Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Sins of Writing

It hardly feels real, but Tallyho in the Squat is finally available to the public. Jump on it today and tomorrow if you want a free copy. Otherwise, it's just three bucks.

So friends and family often ask me about the writing process: Where do I get ideas? How do I find time to write? Why haven't I written a book about that time we got drunk together? Why am I not published yet? Why didn't you dedicate the book to me (I hear that one from my wife the most)?

Tallyho in the Squat isn't the only novel I've written, but the others remain unpublished. It's actually the shortest and the funniest, and because I enjoyed writing it so much, the one I pumped out the quickest. I have two others hiding in the coves of my computer hard drive, waiting one day to see light of morning and hoping to snatch up a byte or two whenever I clean up the laptop.

In writing over the years, I feel I have more authority to tell people what they should not do rather than what they should. Kind of like behavior during drinking. I've got plenty of mileage on how not to behave. So, I present to you, the seven deadly sins of writing:

1. Fear: I believe fear to be the greatest sin and the one that probably holds potential writers back the most. If you are afraid to put your thoughts down into words, if you are afraid to share them with others, and you are afraid to attempt to get published, you will fail as a writer. Not everyone will like what you write. They will be critical. You must accept that as part of the growing process. Even a person who can't write well can point out crucial flaws in your own. I could never play quarterback in the NFL, but I know a butt fumble when I see one.

2. Sloth: Just one more episode of House of Cards and I'll write. Just one more mission on Grand Theft Auto V and I'll write (seriously, that game is the methamphetamine of video games). Just ten more minutes on Facebook. You have to drop the excuses and take time to write. If you're serious about completing a novel, you should set aside at least an hour every day to write. If you think you don't have time, that means something fun will have to take a backseat for a little while.

3. Drink: Don't write drunk. Take that advice from a drunk. Hemingway could do it. Hemingway also had four wives, had his knee practically blown inside out in WWI, enjoyed bare-knuckle boxing for fun, survived two plane crashes, and when he had worn his body down, ate a double-barrel 12-gauge. Hemingway crapped out people like you and me after his breakfast. Writing drunk seems poetic and heroic, but you create two problems: errors and amnesia over what you wrote. If you mix sober writing with drunk writing, it will be the literary equivalent of a one-night stand with North Charleston prostitute after a night on the town.

I am by no means discouraging drinking in general; nay, I celebrate the idea. Your misadventures will form inspiration for your novel just as they did for mine. But keep teetotaling at the keyboard.

4. Posturing: Easy on them fancy words, hoss. Not everyone likes to read a novel with a thesaurus sitting nearby. If you want to emulate Hemingway, keep it simple like he did.

5. Ignorance: By ignorance, I mean not reading. Stephen King once wrote, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write." Simple as that. Reading helps you develop your own voice.

6. Wandering: This pertains to your plot. Have an outline and a plan. Know your characters' motivations and what they plan to do. That's okay if you later deviate; your characters will sometimes surprise even you and steer off into unknown waters. But don't just start writing without some semblance of a story in mind.

7. Lack of Confidence: Believe in yourself. Of those who start writing a novel, only three to five percent actually finish it. Aim for that precious goal. Then you can worry about how to publish it.

So there you go. Should you listen to me? Meh, who knows? I just published a book myself yesterday. Maybe you can find better advice. As King wrote in the preface to On Writing, "...most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad."

Yeah. What he said.

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