Three Dirty Birds Talk Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig
The Dirty Birds are dissecting Chuck Wendig’s opus The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience. Today we’re talking about the first 25 tips he gives, in the section he calls 25 Things You Should Know About Being A Writer.
Ana: And kick ass? I’ll be disappointed if there aren’t any instructions on ass kicking in this book.
Kate: I’m just getting this out here right now–I will never type that entire title again (Holy mouthfuls, Batman). It’s going to either be KAW or 1001 Wendigs (for those days when one Wendig isn’t nearly enough).
Ana: Seeing as we’re birds it should be CAW. Cawing about KAW?
Kate: Caw, caw!
Zoe: At first I was like, “THIS BOOK STARTS OUT GREAT,” and then I realized I was confusing “legion” with “legendary.” But Chuck’s right: we are legion. The internet is 55% porn and 45% writers. And it’s kind of like a Venn diagram, with a lot of overlap between the two.
Ana: I firmly identify with both factions.
Kate: Here, here. *raises coffee mug* I liked his first tip, and if you don’t get anything else out of this book, you need to internalize the concept that there is no One True Way. That everyone has their own workflow, their own style, their own things they do well or do poorly. And that you have to give yourself time to find yours. (As much as I covet the ability to outline without completely losing the story to the ‘oh, I already wrote that’ portion of my brain.)
Ana: But this goes against everything that Story Trumps Structure has taught me.
Zoe: I found at least one tip in my reading this week that did that. Chuck, for all his bluster and yelling, is actually far more moderate than Stephen James as far as telling people it’s okay to find their own way…and that every story has structure whether you accept it or not.
Kate: And, while finding your own way, he mentions that even the most talented writer will not succeed unless they invest time in the tools of the trade–spelling, grammar, plotting.
Zoe: I like where he said “The writer you are when you begin is not the writer you become.”
Ana: And thank God for that!
Kate: No kidding! I also like his very blunt acceptance that luck does factor into this, like it does in anything, and part of your job is to take the time to make sure you’re in the right place for luck to find you. If you never engage, never put your work out there, how can anyone find you?
Ana: Well, yes, you can influence your luck to some degree. Fortune favors the brave, after all.
Zoe: Yes, you’re far more likely to get lucky when you have ten stories out there than you are while you’re daydreaming about writing your first.
Kate: Which feeds into his tip that ‘You Are Your Own Worst Enemy’. You need to do the work. BICHOK, baby!
Zoe: I am totally my own worst enemy.
Kate: Me too, lately.
Zoe: I have this fantasy that before the internet existed, writers…found more productive ways to procrastinate. 😉
Kate: Lol. I think most of them found bottle to procrastinate in.
Zoe: Stop it! You’re ruining my dreamworld of clean houses and efficiently managed to-read piles!
Kate: Considering what’s currently going on in publishing right now (authors behaving badly, Ellora’s Cave, etc.), Tip 15 is mighty apropos: Act Like an Asshole, Get Treated Like an Asshole. There’s a ton of people wanting to break into publication–why would you put that unnecessary obstacle in your way? No one wants to work with a jerk. Or read one.
Ana: Very true. Of course, that goes for publishers too. No one subs to someone with a bad rep. Or well, smart people don’t.
Zoe: In the case of Ellora’s Cave right now, no one’s reviewing their books, and many people are boycotting purchasing them. Terrible for the authors caught up in it, but a reminder that you have to really scrutinize the people you’re going to partner with. (Although, if you got into EC early, you didn’t have the benefit of seeing the warning signs before you got involved.)
Ana: I liked tip number 16 too. “Writing Is Never Just About Writing.” We wish it were, but there’s so many other things that factor into it once you got your story written.
Kate: And wasn’t that a shock? That first time edits happened and you were trying to get the new story moving along, but the edits were due, and then you realized you also had a blog post to write? *panic in the writer’s room*
Zoe: In some ways I like that there are other parts to the job, because I like to switch gears to get my head together and catch my breath before I get back into the story. But sometimes those other responsibilities show up at inopportune moments…
Ana: Like when you really have to edit your book, but you also have to beta read that other writer’s book that you swapped favors with and there’s a promo op coming up that you can’t miss and you should probably not wait too long before getting the ball going on the next book you want to publish.
Kate: We need a cloning machine.
Zoe: Or assistants. My goal is get wealthy enough to afford an assistant.
Kate: That would be awesome.
Zoe: Number 18: THE WORST THING YOUR WORK CAN BE IS BORING. Aaaaaaamen. I may complain (privately) about all kinds of ways authors mangle stories, but the only truly unforgivable offense is boring me. The story drags, nothing happens—or, rather, lots of piddly, pointless, banal, inconsequential things happen, interrupted at random occasions for some big, overwrought thing that gets solved in a page in a half so that the author can get back to the tedium of Nothing Freaking Happening. Don’t do that. Don’t do it with your storyline, and don’t do it on a sentence level.
Kate: Zoe, you’re taking me back to that historical I read while I was checking out editing at different publishers. You don’t want to be the person who wrote that. That’s someone who should have paid more attention to Tip 21: Everything Can Be Fixed in Post. (Okay, I need to pay attention to that too.)
Zoe: I love that one. It’s so true. You get unlimited do-overs.
Ana: Knowing that I can rewrite is one of the things that stops me from going insane while writing that first draft.
Zoe: Yes, it’s not like making a movie where every minute you spend filming and editing costs big money, it’s not like painting where you’re using up expensive oil pigments with every stroke. It’s virtual letters on virtual paper, and all it costs is the electricity—which you were going to pay anyway, since if you weren’t writing you’d be looking at porn on the Internet.
Kate: Exactly. So there’s no excuse for letting ‘It’s not perfect!’ stop you. Write it anyway, fix it after. Sometimes you have to get it down on the screen before you can see what you really should have done. (Especially if you’re a pantser.)
Zoe: Yes, and don’t forget the “fix it after” part. Very important.
Ana: I also like the next piece of advice: Quit Quitting. I have a lot of friends who have 1001 wips and no finished drafts. I feel bad for them sometimes because finishing a novel feels freaking awesome and they don’t get to experience that!
Kate: I think a lot of people buy into that artistic ‘the muse took me over’ idea, and when they find out writing is actual work, they get bummed out. There’s a really warped idea out there of what the life of a writer actually is. (Which can sometimes make it hard for writers to carve out writing time, since the people around them assume it’s much easier than it is. Don’t be that person–guard your writer’s writing time the way you guard your own!)
Ana: I think a lot of people just get bummed out when they run into rough spots while writing their wips and it’s easy to start thinking if you abandon this stupid mess of a wip and start Awesome Idea #23, everything will go much easier.
Zoe: That’s my philosophy about romantic relationships. 😉 But this brings us back to tip #8: Writing Feels Like—But Isn’t—Magic.
Kate: Yep. It’s that whole “grass is greener” thing. Until you get into a relationship, a job, a new car, a new story idea, everything looks wonderful, there’s no faults, nothing that doesn’t go exactly to plan. Then you find out the new SO puts the toilet paper on backwards, the customers are annoying, the radio buzzes when you turn up the bass, and you don’t know quite how to get from AWESOME STORY EVENT #1 to AWESOME STORY EVENT #2.
Zoe: “Hammers above magic wands; nails above eye-of-newt.” You just keep working at it, instead of hoping a new WIP or a wonderfully generous muse will swoop in to rescue you.
Kate: We keep harping on work, work, work, and all that, but the last thing Chuck reminds us of is that it needs to be fun. If you hate your job, you don’t want to go in. If you aren’t enjoying the writing, then you won’t want to do it and it’ll show in the story. And who wants to be miserable, anyway?
Overall, I thought this section was a pretty good picture of what the writing life is actually like. Sure, it’s loads of fun, and I get grumpy if I’m not getting my writing time, but there’s a lot more to it than that image of the author swanning around to book signings, with camera flashes going off all around, and spending their days on the beach sipping margaritas and tapping away at the laptop. I like that Chuck is blunt and unafraid enough to talk about the parts of the industry that no one likes to discuss, like luck, and behaviour, and maybe you don’t have the basic skills yet, so there’s work you need to do.
Zoe: It’s a good mix of truth and encouragement.