of only the trash bin, and won’t waste anybody’s time by putting it online.

However, I have gotten back into critiquing other people’s writing when I’m not writing myself, and this is where the need to write this post has come from. Years ago, I used to frequent different forums where writers would post their stories, or bits of their stories, or only a few lines or so, and they would ask for criticisms and critiques. I feel like a lot has changed since then, but more specifically in the type of people requesting their work to be read, and the type of people that are reading it.

What has stayed nearly exactly the same, are the things these writers are doing that instantly mark them as a novice instead of someone with experience. I wanted to list a few of these things, and give some tips on how to correct them. So, if you do happen to notice a bit of this stuff going on in your own stories, I hope I can help, even if it’s just a little bit.

 

Beginning with Dialog

First off, I don’t want to say you cannot begin your story with dialog. It most certainly can be done effectively, but it needs to serve a purpose. What I see novice writers doing is using dialog (almost all dialog, no action whatsoever) to either set up their setting and plot in one fell swoop, or to info-dump everything you, the reader, should already know in order to be able to keep pace with the characters you’ve been thrust in with.

This is confusing almost 100 percent of the time and leaves you feeling completely disconnected from the characters you’re supposed to care about. You’re just thrown in without any context, and you’re left trying to study and memorize things immediately, just so you can keep track of who it is that’s even speaking. You don’t get to know the characters. You get to know whatever information the writer didn’t know how to give you, presented by a parlor trick.

It’s lazy. It’s boring.

It often looks like this:

 

“I know that, Jim,” Jane yelled. “I know the dark wizard from Bad Mountain is right on our trail.” She sighed. “Did you remember to pack the magic fucking sword?”

He hissed: “Keep your voice down! You know the dark goddamn wizard from Bad Mountain has spies all up in our camp.” Jim crazily shook his head. “But Jane, we absolutely do not want them to know that I have this wild, invincible sword that the magic old lady in the woods gave me, tucked away under my sleeping bag!”

Jane smiled bigly. “I can’t believe it’s the only thing in the entire world that can kill the dark ass wizard.” She wiped sweat from her brow. “I hope none of the spies that are literally all around us know that the sword can be destroyed by throwing water from the fountain of eternal life on it, which also happens to be right next to our camp!”

“Uh oh,” laughed Jim uproariously.

“Uh oh,” cried Jane inconsolably.

 

So, I hope you can tell that that is a wild exaggeration, but I kind of needed to exaggerate the badness of it in order to illuminate what I’m trying to talk about.

You don’t give a shit about Jane or Jim. You don’t know why the dark wizard is after them. You don’t know much, but you’re forced to know key pieces that are essential for the writer to tell you the story. That’s all that writers like this seem to want to do. Tell you things.

Dialog introductions usually violate several unwritten rules of writing, and the golden rule is one of the first that is broken. Show, mother fucker. Don’t tell.

You can write dialog as an opening and have it still be effective without telling too much. You just need to be careful.

An example:

 

“The thing that follows me doesn’t have a name. It knows mine, though. It whispers to me–usually in my dreams, but I swear, sometimes when I’m awake, too. It asks things of me. It makes demands.”

Jane never looked up when she talked. She whispered down toward her fidgeting hands where they played atop her bouncing knees.

Across the coffee table, sitting cross-legged in the middle of a small, purple couch, Jim scribbled notes in his big legal pad, trying to keep up–trying to catch it all word-for-word. Behind him, floor-to-ceiling bookcases lined the wall, and glass-framed diplomas, James T. Bucher, LMHC, hung above a big wooden desk in the corner. After he was finished scribbling, he said, “And what does it ask you to do, Jane? What does it demand?”

She scoffed. “I can’t tell you,” she said. “It’s telling me I can’t”

 

Granted, it’s not the greatest opening, but hey, I wrote it on the fly. Regardless, you know who is speaking, you know where they are, and you know their roles. You have a sense of what is happening, but you still have questions. Those questions are why you keep reading. It doesn’t hurt that you immediately may have sympathy for Jane.

It’s a set-up. The goal is to intrigue, not to lay all of your cards face up on the table in the middle of the hand.

Try to keep the first line interesting enough to engage a reader. Start in the middle of the story. The small, mostly unnoteworthy antecedents that placed your character at this spot now, where the pieces are moving, can be revealed in exposition later on.

Opening with dialog dumps also exposes novice writers in other ways. Dialog is tricky, and it takes experience to learn that simpler is often better.

He said/she said has never, ever, been wrong. Once you start throwing in adverbs to try to tell your reader the way in which someone has said something, you have already failed. I’ve talked about this a lot in my little rantings over the years, and I believe it as much now as I ever did. If someone said something carefully, or forcefully, or angrily, then it needs to be shown. If the reader can gauge that based on supportive details, either in the dialog itself, or the body language you’ve chosen to show, then your dialog is effective. If you have to tell them, then it isn’t. Period.

New writers do this, because they can’t trust themselves. It doesn’t feel right to just say, he said. It’s easy to be afraid that the speaker’s tone won’t come through, because, honestly, as you’re writing, the characters are alive in your head, and you know exactly how they feel. That doesn’t always translate to the page, and newbies cower from that. They try to make up for it, and by doing so, they distance the reader from the character even more.

Trust yourself. Your readers are smarter than you think they are.

 

So, the plan here was to list about five or six things that stick out in novice writing, but in my usual fashion, one of those things took me about 1300 words to get my points across.

I’ll probably make this a sub-series within my series of Thoughts on Fiction. Usually that keeps me posting regularly for a while, until I finish shedding whatever burden forced me to try to give advice.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the second part of Signs of a Novice.

Thoughts on Fiction: Writing What You Know

The single, most used piece of writing advice ever, is write what you know. It’s good advice. It isn’t great advice, and I’d argue that there are much better (and much less vague) words of wisdom to bestow upon would-be writers. I’m sure I’ll touch on some of that in just a moment, but in the meantime, let’s tackle this.

Write What You Know.

First, why is this good advice? Simple, really; the more you know of something, the more accurately you can build a picture of it in your mind, and transcribe that picture to the page. If you’re a nurse, you should be able to visualize a hospital, imagine care-giving scenarios, and have a healthy vocabulary of all those tricky little medical terms nobody can pronounce.

If you’re a farmer, same deal.
Astronaut.
Teacher.
Musician.

Anything in life, at all. Every single thing that you are, that you do, that you observe with your senses—these are all things that you know, and should be able to accurately describe. Use that. It makes your fiction more real. More honest.

If you happen to be a trash collector, or a custodian, or even jobless, please, don’t despair over the belief that those things you know don’t make interesting stories. I feel like this is where the advice of writing what you know fails. A lot of people think that they don’t really know anything, or that the things they know aren’t interesting enough to constitute story telling. For some of those people, that may very well be true, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t write.

Most of us have within us stories that we need to tell. They come to us sometimes in a dream, or one of those Aha! moments, or even just because it’s a story that we, ourselves, want to read. The truth of fiction is that an overwhelmingly large majority of stories are fanciful, or other-worldly, and if all fiction was the everyday lives of nurses and trash collectors, nobody would fucking read it.

Fantasy authors create an entirely different world, sometimes with in-depth magic systems, sometimes where the entire rules and laws of physics are completely different from our own world. Some of these fantasy books sell a great deal, and there is not much there to anchor the reader in a recognized reality. In the writing, there is very little being written that is write what you know, but guess what, it doesn‘t matter.

How can fiction be good then, if you ignore what your high school English teacher said? Easily. That English teacher didn’t elaborate on what she meant.

Just because a fantasy/horror/sci-fi/whateverthefuck author has created a different world/monster/universe, it doesn’t mean they aren’t writing what they know. I’ll give a couple of examples. I am writing a fantasy novel right now. I created a different world, a different mythology, different races of men and women, different species of plants and animals, and a complete system of magic, loosely rooted in ancient pagan beliefs here on earth. The thing that anchors this fantasy novel to reality, and the thing that readers (I hope) can identify with, latch onto, and root for or against, is bits of familiar realism in an unfamiliar world.

In order to do this, I had to dig into myself and drag out what it is that I know, so I could fucking write it. There are several characters in my novel that have varying degrees of mental illness. One may suffer from depression, and another may be suffering from dementia, and little bits of schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder pop up as well. I can do this, and I can do it fairly accurately, because I worked in the mental health field for seven years. I can take my experiences there—my observations and whatnot—and I can write scenes with firsthand knowledge.

Substance abuse also plays a major role in this story. Several characters deal with it, and I can write those characters especially affectively, because I have dealt with substance abuse, personally, for about as long as I can remember.

The novel is not about mental illness or substance abuse. I did not write a novel based solely on what I know. I wrote a novel about a character who is a reluctant hero, tossed in with a group headed to save the world, who is far more powerful than she or anyone else may ever even realize. That character happens to be chronically depressed, and she abuses drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Fiction is not real. It can be whatever the hell the writer wants it to be. The thing that makes it feel real enough to picture, real enough to see the scene while forgetting the words are in front of your face, is when the reader connects with something they recognize from actual reality. It doesn’t matter that my characters are being chased by a black shadow that can steal the souls of men, or that they found shelter inside the skull of a giant, fallen god. When I write about substance abuse or mental illness, the entire story will seem more real because of it, because those things are things that I know.

The phrase should be more like, “Write with what you know.”

I don’t think the intention was ever to tell people to write entire stories based on the things that they know, and only those things that they know. Phillip K. Dick didn’t know shit about androids. J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t know shit about orcs. Stephen King probably doesn’t know shit about burial grounds that bring the dead back to life. Androids, orcs, and ghosts are not what made those authors great. Injecting pieces of what they knew/know into their worlds, their characters, and their situations are what made the stories seem real, whether you’re in Middle-earth grab-assing with Frodo, or your little boy who got hit by a semi somewhere in Maine has climbed out of his grave and is cutting up your wife.

I think what any writer actually ought to do, is write what they like, and write the book that they would want to read. Along the way, it’s best to insert pieces of what you know into your characters and into the experiences in the story.

I would advise against writing a story about being a telemarketer, where the only action is waking up, going to work, leaving work, and going to bed, all goddamn week, just to get shitfaced on Friday and waste your whole weekend being hungover. That book sounds fucking terrible. A call center employee who keeps getting phone calls from his dead fiancé?—you might have something there. You probably don’t know shit about the afterlife, and ghosts, and whateverthefuck, but you damn sure know about call centers. Even though it may be about the supernatural, something completely unobserved by normal, average humanity, the detail and truth you write with while describing the atmosphere of the call center is what will make that story seem real. Also, if you happen to have lost a fiancé, nothing gets more real than that, and your readers will certainly pick up on the honesty.

Write with passion.
Write with longing.
Write with what you know.

It’s a tool, not a rule.

Love Lost

This is the beginning of my next novel. It’s a little different than what I normally write. No fantasy this time. I kind of wanted to try to bridge the gap between literary fiction and genre fiction — focusing mostly on the characters, and what’s going on inside of them, but also giving enough of an odd plot to be enjoyable for genre readers. I’m not sure if I’ll succeed in this endeavor, but I’ll let you guys be the first judge. Let me know what you think. Comments, and especially criticisms are massively appreciated.

 

Branden was talking to that girl again. The one from the bar; the girl with the jean-shorts with the rips in them that showed half of her ass, and the flannel shirt that she tied in a knot in the middle just across her bare bellybutton. Her skin was orange and wrinkled, but Branden was drinking a lot lately, and he seemed more lonely than he’d ever been. He plucked away at his phone, sending little smiley-faces, and apparently laughing out loud — you’d think — for how many times he wrote the damn acronym, but a smile never once touched his face.

Nicole stood behind the couch, watching over Branden’s shoulder with her arms crossed as he texted. He didn’t notice her. He never did. She’d whisper in his ear, and call him dirty names — liar, cheater, asshole — but he never even turned his head to face her. He never looked her in the eyes. He went to bed without saying goodnight, sometimes with that girl, somewhere else, and sometimes at home, his eyes wetting the pillow, with beer bottles littering the bed.

It hurt to see him like that. Nicole knew that he was suffering, but she was, too, damn it, and even worse — she couldn’t talk to anybody about it. At least Branden had that. Someone he could call up, someone he could meet up with for drinks. Someone who could hold him.

The only person Nicole had ever had was Branden, and he couldn’t even notice that she was in the same room. Sometimes when she broke down, and threw something, there’d be some sort of recognition, some sort of reflection of who he was, who they had been on his face, and then he’d shake it away, letting it go like whispers in the wind. Something was there, though just under the surface, so close to realizing the pains she was taking to communicate — acting out, to just get something out of him.

But even that was rare.

“Just talk to me,” she said.

Branden continued tapping the keyboard on his phone, sending: “I’ll be there in a little bit.” He was going to her house again, the fourth time since Nicole had found out about them.

He always stank when he came home. Sweat lingered with the caramelized bitter smell of old liquor and stale cigarette smoke, and something else, sort of fruity and wispy, some sort of spray the teenagers wore, and the women who wished they were teenagers wore. Watermelon breeze, or some other nonsense. His eyes were always heavy, and he’d walk passed Nicole in the doorway without saying a word, and he’d fall into the couch without ever taking off his boots. He wouldn’t turn on the TV. He wouldn’t eat any food. He’d lie there staring at the ceiling until he’d only have a few minutes to shower before going to work, until his work started leaving messages asking where he was. He’d get up, pace around the room, then delete them and go back to the couch.

He was so different now, so far gone. It almost hurt to go on watching him live, just eking through life, scratching his way through one aching day after another. Nicole just wished there was some way that she could fix it, even though, deep down, she knew the truth. Things were over between them.

Forever.

His phone buzzed, and the screen lit up. It was her. Meagan. Nicole watched as her husband opened a photo of some skinny blonde piece of trailer trash dressed in nothing but her tiny white laced underwear, and read the photo caption. It said: “Hurry.”

Nicole felt her face grow hot, burning like the heat of a thousand suns, but it was no longer jealousy, not the jealousy that she had first felt about this girl that burned so bright and violent before. It wasn’t that that she was dredging up, now — that anger where she called him fucker, and traitor, and slime, no, she just felt sad now, and she hurt so so deep within herself; so deep that she thought that if she could cut into her own chest and rip free her dead heart, only then could she stand to feel all right about it all. She felt her eyes begin to burn, and her vision blurred. She leaned closer, almost touching her lips to his ear.

“Stay,” she whispered, her voice wavering as it lumped in her throat.

As the word escaped her lips, she saw it all in slow motion as her breath caught the hair above Branden’s ear. It moved, ever so slightly, just like the way the summer grass does, quivering at the gasp of a looming storm.

He snapped his head to face her, their noses almost touching, lips, everything so close to touching, that she could feel the warmth of his skin, and smell the salt of his sweat, but his eyes, his eyes, they looked right through her. It wasn’t surprise that was there on his face or anger, no. His brow was wrinkled with concern, or maybe it was fear, and Nicole could see the hair prickle on his neck. He shivered, and opened his mouth, his lips parting, floundering for words like there was something there, something fighting so desperately to be said, his face contorted as if he couldn’t believe what thoughts were forming in his head.

Nicole?”

For a moment, she thought that he could see her there, really see her as she was, sitting there, just an inch away, with a single tear rolling down her face. But his eyes, they stared beyond, out of focus, searching for something that just wasn’t there. And she knew again, as so many times before, that no matter how hard she tried, no matter how bad she wanted it, that the living simply could not see the dead.

Thoughts of Fiction: Outlining

There’s generally two camps — both full of ravenous, blood-lusting, ax-wielding psychopaths — when it comes to the topic of outlines.

Extreme camp 1 believes that outlining your novel before writing it somehow streamlines the process, making the victory of the battle to come, the battle of writing your novel, predestined, foreseen in the stars as prophecy. These are your barbarians — typical hack and slash followers of a maniacal diviner who says the outlined path is paved with gold.

Extreme camp 2 is an uptight bunch of mages, relying on their whimsical prowess, and finger magic — no battle plan, just magical reactions to the chaos of the battlefield — to secure their victory. That, being a novel of greatness, crafted by the mysticism of the muse. These are a stingy lot, and curse the birth of the damned barbarian outlining whores.

Most writers fall into one of these camps.

Some writers — many great ones — will never ever start a story without a fully finished outline, and a written ending.

Good for them.

Others would rather die than outline, believing, falsely, that outlining kills the story before it’s written and nothing outlined can grow on its own.

Good for them, too.

The reality is this:

Those two camps are going to clash, and war it out one day, and what you have at that moment, right in the middle, is what I believe, for me, is where good writing begins to form.

I used to be a strict believer in camp number 2, and I would never touch an outline. Not with a 10 foot stick. I believed that your characters could not fully grow and develop if you had already predetermined that growth and development without ever letting the character breath on paper.

I still believe that.

But, there is a but.

Imagine an outline that didn’t involve character growth? Or an outline where the main scenes of the middle and ending had not been written into it yet.

An outline doesn’t have to be a summary of your novel. It can be a skeleton.

As you build that skeleton in prose, you also start adding the organs, the muscles, the nerves, the blood, and the skin.

If you had your character on a straight path from point A to point B and C, but when you’re building that character, it makes more sense to skip point B and go directly to C, than do so. Break that bone fragment, and heal it up. Another scar for your character, another bit of honesty.

The blood of the barbarians and the blood of those prissy mages mixes on the battlefield, and forms something new: A writer who can portray honest characters, and (gasp) doesn’t have a quest line that looks hand drawn by Michael J Fox.

The story line and the movement from A to B to C, can be concise, and straightforward without the little lapses where a non-outliner decided to get fancy-pantsy and just fuck up the flow and direction of the story with their little magical, artistic whim. Instead, that magic can be focused, and honed in on breathing life into characters, and truth into the scene.

Whatever works for you is fine.

Like I said, I used to curse outlining. The serial-defiler of free-written beauty.

I’ve changed.

Switch it up a bit. Test the waters. If you’re a pantser, as they say (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), try adding just a framework of an outline before you start your next story. Just a direction to head in. Stick to it, and use that hallucinatory focus of muse-writing to fill in the holes. If you’re a planner (outliner), throw a little of that tight-ass caution to the wind. Head into certain scenes not knowing what the hell your characters are going to do. Let your subconscious take over.

Get a little bit outside of your comfort zone, and maybe, like myself, you might find that the ways you’ve glued yourself in for all of those years were actually holding you back.

Breathe a little.

It’s all going to be OK.

Thoughts on Fiction: Naysayers

Who here is afraid to tell someone that they write? One of those casual conversations comes up, always, where someone asks what you do, or what you want to do, or what your hobbies are, and you self-cringe at the thought of spouting off anything to do with writing.

Why?

It’s not like it’s dishonest work. The validity of having a lucrative career in writing is certainly viable. Every time you read — pretty much anything — someone was paid to write it.

So why are you looked at like a lazy bum, or a freeloader, or some hillbilly with a pipe dream?

It’s infuriating that 99.9% of people do not take writers seriously, until they’re getting that #1 bestseller autographed on some book they’ll never read.

When I first sat down to write this, I wanted to write about taking criticism in stride. But, I think most people end up getting that one. If you can’t take criticism, you’re in the wrong business.

What I find worse than bad critics are no-good, Nellie Naysayers. They laugh when you say that you write, and then they feel pity when they realize you were serious, because, c’mon, really? Nobody becomes a successful writer…

Do people often tell you that you should pick a trade, or get into computers, because that’s where the future is at?!

Did they tell you to pick a different major in college.

Did your parents tear apart your teenage, angsty poetry when you were a kid, and gave you some obscure Robert Frost poem that they read back in high school as an example of good poetic form. Really, even then you thought, Frost sucks.

It never stops.

The people that beg you to pick something else to do with your life; the people that beg you to study something different in college; the people that dishonor you by telling you that they thought they should always write a book. Because, you know, cubicle mates with copies of The Hunger Games on their cube shelf, untouched, are suddenly so literarily inclined.

It’s demeaning, like it’s just some fantasy for us, like we‘re fat little kids who say we want to be professional wrestlers when we grow up.

You would never go up to a bodybuilder, a fighter pilot, or a teacher, and tell them that you always thought that you could do what they do. It’s fucking insulting to have someone so unstudied on anything relating to words, grammar, literary art, or emotional emptying for someone else’s entertainment, simply disregard all of the years and hard work you’ve put into modestly learning how to craft a proper sentence.

But it happens, and we move on.

Remember, you cannot educate a fool. How could you possibly explain the downfall of adverbs, or passive voice to some drunk girl at a bar who, “has gone through some shit,” and thinks that that “shit” would make a good novel?

You can’t.

So don’t bother.

Same with the people that tell you to do something else with your life. Fuck ‘em. It’s your goddamn life, and if you want to live in squalor while you’re young, piecing together a literary masterpiece only to be paid $40,000 dollars for it (half on signing, to live in absolute poverty waiting for acceptance and then publication), then you go right ahead with your bad self. That’s how it’s done. That’s how we all do it at first. That’s straight up winning in this market.

Your work is your soul.

Aside from those people, there are other naysayers.

I was just having a conversation with my dad the other day about this fantasy novel I’ve been putting my all into for the last, I don’t know, as long as I can remember. I was proud as hell, and wanted to share that feeling.

He told me fantasy sucks and has nothing to teach the world. (As a side note, all he does is read Jesus books, and old classics and biographies. Not good ones either. He hates Hemingway, and his favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald stories (who I adore by the way), are the most hideously boring ones.) My father’s taste in literature, as it stands, is old Shakespeare at the moment. Which boggles my mind. My father, the reader, and apparent expert on literature had to ask me what Iambic Pentameter was. You read Shakespeare, religiously, but you have no fathom of a clue on how his prose is supposed to be read? Explain to me again why my choice in literature is invalid.

I digress.

I went in depth about the honesty of human behavior, and the opportunity for huge lessons of morals within fantasy, gave examples, and even broached the subject concerning the difficulty of fantasy writing, and how talented one has to be to write a successful fantasy novel with a rich history and beautiful world.

He responded by telling me that I have a gift, and it’s being wasted. What I should be doing, apparently, is researching my European lineage, and how it tied in with the downfall of Richard III, and also researching my Irish roots, and the life of my grandmother growing up in povern orphanages.

I love history. I love my family. However, what I am passionate about, and the place where I believe my true skill lies — my calling in life — is fiction. Period.

Because I can write pretty looking prose in my fiction work, my father believes that what I should be doing is writing historical non-fiction?

How does that even make sense? It’s two different worlds. It’s two different brains.

Even as I write this now, it is so so so far away from my style when I’m writing fiction. It’s like reading work from two different people. My non-fiction is a fucking bore.

What’s an even bigger bore, is someone else trying to tell you what to write.

I don’t know if anything makes me angrier.

And I’m sure many of you have gone through this same thing — people shoving little knives in you day in and day out with a complete and utter lack of respect for the work you’re doing every day, just pushing out beautiful chapter after beautiful chapter.

Don’t let these people get to you.

Don’t ever go home and say, you know, that dipshit loser was right. I am going to become an electrician instead. Or a plumber. Or a welder. Or an IT specialist.

I’m not going to degrade those fine, hard working people that love their craft.

The same, no one should degrade you for loving yours, and trying to reach new heights each day. Never be dissuaded.

Ever.

So here’s the sum of the post. People are going to shit on, give you shit, and make you feel like shit about your writing.

Tell each and every one of those people to put a bunch of rocks in their little pockets, and walk out into a lake.

You’re a writer. You’re emotional enough as it is. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. The only thing you need to do is prove them wrong. All of them. One at a time if need be.

The bird flips here.

Aspiring, they say?

To all of my fellow writers out there — especially the unpublished — I have some advice.

Just like any advice, take it with a grain of salt. Kosher only, and add pepper.

All of you writers — word-smiths , scribblers, even wordcount grinders — I have one wish for you. You all, are writers of words. Whether those words have been mass-printed and sold around the world or not, that fact still stands.

The next time someone asks you what you do, don’t let your identity, your soul, become chained to that shit job you almost walk out of every single day. Don’t say, “I’m a fucking cashier at Walmart.” Be proud. Stand up straight, shoulders back with your chin in the air, and you say, “I am a writer.”

Because after all. That is what you are. Do not dull yourself down with that hideous word aspiring. You can’t aspire to do something that you are already doing.

And if that person that barged into your life and made you answer questions about yourself without your permission, if he still stands, pushing the subject further, and asks, “Sir/Madam, have I read anything that you’ve written?”, instead of asking him if he has ever read a book, ignore that gnawing, and simply say, “you soon will.”

And then…

Prove yourself right.