Ryan Baron North
Wanting to be a writer blows. Wanting to be any type of artist sucks. There is this little, nagging need that some force of nature inserted into you, and it gives you this nigh-impossible benchmark for success that you will always aim for, rarely achieve, and continually compare yourself against. It’s no way to live a life. I love writing, and at gunpoint, I’d never give it up, but every once in a while, I’ll quietly wish that I could be happy doing anything else.
Probably the unhappiest part of being an artist is the gradual acceptance that you are going to need to get a job. If you want to live a life of any sort of comfort, you need to pay the bills, and seeing as it’s not the 80s anymore, you can’t survive off the odd magazine article or dive-bar gig. So the question becomes: how do I keep the dream alive while the realities of life are tearing me down? Outside of bourbon, I’m going to go into a few ways to get after it. The methods may not be groundbreaking, but let me try and explain them in a way that will finally get through to you.
REALISTIC WRITING GOALS
I hear this little tidbit a lot. It’s a mainstay of every blog post I’ve seen that tries to help out the struggling writer. It is absolutely true. A writer needs to work with what they’ve got. We’d all love to tackle our stories for four hours a day, Stephen King style, but for most of us, that’s just not realistic. If you only have an hour a day to scribble something down, then you need to adjust your expectations. Knocking out a paragraph in a day is always better than knocking out nothing.
What people don’t address about this piece of truth, however, is that it fucking sucks. This piece of advice suggests a realistic concept to a group of people with an unrealistic goal. We have a dream, we want to write books, and we want to be famous for a medium that fewer and fewer people are
consuming. A writer doesn’t want to accomplish a realistic word count. Writers fight for that first draft in a month. And when we don’t pull it off, it feels like failure. But, here’s the deal: you gotta do what you gotta do. Take the time you have, get done what you can, and teach your brain that any step towards your unrealistic goal, no matter how realistic, is a victory. Stop being so hard on yourself. A couple hundred words isn’t a book, but it’s a hell of a lot closer than no words.
CRAFT AN OUTLINE FIRST
This one, in my experience talking to writers on social media, or on High n’ Dry, is the most frequently skipped. I just finished talking about using the time you have; the outline makes that little time you have when you aren’t killing yourself at your dead-end job as productive as it can be. There are a ton of proponents of the “vomit draft.” It’s the idea that you just puke a bunch of creativity onto the page into a first draft you will edit when it’s time to make the second draft. Those people aren’t ever going to finish a book, and if they do, it’s going to take them years longer than someone who outlined.
The outline is draft zero, and trust me, it’s going to save you months of pain. Craft an outline of events that are going to make up your story and make sure that each of those events, when placed chronologically, can be linked by the word “therefore” or “but.” My hero does this, THEREFORE this happens. My hero does this, BUT this happens, THEREFORE this happens. Get your outline done, see where you’re at in the story, recognize what needs to happen, and then vomit out all your words. This lesson, above all the others, I wish I had learned early on. I clawed my way through my first novel, and I would have needed twenty fewer drafts if I had just plotted my course first.
READ A BOOK
I think it was King who said something about this. I’m not going to look it up. I’ll just paraphrase what I think I remember that other guy said. Basically… Fuck. I don’t remember. But you need to read. The more you read, the more you see how other authors pull something off in their work, and the more knowledge you will have to leverage when creating your novels. I will look at Frank Herbert when I want to see how an author can build a universe with conversation. If I am trying to blend dialogue and action seamlessly, I flip through Joe Abercrombie. For an eeriness portrayed within my descriptions, you have Thomas Harris or Craig Russell.
Reading is a tool every writer needs in their toolbox. If you aren’t reading, every time you sit down to write, you are reinventing the wheel. By building on what great writers have already accomplished, you can start to create what comes next. And I get this kinda’ sucks. We were just talking about how we’re all strapped for time. So, carry a book with you, and stop staring at your phone every time you have a free moment.
DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE
This is my last chunk of advice. Write, even when you don’t want to. Do not wait for inspiration to hit you. Write because you set a time to write and you have a goal. Even those small, realistic goals. Get to it. Get at it. If you’re like me, my inspiration and creative heart are on life support by the time I get home from the day. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll never reach your goals, realistic or otherwise. If all else fails, take a pour of something strong. I have a thing for Brother’s Bond Bourbon, at the moment.
That’s as far as I’m going to go on this topic. There are a million other articles that cover the same thing. At the end of the day, those are my biggest pieces of advice: Knock out what you can in a day. Life sucks, don’t make it suck harder by failing a bunch of goals you were never gonna’ finish in the first place. Write an outline. Word vomit after you know where you’re going and how you are going to get there. Don’t stop reading. Stop procrastinating and get after it. Simple as that. You got this. You know what you want, so go for it. I believe in you. Let me know if any of these helped you, or if you have a good one, make sure to share it with the class.