Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Patron Saint of Writing Advice

Image by Chuck Wendig
Ever since I was a little girl I knew I wanted to be a writer. Sure, I experimented with wanting to be a professional horseback rider or Sailor Scout superhero, but my main love was writing. I was always writing and I filled up a countless number of those old marbled notebooks with stories and ideas. Even breaking my wrist in 2nd grade couldn't stop me, I just learned to write with the other hand!

As a child, I thought by the time I was old (ie, about 21) I'd be a published author. I didn't want to be rich or famous, I just wanted to write. My childhood self would be pulling my hair and having a screaming meltdown in my ear if she knew I was well into my late 20s with not a damn thing to show for it. Nothing published, nothing finished. I had let myself, all aspects of me, down. Something had to change.

I've always been a casual hoarder of writing advice. I tend to buy a few writing magazines every few months. I have a whole bookmark full of writing advice webpages, author interviews and a whole self on my desk of writing and research books. I've done NaNoWriMo almost every year since being a freshman in college and I've won a few times too, but still with nothing to show for my efforts. I needed help. I needed a beacon, a writing sherpa, a penmonkey guide.

Enter Chuck Wendig. You may know him as the fearsome beard behind the Miriam Black books, but he also has a website called Terrible Minds where he dispenses writing advice as only he can; full of swearing, insults, hilarious asides and blinding clarity. He's become the foulmouthed Virgil to my lost, hesitant and confused Dante.

I've been following his Twitter feed for months, which lead to reading the crap out of his blog, then purchasing his writing advice e-books. Guys, I really think they're helping. I feel proactive and more thoughtful about the words I'm slinging onto the page. I'm not going to immediately become a bestseller author. I'm not trying to write the next great American novel. But damned if I don't feel just slightly less depressed about the state of my writing. I'm ready to cover myself in woad and head into battle with an axe to hack away at my word count.

Image by Chuck Wendig
One of Wendig's main tenants of writing is that you have to WRITE to consider yourself a writer. Not just sit around thinking about writing. You have to actually WRITE. I don't know why it took so long to get that through my thick skull. Too often I'd think about writing, mull it over, weigh characters and plots in my head but not put any of it on the page. That didn't make me a writer. At best it made me a rather industrious daydreamer.

I'm still having trouble. I still find myself incredibly distracted sometimes. The precious hours I squirreled away to write have been eaten up by clearing my cluttered desk or trying to make the perfect writing playlist and even the useless and senseless battle that is trying to tame Word into something simple and usable. In short, it's not going well most of the time. But it's getting better. Every night before bed I read a few of the 25 Things lists from Wendig's writing e-books and I try to put what I learned into practice the next day.
Image by Chuck Wendig

His blog posts and e-books on writing are broken down into easy to digest 25 point lists that cover everything from plot to characters to publishing and more. They're usually borderline insane rants with glistening nuggets of advice in them. Wendig often repeats that every piece of advice isn't right for everyone, you have to pick and choose what works for you. His writing advice isn't the gospel. No one knows the secret of writing beyond making sure your ass stays in your seat and your fingers stay on the keyboard. He's like the powerful supercomputer Deep Thought in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He only has part of the answer. Stephen King doesn't know the secret, Neil Gaiman doesn't know the secret, and Wendig doesn't know the secret. But he knows part of it is 42 and leaves you to work out the rest.

The e-books are incredibly helpful, well written and hilariously funny. If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, then a bunch of cursing and inappropriate analogies about wolverines helps the writing advice get pounded into your cranium. Maybe it's just me, but I've always learned more from humor than anything else. I remember cell mitosis from science class because my teacher gave me extra credit for doodling in smartass word bubbles on an exam, for example. Teaching with humor, sprinkling in some logic and adding in a hearty shove and a shout of "FOR FUCK'S SAKE just sit down and fucking DO IT, GODDAMMIT REALLY" can go a long way.

I'm never going to be a published author. I'm never going to find my books in Barnes & Noble or on Amazon. I won't spy any of my short stories in any anthologies. I'm writing for myself and for those helpless friends of mine who can't run quite enough away from me when I want feedback (I'm getting really good with a lasso, it's kind of impressive). It's a zen experience for me. Some people find that zen in running or praying, I find it in writing. Chuck Wendig is helping me find my way again (by way of jack o'lanterns making obscene gestures) and for that I owe him a drink and the promise of trying to eke out a few hundred words every night.

Who do you turn to for writing advice? Has it made an impact on your writing or your life?


Chuck's writing e-books:
Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey
250 Things You Should Know About Writing
Revenge of the Penmonkey
500 Ways To Be A Better Writer
500 More Ways To Be A Better Writer
500 Ways To Tell A Better Story
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