5 Low Down Dirty Tricks For Days When You’d Rather Swallow A Pinecone Than Write

This: It’s what’s for dinner.

No matter how much you love writing, no matter how much it tickles your fancy*—whatever that fancy is—there are days when doing it sucks balls. Giant, unpleasantly hairy, sentient alien balls that, apres sucking, are planning to raze the planet to the bedrock.

Unless that is what happens to tickle your fancy. In which case, disregard previous statement. And, you know, ew.**

Anyway, my point is that sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes because of the material, sometimes because of your own brain. Yesterday, I started off the day with a rejection letter, which didn’t do much for my motivation. Some days it just doesn’t want to get done.

Which is when you have to cheat.

I might have a few methods I use. Might.

If you’re looking for ways to get ‘er done on the crappiest of days…*slides you this list under the table*… you might find this of interest.

Steph Snow’s Low-Down Dirty Tricks For Crappy Writing Days

1. Bribery. Hey, it works for toddlers, it works for me. Sometimes you just need that carrot. For example, yesterday I promised myself that I could have an extra comic from the local comic store if I ground out the word count. Yes, I am essentially a 12-year-old in some ways.

2. Enlisting Friends. Meatspace friends, online friends, whatever. Ask someone for a motivation boost. Just, you know, don’t do it like a whiny little brat.
Yesterday, my friend Kat came over in the morning to make cookies and talk writing. Between the chat and the copious amounts of refined sugar, I had the needed boost to finish off ALL THE THINGS in the afternoon.

3. Public Shaming. Ah, social media. You’re so good at this. It’s the flip side of the ‘enlist friends’ scenario. Announcing that you will do something in public invokes the good ol’ social pressure. You have to do it then, or other people will know. And judge you with their smug, judge-y faces. Those jerks.

4. Get To The Good Bits. Note that this only works if what you have to do isn’t a specific project that’s on a deadline. Deadlines trump all. But sometimes, on a longer project, you can get around the bullshit roadblocks by switching to a different part. Write the bit you really want to: the fight scene, the part with the robot butlers, the time warp orgy. Whatever.

5. Just Grind It Out. All right, not so much a trick this one. But I will say that there have been days, really awful shitty days, when all I thought I was managing to do was smear half-dead ideas on the page until closing time. I hated what I’d done and thought it wasn’t worth a syphillitic monkey’s fart.
Until I read it over the next day. Then it realized that it wasn’t bad. It might not have been perfect—though there have been moments when the shittiest, hardest pages ended up being the ones I liked best—but it was far from the word abortion I thought. So, if all else fails, keep in mmd that you could be dead fucking wrong about the quality of the work you’ll produce. It might give you the juice you need to hit that word count.

Got your cheat sheet? Good. Then get out of here and write some words, you little badgers. It’s okay to use these tricks on the DL. I won’t tell anyone.

*Fancy Tickling is illegal in two provinces and nine states.
**Not that I’m judging you. But, seriously, man, where do you even get a fetish like that?

Hesitation Marks: How I Finally Started That Goddamn Rewrite

I have all the pieces…(Photo credit: wikipedia)

Last week, I was working on the new outline for the Novel Rewrite. I had index cards and a sharpie and a bunch of notes, and was happily laying them out in different patterns on the living room floor. Since more than one of the cards reads Some Dude Dies Horribly, it was a little serial killer meets Kindergarten art class.*

I finally found a pattern I semi-liked, one which made sense and that I could work with. I took a photo of it, made some more notes…and then just stopped. The cat came to sit on the index cards I had so thoughtfully laid out for her. I did a couple of blog posts.  Checked out some new short story listings. Whenever someone stepped near the cards, I’d have my Archimedes moment and tell them to not disturb my circles. And if they asked, I’d say it was going…well.

One thing I didn’t do was actually start the damn rewrite. It’s not ready yet, I told myself. I don’t want to rush this part. I have to make sure everything’s ready.

Eventually, I realized the problem: I was stalling.

Those of you who have met me in meatspace probably know that stalling isn’t my deal. I’m that person who loses patience with the never-ending discussion of where to go for dinner after ninety seconds of “I don’t know, whatever you guys want to do.”** The most polite term is probably ‘decisive’, the least polite ‘bossy and arrogant as hell’.

And here I was, vacillating like a thirteen year old girl trying to choose between two colours of mascara, Carbon Black or True Black.***

Thankfully, I figured out what was going on before I lost too much time. I was only stalling because I didn’t want to fuck it up. So I argued with myself that it was already fucked up; the zero draft is proof of that. After that, it was easier to put on my Big Girl Bra and get started.

Lesson of the day: the quest for perfection is a pointless waste of fucking time.**** All it will do is run out the time clock on your life and leave you with nothing.

Better to just strap down your important bits, grab the chainsaw, and dig in.

So? What are you waiting for?

*Kindergarten Killer, coming soon to a cinema near you.
**I’m starting to think that my friends do this just so they can watch me have one of my Hulk moments.
***The fuck does this even mean, cosmetics companies? And don’t get me started on Blackest Black, Deep Black, Jet Black, or Black Out. It’s fucking black.
****This might have also been one of the themes of the Lego movie I saw over the weekend.

5 Things For “Aspiring”* Writers To Fucking Stop, and 1 To Start

See this guy? He’s thinking big.

1. Stop with the fucking timidity. Who’s had the following conversation?
Random Person: So, what do you do for work/fun?
    You: I…kind of…um….write. Maybe. Sort of.
    Random Person: Really? What are you writing about?
    You: *throws a drink in their face and hides*
I have.  And it has to stop.
Don’t admit you’re a writer. Be proud of it. Take all those insecurities and throttle them with your bare hands before stuffing their nearly-lifeless corpses under the floorboards and setting the floor on fire. They’re dragging you back like the Sad Demons of Despair.
Be bold. Be brave. The universe hates a coward.

2. Stop bitching about the job. No one wants to hear your rant about the gatekeepers, or that awful book that sold a billon copies, or why traditional publishing is dead just before you get to it. Yes, there are disappointments lying in wait out there for all writers. Yes, you will be rejected, criticized, told you suck, and otherwise verbally spat upon.** That’s the deal.
We are all going through it. And while complaining might feel like it’s helping, it’s not. You’re just dragging yourself down. Focus on solutions instead. They’ll get you a lot further.***

3. Stop looking for Bertholt’s Magnificent Spell of Writing. The Snowflake, the Index Card, The Reverse Outline, The Muse Fondler****…these sound more like sex positions than writing styles. And, like sex positions, there’s nothing wrong with trying it, if both you and the manuscript are willing. But there is no magic solution. What worked for That Smug Best-Selling Author may not work for you. And it certainly won’t work in the same way. This is because you are individuals instead of writer robots.
So, try the new stuff, with the ink and the chicken feathers and the strategically placed cleaning supplies. But do it because it’s fun and it’s something you want to try, not because you think it will solve everything.

4. Stop with the coffee. Ha! Trick! You should never stop with the coffee! Onwards to heart-exploding heights!

5. Stop making excuses. No more, “I want to write but I don’t have time.” If these are the words that tumble from your mouth at the first mention of writing, then you don’t want to be a writer. You want to have written. Nothing wrong with that, but stop fooling yourself.
Or, if you protest at my unfair statements, prove me wrong. Commit. Put a ring on it.

Which brings us to:

1. Start writing. Today.

*It gets sarcastic quotes for a reason. Either write or don’t. Do or do not; there is no try.
**Hopefully just verbally, though. If someone spits on you for real, then feel free to complain. Though you’d probably be better served by jamming a boot up their ass.
***This should be a rule for all social interactions, not just writers. No complaining unless you are going to offer a solution. If you don’t have one, then don’t get pissed off when someone else offers one.
****All right, I made this one up. But now I want to make my own writing method and call it this.

The Five Types of Stories and Other Bullshit Lies

Self-Portrait, Spring 1887, Oil on pasteboard,...

Selfies, old school. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a lie: There are only five/seven/nine/three and a half stories in the world, and they just keep getting told over and over.

This is one of the most prevalent pieces of dubious writing advice out there, and, trust me, I recognize dubious writing advice when I see it. After all, most of this blog is full of dubious advice*. The difference is that no one has ever quoted me to a new writer in the hopes of squashing their creativity underfoot like a stray eyeball.**

The reason this lie gets repeated is because it sounds like the truth. And because it plays on the festering pile of insecurity that lurks under the surface of many new writers. You’re no good, it says. You’re not doing anything original, and if you’re not, what’s the point? Tolkien covered the Quest myth, and if he didn’t, Lucas damn well did. So why bother?

Allow me to switch arts for a moment: this is a bit like saying that there are only five paintings in the world. And that there’s no point in doing a self-portrait because Van Gogh already covered that and it’s so done. After all, it’s not like anyone came along and invented a bunch of new fucking colours recently, am I right? So don’t bother.

Reductionist bullshit is exactly that: bullshit. There may be a grain of truth buried in it somewhere, in the same way that there may be a tiny speck of diamond nestled inside a fertilizer bin worth of shit, but are you going to dig for it?

Well, no need, kiddies, because I did that for you. Here’s the diamond: there are types of stories out there, and studying these types can help you understand what you’re writing. But they are not prescriptions for your story. That’s going at it backwards, and like anytime you do something backwards, you’re likely to fall on your ass.

The devil is, as always, in the details, and that’s where the art is, too. No one made new colours, so paintings are about the arrangements and the proportions and the shape and the subject and the emphasis. And so are stories. The new part—the part that’s you, incidentally—is in the characters, the changes, and the details. The mixing of types and genres. That’s where you make the stories like a mad scientist crossing a cobra and a mongoose to create the dreaded MONBRA, Scourge of Mumbai.

And anyone who says there’s nothing original out there isn’t looking hard enough.

*The breakdown is as follows: 60% dubious advice, 30% swear words, 8% out of context pictures, and 2% chaos.
**At least I hope not. If anyone has, stop that shit right fucking now, or your eyeballs are on my list.

We Can’t Stop Here, This Is Plot Twist Country: Getting Past The Middle

Time to call roadside assistance.

Okay, you’ve made it this far: you’re in the middle of your project. Pause for a moment. High fives and congratulatory ass grabs all around.


You feel it: something is going wrong. You’re losing steam. You’re slowing down. Sweet Velociraptor Jesus, you’re losing interest.

Relax. You’ve just reached the Pit*. This is where creativity goes to die. This is where a lot of stories sink into the muck, never to be heard from again. If you look under your feet, you’ll see the bones of other writers. Here’s where they fell. Don’t be one of them.

The thing is, most advice about the rough patches in the middle of stories is about fixing something in the story. But that’s not always the problem. The problem, dear reader, is also you. You’ve lost confidence. And a writer without confidence gets lost very fucking quickly.

So, here they are, my best tips for staying motivated in the middle of a story when all you want to do is give up.

1) It Happens To A Lot Of Guys. It’s true. It does. If you need proof, have a look over here. That’s Neil Gaiman’s essay on the point of giving up. Those of you who can’t be arsed to click over, I’ll summarize: every book he’s written has been beset by this particular point, where nothing feels like it’s going right. If he can manage to get through it, so can you.

2) Re-Evaluate. Sometimes you’re not stuck, you’re just lost. Did you take a wrong plot turn a while back? Have you run out of road? Go back and have a look. Maybe the way you were supposed to go will be clearer now. Maybe you shouldn’t have gone straight through to Boringville; the left at the corner of Plot Twist Alley and Some Really Fucked Up Shit Boulevard is a better route.

3) Tinker With Your Brainmeats. We humans may be pretty good at stopping, but we are absolutely balls at figuring out why. But you are no longer just a human; you are a writer, and that means you don’t get the excuse of not figuring it out.
So, why are you tempted to give up? Are you bored? Do you not know what happens next? Do you need to spend more time with the characters to figure out what the hell they want so you can prevent them from getting it? Or is it just hard? If it’s the last one, then move on to the next item on this list.

4) Suck It Up. Expecting something nicer? Buddy, if you’re looking for hand-holding, then you are in the wrong fucking place. Here’s the bottom line: sometimes things feel like shit. Sometimes writing is hard. And it’s not even hard hard, like being a coal miner or a front-line soldier. It’s just kinda hard.

If you’re one of those people who is staring at the screen and sighing wistfully an awful lot, then maybe you should take half the time you’re devoting to complaining and do something else with it. Like writing. Complaining is not useful unless it leads to a solution. So, the next time you find yourself whining about how hard this is, try to think of a solution. Fix the problem and move on. Look at number one up there. This happens to everyone. It’s part of the deal. So either fix it or shut up, because the rest of us are dealing and we are getting real tired of your shit.

Now move on. Fight the Pit, or at least go down swinging.

*Also what my sister-in-law calls her home office. I haven’t checked it for bones, but I suppose there could be some.

Your Two Step Plan To Writing Awesomeness

Mardi Gras Marathon, New Orleans. Crossing the...

Woo! The end! Now what?(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You want to be a writer? I can help you. I have your plan right here. And it’s dead fucking simple. Only two steps. That’s ten less than alcoholics have. Ten whole less steps! Fuck, babies manage two steps before falling down. Surely you can do it?

All right, enough beating around the bush. Here’s the plan. You need to do two things.

1) Write.

2) Finish.

Most people can manage the first one*, but I meet a hell of a lot of people who can’t figure out the second part. They start things, they write, but they never finish. Everything’s always ‘in progress’ or ‘half done’ or ‘being worked on.’ Nothing wrong with that stuff, but sooner or later you have to finish things. Here’s why:

It’s an accomplishment. You are no longer a writer with half a novel, or five-eights of a short story. You have a complete work. It might suck, it might need more polishing than the Hope Diamond, but it’s done. You climbed that mountain. Good on you.

It’s a fixer-upper. Hard to fix things that aren’t done. You go back, thinking you’ll just change one thing, and that thing snowballs into another thing, and another. Before you know it, you’ve started the same story eighteen times and are no closer to finishing the goddamn thing than you are to achieving cold fusion in your food processor. Get to the end, then look back and see what needs to change. It’ll be clearer. Trust me.

It’s a learning experience. I finished my first novel about five years ago, and it sucked. It still does. But I learned a hell of a lot from it. Mostly what not to do. Now, that thing will likely never see the light of day, but I still think of it fondly from time to time.** Because it was my first, and you never forget your first. Or what you learned from the experience.

It’s a power up. Nothing gives you creative wings like finishing a project. I finished a short story this morning and have since learned to walk on water, spontaneously generated candy from nail clippings***, and achieved cold fusion without a food processor. And I blew through the rest of my to do list with a swagger in my step. Because finishing things is awesome.

Go forth and finish, children. Bask in the glow. Enjoy the moment.

And then put on your editing brain and get back to work.

*And a lot of people can’t, but I’m not talking to them. Mostly because they make me angry.
**And will continue to do so as long as I never have to read it again.
***It wasn’t very good.

On Getting Started, or How To Beat Doubt To Death With A Claw Hammer

Leaving Fucking, Austria

….That seems a little harsh.**** (Photo credit: renedrivers)

I didn’t really have any idea what to write today. I got up early to do this post, get it out of the way before I hit the gym double header of yoga and spin class*, and….blank. Nothing. Brain flat line.

Was it the beer I had last night while celebrating the start of Husband’s vacation? Maybe. But I doubt it. This feels internal. The beer is just the first excuse that pops to mind. It could have just as easily been a cold or a poor night’s sleep or an alien invasion**.

Because it wasn’t really not knowing what to write. It was not knowing how to start.

That’s the trickiest part: that goddamned blinking cursor on the empty white page, just sitting there, waiting for you to get your thumb out of your orifice of choice and start. But it’s hard, because…

Because a blank white page is scary as shit for some fucking reason.

That’s not something that ever really passes. I have, at this point, started over two hundred blog posts, dozens of short stories, half a dozen novels, not to mention what must be thousands of letters and emails…and that moment at the beginning, when I first have to make a mark against the blankness, is still the hardest. Not because I don’t know what I’m doing; most of the time I have a pretty good idea where things will go after that, especially with novels. I’ve usually got those plotted within an inch of their life.

Here’s my thought: starting is the worst, because it can’t be taken back. You can’t unstart. You can start again, but that first try, the first mark, is always there, even if it’s only in your mind.

So it becomes scary. A writer boogyman.*** The emptiness of a page or a file, waiting to be filled up. It’s scary to start, and we don’t want to.

And then, being writers, we say ‘fuck it’ and get started anyway. Because, one, being scared of something is not enough of a reason not to do it, and, two, writers write, goddamn it. Everything else is extra.

And once you get past that first word, that first sentence, that first page, it gets easier. You’ve passed the bottleneck and now things can flow. Words come faster. It takes less time than you thought. You hit road blocks, but you know they’re just temporary set backs. Now that you’re going, you don’t know why it was such a big fucking deal to start to begin with. And, before you know it, it’s done.

There. That wasn’t so bad.

*Also known as: get your muscles really relaxed and then try to make them peddle uphill to pounding dance music.
***Fucking lame one, though.
****That picture was the very first thing to come up in the recommended media for this blog post. There was no way I could not use it. I don’t care if it’s relevant. It’s awesome, and that’s enough.

On Being A Fake

Fake Eyelashes

About as real, and about as useful.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an actual conversation I had:

Me: So, what kind of stuff do you like to do?

Other Person: I’m a writer.

Me: Really? That’s great! What do you write? Or do you have more than one project?

Other Person: No, just the one. I like to devote myself fully to an idea. I’ve got this epic cycle, where the fate of worlds hangs in the balance*. It draws on the philosophies of Buddha and Richard Dawkins. It’s incredible.

Me: Wow, that’s a hell of an undertaking. How far along are you?

Other Person: Oh, I haven’t started. But I’ve been thinking about it for a decade.

Me: ….

Other Person: It’s going to be awesome.

Other Person, you are not a writer. You have not written, ergo you are not a writer. You’re a thinker, and, you know, congratulations on that. I hear Rodin did a sculpture of you. But until the moment you put pen to paper or fingers to keys**, you are not a writer.

You are a fake.

You’re like a person who calls themselves a fighter pilot because they’ve seen Top Gun 400 times. If thinking about things was all it took to be allowed to call yourself by their title, I would by now be an expert marksman, world-class trauma surgeon, and have the ability to communicate telepathically with machines. But, alas, I am not. And I don’t go around pretending to be.***

We all have the potential to do things. But, until we do them, that’s all it is: potential.

You want to be a writer? Go write. Then you are a writer. You might not be a published writer, or a financially independent writer, or even a good writer. But those are qualifiers. You’ve written: you are a fucking writer. Congratulations.

Until then, stop wasting my time.

*All right, I can’t actually remember what they said. But it was some variant of ‘big thing that will take the rest of my life’.
**Or, given the timeline this guy is on, put brain to the Automatic Thought Enscribing Machine.

***Except when I try to take control of the back hoes at construction sites.


I Can’t Control Time Yet: How to Prioritize

He's a loving god, but don't push it.

He’s a loving god, but don’t push it.

You ever feel like there’s not enough hours in the day?

Not that I’m complaining about the construction of our diurnal cycle—that would be critical of the universe itself, which just seems ungrateful, even considering how it dropped the ball on the construction of things like the common coffee table corner—but I really feel like I could go for a thirty hour day. That would be ideal. The extra six hours would provide me with enough time to get all my stuff done and hang out with people. Also, I might finally get around to organizing my closets, which would be nice.

But, no. The universe once again refuses to conform to my specifications. This will not do.

Because, goddamn it, I have shit that needs to get done. Words to write, deadlines to meet, asses to kick. And then there’s winter, which eats up a significant amount of time with its constant demands for shovelling and salting and sacrifices to the Sun God* to bring back spring.

So, how to fit it all in?

I can’t, unfortunately. Because, despite my best efforts and the report card comments of some of my more frustrated teachers, I am still human. So now it becomes about prioritizing. I divide the day up into chunks of time. One is the amount of time I need to spend on paid work and keeping life running. Another is the amount I spend on less-urgent projects, like sandbox writing, research, or brainstorming. And the last is the amount I need to stay a functioning human being through things like exercise, social interaction, and trying to wipe out humanity using a variety of plagues.**

All three are important. Burn out comes when one categories eats all the others and uses their corpses to power its own insane machinations. So, yes, I could get technically get more done if I cannibalized social time for paid work, or even sandbox writing, since that often leads to paid work, but that’s only time I’m stealing from myself. Time that I need to stave off the inevitable slide toward super-villainy.

This is a pretty good system. I get most things done. I get all the important things done, important being defined a little differently every day. Do I get as much done as I want? No, but I suspect that if I stopped time itself and used that to get through my lists of stuff, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. As it is, this lets me get my writing done, have a life, and be reasonably well-adjusted.

And, hey, that’s about all any of us can ask. At least until time falls under my sway.

*Our household Sun God is actually a small stuffed toy that I got from a fast-food restaurant about ten years ago now. His name is Ra-Ra, the Two-Faced God. We sacrifice candy to him.
**I should point out that this is a game I play on my iPhone called Plague, Inc. Very catchy, though not as catchy as the stuff I make with it. Last night I destroyed humanity with a virus called Teddy Bears.

The Art of Showing Up

El Maestro boxing ring 3

Your opponent is here. Where are you? (Photo credit: Serge De Gracia)

January is almost over. The first month of a new year. How do you feel about 2013 so far?

This is the time when a lot of resolutions start to fall off. In the busyness, people forget about all those plans they had. All the changes they were going to make. The stuff they were going to do.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Husband and I were talking about this the other day. Husband is of an analytical bent, so he likes to distill things into their smallest, simplest form. What is the action that, once taken, creates the changes that you’re looking for?

Nine times out of ten, it’s one simple act: showing up.

And that’s the part that’s the hardest. There’s a lot of talk about first steps, but actually getting to the first step is something that gets passed over. Want to get in shape? You need to show up to the gym. Lose weight? Show up to the kitchen and start figuring out how to change your eating habits. Write a novel? It’s up to you to show up to the damn computer and say, “I’m here. I’m ready. And I’m going to do this.”

Nothing will happen unless you show up. Nothing. The world does not owe you anything, and it will not go out its way to drop all the things you want into your lap because you think you really deserve it. And it certainly won’t make anything come to you. You’ve got to get out there and find it. Hell, you can’t even win the fucking lottery without buying a goddamn ticket.

There are a lot of steps that come after that one, but none of them can happen without that. You need to show up. And, yeah, once you’re there, lots of things can happen. Some days you’ll blow through what you need to do, and some days it will hit you so hard you’ll go down like Liston.* All you’ll see is floor before the darkness comes.

And, in the face of that possibility, it’s easy to give up, to get distracted, to get bored, to say things like “I’m not built for this” or “I’m just too naturally lazy.” Those are lies and stories that we tell ourselves. They protect us from rejection and failure.

They also make it really goddamned hard to do anything.

That is the coward’s way out. So next time you find yourself reaching for “I can’t”, or “I’m not interested in this idea any more”, or “this is too hard for someone like me”, I want you to take a deep breath. Hold it in until your lungs hurt. That’s all the breath you could have been using making excuses. Isn’t there something else you could be doing with it? Something more fucking useful?

You want to do something, then get out there and do it. Stop wasting your time and just show up already.

We’re waiting.

*Or, as a metaphor for non-sports people, like Kong falling from the top of the Empire State Building.

(Sidebar: I have now reached 100 WordPress blog subscribers, according to the stats page. Hello to you all, and thanks for listening. *hat tip* Much obliged.)