One of the things that comes with being a writer, well, to be honest, being a creative in any sense of the word, is the concept of assumption. A sibling to that is of course expectation. Now, I am not speaking of assumptions and expectations a writer may have, that’s a whole other column, but I am referring to assumptions made by and expectations of people who aren’t authors. You know them, almost everyone else in the world, how it feels anyway, who are sort of on the outside of what we do looking in. Those people who, when they learn what you do, have a range of physical reactions, anything from eyes widening like saucers as they ask, “Do you know Stephen King?” to the furrowed brow and disgruntled frown as they ask, “So, you live in your mother’s basement, then?”
Of course, we as writers react to these in different ways and that’s all right. We should, as we are all individuals. It makes sense that people who aren’t authors have a preconceived notion. Again, that’s a human thing, we do that with any career, any religion, anybody that is slightly ‘something else’, we ask questions or react to them based on the ‘stereotype’ fixed in our brains, usually. And after the initial reaction usually comes questions. Not just silly ones like “So You’re rich, right?”, but questions about how we write, what it takes to be a writer, those sorts of things.
That is where I will venture today.
I’ve got a lot of thoughts on many things. Now, the fact that I am a writer and a publisher and somebody who does Genre Fiction and New Pulp adds no extra weight really to my opinions or advice, so I won’t take offense if you don’t print off this blog post and carry it close to your heart to treasure it always. And my missives where writing are concerned are most definitely my own personal deductions on the craft and my views on the mechanics of how things work, all points you are perfectly allowed to ignore or even actively disagree with.
Some of what follows will be the aforementioned advice. Some will be simply answers to questions often asked. Much of it will be my take on certain conventions, some of those aforementioned assumptions and expectations, and even things writer believe and feel. All in all, just my musings, so be forewarned and take them for what you feel they’re worth.
One of the most common questions asked by anyone who has even an inkling of real curiosity about what authors do is, “Well, how do You become a writer?” Another version of this one is “What do you to be a writer?” And as silly as these questions may sound when you read them aloud, they’re not bad starting points. The answer I give is actually rather simple and one that many, many of the writers I know and a lot I don’t know use as well.
That’s it, short and simple. Now, if you want my shade and coloring of that answer, writers write every day. And by that I mean, someone interested in being an author, be it fiction or nonfiction, writing newspaper articles about Sunday brunches or earth shattering exposes on red dye food coloring and its effect on the sparrow population, must commit their craft consistently.
Now, notice that last sentence. Normally when someone says the above, the word they will use is ‘practice’… ‘must practice their craft consistently.’ Obviously, I am teetering on the edge of semantics, but that’s okay. I simply don’t believe that ‘practice’ is the best word. Although it can be defined as the doing of one’s occupation or the applying of one’s skill, I don’t like the fact that it sounds like a writer is still in the infancy of what they’re doing. Moreso, I don’t believe that it’s a strong enough word. That’s why I don’t practice writing. I commit writing, every single day. I make it happen, I follow through, I get it done. Even if it is a single sentence furthering a project or maybe even a few lines putting a new idea on paper, I do it every day to some degree. Sometimes it’s clean and precise and sometimes it’s messy and all over the place, but I do it on a daily basis. Commit may seem too strong a word, and has connotations that some may not like, making writing sound like a crime, but what I do as an author, while not criminal (at least in my opinion, I probably have some readers who would disagree), is something I take very seriously and do with the greatest of intent. So, yes, writers should commit writing every single day.
The follow up question to the above that usually comes from those who are considering actually trying to write involves exactly what to write. Again, my thoughts on this share similarities with the ideas of others, but that’s okay. It’s nice to know that not all my opinions are on the outer edges of conventional thinking.
There’s an age old adage that writers should write what they know. Although a logical argument can be made for this, let me present just one of many examples right out of the gate that will blow this concept away.
There was a man in the 1930s who had a job. His job was working as an executive working for an oil company. He did what ever oil company executives do, I suppose, until something happened that cost him his job. This same something cost many people their jobs, their homes, their livelihoods and, even in some instances, their lives. That would be the Great Depression.
When this particular man lost his job, he of course began looking for other ways to make the scratch necessary to live. So, he turned to writing. Not just any writing, but writing for the Pulps. Writing mysteries. And not just any mysteries, but tales featuring Private Investigators, and other such types. And not just any Private Eye either. This man, this former oil executive whose job had been doing oil executive things, created Phillip Marlowe, one of the most recognized characters in fiction today. Raymond Chandler was this man and he didn’t write what he knew. He wrote what he wanted to.
Now, it can be argued that Chandler wrote what would sell, and that’s a true statement. But I’ll hold that he wanted to write what would sell, so he wrote what he wanted to. In today’s market, there are opportunities to write just about anything. If you want to be a professional writer and that be all you do full time, there are ways to make that happen. I know people who do it and don’t mind it, some who absolutely love it. But many of them do it by not necessarily writing things they enjoy, but instead by authoring technical manuals or writing ad copy for websites. Yes, it’s writing, and yes, they want to write it because they want to get paid for it. But I have to take it a step further to offer advice.
Write…what you like.
If you like space opera, write space opera. That means doing as much research as you need to to write intelligently about it, but do that and then WRITE it. If Westerns are your thing, then dust off your hat and saddle up and WRITE a Western. Write what you like and find a market for it, if authoring is something you want to turn into a career. Or, if that’s the case, look at what people are paying for writers to write and find something in that You like and WRITE it. In one sense, writing is like any other job. It takes far too much time and work and commitment to be a writer for you to spend hours and days and years writing things you would never read, putting down words you can’t stand. So…write what you like.
Life’s too short not to.