Monday, May 4, 2015

On Writing the Fucking Book

What is the absolute, number one rule that all writers follow, no matter what?

Writers write.

You've probably heard that phrase a lot, and I bet a lot of people hate the phrase. At the absolute end of the day, what makes a writer is a person who writes and publishes what they write. More and more often, publish is substituted by self-publish. (Also, please note that I am saying this from the perspective that you'd like to write and make a career out of it. If you're writing as a hobby, that's fine. This post isn't for you.)

For a moment, consider this. I'm not all that great a writer. I'm writing straight up genre fiction, and my ideas aren't anything new. I certainly feel a lot better about my prose than I used to, but I'm lightyears from the likes of Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. Hell, I'm several miles removed from a lot of self-published writers. And I know for a fact that there are writers better than I am that, frustratingly, aren't writing much of anything.

And yet I've been making money at least semi-regularly since January of 2014. It isn't much, but it's fairly reliable, and slowly increasing. So why is that?

There's a lot of debatable reasons, and a few solid ones. I know that novels sell more than short stories or novellas, significantly more. I'm slowly building up a fan base. I've had a few giveaways. My covers are fantastic, thanks to M. Knepper.

But one thing I really think that helps set me apart is consistency. I've published eight novels in the past two and a half years, as well as a handful of short stories and novellas.

There is where the Write the Fucking Book principle comes into play. Getting to book written and out is the absolute foundation of success in the writing business. Obviously, there's a lot more. Knowing the mechanics of grammar, basic plot structure and development, dialogue, character development, marketing, etc. But you can know all these things, and even be great at them, but it won't amount to shit if you don't write the book.

Here's a few pitfalls I've seen authors (myself included) fall into.
  • Social media. A lot of authors get sucked into the vortex of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Goodreads, etc., etc., etc. There's a million sites out there where you can show your book off, hype people, pour hours and days into a black hole that probably won't give back. It can be addicting.
  • Research. Don't get me wrong, it's important. I don't really do any, but that's because I write in a Sci-Fi universe I thought up myself that's light on the Sci and high on the Fi. But there are a lot of authors who begin to research for their book...then it's four hours later suddenly and they find themselves poring over texts completely unrelated to their work. Authors can turn anything into procrastination, and research is among the worst, because it feels like you're doing work, even though you might not have written anything for the past three weeks.
  • Hype. This ties into social media, but also extends to talking to your friends and family about your work. I've fallen into this trap myself all the time. Still do, but not as much, as I've tried to minimize it. Hyping up your book, talking about some of the cooler aspects of it, is addicting. It's a drug. There's few better feelings than sitting there fantasizing about how awesome your book is going to be with a willing ear. Stop it. You should be writing your book, not talking about it.
  • Editing. What? This must be a mistake, right? Well, this is just my opinion, and I'm not making the big bucks yet, but we'll see how it turns out. I'm all for going over your book with a fine-toothed comb for errors. An error-free book is certainly what you want to shoot for, and you should hire a professional if you can manage it. I'm more talking about rewrites, what a lot of authors refer to as editing. I've talked to several authors who say that they go through an average of seven to ten rewrites, which is absolutely insane to me. It changes for every writer, but make more of an effort to tell the story you intend to tell the first time around and try not to rely on 'just fixing it later'. I know this really goes against authors who say 'just write it, even if it's crap, you can edit it later'. For me personally, the idea of 'get it right the first time' has saved a lot of time. I'm fully willing to concede that I'm not writing epic masterpieces over here, and that my stories tend to be pretty simple and straightforward, which is intentional. This has really helped me get a lot of product out quickly, which is what is needed to make a name for yourself in the face-paced self-publishing market. One book a year doesn't cut it anymore. Not even close.
  • Worrying. This is a big one for me personally. I wasted years and years worrying. I worried about everything. Is this the correct first book to write? Is this too controversial? Will this sell? It's going to suck, I bet. While I fully advocate having a plan, (i.e. knowing if you're writing a trilogy ahead of time, knowing where the book is going to end, it saves a lot of time and helps the continuity), I also advocate not sitting there and worrying yourself sick. It's generally better to just push past your fears and write the damned thing.
Here's a great guest post on J. A. Konrath's blog by author Tracy Sharp, Just Do It.

Something Konrath says in the post that I'm willing to bet will piss off a lot of people is: "This is a business about persistence, not talent. Asimov wrote 400 books. James Reasoner just finished his 185th. How many have you done?" Bob Mayer also has a great quote on this: "Writing is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration."

To be sure, there are plenty of readers out there who'd rather read Stephen King than J. A. Konrath, who'd rather read a lengthy, well-plotted, character-driven novel than a quick, 70,000-word book of blood and death. And yet the fact that Konrath and authors like him are selling like fucking crazy means that there's more than enough people out there who would rather read something quick and light and fun.

My point is this, both types of writers can succeed, but significantly fewer people have the raw talent of King and Barker and Gaiman, whereas persistence, determination and a basic skill level at writing is accessable to damn near everyone.

So if you're serious about being a professional author, you should probably write the fucking book. I definitely wish someone had imprinted this on me years ago.