Three Dirty Birds Talk Kick-Ass Writer and 'Aspiring'


Three Dirty Birds are back, Kicking Ass and Taking Names…no, that’s not it…We’re talking about Chuck Wendig’s book: The Kick-Ass Writer. Today’s topic is 25 Things Chuck wants to say to so-called ‘aspiring’ writers.

Kate: Can I just say that I loved this chapter to pieces? It is, probably, my favourite chapter in the whole book. Because it’s not just for people who are starting out–there’s stuff in here for writers at all stages of their career.

Ana: Yeah, there were a lot of things that I could agree with.

Zoe: It would make a good pamphlet, something you could pick up every morning before putting fingers to keys. Motivational and grounding at the same time.

Kate: The first thing he reminds you of is that you have to be writing, which I liked. It’s easy to get buried in all the other things, or to think you’re writing, when all you’re doing is staring at the screen because you haven’t got a clue.

Ana: Hey, staring at the screen is a big part of my writing process.

Kate: I’m kind of stuck in the ‘staring at the screen’ point right now, which bothers me. I need to get the back of my mind turned back on again. But Chuck is right–it doesn’t matter how many ideas you have bouncing around in your head–get in that chair and type!

Ana: That’s true. Often I don’t get my best ideas until I actually sit down with my hands on the keys.

Kate: For me, I have to go do something mindlessly physical, and let my brain churn ideas, then I race to the keyboard. Which actually dovetails quite nicely with Tips #4 &5. No one has the same path to authorhood, no one has the same workflow, everyone is different, you need to carve your own path, and that’s okay. It’s the way it should be. If you have the exact same path and workflow as someone else, how innovative is your work likely to be? The differences between us are the differences between our brains.

Zoe: How am I supposed to make millions on my patented The One Way to Writing Success™ plan if you keep spreading rumors and lies like that? That was my retirement money, yo.

Ana: Don’t worry about it, Zoe. Experts like Steven James got your back.

Kate: ROFL.

Tip #8 was pretty straightforward. And in true Chuck style. Finish. (I’ll let you guys fill in the swearwords, ‘cause I’m a lady.)

Ana: I’ve done some writing this morning so I’m fresh out of swear words.

Zoe: COMPLETO EL POOPO. I may put that on a sign both above the computer screen and in front of the toilet….

Ana: He even said it in German too. Which moved me. -wipes away single tear-

Kate: No French. 🙁 Tips 9, 10, and 11, ladies? (I know Ana’s excited for these.)

Ana: Those are about rules, why they matter, and how you should know them before you break them. I just have too many friends who don’t bother with this. But I guess we all know at least one “I don’t want to be influenced” writer…

Kate: I think of stories I’ve read, where the author has over-reached their current skill level and it makes me sad. Because you can see what they were trying to do with the story, but they aren’t there yet, so it becomes a confused and dreary mess. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t push yourself–sometimes you’re more skillful than you realize, but you have to make sure you’re within stretching distance of the story you want to tell. I know I’ve started some stories, only to realize I didn’t yet have the experience to tell them the way they needed to be told, so they’re sitting to one side, waiting for me to grow a bit as an author before I pick them up again.

Ana: I have one story like that, and I keep going back to rewrite my first one, which is a special case because it’s fantasy, even though that’s really not my genre. (Circumstances led me to write that one…)

Zoe: All my stories feel like that at some point, which I think is another one of the tips in this chapter. Oh yeah, #6: Yes, It Always Feels This Way. The days when you feel like an amateur.

Kate: I like that he makes the distinction between reading for pleasure and reading to learn, and points out that, as a writer, your reading for pleasure days are going to be seriously limited, because you’ll be reading for research, or reading to figure out how some other author did something really cool, or because you’ve gotten into the habit of reading critically and now it’s hard to remember not to. (Though he doesn’t really say that last one–that’s something that happened to me. But I was the geek in high school that liked picking out the themes in the novels we read.)

Ana: There’s also another reason reading for pleasure gets hard for writers. You’re so used to looking for the shortcomings in your own writing you immediately spot them everywhere else too. And it’s really annoying.

Kate: It is.

Zoe: Yes! I’m reading a good book now, and I’m still editing it in my head. I miss being blissfully ignorant. (Well, sometimes.)

Kate: He does a bit of a chat about the money side of things too. I like that he looks at those parts of the business, because for so long, it’s been “Don’t talk about money. It’s rude. You’re an artist–you’re not supposed to care.” And so many people have bought into that starving artist bullshit that it is, indeed, coming true. I’d like to make a living off my writing. I’d like to know that people value it enough to put out a couple of dollars. That the hundreds or thousands of hours spent on a book is properly recompensed. Most people wouldn’t work in a store for the kind of money most writers get, if you look at $ per hour. But writing is a long haul, and the beginning of your career pays even worse than fast food.

Ana: True, I earned okay in the fast food biz. (Just the work sucked… and the way I always smelled like onions.)

Zoe: I don’t run into a whole lot of writers these days who don’t want to talk about the money (at least obliquely if not in detail). Which is good: I think people should definitely value the work they put into it and the product they create. I think self-publishing has done a lot to open up those conversations.

Kate: And it’s good. You can go to any job search site and find out what people in any other profession are making. But until recently, finding out what a writer made was tantamount to asking to sit in their bedroom during sexytimes.

WHICH NONE OF US WANT TO DO. (Or at least not this bird.)

Ana: I like to imagine all my fellow writers are asexual. (Actually that goes for most people I meet. And all my family.)

Zoe: Yes, too busy writing to have sex. Too busy writing and counting their writing monies.

Kate: Lol. Of course, in order to get those monies, you have to put yourself in the right place at the right time. Chuck talks about meeting the Universe in the middle, which pretty much goes for any career. No one is going to find you if you aren’t out there.

Ana: Unless your name is Waldo.

Even then, I can never find him… Of course, if he posted on blogs, and interacted with other writers and readers, he might be easier to track down. (On a side note, why are Chuck’s examples always of someone getting hit by lightning or eaten by monsters?)

Ana: Personal experience? I don’t know. I like how he emphasizes that self-publishing isn’t “the easy way out.”

Zoe: They also involve pooping a lot.

Kate: I think I wiped that part from my memory. And the idea of self-publishing scares the pants off me (or would, if I was wearing any). I like to have The Editor in Question holding my hand through the process.

(Zoe: Ha. Wiped. Ha.)

Kate: He talks about jealousy and depression, and how people are envious of writers who appear to be doing better than them, and then they get depressed and decide they’ll never be a success. (I just get cranky, for the most part, because they’ve already got the stumbling around blindly running into walls part over with, and I’ve got so many bumps on my forehead I look like a multi-corn.)

Ana: The only writer you should be comparing yourself to is the writer you were a day, a week, a year ago.

Zoe: Yes! I almost always compare favorably to that writer.

Ana: Once you lose out you can start worrying.

Once you give up, too. But, and I may be out to lunch with this, I wonder if some of this comes from not having completely honed your skills? I remember Brandon Sanderson telling a story about writing, I think it was 12 novels, before he actually got an agent. 12! You can guarantee he learned a lot about writing over the course of that many words.

I’m still working on getting my first million out of the way! I don’t know who said this, but someone put it quite eloquently when they said the problem with comparing yourself to other writers is that you see all your shitty first drafts while you only ever see everyone else’s highlight reel.

Kate: The Editor in Question said that to me at one point, not quite like that. The guy you’re thinking of is a religious leader in the States, Steve Furtick–I have that quote in my signature line on Absolute Write. But it’s very true–anything coming out in the stores or online (barring future EC releases, apparently), will have been through edits with someone with some training and skill. It’s not the first draft anymore–not even close.

Ana: #22 kind of reminds me of hanging out with a group of writers where everyone is everyone’s friend and no one dares say anything negative about anyone else’s writing. It can get tiring.

Kate: Yeah, when everything’s peaches and cream, you don’t learn anything. The same as when everything’s horrible, no matter what you do. Critique groups and crit partners need to strike a balance. If they aren’t, you need a new one. Don’t be afraid to sever, or at least severely attenuate that connection. At the same time, you need to try to be that kind of partner too.

Time and luck, that’s what it takes to find the people who will best help your work grow. (Time and luck and some self-awareness.) And the same goes for becoming the type of person who can help others’ writing.

Kate: The last tip, #25, made me laugh, because in it, he’s talking about how you have to write, and he says, “Onward, fair penmonkey. Onward.” And now I want a t-shirt with Lady Godiva galloping into battle on a rainbow unicorn, waving Frodo’s sword, with the penmonkey following behind on a donkey. (I have no idea where that came from, but if anyone wants to do it up for me, I’d love you forever.)

Ana: Well, no one can say you lack imagination.

Kate: You can’t say you don’t want one.

About the author: Kate Lowell

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