Why impossible, you ask? Because you will fail at all of them, spectacularly, and on multiple occasions. I certainly have. And so has every author of my acquaintance.
But it’s still important to try, to fail, and then to try again. Why? Because that trying and failing and trying again makes us better writers — at least in the long run. In the short run, it just feels frustrating.
So what are the Three Impossible Writing Tips?
- Other Authors Are Not the Competition So Stop Seeing Them That Way, Except When They Are the Competition
- Cut Off the Mold, But Save It For Later
- Say No, Except When You Have to Say Yes, But You Really Want to Say No
As I said: impossible.
Let’s consider that first tip. Other Authors Are Not the Competition So Stop Seeing Them That Way, Except When They Are the Competition. We all have writers we admire and writers whom we hate, and plenty towards whom we feel indifference. Writers whom you both admire and hate often publish in the same genre as you. Do you write paranormal romance? Chances are that you have favorite authors in that genre whose books fill your shelves or your e-reader. Chances are also good that you’ve found authors in that genre whose work you can’t stand, and you will whine in private about how derivative it is, how boring, how mundane, blah blah blah. And those authors you love? Chances are better than good that a tiny (or not so tiny) part of you is also jealous. Why the hell didn’t I think of that idea? That is such an exquisite turn of phrase; why can’t I write like that? She signed a deal for how many books? And blah blah blah.
Do I fail at this? Constantly. There are a handful of authors whom I read only rarely because they are so bleepin’ good that I just want to throw out my computer and all my notebooks after I read one of their stories. There are other authors whom I read constantly, and I am more than a little envious of the fantastic worlds and characters they have created.
Seeing other authors as the competition is toxic and self-defeating. Endlessly comparing your work to that of another author will only result in self-doubt and crippling writer’s block. So stop. Just stop. Yes, other authors are competing with you for readers’ eyeballs and wallets. That’s a financial reality. But they are not competing with you for ideas or skill or time. You know who you are competing with in that regard?
You are not the same person you were last year, five years ago, ten years ago. You have grown and changed and matured as a writer. You have word skills and ideas now that younger you could barely even imagine. Exploit that. Tackle that political thriller you wouldn’t have touched five years ago. Start working on that erotic science fiction novel that wasn’t even a whisper in that back of your mind ten years ago. Forget about what your favorite, or least favorite, authors have written and focus on your own work.
Other authors are not the competition, except when they are. And the real competition is you.
On to the second impossible tip: cut off the mold but save it for later. What do I mean by mold? Well, you know how we all have that block of cheese in the fridge? Then one day you dig it out and it has mold on one end. So you chop off the moldy part, toss it in the trash, and proceed to make your sandwich with the good stuff.
Do the same with your writing, if you can. There’s mold in your story. Extra scenes. Superfluous characters. Too many words, to paraphrase Emperor Joseph II. And that mold is weighing down and rotting your story.
Send your story to a beta reader or five for a sniff test. If more than one of them smells something rancid in chapter two, take a good hard look. And then cut it out — but don’t throw it away. While I don’t recommend saving moldy cheese, you should save the mold in your story. That extraneous conversation between your super spy and the sexy bartender may not belong in this story, but it could be perfect for the story you haven’t thought of yet. Same goes for the crazy uncle with the glass eye who randomly wanders into the middle of chapter eight for no apparent reason. Stick all of these in a notebook or a desktop folder labeled “Homeless Character/Scenes” and check back regularly.
Will you fail at this, too? Undoubtedly. We all have characters we love for no rational reason, and scenes that make us giggle even though they interrupt to the narrative flow. Learning when and where to cut the mold is related to the first impossible tip; as you grow in skill and assurance as a writer, it will get easier to spot the mold, and (slightly) easier to force yourself to cut it out.
Which brings us to the third impossible tip: Say No, Except When You Have to Say Yes, But You Really Want to Say No. One downside to being a writer is that so many of us are just so gosh darn eager. We want to write. We live and breath and eat writing. We have ideas that are just clamoring to get out. So there we are, plugging along, wrestling writing time from chores and errands and school and (paying) work, and — bam. A capital-O Opportunity comes along. Maybe it’s the chance to contribute to an anthology with a lot of big names on the cover. Maybe it’s a ghost writing gig with a fat paycheck. Maybe it’s something you had never even considered, such as writing for a video game company or a paid residency.
Whatever it is, you have a decision to make. Yes or no? Abandon what you are working on and go with this new Opportunity? Or turn down the Opportunity and stubbornly continue on the way.
Personally, I hate giving up on stories. I write what I write because I enjoy reading it. I can’t find these stories anywhere else, so I write them. Would I stop if a capital-O Opportunity came along? More than likely, yes. I want to advance my career. I want to be able to pay my mortgage. I would write whatever I needed to write in order to get into that anthology and get noticed by those big names. I would sacrifice some of my pride to churn out a bestseller for someone else if it meant money in my savings account.
Have I failed at this third impossible tip? Without a doubt. If I had said yes, would I have enjoyed this other project? Who knows. Maybe I would have. But I would still have missed what I had been working on, that story sitting abandoned and unfinished. You might want to say no, but say yes because saying no is dumb.
Three impossible writing tips, inspired by my own repeated failures. And my successes. Both are important. I keep writing. I keep improving. And I say yes when I can.
Except when I don’t.
[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]