This post, by Chuck Wendig, originally appeared on his terribleminds site on 1/17/12.
Consider this, if you will, a sequel to the gone-viral post, “25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing (Right F***ing Now)” — sort of a mirrored-reflection be-a-fountain-not-a-drain version.
Now, a warning, just in the rare instance you don’t come to this site all that often:
Here There Be Bad Words. Naughty profanity. The sinner’s tongue. Lots of “eff-this” and “ess-that.”
If you’re not a fan of profanity, no harm, no foul. But you might want to turn your tender gaze away before your eyeballs foam up and ooze out of your poor innocent head.
Please to enjoy.
1. Start Taking Yourself Seriously
This is a real thing, this writing thing, if you let it be. It’s not just about money or publication — it’s about telling the kind of stories only you can tell. Few others are going to take you seriously, so give them a 21-middle-finger-salute and do for yourself what they won’t: demonstrate some self-respect.
2. Start Taking The Time
Said it before, will say it again: we all get 24 hours in our day. Nobody has extra time. You must claim time for yourself and your writing. Time is a beast stampeding ever forward and we’re all on its back. Don’t get taken for a ride. Grab the reins. Whip that nag to go where you want her to go. Take control. Hell, pull out a big ol’ electric knife and carve off a quivering lardon of fatty Time Bacon all for yourself. (As a sidenote, the Germans had a name for that phenomenon: Zeitspeck. True story I just made up!)
3. Start Trying New Stuff
Branch out. Get brave. Look at all the ways you write now — “I write in the morning, sipping from my 64-ounce 7-11 Thirst Aborter of Mountain Dew, and I pen my second-person POV erotic spy novels and it earns me a comfortable living.” Good for you. Now punch that shit right in the ear. Okay, I’m not saying you need to change directions entirely — what kind of advice is that? “Hey, that thing that works for you? Quit doing it.” I’m just saying, mix it up. Make some occasional adjustments. Just as I exhort people to try new foods or travel destinations or ancient Sumerian sexual positions, I suggest writers try new things to see if they can add them to their repertoire. Write 1000 words a day? Try to double that. Don’t use an outline? Write with one, just once. Single POV character? Play with an ensemble. Mix it the fuck up. Don’t have just One True Way of doing things. Get crazy. Don’t merely think outside of the box. Set the box adrift on a river and shoot it with fire arrows. Give the box a motherfucking Viking funeral.
4. Start Telling Stories In New Ways
Another entry from the “Set The Box On Fire” Department — with the almost obscene advances in personal technology (the smartphone alone has become more versatile than most home computers), it’s time to start thinking about how we can tell stories in new ways. A story needn’t be contained to a book or a screen. A story can be broken apart. A story can travel. Your tale can live across Twitter and Foursquare and Tumblr and an Android app and Flickr and HTML5 and then it can take the leap away from technology and move to handwritten journals and art installations and bathroom walls and — well, you get the idea. Let this be the year that the individual author need no longer be constrained by a single medium. Transmedia is now in the hands of individuals. So give it a little squeeze, and find new ways to tell old stories.
5. Start Reading Poetry
Poetry? Yes, poetry. I know. I see that look you’re giving me. “What’s next, Wendig?” you ask. “We all hold hands and dance around the maypole in our frilly blouses and Wonder Woman underoos?” YES EXACTLY. I mean — uhh, what? No. Ahem. All I’m saying is, all writing deserves a touch — just a tickle — of poetry. And do not conflate “poetry” with “purple prose” — such bloated artifice has no room in your work.
6. Start Saying Something
You are your writing and your writing is you, and if you’re not using your writing to say something — to speak your mind, to fertilize the fictional ground with your idea-seed in an act of literary Onanism — then what’s the damn point? You have a perspective. Use it.
7. Start Discovering What You Know
Ah, that old chestnut. “Write what you know.” Note the lack of the word only in there. We don’t write only what we know because if we did that we’d all be writing about writers, like Stephen King does. (Or, we’d be writing about sitting at our computers, checking Twitter in our underwear and smelling of cheap gin and despair.) The point is that we have experience. We’ve seen things, done things, learned things. Extract those from your life. Bleed them into your work. Don’t run from who you are. Bolt madly toward yourself. Then grab all that comprises who you are and body-slam it down on the page.
8. Start Writing From A Place of Pain
You also know pain. So, get it out there. Don’t build a wall and hide from it. Scrape away the enamel of that tooth and expose the raw nerve — meaning, it goes into what you’re writing. Our pain is part of what makes us, and if we speak to that honestly in our writing, the reader will get that. Audiences can smell your inauthentic contrivances like a dead hamster in the heating duct. A reader wants to see their story in your story. They want to relate their pain to the pain on the page, and if that pain isn’t honest — meaning, it isn’t born out of experience or empathy — then your work will come across as hollow as a gutted pumpkin.