- Rule 3. Read. A lot. Of anything.
- Rule 2. “Write what you know” doesn’t mean you can’t write about mountain climbing just because you’re not a mountain climber. It means do some research so your characters can fake being a mountain climbers.
- Rule 1. To be a writer you must actually write. Well…duh.
- Good-Bye Yellow Brick Road
- Far Fetched Fables – Avarice
Why this even needs to be said is a mystery. You want to be a writer. You want others to read what you’ve written. Yet you don’t feel the need to read anything others have written?
Good luck with your career as a wannabe.
Every professional author will tell you the importance of reading, especially in your selected genre. Odds are you already do. After all, why not write what you love, right? The key to this advice, however, isn’t only to read for your personal enjoyment, but to learn from what you’re reading. Pay attention to style, to structure, character development, and most importantly to plot. That last thing you want to do is write an entire novel based on robots that have certain rules encoded in them so they can’t hurt humans, and then read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.
Still, in these modern times, finding the time…or the desire to read can be difficult. Writers with day jobs and family responsibilities who can scrape together 15-30 minutes of free time usually try to fill it with, well, writing…if they have the energy to move at all. Of course there are opportunities where you can pick up a book and read, they just require a bit of sacrifice. Instead of chatting with your friends during lunch, read. Instead of streaming movies on your tablet while taking public transit, read. If you’re a commuter, audio books are a great way to catch up on books. When baby goes down for that afternoon nap…uh, well, okay, do whatever you want.
There is more to read than just your chosen genre. Read anything and everything that catches your fancy. If it doesn’t catch your fancy, move on. Read all forms of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, Twitter, the back of a cereal box, whatever. It’s all information, educational, and food for your creativity. How many people have read a certain science article about prehistoric insects trapped in amber and thought, hmm cool?
Michael Crichton read that same article and thought, hmm, dinosaurs.
Writing is a skill with a constant learning curve. Think of reading as a pleasant form of on-the-job training.
Rule 2. “Write what you know” doesn’t mean you can’t write about mountain climbing just because you’re not a mountain climber. It means do some research so your characters can fake being a mountain climbers.
“Write what you know” is one of the most misunderstood pieces of advice to new writers, probably because it’s often comes without much explanation and usually given by people who don’t know any better. They’ve read Louis L’Amour, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway and believe the only way to get the feel and accuracy for any topic is to have lived the life of your protagonist character. While traveling the world and living the life of adventure is great, it’s not very practical for the average writer. Fortunately, we have other resources to achieve that verisimilitude that would give even the most anal expert pause.
Interviews are a great source of information, especially for that special nuance that makes your world believable. Need to know something about a specific occupation, ask someone who does that job. What do employees call the drive-thru window station? What does a trucker mean when they, “hit the binders?” This is gold that will make your characters real and come alive. Writing about events in the past? Talk to relatives, neighbors, people who’ve been there. They’ve already done the grunt work.
Books. Histories. Biographies. Travelogues. Not only are these wonderful sources of information, but look great in the bookcase for that author photo. If budget is a problem books can be found relatively cheaply at yard sales and the bargain bins in bookstores.
Of course, there is everyone’s frenemy, the Internet. Just be careful when using such sites as Wikipedia. It’s a great resource if you need a quick fix or confirming what you already knew, but if it’s a major plot issue try for at least two sources of corroborating evidence.
In short, sure a PhD might be helpful, but it’s far from being a prerequisite to writing a good story. Just do some research. Then you will write what you know.
There is this show on television called NCIS and the lead character has a list of work rules which the other characters are ‘encouraged’ to learn and follow. It’s kind of a running gag, when they encounter some unexpected situation they would bring up one of the rules. I actually own a t-shirt with the rules.
Then I got to thinking, over the years I’ve compiled my own set of rules on writing and publishing; an amalgamation of other rules and personal experiences. Some are painfully obvious, others are open for interpretation and debate, but what the Hell, why not make my own T-shirt?
Then I thought it might be cheaper to write some weekly blog posts instead.
So, without further ado I present Mike’s Rules for Writing and Getting Published.
Rule 1. To be a writer you must actually write. Well…duh.
Ridiculously obvious, right? Top of the list advice from almost every published professional author.
So many times I’ve heard writing students absolutely amazed when instructors/mentors impart this piece of wisdom upon them. Oh, the glowing praise for said instructors. Incredibly, some even take credit for it.
So what does this all mean? Well, evidently some people must have thought writing was some kind of magical or psychic phenomena that happened through sheer force of will.
Or elves. Whatever. It doesn’t happen that way.
Writing is a discipline. It takes time. It requires sacrifice. There are only so many hours in the day and if you got a job or a young family, or you like to sleep, you’ll discover time to write is a precious commodity. While family and the need to pay rent might not be so forgiving, leisure time is, well, leisure time. You may need to trade off watching that TV show or going out with your friends for some quality time at the keyboard, or with pen and paper, or even dictation for those with that rare skill set. Write a sentence, then a paragraph, then a page. Just do it, and do it regularly. You might never be a published writer, but you will be a writer, but for that to happen you actually have to sit down and write.
And all those creative writing instructors out there, stop taking credit for the idea. You know who you are.
Last year I said 2017 was the year interesting things would happen. Some did, some remained the same, but all in all it was a good year, although changes mostly started in in May. It was day one of my vacation and I was heading to Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston, Ontario to represent Bundoran Press. DAY ONE, and I was already stressing about going back to work! In all my life I’ve never had a job I disliked so much, that actually invaded my dreams.
Day one, the first waking hour, and I asked myself, was it worth it? Even if I held out for the minimum wage pay bump was it worth the stress?
I finished my vacation and maxed out my sick days. When they called to ask when I would return and don’t forget to bring a doctor’s note for all those sick days, I informed them I was considering a career change. Until that phone call, that moment, I hadn’t made the final decision, but when I pulled the trigger I never felt so good. I made it official the next day. Yes, it was unprofessional, and yes, I should’ve given them two weeks notice but this is actually fairly common practice for this company which is a meat grinder for personnel. Anyway, as policy, this company doesn’t give referrals, just acknowledgment that you worked for them.
Did I mention they sucked?
After some personal deliberation I went back to truck driving, which is what I did before I got married. I had hoped to avoid driving again due to certain health issues and memories of working outdoors in the winter, but the pay is much better and I took my time picking the right company doing the right kind of work. So, in that regard 2017 worked out.
My writing career is more amorphous. Hayden Trenholm and I received another Aurora nomination for our anthology, Lazarus Risen. Didn’t win, but that’s okay. Far Fetched Fables bought some more of my stories for their podcast which is really cool, but otherwise no other publishing sales. But that’s okay, because I promised myself I’d concentrate on my novel which I did. So, although it doesn’t appear I was that successful, in that regard 2017 worked out.
Relating back to my new job, it has caused me to lose some weight. You wouldn’t know it to look at me. When you’ve been overweight for the majority of your life, it’s difficult to see the difference. Most times all you have is a number on a scale which fluctuates day to day, hour to hour. But that number consistently went down. In fact, I had set a goal for Christmas and reached it! I am also down one pant size. Of course, it’s the Christmas season, so I’ll probably need all of January to see that number again, but it’s all going in the right direction, so in that regard 2017 worked out.
That’s pretty much my year in review. For once the good out-weighed the bad. It hasn’t all been beer and pretzels, but whatever is?
As for 2018…I’m not much for making resolutions. I try not to make promises I can’t keep. Lately I’ve been posting a lot of anti-Trump political stuff. It’s hard not to, but I’ll be dialing that back. I am, after all, Canadian and not American. Also, this is the year of mid-term elections. If America has learned anything at all, this will be the year it shows. Nothing I say would influence that.
Instead, I’ll post more on writing and continue promoting Bundoran Press. I’ll also work on getting more stuff published this year, which means writing more short stories. Of course, there is never a guarantee on that. Publishing is a finicky business. Diane L. Walton of On Spec said to me at a panel, “We like all your stories, Mike, even when we reject them.” Nicest thing an editor has ever said to me.
So, here’s hoping 2018 is a good year for all of us, because who wishes for a bad year?