How To Avoid Being A Writer In Five Steps Plus Everything You Wanted To Know About Writing Because Nita Wasn’t Afraid To Meme Me

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“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do — not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”
“On Writing, A Memoir Of The Craft”; Stephen King (2000).

Nita has tagged me with a meme. She, and the people who tagged her, want to discuss writing and what it means and takes to be a writer. Nita, God bless her, believes I’m a writer. It took a long time until I considered myself a Writer… weird but true. Weird because it’s so obvious being a writer is who I am, and who I have been, not just what I do. For example, my brother’s leather high school jacket had four different sports on his sleeves — track, volleyball, basketball, sex. My sleeve, however, had “Poetry”. Which, to be honest, was mostly interpreted by the girls in my high school as “sex”. But that’s a whole other issue.

The meme has been changed slightly by each successive meme-r. The Original meme was about the strengths a writer must have to be successful. For myself, looking back over twenty-one years of Writing, the major successes I’ve had came from anger, bitterness, cynicism and sometimes spite. At least that’s what got me the Humour Columnist Award.

There are actually very few things a writer absolutely must have, other than a grasp on the nuances of their language. So…

Gabriel’s Five Steps To Being A Writer

1) Take it really seriously. I’d say “treat it like work” but most people treat work like they were sitting in an Internet Cafe.

2) Don’t set out to be a poet. People who want to be a specific type of writer are like Chris Columbus — he set out for India, hit Haiti and died depressed and alone. Go where your writing takes you, it’s a virtual certainty you’ll suck huge wood as a poet.

3) Learn how to write. Buying a hammer and some screws at Home Depot does not make you qualified to be a carpenter. It makes you a complete moron because to make those tools work you’ll need nails and a screwdriver. Buying some paper and a pen does not make you a writer. Writing is a skill, tattoo that on your fist.

4) When it comes to critiquing your writing your mother, cousins, girlfriends, boyfriends, teachers are all complete wastes of skin. Exactly what training do the have to be your critic? If they knew what they were talking about they’d be Stephen King. Is your last name King? Didn’t think so. Judge and compare your work to other people’s stuff, not to other people’s opinions.

5) Find someplace comfortable to work. If you’re comfortable writing in a Coffee Shoppe while listening to a little Bob Dylan on your iPod and sipping a Cappawhatthefukka you’re not a Writer. You’re a pop-culture victim. You need to find someplace you can sit for four to six hours and not be disturbed because, surprise, that’s how long it takes to write something. Real Writers write everyday for long periods of time, and to do this you can’t have “Hi, My Name Is Debbi” coming over every fifteen minutes asking if you want a refill.

Knowing the language isn’t enough, you have to know the styles in which that language can be written in… you have to see written material as a puzzle in which you’re searching for word combinations. If you can find two words which together mean more than the ten words you were planning on writing then you’ve won. Listen to the lyrics in songs. Have a thesaurus in your head, so that when you here a phrase or word combination worth noting, you can run each word through your brain searching for a better word, a more important word, a word which will make the reader see exactly what you want them to see because writing — Writing — isn’t about simply leaving material for someone to read. It’s about forcing your ideas into their brain and overwhelming their imagination until they see exactly what you want them to see. Most people who read what you have written will interpret your work through their own experiences, and that’s not good enough because most people don’t have an imagination. If they did they’d be a writer. So when you want to make a point you’ve got to carve their brain out and replace it with yours. The only time you comfort a reader and tell them everything’s going to be okay is either after you’ve beaten them with a pipe for 300 pages, or as you’re about to beat them with a pipe for 300 pages.

You want to be Elmore Leonard? Of course you do, everybody wants to be Elmore Leonard. Well, Elmore Leonard reads books, magazines, newspapers… he reads other Writers. Read the best books, the real books — 1984, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Catcher In The Rye, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, I Claudius, The Little Prince, Watership Down, anything by Mordechai Richler, George Bowering, James Herriot. Fuck, go to the local magazine shop and start buying comics. Read a Marvel or DC comic for a full year, one character for twelve issues. Find out why people read them. While you’re at it, pick up a Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler. Porn is a style worth knowing — learn how to turn someone on, get them hard or wet using nothing but the written word. Learn six different ways of referring to someone’s genitals, and I don’t mean single words. Learn how to make someone weep or laugh or feel as though they’ve learned something. Watch a Soap Opera for a month and learn the structure which makes them addictive.

Writing is something you learn, no baby ever popped out of mommy and signed a book contract. Writing is a trade, and you have to learn a trade. And that means reading and understanding how the writer has used the words to make you feel what you’re feeling. You cannot understand yourself until you understand the world around you, and you can’t do that if the only thing you’ve read are the abbreviated articles in Reader’s Digest… but make damn sure the Digest is something you read regularly.

There are a million different styles of writing, and a million different places you can write. If all you do, day in and out, is write a political essay or knitting column, you’ll be bored and you’ll be boring… and, quite frankly, you won’t be much of a writer. Everything you learn from one style can be applied to the other styles. You can take the eroticism you learn from pornography, change the language but keep the feeling and intensity, and create a poem or a column no one has read before.

You have to learn how to express yourself in as few words as possible. And that means being able to edit yourself. It means being ruthless, brutal with yourself. It means taking the first four paragraphs of a finished work, erasing them and rewriting. It means changing the structure of something you thought was finished and making something completely new.

Now… if this were a seminar you’d all owe me $300 bucks now. But I’m pretty jacked up on the Diet Pepsi so I’ll let it go. Next time you read this, however, it’s full price.

.

...thanks.

.

About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have an 8-year old son, and a 4-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Art & Depression, Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, crazy people with no pants, Health, Humor, Humour, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Meme, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to How To Avoid Being A Writer In Five Steps Plus Everything You Wanted To Know About Writing Because Nita Wasn’t Afraid To Meme Me

  1. Nita says:

    I read the post twice, which means I owe you $300 bucks, but I guess as I memed you I own some of the copyright. 🙂
    Gabriel this sentence just stuck in my head:
    “Compare your work to other people’s stuff, not to other people’s opinions.”
    That is bang on.
    I also think that this one:
    “It’s about forcing your ideas into their brain and overwhelming their imagination until they see exactly what you want them to see.”
    is bang on too.
    I enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

  2. benji1974 says:

    Good post….

    A lot of this can can be applied to many of the things in the arts. Glad that I never considered myself a writer. 😉

  3. damewiggy says:

    great advice, gabriel — and laced with yummy sass and savvy, per usual.

  4. mahendrap says:

    Gabriel: Entertaining read. I do not know why you had to call it five steps, explain them, and then go on to talk about further steps.

    I also do not understand why you need to use expletives to make a point.

    Other than that, I liked your points. Some of them are what I said myself and it is quite illuminating to see how you’ve espoused them! I also referred some of your points to others. Nice post!

  5. I agree with everything you say except I still think my writing sucks *laughing* But aren’t we all our own worst critics? And I doubt how “serious” I am about it–career wise or anything–as a way to earn money.

    Wow, that’s a joke!

    I just try to be creative and artistic.

    Joke number two!

    I used to co-lead a community GBLT writing group (lord knows why as what were my qualifications–except being gay) but it folded because we lost membership. We just couldn’t keep it going no matter how hard we tried. But then somehow it just started booming again and the other guy that has now taken it over seems to be doing a great job? They have a website, mailing list…all sorts of hooey. Well, I shouldn’t call it that–I mean it purely in jest.

    But after my co-leader and I (and the group) went down in flames, we both never got back into it. He moved back to his hometown and I well…my ex-girlfriend (not the last one) who turned a bit stalker-esque after we broke up got involved as I saw her respond to something on the mailing list (I’m still on it.)

    I am kind of curious to see what they are up to these days, however. I remember one woman who was…wow. I thought she was a total mental case when we had the group still swinging and her writing seemed kind of…well, who the hell am I to judge right? Now she’s doing freelance journo gigs that I have read! Maybe she got on some proper medication *laughing*

    I have to admit I’m sort of “jealous” but newspaper isn’t my thing. God, what is my “thing?” (No)thing. Yep. That’s about it! But still, as a writer, getting published anywhere is good. No, necessary, imperative.

    I enrolled briefly in a publishing program and the first thing they said was if you want to be a writer, do not enter publishing! HA! “Tis true. You have to give up your “baby” and get ready to have it ripped to shreds. Unless, perhaps you have a collaborative editor? Journalism is even worse as it goes through so many other steps and your article may sometimes not even look like your own after it’s done!

    And I’ve always said, “Why use a fifty cent word when a nickel one will do.” That is not to say dumb it down but always write for your audience. At least within the genre. I mean, if it’s scientific journal stuff, you need to use proper terms. Sometimes, I may be guilty of getting a wee bit too technical on my blog with some things even though I’m not an expert but I try to explain it all so people will understand?

  6. exactscience says:

    Superb article.

    I know far too many people who consider themselves writers and only two who actually are. The difference between them and those who want be writers is explained in this post.

    Another friend of mine has decided that if her career in law fails she will write Mills and Boon books, this is something you only touch on in the article but she recognises that she could turn out a series of trashy novellas but would be screwed if she tried to attempt anything else. It is good to know, as she does, your limits as a writer, and trashy novels might be a dull grind but writing them pays the bills.

    On a finally note and my only piece of advice for any writer: if the pun wasn’t intended the you edit it out.

  7. Ceridwen says:

    I know someone who quit her job to write her novel. She did all her “writing” at a coffee shop, where she flirted with all the guys who came in. She never wrote a word in that coffee shop. Her writing actually stalled completely. Yes, stay away from coffee shops if you want to get something done. Good advice.

  8. thordora says:

    I actually GET writing done in spurts, and use coffee shops as a place to do so since I’m not then distracted by the stuff I “need” to do at home. I need to pull away to another environment. And I need to be somewhere sans kids.

    But, I can’t sit still for 4 hours at anything, and I tend to end more with short fiction than anything else.

  9. Gabriel... says:

    You’re very welcome Nita, thanks for memeing Me.

    Thordora, if I was a mother of a gaggle of children I’d totally run someplace relatively quiet, like a bowling alley, as well.

    “…always write for your audience.” That’s exactly right, PatAnon. But don’t limit your writing to one audience, learn the languages of as many audiences as you can. Then, once you’re multi-lingual you can move ideas from one to the other.

    There was a time, Ceridwen, when I thought a writer must live in a pub. It lasted about two weeks. Not only is it too dark, and too exposed, but it’s just too freaking expensive. There were, however, little observation experiments we did in College which involved sitting and writing down the things we noticed about people around us… bars are excellent for that. Coffee shops not so much. The customers in coffee shops just seem like clones… plus there’s usually a twenty-minute loitering policy.

    I worked as a landscaper with an EngLit PhD, he was the one who… not taught, but reminded me I guess, that the money is always better on the “trashier side”. exactscience, I’d tell your friend that if she wants to make a wack of cash, learn to write both porn (male) and erotica (female).

    mahendrap: I was trying to respond to the original meme as well as Nita’s… how to be a writer, then what “strengths” I think are needed to be a Writer. Or something. The profanity was there mostly because I wrote this at 6am, and I was too tired to edit afterwards. The irony is so thick in that admission I’m surprised you’re not drowning. Your question about profanity was a good point…

    Profanity and vulgarisms are an important tool for writers, there’s a great explanation why here: The New Republic, but there is swearing in it so be prepared. There is also a great “red blue green” test halfway down the page which shows exactly what I’m talking about.

    I do use a lot of profanity in my non-commercial writing, but it’s not laziness… well, actually in this post it mostly was. Mostly I put the word “fuck” and variations on the word “fuck” exactly where I want to make a point. Most readers fall asleep while they read. Their eyes are open, most of the time they’re aware of their surroundings, and they can even hear their own voice internally reciting the words they’re looking at, but really they’re asleep. The words are not making a dent into their consciousness. So profanity is a tool — one of many — you can use to wake them up.

    The two most influential styles of writing are 1) religious and 2) Quentin Tarentino. Both use specific language tools to keep their audience enthralled. Writers of the most commonly read Holy Texts, lets say John The Baptist and L. Ron Hubbard, use specific word patterns and arcs to maintain images in the readers brain. It is very hard, for example, to fall to sleep reading Revelations. Despite putting images of devils and Hell and fiery eternal deaths, and then eternal bliss, billowy white clouds and Scarlett Johansson’s bosom into the readers brain, the King James version of The Holy Bible never uses a single profanity.

    On the other extreme Quentin Tarentino’s Reservoir Dogs, a cinematic masterpiece, uses every single variation of the word “fuck”, but it’s a guarantee each one of those “fucks” was placed exactly where it ended up — precisely where Quentin wanted them. And because they’re not lazily tossed around in the script, because each one has meaning and context, they are useful tools to keep the reader/viewer engaged.

    The profanity I used in this piece was, mostly, laziness. So I’ve edited those ones out. Having too much, like this piece had, can make it too aggressive, as though you’re constantly shouting at the reader. And despite writers hating readers because they misinterpret every single fucking thing we write, we do need them to want to continue reading what we’ve written.

  10. mahendrap says:

    Gabriel: Thanks for sharing…I had a good laugh reading your response – you write so well!

    Thanks for the article. It was unusually good. And the key point in it for me was: //When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive.//

    The ‘judiciously’ is the operative concept from my perspective. It is quite like how Shefaly describes swear words in writing to be like salt in our food.

    I’m glad you’ve edited your post. I love your writing…

  11. puddlejumper says:

    Ha,

    This is well timed for me. I’ve just finished doing a Creative Writing course. I agree with so much of what you say. Speaking as a lowly Scots lass without a book publishing deal as yet this is what I’ve learned…

    1. I need to stop comparing myself to writers like Elmore Leonard or Quentin Tarrantino and the like because even though they appear to be brilliant their brilliance is years and years down the line from where I am. I wouldn’t expect to do an accountancy course for a year and be asked to be a Chartered Accountant, likewise I need reminded I am still a beginner and that this is okay.

    2. Reading and watching movies however, is no longer called “slacking” it is essential research!

    3. I used to only play three chords on my guitar, and now I can tackle whole albums. What got me there was practice.

    4. Creative Writing courses put so much emphasis on doing it “right” your creativity and enjoyment can nosedive.

    5. Gabriel is mostly right about putting in as many hours as you can but sitting at your desk for hours a day will give you a bad back. Take regular stretch breaks!

  12. Also well-timed for me. As I’m jumping into my freelance career, I over-think the how and why of writing.

    And I’m the kind that has written in the back of a bus, in a coffee shop, a bowling alley, a closet, the bathroom, in a rose garden, in class while the professor was repeating himself for the fifth time, while my husband snored… it’s wherever and whenever it hits me.

    Good post.

  13. justinmohareb says:

    How do you work your near total misanthropy into it?

  14. Gabriel... says:

    I didn’t think the Syrians would be done with you this quick Mohareb. Mostly the Hate comes when there’s a pain behind my right eye. Weirdly it mostly appears when we’re conversing. The other times it manifests in word combinations and using language to build to a point over multiple lines, sentences and paragraphs. But, yourself being a cynical columnist and so full of contempt for humanity, you’d know this.

    Congratulations Puddle… I know how much this process has meant to you.

    Definitely be prepared, Merc, to be ready for inspiration. I try to carry a pen and notebook wherever I go. I find, however, the better ones come when I’m walking alone at night or doing something which occupies the parts of my brain that just get in the way while leaving the rest of it to think over word combinations and new angles to ideas… Grand Theft Auto works well.

    There is something a little more concrete I’ve learned… the importance of pronouns. When you want the reader to feel engaged and connected to what you’re writing use “you” and “we”. So instead of “when humanity does this” use “when we do this”. Or, instead of “when I do this” use “when you do this”. And try to avoid using statements like “we, as a society”. It’s bulky and comes across as slightly pretentious.

    When I was writing columns back in 1987 and 1994 I made it a point to never put myself in the column. So no “I, me, myself”. People really don’t want to know the my opinion, we kind of want to be told what our opinion should be…

    The other thing I try never to do is write to an audience. If I’m writing a post, a column, whatever, and I find myself writing as though I was either trying to impress someone or as though I were having a conversation with someone, I’ll scrap the piece and start again.

    PS: No one anywhere at anytime should ever think I’m an expert in anything except 1) making White Russians, and; 2) playing GTA: San Andreas.

  15. Anita Marie says:

    Diet Pepsi? DIET PEPSI?
    Wow, what happens when you drink regular Pepsi?
    It boggles the mind.
    amm

  16. Nita says:

    Justin, Gabriel likes people. And he helps them. It’s very obvious to me and a lot of other people too. He is polite, gracious, and generous with his time when it comes to helping others. I think you have rather misunderstood him.

  17. Gabriel... says:

    Holy crap, now you’ve done it Mohareb, you’ve pissed off Nita. It’s okay Nita, Justin and I have been friends and each others nemesis for a long time. We did the journalism school thing together ten-years ago. Justin is actually one of the best humour columnists I’ve ever read… I’d point you to some examples but, for reasons known only to him, he has taken an extended leave from writing. It may have had something to do with being renditioned.
    This would be Justin… here.

    Thanks Nita… I suddenly feel really good. Weird, I actually feel like I’ve been hugged…

  18. Nita says:

    oops, I get it. Old friends. Guess you don’t need any enemies then 🙂
    sorry for butting in, but I had no idea who Justin was…I mean he has left a couple of comments on my blog…but I had no idea you knew him.
    I guess it’s a guy thing…guys show their affection for each other by making such remarks…!

  19. Gabriel... says:

    …and smacking each other on the butt. Nita, please don’t hesitate to step in and say wonderful things about me anytime you think it’s necessary. I don’t know what he has been doing over at your place but, really, don’t let our friendship (you and I) hold back your disdain for him.

  20. mahendrap says:

    Nita: //I guess it’s a guy thing…guys show their affection for each other by making such remarks…!//

    Thanks for enlightening me. I had no idea this is how it was done between guys. I was only aware of the one unisexual way to do it – the way you listed people you liked on the net on Gabriel’s other post. I would do it the same way too…guess I’m not that sort of guy after all.

  21. justinmohareb says:

    I find it fascinating the impressions people can get of someone they only know over the internet.

  22. Gabriel... says:

    Nicely said. Any Internet-based misunderstandings about yourself, I’m sure you’ll agree, are hardly a surprise either. When someone only leaves a single line of text and an avatar as proof to their existence it’s hardly a surprise when rational people get an incorrect impression… maybe if, you know, you had a Real Blog then people could get to know the real you, the inner Mohareb, the human Justin, and feel better about themselves when they mock you.

  23. Pingback: My Thanks To You On The First Anniversary Of Salted Lithium… YAY YOU. « …salted lithium.

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