Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Flashback Blog: So, you want to be a writer?

Originally posted five years ago, it was a filler post then. Apparently, it's a filler post now. Who knew?

With apologies to Doctor Who....

So, you want to be a writer?

Maybe not, but keep reading, you might be entertained.

The first rule that many people tell you in creative writing is “Write what you know.”

I'm going to tell you that this is the last thing you should do.

No one wants to read about your family drama. Do you think that Vince Flynn is actually a terrorist hunter? Or that Bob Kane dressed up as a giant bat? Or that Stephen King is a demonic clown?

Okay, demonic clown is redundant …

NOT me.
Saying “write what you know” is as ridiculous as suggesting that I am either: an athletic mercenary with enough weapons to take Latin America / a soccer-playing Vatican Secret Service agent / or a commando priest. [Edited: or a hot female Russian vampire]

I would recommend, generally, that you write what you read. Unfortunately, your writing will probably suck at first. Keep writing. It will still suck. Do it again. Repeat until you no longer suck. Trust me, I speak from experience. And from the experience of Timothy Zahn, John Ringo, and several other authors who discovered how to write the hard way –by writing.

That would lead to an obvious follow up: read.

No, Vince Flynn is not an assassin, nor am I any of the above.

However, we all do research.

For A Pius Man, I read easily a dozen books worth of material. We will not include all of the various and sundry newspaper articles and websites and lectures that I had to go through to collect information on weaponry that I've never held, and tactics I've never had drilled into me, and places I've never been. And we can ignore the fight scenes I had to rewrite after taking 18 months of self defense training.

Third: sure, you can use your own experience. If it's relevant, if it fits, if it's part of a character. If you're writing romantic elements, it might be nice if you've been in love. If you've fired a gun, describe its feel, its weight, the sound it makes when it fires. If you're a colorful personality who made homemade explosives for grammar school science projects, use it. I don't necessarily recommend testing out the Anarchist's Cookbook—merely reading it will suffice.

Experience is good. Relevant experience is better.

Not in any novel I've written
thus far.
People talk to me. In my life, I have known ... many ... rape victims. I once wrote a affidavit for a woman who was the plaything of a sexual sadist from age 8-22. I have dated a bisexual bipolar wiccan nymphomaniac (long story), a bi-Latina Catholic nymphomaniac (even longer story), and I have listened to more people with more kinks than I have ever wanted to learn about. I am a walking confessional and therapy couch rolled into one.

Would I put any of this into a novel? Very little. I have yet to write a graphic sex scene in any book. My only torture sequence involved our villain describing, in one paragraph, what he would be doing over the course of several hours. No details were present in any of them. The closest I have ever come to a sex scene was so vague, someone had to ask me to clarify the details. .

Though I do have at least one character who walks into a room, tries to read, and people confess everything in the universe to him …

Fourth: Don't go into writing unless you need to. That's right, need to.

No one with an ounce of sense will go into professional writing unless there was nothing else for them.

I don't mean in terms of education, personal mental / physical / socio-economic limitations, or anything like that. I mean you are compelled to write professionally. You lay in bed in the middle of the night and keep a notebook close at hand so you can write down ideas before you forget them. Or you start writing a simple amusing fact and you suddenly fill the page with an outline for a novel. Writing is your drug. Your addiction. Your neurotic, uncontrollable compulsion. You would go insane otherwise … Or merely more insane.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. You are essentially playing chicken with your entire life. Even the publish on demand route is a crap-shoot. You may be picked up by someone bigger, you may not be. We hear the stories of those who have published online and have been chosen by Random House. I have trouble doing the math on how many others there are who don't go anywhere.

If you do have the occasion to fall into writing, if you have the compulsion to write every day, no matter what, then here's my last suggestion: Don't stop. If you need to write for a living, then do it. Write in your notebook during a lunch hour, write a page or two each day. Keep writing, and don't stop. Don't turn your back on your goal. Don't even blink. Blink, and you're dead.

Good luck.


  1. "Edited: or a hot female Russian vampire"

    No? NO!? Damn! What I was sending you mails for, then!? Fooled, I've been!

    "bi-Latina" ? Since I'm not quite current in the US way of seeing race, is that bi- related to sex or to race? I don't see how you could use it for race, but I don't understand "Latina [-o]" as a racial tag either.

    "My only torture sequence involved our villain describing, in one paragraph, what he would be doing over the course of several hours."

    I seem to recall a certain sociopath giving some ideas, but my mind might be playing tricks on me.

    Take care.

    1. Heh.

      Well, would bisexual Puerto Rican be accurate enough for you? :)


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