(Brand New – Play Crack the Sky)
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Lone Star College – Kingwood and give a talk about my craft and about writing flash fiction, to kick off professor Icess Fernandez Rojas’ master lecture series in her Creative Witing class. Her students are working on a manuscript that’s going to include work from the class and work they come up with on their own. Man, it was an amazing experience. The lines they came up with in the exercise I had them do were straight up exquisite.
(Shout out to professor Pamela Painter for her essay in The Rose Metal Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction)
I felt I did a good job teaching the class, and I hope that I’ll see their work in journals and even published in the near future. Man, I wasn’t that good when I was their age!
It was a humbling experience.
Plus, thanks to prompting by the students I was able to talk about fanfiction and wrestling and dungeons and dragons.
That week, I had been thinking about, hey, as much as I hate top 10 things to do as a writer posts, wouldn't it be so meta for me to have my OWN top 10 things to do as a writer post?!
But how to say what I want to say without saying things that haven't already been said a thousand times over a hundred thousand different blogs?
That same week, I had the idea pop into my head. A friend linked me to a post by an author that I'm not going to name here because, it might seem petty, but I don't want to give [them] extra views. It was painful. The sheer arrogance, man. Paraphrasing: "I'm better than people who publish traditionally. Also, I'm just as good as [top names in fantasy]" another, paraphrasing "traditional publishing is in the past, the only way to go, talking down to another writer who had been published by one of the Big 5.
And then, just like that, I got it.
DOSAGUILAS - TEN THINGS YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN'T DO AS A WRITER BUT REALLY YOU DON'T REALLY HAVE TO LISTEN TO ME SINCE IT'S YOUR LIFE, MAN
(1) Don't be a dick
You know, this is the easiest rule and yet the hardest rule for people to follow. First off, you shouldn't generally be a dick, period. Please, thank you, yes sir, no sir, yes ma'am, no ma'am, go a long way. .You don't know what that other person's going through. I'm a big fan of David Foster Wallace's This is Water commencement speech. You don't know what's going on with the other person. You also don't know if you're ever going to see them again, so why be a total dick? I live in Houston, third-largest city in the United States, and there are times when I run into multiple strangers I've seen before. And in the writing industry, people have long memories. Agents will remember a writer who attacked their physical features after rejecting a manuscript. People will remember writers who call themselves the greatest thing since sliced bread and have seventeen grammar mistakes in the first page and three in the Amazon blurb.
(2) Don't hit send/post/publish if you're mad
I feel this one should be included in the above but at the same time it needs its own thing. One thing my old boss used to tell me: It's better to be right than first. It's also better to be level-headed when you're tweeting something. The internet will not forget. Another thing about "don't hit send or post" is that you really gotta think things through. There was that PR executive who tweeted out "I'm going to Africa, I hope I don't get AIDS! LOL!" before landing across the ocean to find out that in the 10 hours she had been airborne she was now a meme and had also lost her job. There was the former Gawker Media writer who gave all the fuel to fence-straddlers on the Gamergate situation when he said "Nerds deserve to be bullied." Wait a bit. Cool down.
(3) Don't assume that there are only two choices: self-publishing or the Big 5.
This is something I've seen with some people in the indie author crowd. Again, not a lot of them are like that. I've met several who see writing and success the same way I do: that there's no money in this field and we're doing it for the love of writing. But there are some who feel that the only way to get out there is ONLY by having Penguin or Random House offer you a contract or going through CreateSpace and nothing inbetween. That's just now how it is. I'm saying this as someone with a contract through a small press, and as someone who was querying every press I could find on ManuscriptWishlist that fit what I was looking for. Now, granted, you should be on the lookout for scams and for shitty deals (like, year-old publishers who expect you to pay for your own books), but that doesn't mean you go back to that either-or choice.
(4) Don’t feel entitled
The fact that I have an MFA doesn’t entitle me to publication. I could have gotten one from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and I would have been as entitled to respect and recognition as if I had earned one from Full Sailing Governor Phoenix Online University.
The fact that you wrote a book doesn’t entitle you to an agent.
The fact that you wrote a short story doesn’t entitle you to immediate publication.
Good sales don’t entitle you to be free from criticism.
The world owes you nothing.
4. Don't go into this field to make money
Writing, like art, can be very lucrative if you're lucky. If you want to tell stories, that's great. If you want to tell stories and expect someone to suddenly show up at your doorstep and give you all the dollarydoos.
This won't be you unless you're extremely lucky:
"Yeah, but what about--"
No, the exceptions prove the rule. There's a lot of luck involved alongside the hard work. There's no science to being in the right time and place because there is no way to accurately predict which way the writing market will go.
5. Don't write for the market, write for yourself
Some of you indie authors might disagree with me and tell me, no, man, you have to constantly write series to keep your Amazon numbers up and here's the math and--
I get it.
But it also feels dishonest.
Like, when Twilight came out, there was a rash of Paranormal Romance novels wanting to be the next twilight because people were like, oh hey, they're super into this! I'm going to market myself and see if I can get all them moneys!
And then they don't sell.
Now, I've written before about how there's nothing wrong with trying to make a buck. (I have a non-writing related day job, after all) However, readers who were finished with Twilight and saw Not Twilight: A story about the vampire Fredward and the love of his life Ella they'd immediately see it as a cheap knockoff.
Now, if you want to write paranormal romance involving vampires because you happen to truly love paranormal romance involving vampires, then go right ahead. You're still not guaranteed anything BUT you'd feel a lot better inside.
6. Don’t take yourself too seriously
I think this should apply to any profession, by the way. We’re all humans. We all poop and fart. Learn to appreciate the ridiculousness of what writing is: you sitting in front of a computer or a notebook writing words that make people see things in their heads. We’re not in rarefied air.
6. Don’t be afraid of feedback
Flashback: Mid-August, 2006, Student Union 1.28, Brownsville, Texas. An 18-year old DosAguilas turns in his first assignment for edits. It is a short piece on the university’s welcome week. The draft is ready. Young DosAguilas thinks he’s hot shit, after all, he thinks he’s on his way to being one of the best writers to ever come out of the Rio Grande Valley.
The editor prints it out, makes a few suggestions, and then says to show it to the staff moderator, a hands-on woman who cut her teeth working the copy-editor pool at the Chicago Sun-Times. She tears the draft apart. Red ink EVERYWHERE.
But then I realized…wait…this is part of the process, and I have to get used to it. I mean, how else do you grow? Three and a half years there and I never turned in anything that was a perfect first draft. Fast forward several years later and I’ve still got the same ambition, and now I’m equipped with the ability to process feedback. I believe that I sometimes freak out/surprise some of my editors (and my publisher) because of my sometimes-too-eager desire to get feedback. YES, THANK YOU SIR/MA’AM MAY I HAVE ANOTHER.
Now, this is not to say you shouldn’t be able to get even a little bit defensive of your work. I think if you worked on something and really put in the effort, you should feel proud and want to defend it. However, there’s a line between defending it and being unnecessarily stubborn. If someone’s telling you something needs fixing, evaluate where they’re coming from and maybe consider fixing it. I have seen writers post things in forums requesting feedback, and when they receive that feedback, they react with annoyance and anger. Fast forward a few weeks and they’re back in the same forums, complaining they’re getting negative reviews that they probably wouldn’t have gotten had they listened to the feedback generously offered before.
My fiancée tends to be my number one beta reader. It’s important for me that she does this because 1) She’s got an English degree and a proper background in literary theory that far outweighs mine. I mean, her thesis was about toilet humor in literature and how it reflected the human condition AND IT ALL MAKES SENSE. 2) She’s able to see what I’m not seeing or catching because she hasn’t spent the last [X] hours staring at the screen and poring over the text.
(Also, she’s an incredible writer in her own right. Her use of detail is exquisite.)
For what it’s worth, you also have to keep in mind the intent of the reviewer. Are they just focusing on grammar? If so, you should be able to tell them to also scan for content, unless the grammar is so atrocious that it prevents even the simplest form of content editing.
You’re also not going to want someone who’s just going to heap praise on you and blow smoke up your ass. That’s not going to do you or your writing any favors and you’re not going to grow from it. The Super Saiyan analogy is there in plain sight: Every time your writing is roughed up, you get stronger when you recover.
7. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone
At worst, it’s going to be a few hours wasted and maybe a headache or two. At best, you’re going to discover you’re really good at something! I’ve told y’all the story that when I went into my MFA I was stubbornly on the “haha I’m just going to get some +3s to my INT and then go back to being a super cool genre writer” side. Then I got out of the comfort zone (which was swords and sorcery and a lot of Imperial Guard) and I read more literary fiction, I wrote more literary fiction, and then I realized that holy shit, I was really digging writing litfic because I didn’t feel the crippling sluggishness I felt when I tried to write fantasy or sci-fi. It also made me really figure out what was wrong with the way I wrote fantasy!
And honestly, you can take this one and also apply it to things outside of writing because you’re going to get a lot of inspiration from there. I used to hate podcasts but I got so annoyed by the lack of good music stations in Houston that I started listening to them and learning a lot more. I used to hate audiobooks and economics and I just “read” one that was 9 hours long and it felt like I was finished with it in two days (of commuting).
Explore the world outside your comfort zone!
That’s really pretty much it. I could probably come up with more but honestly, all you need is number one: Don’t be a dick to others, don’t be a dick to yourself, don’t be a dick in general.