Bulfinch’s Guide to Writing

I talked to 2000 Texas school kids yesterday using remote teleconferencing from a high-tech facility in Huntsville Texas. It was pretty cool. They would un-mute their microphones and their local camera would use that action to zoom in on the individual talking. Robot cameras rule!

I talked to these kids in four different sessions (3 different talks, one repeat.)

One of them was Myths about writing…

You’re a writer so you must be rich.

Ha. Less than five percent of all professionally published writers are making a full time living from their writing. Those that are able to just write are often barely scraping by.

You’re a writer so you must be famous.

Ha. Ha. Sanjaya is famous. Paris Hilton is famous. People whose faces frequent the covers of the Inquirer are famous. Perhaps a lot of reading Americans can pick out JK Rowling’s or Stephen King’s face from a line up, but it’s really a handful of writers who’ve broke out into actual fame.

Thank God.

You have to know someone/have an agent to be a published writer.

No. You have to put your butt in the chair and write. As Heinlein said: write, finish what you write, send out what you write, keep sending out what you write, avoid needless rewriting. Do that and you too will be a published writer.

You have to drink/do drugs to be a writer.

No. You want an excuse to drink, go someplace else.

You have to suffer/experience great tragedy to be a writer.

Right. Hand me that hammer. Hold out your hand. Suffering? That hurts? That hurts so much you can’t think, much less write? Maybe you’re not suffering enough. Hold out your other hand.

You have to write 8 hours a day.

I’ve done this a few times. It almost falls into the hitting yourself with the hammer camp. Most writers I know feel blessed if they can write for 2-4 hours a day. It’s like the breathing analogy of culture. You breathe culture out, you breathe culture in. You try standing there and only breathing out.

If you have a good idea, the rest is easy.

I kill you. Every professional writer I know has had someone walk up to them and say, “I have this great idea. You write it and we’ll split the money.” As far as the actual effort involved in writing, this is the equivalent of having someone saying, “I have five cents. You put in $19.95 and we’ll split it.”

Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.

Since you’re writing fiction, you can just make everything up.

Oh, yeah. Right. I’m going to get my science, history, and cultural references by making them up. And this is going to make my fiction more readable.

Try talking about a gun for instance and confusing one that is a revolver for an automatic. Count the letters from the gun guys.

And then there’s this. The unlikely your mcguffin, you’re central conceit, the more you have to ground it with surrounding realistic detail to sell it to your reader.

Just make it up? Right.

You don’t need to be a reader to be a writer.

This one particularly bugs me. People approach me and say, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.” “What kind of stuff do you like to read?” “Oh, I don’t like to read.”


You don’t have to understand/be familiar with a genre to write in it.

“I’ll just knock off a few romances to support my literary efforts.”

“They don’t like my mainstream work. I’ll just do some SF novels since the standards aren’t as high.”

If you still don’t understand why this is wrong, hand me that hammer. Hold out your hand.

No. It won’t make you understand but it will make me feel better.

8 thoughts on “Bulfinch’s Guide to Writing

  1. I was once told, by a student in a workshop I was teaching, “You see, I’m an actor, and I don’t make very much money, so I thought I’d support myself by writing until I really get a foothold in my acting career.”

    What can one say? I was awestruck.

    What was the kids’ reaction to all this?

  2. Nice! Thanks for more writing on writing. As someone who doesn’t send enough stuff out, I especially like the Heinlein quote.

    I’ve just spent the morning digging around some of the Viable Paradise links and others, trying to see what ghastly cliches are alive and well in my own attempts. I think you mentioned once that reading about writing is another form of not writing, so you’ll be happy to know that’s been haunting me as I “took the morning off.” Perfect that I find today’s EOB post just as I’m finishing my diversion.

    Hey, I was on IMDB the other day and saw Jumper 2 (announced, 2011) listed under your entry. Is the sequel a done-deal?

    Best. -steve

  3. Heh. I, too, very much like the Heinlein quote. And writing without reading? Bwuuu-UUUUHHHH?

    Interestingly, I just posted a lengthy bit about writing mistakes in my LJ earlier today.

  4. I’m fine, up until we hit the submitting part . . . .

    My big problem is that I don’t write short fiction, and I understand that it’s a lot harder to get people to look at novels if you haven’t published short fiction.

    Meh. I don’t *think* in short stories, dammit!

  5. Okay, I’ve been gone long enough that I’m only just reading this two and a half months later.

    Thanks for the tip, sir!

    So . . . where is everyone? Busy writing, I hope . . . .

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