Writing, and the Flapdoodle That Goes With It: A Primer

Here’s my philosophy about being a writer. I’m putting it down here because sometimes it helps me to remember it, and I think it holds true for most anyone who has a dream they wish to follow:

1) No one but you really cares that you “need” to do this. Your loving family and friends will support you emotionally and encourage you to a certain point, but after that point, if you don’t have it in you to encourage and support yourself, you don’t have it in you to persevere for the long haul.

2) If you’re going to persevere, do your very best work. YOUR work, not some other writer’s. Don’t write “like” someone else. Write like YOU. Then rewrite it. Then rewrite it again. Then let an editor look at it — a good editor — not a friend, a husband, or a college student — an EDITOR who edits for a living. Give your work the care it deserves after the effort you put into it. And if your editor criticizes what you’ve done, take the criticism and learn from it. There’s a reason people dump shit on a garden. It’s because it helps it to bloom.

3) Understand that a reader is just as important as a writer. If a reader is going to give up 16 hours of time to read your work, time in her own life she will never get back, she’s entitled to say she disliked what she read. It’s nothing personal. Unless it’s that guy from college you dated once and it didn’t end well. If he talks crap about your work, then yes, it’s personal. Ignore that guy. Ignore those people. Ignore those one-star reviews. Ignore the five-star reviews too. Those are also most likely personal — your adoring uncle has an amazon account he uses solely to order nails for his construction company, but his favorite niece wrote a book, and by God, he’s going to give it five stars. The three-star reviews can be helpful, the ones that are carefully written and thought-out. Read those and mull those over for a minute or two. If the very same criticism shows up in all those reviews —“This character was not believable,” “This chapter has a plot hole the size of Kansas”— take those comments into consideration. But if all the criticisms are unique and personal — “I didn’t like the ending,” “The character’s name was the same as my ex-husband’s,” “The post office got the package the book came in dirty”— accept that this comes with the territory, and keep writing.

4) There is cronyism, partiality, and prejudice within the publishing industry just as there is in any other industry. Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, it’s awful. But before you get too annoyed, remember that one time when you got a great deal because you knew someone who knew someone, or because someone just liked you better than they liked some other poor schmuck who wanted the same thing you wanted. You’ve gotten preferential treatment in your lifetime too, and you didn’t turn it down. When you can be honest about this to yourself, the biases you encounter on your way will be a lot easier to swallow. Suck it up, and keep writing.

5) There will be crap from some other writers. Understand that those writers are sad human beings. When you hear things such as, “I don’t understand why her work is so popular,” or, “Who’s your publisher? I never heard of them,” or even, as one New York Times author once experienced, “New York Times, eh? What number on the list?” these people are either snobs, drowning in envy, or pitifully insecure. Deal with them the way you’d deal with someone who breaks wind in public. Move away from the stench. And keep writing.

6) If at all possible, help another writer. With some caveats. You’re not at all obligated to help the clueless ones who ask, “Can you read this manuscript, and tell me what you think?” or, “You can give this to your agent, right?” That’s not asking for help — that’s asking for major shortcuts. I also won’t write a blurb for any ‘book’ I know has not been professionally edited. If a writer is too lazy to do due diligence, to learn correct submission procedures and protocols, who doesn’t want to rewrite, but feels the need for the instant gratification of self-publishing what is essentially a first draft, that writer does a disservice to the art and to himself. He diminishes what hard-working writers do, the mountains we have to climb, and the blood we shed from our sweat glands. I’m not going to assist him in what amounts to an enormous lack of respect. On the other hand, a kind word, a review, a helpful suggestion, a word or two of encouragement, a shout out on social media, I see that all as good karma. I’ll do this often, sometimes in exchange, sometimes simply because I know very well that a little support goes a long way. There are writers who will never do this — they’ll take, but not give, and eventually, we all find out who they are. You shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t spread good karma, because one day, that writer you didn’t help — the one you thought would always be trailing behind you? She writes THE book –the one that Reese and Oprah arm-wrestle for. The one that gets a gazillion sales and a Netflix deal starring Jennifer Lawrence. I know that I remember every single person who has helped me get where I am, and I’m bitchy enough to also remember every single person who tried to stand in my way. My guess is so does every other writer. Think about it.

7) Books are wonderful. Books can change the world, and blah, blah. It’s nice to believe that. It’s nice to feel that what you do is important. But let’s be real — what you do is no more important than what anyone else does. Perhaps even less so. If the bin man goes on strike, trash piles up, vermin overrun the city, rains come down and flood the water supply with the rotting, feces-infested garbage, disease and pestilence take hold of the populace, and people drop down dead in the streets. If you don’t write, none of that happens.

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