writetip

The Importance of Being Sweary

Writing is a lonesome pursuit. Whether you’re in a cabin or in an office, in a cafe or up a fucking tree; you’re writing alone. It’s a solitary endeavour.

But as isolated as you may be, you aren’t alone alone. Figurativley and shit.

Of course there are people lining up to make you feel that way. Take the assholes for example, who can’t help but share insightful fucking gems like ‘there’s no money in writing’, and ‘why don’t you just write something commercial’.

Insight like that can have you diving into a bottomless Pinot Noir, filled will hatred and cry-wanking; where shame-fucking and intravenous drugs seem like reasonable antidotes to your despair. I know. I’ve heard it all.

And it’s not just the assholes.

There are writers too who would rather see you fail than accept the fact they may not succeed; sock puppetry and thinly-veiled attacks masquerading as serious critique are just a few of the obstacles facing published or would-be authors.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Thank fuck for the internet. 

I started this Tumblr at the beginning of the year. This is my 200th post. Among the ubiquitous quotes, the Hemingway-appreciation and pictures of my Catcher In The Rye collection, the posts that have most resonated with readers have been the sweary rants.

A-fucking-men. See, for me, the sweary rant is catharsis. It allows me to explore and articulate my frustrations, to vent whatever seething rage is making me want to punch babies.

But it’s not just catharsis. Sweary rants are a cold beer in the hand of the maligned and misunderstood, a topless cuddle for the solitary scribe; a rub and tickle for the most bespectacled and bedraggled of literary doormats.

The sweary rant is a call to arms. It lets the assholes know we’re not going to lie down and take it any longer than it’s pleasurable to do so.

‘That’s right fuckers,’ the Sweary Rants says, 'you don’t own us.' 

If there’s one thing the world needs more of, it’s Pinot Noir. If there are two things, then the second is a toss up between mass murder and sweary rants. That latter is where you come in.

Writers; your profession needs you. We need you articulate, thoroughly pissed off and mostly drunk. Pants are optional.

Yes, writing is a lonesome pursuit. But the sweary rant is drunken group karaoke at 2am; we may not be singing in tune, but we’re singing together and holy fuck are we loud when we do.

Turn around bright eyes… and go write a filth-laden, fuck-peppered sweary rant. There are writers out there who will be glad you did. Thank you in advance.

Cut The Bullshit & Promote Yourself

Let’s be honest. Chances are you’re never going to make it.

And by ‘make it’, I mean, 'hit that level of literary fame where your name alone will shift 100,000 copies of whatever guff you vomited up this month’.

Some writers are middle of the road enough to reach this level in their lifetimes, but this probably won’t be you. Chin up.

The only guarantee in this poorly-timed punchline of a profession is that if you want anything out of it you’ll have to work hard.

And you’ll have to keep working hard.

There are no passes, no exceptions. Finished writing your book? Woopy-doo. Got a book deal? Fuck you.

You have to keep working hard. 

It isn’t enough to be a writer alone. Everyone is a writer, and most of them are better than you. And at least as misguided. 

It’s not enough because this is a vague new world, with more content, more noise, more static than ever before.

You need to make yourself visible, you need to cut through. Relying on a publisher or an agent or the barely legible prose of your latest abomination to do the work for you is setting yourself up to be wholly ignored. 

You have to cut the bullshit and promote yourself.

You’re a publisher. You’re a PR. You’re a marketing department. You’re customer services. You are the street team, the evangelist and the fangirl. 

Whether you’re self-published or you have a team of reasonably trained, mostly alcoholic professionals in your corner, this still applies. Why? Because you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

You’re just a name on a mediocre manuscript in a slushpile full of mediocre manuscripts. If you do get published, chances are the’re not going to make any money off you, so you’ve got to show them that you’re a good investment.

You’ve got to add value to your brand. Yes, you’re a brand. No, that doesn’t mean you get to talk about yourself in the third person.

Actually, while we’re here - you should log into Twitter, Goodreads, and especially fucking LinkedIn and re-write that bio in the first person. Right now. Third person is not for talking about yourself. Ever. Stop that shit, you look ridiculous.

Back to my point - the assholes don’t care about you. They buy whatever the supermarkets buy in bulk and discount at a loss. The way to make people care is to build an audience on your own.

Talk to your readers. Talk about your process, share tips, ask for advice. Start the conversation. Get yourself on Facebook and Twitter. And in the name of all that is sensible get yourself a Tumblr. 

Build your audience, and suddenly you have value beyond your words alone. You know you’re a good writer, you’ve put your words on paper - this is half the battle. The other half is making yourself a viable publishing option.

Of course, there are no guarantees. But keep working hard and promoting yourself and you’re only going to help your cause.

Even if you do get published, even if you write a bestseller and you sell the film rights and someone throws a meaningless award at you, you still need to talk to your readers, to manage your brand, to build your audience.

Look at writers like Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis. Acclaimed, bestselling authors both, and still both leverage social media to help promote themselves and engage with their readers.

They don’t have to, but they understand the importance of not resting on their laurels and continuing to work hard. And both are enjoying far wider recognition as a result.

As a writer, you wouldn’t trust anyone to write your words for you. In the same way, you should be the one promoting your words. The words you worked for so long to craft. The words you bled for.

There are no valid arguments. Just cut the bullshit and promote yourself.

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Writing Wrongs & Righting Writes

By now it’s been well established, mostly by me, that writing fucking sucks. It’s a horrible, wonderful, horrible way to spend your time.

But editing, holy fucking shit. Editing is the worst.

Trying to decide what words to cut out is harder than trying to hold down a job.

The other day on Twitter a friend asked me how to cut their word count, "the copy is too good to let go,“ they said.

Now I hadn’t read this copy, so I can’t judge, but in my experience this is the first mistake most writers make when editing; believing your words are any good.

"You’re rarely as witty as you think you are,” I @replied. “And at least half as brilliant.”

I was half joking when I said it, but also at least 60% serious. It may sound harsh but objectivity is the key.

That’s why I recommend leaving your manuscript in a drawer for so long you forget you wrote it. Or giving it to a lawyer and having it delivered to you at midnight, 12 years from now, by the side of the road in a small town you’ve never been to before.

Farfetched maybe, but the point is that you should be able to look at it with fresh eyes and say to yourself, without any doubt, “what a piece of fucking shit.”

Then you start cutting words.

“Shoot them all,” I told me friend, “play a game of ‘how many words can I take away and still be saying the same thing?’”

Why use five words when you can use one. Why have five punchlines when brevity is the essence of wit.

That is the point of editing; focus.

Like burning ants, you need to get that magnifying glass in just the right place to set those fuckers alight.

Say less. Say as little as possible. As long as your point survives, you win.

As for being funny. Don’t. You’re not. Anyone who tries to be funny is setting themselves up for failure (this blog, for example).

Funny is overrated. The real trick is to be honest.

Hemingway said 'all you need to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.’

Read your manuscript again and highlight the truth in each passage. Cut out everything else until all you’ve got is honesty. And not just because Hemingway said so.

Truth is funnier than any joke you can tell. Injecting a healthy dose of honesty will make your manuscript more hilarious, more heart-breaking, and more poignant than by trying to force it in.

And if you’ve simply got to keep a darling in there, if you need to save your favourites, then - like a literary Sophie’s Choice - save one.

Now all you’ve got to do is make sure that your plot structure works, all your character arcs are fully developed, all the scenes take place where they need to, the dialogue doesn’t all sound the same and there are no continuity errors.

Simples.

How do you approach editing? Leave me a comment!

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IA Writer as a religious experience

My religion is language. It is a good religion. It’s free to join and everyone is admitted, regardless of race, gender or sexual preference.

There is no single God, but a series of higher beings, saints if you will, who have ascended to their status by being influential teachers, writing the scriptures from which the rest of us learn.

Their number is neither finite nor limited by collective admission. Each follower of language choose his or her own saints. As such each disciple chooses their path through language. There are no set rules. No wrong answers. No failure.

I practice my religion everyday. I do not agree with some of the more fundamentalist teachings, but on the whole, I am a devotee. In the grand tradition of Anglo-American cults I have consumed the sugary, red liquid, and I sing in the choir.

In my religion, words are prayers; each one a valid offering no matter how flawed or imprecise. Reading is my meditation, the consumption of language encouraged in order to better formulate my own scripture.

My religion is living and breathing, constantly growing; an organism, an entity. It is malleable, shaped by those use it. Shaped by me. By us.

Over the years I’ve practised writing in many different ways; with a pen, with a typewriter, a word processor. I’ve tried a dozen different software programs on desktops, laptops and tablets.

Many times I’ve been writing and have found myself in what some might call ‘the zone’, that state of euphoria where your words flow through your fingers as precisely as they fire between the synapses of your brain; that level of cognition akin to enlightenment.

But never have I experienced this state more frequently or reliably than since I began using IA Writer.

Let us be clear; software doesn’t create. Software, just like the hardware that runs it, simply facilitates. And IA Writer facilitates my writing so much more beautifully than any other means I have learned, bought or devised.

IA Writer is gloriously devoid of features. You can’t ask it to help with your plot or your character names. You can’t choose to write in a particular font. You don’t get to control margin depth, colour, or line-height.

What you get to do is write. And how.

The program is the cleanest, purest writing software I’ve ever used. IA Writer allows me to experience language on a higher level. It strips away the noise and confusion, the distractions, the interface blocking out everything but the exact sentence I’m writing.

This simplicity offers a level of focus that brings with it the euphoria of uninterrupted dialogue between my fingers and my brain. The rare enlightenment I can only describe as writer’s release - the opposite of writer’s block - an open tap of creative thought. 

Language is my religion, writing is my scripture, words are my prayers. IA Writer is the church where I choose to practice language.

This is not gospel. It couldn’t be. It’s against the nature of my religion to prescribe a set of rules, to limit the ways in which you choose to engage with language. This is a sermon, a suggestion, a testimony. 

Language is my religion and writing with IA Writer is a religious experience.

Have any of you seen the light? Leave me a comment.

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What are words worth?

An asshole recently asked me why some writers think they should be paid when there are so many competent writers willing to produce content for free.

“Writers shouldn’t just think they should be paid,” I spat.

“They should expect it." 

This kind of ignorance about creative labour boils my piss, as it should boil yours. Let’s just say they’ll never find his body.

Words are free; a glorious price for such a valuable commodity. Words are free for anyone to use, and many choose to. Some better than others.

In truth, most people never really think about words, their relationship extends no further than a passing encounter with whatever falls out of their mouth.

But a writer thinks about words. A writer studies words, collects them, hoards them for later use. For a writer, words are an obsession. But a mere fondness for language isn’t worth anything; it’s what a writer does with his words that counts.

What the assholes don’t understand is that a writer shapes his words, crafts them, combines them into a cognitive whole that both enhances meaning and communicates what words alone cannot. 

A writer uses his words to shape not just meaning, but subtext, so that a simple story about animals in a farmyard becomes political allegory, or a story about groups of men fighting in basements becomes a treatise on the modern male condition.

Some writers are very good at what they do. Some not so good. The best writers can shape words that describe the collective mood of a generation in ways no-one else could. 

The best writers can inspire and motivate, they can devastate, they can plant an idea in your mind and make you think it is your own - make you feel they just described something you’ve been thinking for a long time.

Yes, writing is simply putting words on paper, but simply putting words on paper is not writing. For every good writer there are a thousand people quite adept at putting words on paper, at stringing together blocks of text.

The difference is the way a writer speaks, the way they deliver, the way they craft and shape their words. The difference is competence versus composition. 

The old adage is if you’re good at something, never do it for free. The assholes encourage it. They say things like "You’re new, no-one wants to pay for your work,” or “I’m doing you a favour,” or “It’ll look good on your CV.”

If you’re good (and you are, really) you should expect to be paid because the way you use words is both entirely unique and adds measurable value to an idea, concern or message.

I expect to be paid for my words the same way I’d expect to be paid for a day’s manual labour, or any other work I choose to do. 

The assholes can probably find writers to produce content for free the same as they could find people to help build them a house for free.

But when their house falls down, and they’re lying there crushed under a pile of rock and bleeding to death internally, they’re gonna wish they paid someone. 

Words are free, but don’t give your words away for free. Your words are your craft, and it’s your craft you’re charging for. 

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