Three of these in as many weeks? GET OUT OF TOWN.
Tis true, folks! I’ve managed to answer a query for each of the past three episodes of the G and T Show for their irregularly recurring “Ask Dayton” feature. An actual question, answered like I semi sorta kinda maybe know what I’m doing.
(Psst. I don’t. Keep that to yourself.)
Hosts and friends Terry Lynn Shull, Nick Minecci, and Mike Medeiros found a pretty good one waiting for them in the “Ask Dayton” mailbox this time around:
As a, as Nick says, New York Times bestselling author, if you were to descend from the mount with stone tablets in hand, what would be your Ten Commandments for fandom/writing?
A Burning Bush (I really need an analgesic cream)
Shut. The. Front. Door.
A writing-related question two weeks in a row? Holy shitsnacks! Let’s not even waste a second of time and Nick’s voice with one of my usual longwinded ramp-ups before I finally get to the fucking point, and just get right on with it, amirite?
“Ten Commandments for Fandom and Writing?” I don’t know how much advice I can offer so far as being a fan goes. That’s sort of an individual preference kind of thing, but I’ll do what I can to work in some observations here and there. Meanwhile, I’m all over the writing part, so here we go:
I. Thou Shalt Write.
You’d think this first one’s pretty self-explanatory, and yet you’ll be astounded by the number of people who talk about writing “one of these days” or “when they get around to it.” Yeah, well, I wanted to catch a touchdown pass from Joe Montana and ask Farrah Fawcett to be my date for my senior prom. I fucked around too long and look what happened? Time, that cocksucker, robbed me of my opportunity. Don’t be like me. Sit your ass down in that fucking chair and start slinging those words. Writing is about getting shit out of your head and into a somewhat amorphous blob that’s your raw material for shaping, polishing, and trimming away the excess fat. So, get on with the clickety-clackety thing, already.
II. Thou Shalt Finish What Thou Start.
How many half-completed novels have you seen published? It’s not totally unheard of, but you usually have to have thirty or forty other books out there, be so famous that people use your name in casual conversation, and be dead so that your family or agent can take advantage of the half-scribbled shit they find in your attic. Otherwise? Nobody’s going to publish a story you can’t finish, and nobody’s going to hire you to write for them if you can’t go the whole nine yards. Keep writing, and don’t stop until you hit “The End.”
III. Thou Shalt Take Thy Writing Seriously.
If you want to be a writer, you have to act like it. Yes, that means writing, but it also means giving the writing the attention it deserves. Always. Your writing needs the same weight and importance as any other job, and anything else going on in your life that demands your focus and your best effort. If you can’t do that, you can’t expect your family and friends to respect your needs for time and space to work, and you certainly can’t expect an editor or publisher to give the first damn about whatever you finally manage to turn out. If you want to be a writer, you have to *be* a damned writer.
IV. Thou Shalt Not Take Thyself So Seriously.
We get it. You’re a writer. Maybe you’re a published writer, or still hunting that first pro publication or first big book contract. Whatever your level, check your ego, and lighten the fuck up. Don’t become that unapproachable douche nozzle who’s suddenly better or more accomplished or “special” than the people around you. Don’t let any success you manage to enjoy change who you are to the people who were in your corner while you were working to achieve that goal. This applies to fandom, too, by the way. Getting into arguments about who’s the bigger or better fan of some movie, TV show, comic book or video game is the epitome of First World Bullshit, and if that’s you then you should step back, take a breath, smack yourself in the taint with a bat, and get some perspective.
V. Thou Shalt Hit Thy Deadlines.
This obviously applies to those working on a contract or as part of some collaboration with actual due dates and stuff. However, you’d be stunned to learn just how many writers think of deadlines as suggestions or things to be totally ignored because it’s “all about the craft.” Newsflash: editors and publishers don’t give a damn if your muse called in sick. You being late holds up the show in these situations. There are, of course, legitimate reasons that come along and fuck up a schedule, but they usually involve death or dismemberment, either your own or that of a close relative. They almost never involve your need to binge watch that Netflix show which dropped a week before your deadline. Want to have a short career in publishing? Get a reputation for being late with your work. Finish your shit, and get it in.
VI. Thou Shalt Not Worry About Reviews.
Maybe you’ve achieved some measure of success. Good. Learn to expect and roll with bad reviews. For that matter, learn to expect and roll with rejections when submitting something for possible publication, but you definitely have to understand that you’re going to get bad reviews. Don’t buy into the hype for glowing reviews, don’t get worked up over bad reviews, and for fuck’s sake, don’t go full jihad on somebody for giving you a bad review. Some of them are going to be scathing, or just plain cruel. Fuck it. Fuck them. Sometimes, the reviews will call you out for mistakes you made. Yeah, that’s going to happen. Own those cock-ups, fix the serious ones, and laugh off the silly ones. Then get back to work.
VII. Thou Shalt Not Devalue Thyself.
There are uncounted people out there who don’t seem to get that writing is an actual job that requires a certain level of skill. Unfortunately, we call way too many of these people “publishers” and “editors,” and “people who should fucking know better.” My rule of thumb when it comes to writing for others is pretty simple: If they’re making money from my writing, then I’m going to make money from my writing. We can haggle the fee, but I’m getting my percentage of what I’m helping that other person earn. End of story. As for how this translates to fandom, don’t let others tell you what you need to do to be a “real” or “true” fan. People decide on their own if they’re fans of something, and to what degree. Fuck all gatekeepers.
VIII. Thou Shalt Read.
Feed your fucking brain, yo. Ninety percent of writing is research. Read anything and everything you can find. Books, magazines, blogs, whatever. Read outside your chosen or preferred genres. Read history, and absolutely read about current events, trends, and whatever else is shaping the world around you, for better or worse. And don’t limit your reading to material that reinforces your worldview. Read stuff that challenges your perceptions, and even pisses you off.
IX. Thou Shalt Live.
What the hell are you writing about if you haven’t done anything or experienced anything? What’s informing your writing? Crawl out of your cave and into the light. Fresh air soothes the body, mind, and spirit. Get out there. Travel. Meet people. Go to the park or a museum or the beach, or wander around a flea market or art festival or renaissance fair. Nobody wants to read about how you never go anywhere or do anything or hate this or that. We have our own boring ass lives for that sort of thing. Life is for living, so go do it, and then find a way to channel all of that into your writing. As for fandom, absolutely get out there and meet other fans. Conventions are awesome for this sort of thing, as is social media. Some of my closest friends are people I only see at conventions or online. They’re like an extended geeky family of wonderful people, and I can’t imagine life without them.
X. Thou Shalt Not Be A Dick.
Regardless of how far you’ve managed to make it with your writing, whether you’re published or even just working toward that goal, remember that you likely still have a readership and maybe some fans, even if it’s just family and friends. You may even have a small group of devoted folks who hang on your every word, whether it’s about what you’re working on or your craft or process, or whatever other random thought that skips across your brain pan. Don’t let that shit go to your head. Don’t disrespect those people who spend time (and money, if you happen to be published) on your writing and indeed investing in you. Do not ever take them for granted, not even for a millisecond. Same goes for fandom: Don’t be an asshole within the fan community. We’re all stocked up, here.
Now, as with any sort of writing advice, these are info nuggets that work for me. Nothing is perfectly transferable from one writer to another, let alone one writer to everybody else wanting to be a writer. Your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary. Adapt or ignore as you see fit.
Except the first one. Write, for fuck’s sake. If you can’t do that, then no other piece of writing advice matters.
Oh, and that last one. Don’t be a dick. Really. It’s not a good look. At all.
This question and its answer was read during G&T Show Episode #257 on October 23rd, 2016. You can hear Nick read the answers each week by listening live, or check out the replay/download options when the episode is loaded to their website: The G and T Show. Listeners are also encouraged to send in their own questions, one of which will be sent to me each week for a future episode.
As always, thanks to Nick, Terry and Mike for finding new ways to punish me.