Six Hundred Sixty Six Bottles of Blood on the Wall: 6 things I’ve learned part 1
On May 2, 2012, I sat down at my keyboard for the first time in a long time and started writing. It took a while to get that fire lit, but goddamn, it went inferno on May 2. I wrote the stories, 2 of my best, “A Scalene Love Triangle” and “Precious Damaged Cargo” in the same sitting. To date, I still consider that first serious writing session to be the best and I don’t know that I’ll ever top it. Both stories will see print this summer, but I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t even revise them right away, I just started with the next story, “Justice and Forgiveness” which I love, but has been rejected more times then I care to admit.
So when I started writing those stories, I had no idea what I would ever do with them. I knew vaguely about Duotrope and my go to website SNMhorrormag.com. But that was it. Luckily I stumbled onto HorrorTree early on. HT didn’t exist back when wrote my first batch of stories back in college and I never knew what to do with them. And a year ago, I didn’t know anything about markets, about revision, about cover letters, about publishing. I was dumber than a bucket of shit, but I knew that I had at least a little game when I was rocking my keyboard. Or at least I wanted to give it a shot. I have learned a ton of stuff about myself, writing, and publishing over the last year and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you all. For the next 3 weeks, I’ll give you 6 things that I’ve learned about writing in the last year. 666 was way too many, but I think 18 things, broken up in groups of 6 will work just fine.
For those of you just starting out or new to writing, this is pretty much for you but hopefully I can offer something, be it a minor detail or a slanted perspective to those of you who’ve been at this for a lot longer than myself.
I won’t lie, I don’t have this mapped out (I don’t outline). I’m just shooting from the hip so in no particular order, here’s the first batch of 6 things I’ve learned in my first year.
- You can’t write unless you write: Yeah, I know how obvious right? But as obvious as this is, this is literally the most important thing that I’ve learned and I’m still dealing with it. I talked about my struggles with writing in previous blogs and I imagine it’s something that most people go through. I’ll write it tomorrow or I need to think this out first. Don’t wait. Sit down and start writing. Good things will start happening, but if you never sit down to write and give yourself and your story a chance, that great idea you have might as well be nothing. I remember sitting down that first time with two very loose ideas and as soon as I started writing, the magic happened, dots started connecting, emotion started flowing, and twists started setting themselves up. Stories will write themselves, but only if you give them a chance to. That means taking the time, the focus, and the energy to give the story a chance to write itself. Sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s when the real work starts, but more often than not IT DOES and it’s a lot of fun to see it happen. It’s a hell of a lot easier to just read a book or watch a movie or get lost watching guys get hit in the nuts on youtube. It took me a long time to figure that out. But answer this question: DO YOU WANT TO JUST CONSUME WHAT OTHERS CREATE OR DO YOU WANT TO CREATE FOR CONSUMPTION? I know what my answer is and now that I know, I can take writing seriously. I hope if you’re here, you can too.
- I’m a binge writer: maybe this comes from years of hard drinking, but I when I write, I write in binges. I have real trouble jumping in for 20 minutes here or an hour there. Instead, I like to crank the entire story out all at once. I think most of my best stuff has been written in one shot, but I also know my limits. 4-5 thousand words in one sitting is about my max. I love to bang short stories out in one sitting. I just finished a new story, my longest to date, around 8,000 words and it took me like six weeks to get a revision and a final polish done. It took forever to get back into the flow, the tone, to reconnect with my characters and remember where I was when I finished and realize where I wanted the story to go. I think this is why the “novella” for lack of a better word I’m working on is taking me so long. I’m not really okay with that, but lately I do try to write in smaller, more consistent doses. My forte, however, is to go on a writing binge and get as many words out as I can and once I get rolling, I don’t like to stop until the first draft, no matter how shitty, is finally done. I can’t because life doesn’t usually allow me to write in binges, and I’m trying to train myself to write in smaller chunks because I think writing every day is important. I’m not there yet, but I’ll be there someday.
- Writers actually get published: Ever enter a contest? Ever win one? Ever hear about the actual winners? That’s how I felt about writing when I started. It was like buying a lottery ticket with hours of your time and a piece of your heart. You probably wouldn’t win and you’d never hear about or meet the winner, thus making the whole thing a scam. It’s not. Believe it or not, anthologies and magazines actually publish from the pool of stories submitted to them. This probably sounds either weird or obvious but it’s true. I never thought one of my stories would get picked up, and that after a few months I’d just shoot this dream in the head too. But I kept submitting anyway. And finally it happened. That first acceptance shifted my entire paradigm. Realizing that someone out there was willing to even read my work, let alone to publish AND pay for it? That changed my entire attitude when it came to writing. If it hasn’t happened for you yet, keep on keeping on. It will and once you get that first one, the confidence will build, the reality that it is possible will set in, and you’ve feel a hell of a lot better when you sit down to write.
- Writers can’t compete with reality: I’m writing this during the Boston manhunt. This whole week has been insane. Do you all realize that there was a guy from Texas that crossed finish line just before the bombs went off and then went back home to Texas just in time for the explosion at the fertilizer plant? Not to mention the insanity of the entire week in Boston. It sucks that this is all real and that real people are hurt and dead. That’s awful. I can read it and I can write it but when it’s real, that’s just not okay. And I’ve heard multiple news anchors say, “Thursday night into Friday is straight out of the movies.” It’s true. I don’t know how reality constantly does it, but somehow it’s usually crazier than fiction. It sucks for all those involved, and I’m sorry. I hope they take that piece of shit alive and the end to all of this is anticlimactic. It’s not just this story, there’s something crazy like this almost weekly. As a horror writer, real world crap like this can really make you question what you do and why you do it. I don’t really know what you do with that, and it feels weird. But don’t let a couple radical shitheads ruin it for you and for everyone out there who might enjoy and learn from reading your work.
- Sometimes first drafts get published: I won’t name the stories that I’ve sold that were pretty much first drafts, but I’ve done it and it happens. When I say first draft I mean minimal revision, not first draft meaning wrote it and sent it. That’s a dick move. At least clean up the grammar, spelling etc. Ideally, you should take it through at least one heavy rewrite/revision, but another thing I’ve learned that I’ll comment on in the future is that most writers are procrastinators and need to stare down the barrel of the deadline gun to fucking get their shit together. Sometimes that’s me, but I’m trying to fix that. I’ve definitely sent pretty clean first drafts out and I’ve actually sold a few. I don’t know if that is good or bad but I’ve done it. I don’t endorse it but I don’t want to be a hypocrite either. And if you do, make sure you at least edit for the basics.
- Revision is amazing: Yeah I know what I just said, but that is in rare cases. Like super rare. And if you do send first drafts that aren’t at least polished you are playing with fire. Protect your name and your brand and only send out quality work unless you don’t have a choice, and usually that lack of choice is because you dicked around for a month before you decided to take your deadline seriously. I won’t hate, I’m doing it now, writing this instead of finishing drafts and editing for the end of April deadlines I intend to meet. I’m going to do a whole process blog in the future, probably more than one, but revision is almost always a huge part of my process. I hate it, hate revision, hate the process, hate spending all that time not creating something new, but it usually takes my story from a little below average to better. Maybe someday I’ll post pictures of me killing a pen while going through a draft, but not today. Write it, let it sit, go back, and scribble all over it with a pen. Your second draft will shine. Then polish and submit. That’s my usual MO but my process and writing ideology is fluid and I think yours should be too. When you revise you will cut the nonsense and find connections that you never intended or knew existed. It’s pretty cool. Revise. Don’t send out bullshit. Also, I kind of follow SK’s rule when it comes to revision, cut, cut, cut. Kill your darlings. If you’re anything like me, you write your first drafts wordy and REPETITIVE as hell. Ain’t nobody got time for that. During revision, cut what you don’t need, even if it’s only a word or two every other sentence. Get that story TIGHT!
Alright, there’s part one of three coming at you. Like I said, no particular order and at this point I have no idea what I’m going to write about yet for next week. Should be fun. Maybe we’ll say thing one is that I don’t outline. Never have, don’t plan on starting. Another might be try new things, actually it will be. There’s a teaser. Alright, I’ve rambled way too long. As always if you’ve got anything for me send it to [email protected] Since I get less than one email per week, I’ll make sure I answer.
Keep reading, keep writing, and keep it real,