Monday, September 27, 2010

Writing Advice: What THEY Won't Tell You

By Steve Weddle

The blogosphere is flooded with writing advice. Ten Points About Thrillers. Seven Things Your Query Must Have. Three Drinks to Drown Your Rejection. Eighteen Ways to Cook Bacon.

I've read some good stuff the past few weeks. Over at KillZone, Jordan Dane had a good one about suspense/thrillers: TEN TIPS on Pace and Structure in a Thriller.

The first tip -- Start with a BANG and explain later -- is worth the price of admission.

That said, there's some pretty terrible advice out there, too, from folks who have no business offering advice. Folks who haven't sold novels are giving advice on how to write novels. People who have never sold a story are telling you how to plot stuff. Folks who don't know blurb from jacket copy are offering marketing advice. "Use Twitter and Facebook to build a fanbase." Really? Use the Internet? Wow. Thanks.

People with no track record for writing are telling you how to write. That's like having JD Salinger give you advice on writing an adult novel networking.

Heck, sometimes I even offer advice when it's pretty clear I don't know what the hell I'm doing. You want to know how to spit out a tooth after catching a fist with your face? I'm your guy. Getting completely and horrendously and contortionally narded while attempting to navigate a subway turnstile? That's me. Write a best-seller that gets made into a movie starring Natalie Portman and that dude from that cop show? Um, not it.

And, yet, even advice meant as a pure goof can be useful, I think.

Check out the #pubtip and #writetip discussions on Twitter.

Some speak to style:
jaystringer: Your agent query letters should all be written in iambic pentameter#pubtip

Some speak to marketing:
brianlindenmuth: Get a picture taken with a famous author at a signing event then tell everyone it was a joint event #pubtip (this really happened)

Some speak to nudity:
keithr34When meeting a prospective publisher for the first time, pants them and then point and laugh at his/hers genitalia #pubtip

For me, all advice is helpful. I love everyone. I am grateful for each person who has ever offered any help. People don't have to do this. People are busy, yet they take time to offer comments, compliments, criticisms and so forth. And, quite honestly and all kidding aside, authors are some of the nicest, most generous folks I've met -- especially those authors in the mystery/crime fiction community.

So I was surprised to get this note from Johannes de Silentio about advice to writers. I had said that all authors are nice and this de Silentio guy disagreed via email. I'll leave you with his thoughts as I'm busy reading a book someone suggested to me last week -- HOW TO WRITE LESS CRAPPIER.

Johannes de Silentio's NOTES ABOUT WRITING ADVICE -------------

Steve, let's be clear, here. You're so naive. Most writers want you to fail. It's crowded out there. Every writer hates you because you're taking away a chance for them to succeed. Only so much room on the shelf, right? So you should always keep that in mind. Published writers all want unpublished writers to always fail all the time.

Let's look at some of this advice.

1. Be patient.

That old advice to take your time? Haha. Nice one, published author. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Yeah, me working and working for decades while your book sells. Pretty clear you're scared of my awesomeness of awesome. I will not hide from you. Who the hell do you think you are? I will finish my manuscript as quickly as I can. I will send it out immediately. Let's be honest here. Big book companies hire proofreaders, so why should I take any time to do that? I have to write the sequel. Let the editors and readers and agents proof. I am a writer. I write. And drink coffee. I don't have time to be bothered proofreading.

2. Write the best book you can.

Cuh-rap. You ever see a writer stop at one book? No. Never. Because they want to keep writing and getting those checks. If you wait to write the best book you can, you'll never do anything. And if your first book really is the best book you have in you, why write a second? No, these fancy authors living in their big Paris lakehouses are just trying to slow us down. No, this may not be the best book I can write, but it's better than most of the crap out there. I will send it out now because I want my check.

3. Worry about the book, not the money

Uh, right. That's why I write. That's why I spend a whole freaking two months of my life slaving away every lunch hour to write this book. Then I want to print it out and put it in my drawer. Because all I care about is the writing. Haha. You'd like that, wouldn't you, oh famous published writer giving out advice. Haha. No way. I want my check. I do not want a book in my desk drawer; I want my freaking check.

4. Having a bad agent is worse than having no agent

Oh, that's right, oh published author. Do you have an agent? Yeah? Why? Because an agent works with you and gets you your book deal? Because they're indispensable? Right. And you're trying to trick me into NOT getting an agent? Sure. Next you're going to tell me that having a bad book deal is worse than having no book deal.

5. Having a bad book deal is worse than having no book deal

You're kidding me, right? Yeah, I don't want a book deal at all, really. I just want to right the best book I can, right? What's a bad deal? Too small a press? They can't market me? Or too big and they won't? Yeah, that's what I thought. The only kind of book deal that's bad is one that you don't have. No one ever got paid anything without a book deal. And I want my damn check.

------- Here Endeth The de Silentio Lesson



Kathryn Peterson said...

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh my gosh, I love this post! I so needed this right now, you have no idea! TOO TOO TOO FUNNY!

And on a more serious note, I think advice as fine as long as writers know that each situation is different. I like people who give advice and say YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). It shows they understand what a personal journey this is.

Al Guthrie said...

This de Silentio guy's uncannily accurate summary fills me with fear and trembling.

John Hornor said...

Haha. Hahahahahaha.



Steve Weddle said...

KP - Right. Sometimes the advice is good irrespective (holy crack, that's a word?) of the person who gives it -- like a nice putter from your jerk uncle.

AG - Good that you can have both. Some people insist on either/or.

John - quite

chad rohrbacher said...

Nice work, as usual, Mr. Weddle. Fun, fast read -- I expect nothing less --

Stephen Blackmoore said...

What? You mean y'all are really out to screw my career?

You bastards.

Anonymous said...

Finally, some advice that makes sense! Learn to Write Less Crappier . . .

Rob Kitchin said...

And I'm relying on DSD for all my writing advice. Hmmmm. Came across this advice from Charles Bukowski this morning:

"Somebody at one of these places [...] asked me: "What do you do? How do you write, create?" You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it."

I'm sure de Silentio will like that. 'Don't try, just wait. Let it come to you.' Yeah, right, they come to you. Give me the damn check.

Lein Shory said...

Given that de Silentio's advice is in many ways sound, isn't it also true that writing is a piss-poor thing to do if all you're interested in is a check?

I'm sure everyone here has read the posts by that NYT bestselling author with the nice advances who, when it's all said and done, is just barely coming out ahead. If I still had the link I'd include it.

It's foolish to think writing is purely art for art's sake. But isn't it just as foolish to think it's purely for money's sake? If you can write a book, then I'm pretty sure you can work a Wal-Mart cash register, and probably come out a little better.

There has to be more.

Great column, as per usual.

Steve Weddle said...

Chad, Stephen, Yvonne -- Thanks.

Rob -- Will have to add that to my favorite Bukowski quotes.

Lein -- Thanks. I remember that post. Isn't THIS IT?

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Love this! I, too, love the write less crappier idea. Always good advice.

Funny, but the one place I really believe he is wrong is that no agent is better than a bad one. I have known lots of authors with agents that have been bad for them. The agent doesn't send out their work - they won't return phone calls or e-mails, etc.... Finding the right agent is important. Staying with a bad agent is just plain bad for you.

And Kathryn is right - all careers are different. I think everyone has to listen to the well-meaning advice and decide what is right for them. Which is probably why I'm not doing a 100 stop blog tour for my book. I was told to do it - um

Kathryn Lilley said...

Great post! My favorite "Don't" for writers at writing conferences is "As they're fleeing you with scared-squirrel eyes, don't follow an agent or editor into the restroom to continue pitching your story." Just don't do it." I've actually seen this happen.