Tag Archives: writing advice

Today’s bit of writing advice

Justine Larbalestier has something to tell all you aspiring professional writers: Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t sell people on your book until you’ve actually, you know, finished the book. (John Scalzi nods sagely in the background.) I’m reminded of Roddy Doyle’s novel The Commitments, in which a musician who has yet to write a song is worrying about the cover design on his theoretical band’s debut album.

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Friday finds

beefheratThe first volume of John “Drumbo” French’s memoir of his years in Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band is coming out in June. The Captain Beefheart Radar Station has the good news, and some teaser pages from the publisher. Here’s a recording of a 1993 interview (with musical accompaniment) that Beefheart did with Co de Kloet on Dutch radio station NPS. Here’s a 13-minute documentary about the Captain from 1994, loaded with his curious takes on life and interesting turns of phrase. Check out Raymond Ricker’s report on the Captain’s 1981 performance at the late lamented Stanhope House in northwestern New Jersey, highlights of which included Ricker’s jaw getting pierced by the broken end of the headliner’s gong mallet. Beefheart novices will find this bargain CD collates the best two of his listener-friendly records, while this CD showcases his jangly, weird style to best effect.

Joyce Carol Oates reviews Brad Gooch’s new biography of Flannery O’Connor. Guess I’m just going to have to buy the thing.

Hollyword: ActorViggo Mortensen has his own boutique publishing house, Perceval Press. Now director Bret Ratner has Rat Press.

Desolation vacations: Sail the Great Pacific Garbage Patch! Visit the world’s deserted amusement parks!

Hmmmm — this looks interesting. A spring trip to Washington D.C. may be in order.

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

Madame Mayo has lots of advice for writers. Good advice, too.

A secret passage or hidden room is the perfect addition to your home, and Creative Home Engineering will build it for you. Dennis Cooper’s post includes video clips of secret entries employing rotating fireplaces and bookshelves that slide back when you pull on a favorite title. There’s also a rundown of some of the better-known mansions equipped with secret passages. If this all sounds like nothing but good spooky fun, be sure to read the tragic history of the Sessions House.

Stop Smiling is, in the words of editor Nate Martin, a magazine that “harkens back to the golden age of magazine publishing — think 70s-era Esquire — with plenty of long-form interviews.” Sounds good to me.

Yea, verily, Robert Crumb hath completed the Genesis project. The first book of the Bible, retold Crumb-style as a 201-page graphic novel, will be issued in the fall. On a related note, my single favorite piece of Crumb artwork has been reissued as a gorgeous, top-quality giclee print. Maybe if I sell a book this year . . .


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Robert’s rules

Fred K. reminds us of the five simple rules for writers, as laid down by Robert A. Heinlein. Now, Heinlein was hardly the fount of wisdom too many of his fans take him for — “An armed society is a polite society” is one of the dumbest statements ever made by an apparently intelligent person — but he was invariably shrewd and reliable when he talked about writing. I don’t know when he first laid down his five rules for writers, but they’ve never been bettered:

1) You must write.

2) You must finish what you write.

3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.

4) You must mail your story to an editor who will pay you money.

5) You must keep it in the mail until someone buys it.

Because writing is a process so fraught with ego traps and personal quirks, the utter simplicity of these rules is one of their greatest strengths. “Aspiring writer” is one of the most hilarious contradictions in terms ever framed by the human mind. One does not aspire to write. One simply writes. Until you have written something, you are not a writer. You have to have a completed manuscript of something that emerged from your own mind, put there and shaped by your will and determination. What happens next is another matter.

The third point is the debatable one, for me. I’ve never written anything that wasn’t substantially improved by at least one bout of revision, usually after a cooling-off period of at least a month. If your first-draft ideas have any strength in them, they’ll be able to withstand a bit of rewriting. More to the point, they’ll be all the stronger for the extra work. What you can’t do is let yourself get mired in endless second-guessing and revisions.

The fourth and fifth rules are, like the first two, as self-evident as the existence of gravity. I’m aware that Heinlein wrote in an entirely different commercial era: the mid- to late-twentieth century, when there was a thriving magazine market and it was feasible for a writer to earn a small but comfortable living from short stories. In this straitened commercial environment, you may end up placing a short story with a nonpaying literary magazine simply to get some exposure. I would count that as a paying transaction, of sorts, as long as it’s done with a greater goal in mind.

But keeping an unsold story or a novel manuscript in circulation is simply a practical necessity: if nobody’s getting a chance to look at your work, then you’re not getting a chance to sell it. Believe me, I’m quite familiar with the feeling of futility that comes with too many rejection slips, but you have to shake it off. You’ve already done the hard work of writing the thing. Sticking the manuscript into a fresh envelope is a piece of cake, and doing the research for new editors and magazines to contact can only help you in the long run.

Robert J. Sawyer adds a sixth rule: Start working on something else. Absolutely true. Every finished writing project is training for an even better new project. A work-in-progress makes rejection easier to take, and it means you can answer “Yes” if an editor asks if you have anything else he can look at.

And, just to keep you going, here’s Lynn Viehl’s 25 reasons why you shouldn’t give up writing.

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