The intro to my writing guide, in progress…
More than half of all writing advice you receive over your lifetime will be incorrect, incomplete, or howlingly wrong. You will encounter advice driven by neuroses, bitterness, failure, ego, and arrogance. In books and in writing workshops, you will have instructors who mistake their own path to success as the only path to success. Yet others will try to impose upon you their own writing style, their own list of valid subject matter and approaches. Anecdotal evidence will loom large. Some advice, some instructors, will be actively obstructionist, driven by the belief that “toughening beginners up”–discouragement–is good practice for the real world of writing.
Some of your instructors will be drunk. Some will be fucking some of the students. Some will be going through painful divorces and believe the world is a rotting peach pit of unhappiness and despair. Some will be polyannas who love every word you write and will appeal to your sense of vanity, your ego, your own love of every word you write. Hacks will give you good advice. “Literary” writers will give you crappy advice. Some will exhort you to lie down in the gutter. Others will beseech you to remain in the tower. (Some of your instructors will be wise and happy and playful and wonderful, but it is boring to write about that which does not contain the seed of conflict.)
Amongst writing books, you will find pathetic attempts by almost every writer to give you good advice equally on every aspect of writing, even those aspects the writer has little or no experience with, or is not good at. Some writing books will display a desperate reaching for a different structure–dividing up parts of a story or novel into esoteric or exotic categories, simply to be different.
Beward the instructional books that include information like “your hero must be handsome or attractive in some way so that readers identify with him or her.” Beware the writer who justifies their own hedonistic, experience-is-everything approach by codifying it in their instructional manual as Law. Beware writers who talk in terms of “trends” and “publicists”.
Never seek validation from others. Some people will always think you should not be a writer. Some people will always think you should be a writer. All of these people are fools. There is only one way to determine whether or not you are a writer: you must find the secret tunnel leading to the hidden door. Once there, you must place your hand upon the doorknob. If you are really a writer, the door will open. You will be ushered into a magical palace. Inside of this palace, a beautiful woman (or man, depending on your wont) will take your hand and whisper in your ear, “I’m glad you made it here. I need someone to mop the marble floors. I’ll pay you good money. This will keep you from starving while you write.” Of course, everyone is chosen. The door opens for everyone.
Never sleep with a ghost writer; that person will replace your words with their own and leave your skin covered in strange tattoos. Do not go to a writer’s workshop and wind up in a cult. Do not seek advice from ouija boards or from scientists in lab coats. Never trust writers who not only dress in black but also wear black pajamas and underwear to bed. No one has ever written truly immortal poetry about how good their dog looks in knitted garments. Waist coats and pocket watches are signs of lunacy and therefore lack of authority when it comes to writing advice. Those who must display their bodices incessantly have a hidden agenda. Alcohol is not your friend. Meth is your enemy. Cigars are neutral. Computers are overrated. Haste is overrated. Sloth is just as bad as haste. Ten words are better than ten thousand, if those ten are right and the ten thousand are wrong. Personal experience is useless if you cannot leverage it with imagination. If you have no imagination you are dead to me. If you don’t realize writing is hard work, I keel you with my eye bullets. If a man in a black cape approaches you in the back of a bar and promises to make you a bestseller, beware! For He is either Agent or Devil.
For all of these reasons and more, writing is perilous work. It is more deadly than special ops. It is more boring than selling insurance. It is more exhilarating than jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. You may die from writing, but more probably you will be disappointed. That is okay, too. Disappointment, as we all know, builds character.
As for this book and this writer: everything you read inside this book is true. Everything you read inside this book is a lie. I am the wisest man who has ever lived. I am a fool. Both may be true for you, sometimes on the same page. For a time.