WIHM: How Do Authors Auth?
So, it’s ‘Orrible Wimmin Month again, or words to that effect. How time’s whizzed since the last ‘un. And as it’s whuzz, so we’ve become that little bit older, that little bit smarter, and a FUCKTON badder. Shit Extraordinaire hit the American Fan with a SPLAT –and, by default, crap splashed across the Rest of the World– but how did we wash it off?
Some women marched, some performed, and some did both, writing and performing powerful words to rally the troops and keep ‘em rallied (Jessica – I’m looking at McYou.) Women in their squillions –every last one an inspiration– refused to be moved, and marched ‘til they were blue in the feet. And at our side, all the way, were some good, decent, men (to those blokes: you’re officially honorary women. This is a good deal, believe me: it means you get all of the good stuff, and none of the periods.)
And authors authed. We wrote speeches, songs, and poetry, and told horrific stories and terrifying non-fiction. We shared our fears, hopes, and predictions, and raised each other up by our blistered, marching soles. Fighting for what’s right is but one of our traits; something we can’t not do.
Another thing we did, and continue to do, is celebrate success: our own, and others’. And I LOVE it. I adore the fact that we take the time out to spread the wordy love and share our own achievements.
When you lot post your progress reports on social media, or fill us in with your daily word counts, I see happiness. I see pride. I see a person who’s maybe been down on their luck, with rejection after rejection, but who is finding their confidence again. See below re: crippling depression – most writers struggle with this shit on a daily basis, and reading about their triumphant achievements in the ugly face of uglier adversity makes me happy, gosh darn it. For some, social media is a diary; that people choose to share their innermosts with me is quite a thing.
And who knows? You might be spurred on by another writer’s work in progress. You might see someone else’s word count and up your own game. Inspiration itself is inspiring. It truly is. It’s infectious –and not in a herpes way. Seeing my writer friends be bitten, struck, muse-smooched, makes my insides all squishy. And this is how it should be – for me, at least. By interwebular osmosis, we soak each other up and spit each other out across the page.
There’s just soooo much to being an author – other than bookishness and wordstuff, that is. And much of this muchness is the same whichever writing desk you go to, with little –if any–deviation from the 2017 Haynes Manual: WRITER edition. For starters, we all love cats, right? Cats and coffee. Or maybe dogs and scotch. Either way, animals and beverages are part of our DNA.
Then there’s the default introvert setting. We do love our conventions and stuff, but that, inevitably, leads to PEOPLE! Eeee! *Nails down a chalkboard*. For me, I’m happy with one laptop, two cats, a bottomless brew, a people-free room, and pantsless legs, thank you very much. And you can’t really be sans pants at a convention. Or can you?
We’re geeks, too. And although said geekery may involve either the more comic-booky aspects of pop culture, or the less visual and more literary sorts of dweebishness, it needs to be rebadged as PASSION, pure and simps. Whether we love our cosplay and movie merchandise (these are not toys – they are Screen Accurate Scale Models, thank you very much) or whether we relish in the celebration of great literature, it’s the LOVE OF ART wot counts, bay-bee.
At this juncture, a special mention must go to the crippling depression and/or anxiety that affects probably *80 per cent of writers, but which, although it kills us, keeps some of us alive.
*Wholly unscientific figure there, plucked out of thin, mentally unbalanced air.
Most of us are skint. Potless, in fact. In accordance with this, you might see culinary status updates about Ramen Noodles and medical ones about imminently-necessary organ-pedalling, but still, we write – and still, we READ.
So, what do we read? Or who?
Me? I like to read good writing. I love to read great writing. But above and before any of that, I need to read writers. If a story doesn’t contain the very guts of its author, I’m usually uninterested. If you spend the first seventeen pages describing the blummin’ weather, well, I’d never know, because you’d have lost me at paragraph two. I get it: the weather was weatherish. It was doing whatever weathery things it needed to do to set up the weathery metaphor. Weatherly so.
Not everything has to take place on a stormy night; scary stuff happens in the daytime, too, y’know. More often than you might think, actually. Murdersome tendencies can manifest ‘emselves in the middle of summer in Lanzafuckingrote, so you don’t have to write all your stabby characters into rainy Bognor bastard Regis. You wanna talk? Have your characters talk for you. You want realism? Don’t write characters at all. Write people. And how do you do that? You start with observation, my friends. Observe your friends, your peers, your prime ministers and presidents (*vomit*), and … observe yourself.
There’s no end to the advice blogs. Don’t do this, DO do that, avoid x,y,z. My advice to anyone would be to read all the advice you want, or don’t. Take all the advice you can, and then ditch the bits that are no good to you. Every writer works a different way, and what suits one might not suit another. Learn the rules, so you can break ‘em. But do break ‘em. Write rulelessly.
As editor of a forthcoming anthology –which is not actually that forthcoming due to my own particular Ramen requirements, but which may eventually be published when I’m a hundred and three– I received over six hundred subs, most of which weren’t exactly mustard-cutters. (Note to self: next time, forget the open call lark and go for invitation-only.) Okay, so my subject was a gritty one– but you might be surprised how many folk glossed over the anthology’s theme and wrote about frolicking animals and sexy Russian spies.
For most of those subs, something was missing. And that something was easy to identify: it was the writer. Story after story was written in a way the author had been told to write. And you could spot it at fifty paces. The writers were in there somewhere amongst the bad, accurate habits, but their excavation would’ve been the tallest order since Lanky McLankerson asked for an expanding ladder.
But then … there came diffused lights at the arse end of a tunnel; getting sharper and sharper as writers started calling out to me. I heard the voice of Allegra Keys standing up straight and walking over to me, poking me in the ribs and telling me to buckle up, hold tight, and listen well. I heard Jessica McHugh’s outside-the-boxness, shamelessly beautiful in its horrific existence. Jo-Anne Russell nudged me in the ear with heartbreaking simplicity, and Michael Gonzalez and Matthew R.Davies dangled storyful carrots on which I just had to munch.
They spoke to me. And I don’t mean that in some tritey-shitey spiritual way. They actually did. And it’s easy to do; think about it. You know all those questions you ever had as a kid, and never did find the answers to? Ask them in a book. Give them to a character. All those thoughts you had, the ideas your parents told you were stupid? Write them down. And remember that time your partner told you you’d never amount to nuffin’? When he said you’d never be a writer, or that your idea for a film would never work because it was too fantastic? Get.That.Shit.Down.On.Paper. Write that screenplay. And then write about him.
When you have a fall, or maybe a car accident on the way home from work, how do you impart that information to your friends and family? Do you blather on for six minutes about the weather before you get down to the whole SPLAT scenario? Do you say that the rain was beating down on the roof of your 2011 Ford Focus, painted in racing green? Do you harp on about the fact you’d been to the hair salon that day, or mention what you were wearing? No – you tell people you crashed your car. Tell them how you crashed, that’s fine. But we don’t need to know about the make and size of your tyres, unless those rubber things somehow had something to do with the situation. Don’t be afraid to SPEAK to your readers the same way, and splash ‘em in the face with the blood of the accident.
Or, you could just ignore this whole thing because it’s just some bird’s fifty penceworth, and just do YOU. Please, for the love of Orwell, just do you. But if you do decide to sit down and have a chinwag with your readers, they just might hear you a little better.
The first rule of Write Club is that there are no rules. Just get on with it. Just write. And know that there are enough writers out there who are not you. And as all of those Not-Yous are busy being Them, you owe it to yourself to be YOU.
Are you still here? G’wan now – GIT!
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Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!