Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Are there rules for writing? Not at all.

I usually talk to Jen's cousin Foster three or four times a week. As I've previously explained, Foster is an up-and-coming author that I've taken under my wing these last two years. His first novel, a mountain lion of a story, is expected out soon--whenever Foster decides the book is ready and it's time to publish. I can't wait to celebrate the release of this first full story.

We talked yesterday morning (yesterday evening for Foster, as he's in China). He was a touch depressed regarding his writing process; in a mood, he called it. I told him that it's OK to take a break every once in a while--especially when dealing with a project such as Apprentice of the Rain.

Basically, our conversation went like this:

Me: "Drinking coffee, getting geared up to write."
Him: "Trying to edit... can't force it. Well, real writers can."
Me: "And you're not a real writer? I call bull shit."
Him: "I don't know, man... real writers can write X thousand words a day, every day. That's been elusive for me."
Me: "Dude, I piss on that logic and that theory."
Him: "And yet you do it."
Me: "Did I write yesterday? Did I write Saturday? Yeah, in a perfect world, I'd write every day. Saturday, I changed my mother's oil in her car, covered a football game... went home, wrote the gamer, collapsed. Sunday, I wrote three pieces for the weeklies out west, then veged all day. I could have written something (fiction), but I decided to re-charge. We all need a re-charge."
Him: "They say amateurs write when they're in the mood; professional writers put themselves in the mood, and write X amount of words everyday, usually at the same time."
Me: "Who says that? I think that's bunk."
Him: "I've seen that advice everywhere, from every author I know except you."
Me: "Write when you can. Edit when you can."
Him: "My goal is to be a pro. Make writing my full time job."

About eleven hours later, my friend Nickie Storey, another protege of mine, stumbled across a Facebook post from New York Times bestselling author Anne Rice. In the post, Rice said the following:

On giving writers advice, offering "rules."  I'm asked a lot about this, and people bring great lists of rules for writers to the page all the time. What do I think? I can't say it loud enough. There are NO RULES for all writers! And never let anyone tell you that there are. Writers are individuals; we each do it in our own way. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you're not a "real" writer because you don't follow their rules! I can't tell you how much harm was done to me early in life by others judging me in that way. I was told in college I wasn't a "real" writer because I composed on a typewriter; I was condemned later on in damn near apocalyptic terms for "not writing every day." "Real writers" are those who become "real writers." That's all there is to it. And again, we each do it in our own way. For me, stubbornness has been as important as any talent I might possess. I ultimately ignored the people who condemned me, ridiculed me and sought to discourage me. I laughed or cried over it in secret; and went right on writing what I wanted to write, the way I wanted to write it. I knew of no other way to become the writer of my dreams. If you want to be a writer, go for it. Critics are a dime a dozen, and people who would love to see you fail are everywhere. Just keep on going; keep doing what works for you. Keep believing in yourself.

Understanding Foster's frustration from earlier in the day, I sent Rice's diatribe to him. He answered, "Good stuff. I need to find my way." I replied, "Yes. FUCK. THE. RULES." He wants to be the writer in his dreams, and I think that's great. It's great to have a goal. Getting there--the process--is one that he has to set for himself. It's what every author out there has to set for himself or herself.

I know many authors, all of whom have different processes. My process: I wake up, have coffee, and write. I try to do it every day. If I write a thousand words, great. If I write fifteen hundred words a day, fantastic. Two thousand, excellent. If I write more, awesome. After I had that initial conversation with Foster, I proceeded to write two thousand words. I wrote another five hundred and change, and finished a chapter this morning. Will I write more today? Possibly. I don't know yet. Right now, I write about four days a week. Sometimes five. I still put out a few books a year. If I wrote seven days a week, I'm sure I'd put out another book a year: but I have other responsibilities other than writing.

Kevin J. Anderson, an author whom I aspire to match in output one day (and I suspect I will die trying to catch), works daily, dictating finished prose into a digital recorder while hiking. Jim C. Hines spares his lunch hour to write, and will write at home after work. The same with David Forbes. Other authors may have a different approach than these three. They are all pretty damn successful in their own way.

And remember, gang: there are some so-called "real writers" out there who put out only one book a year. It varies from author to author. Not every author is the same, and you as an author shouldn't compare your writing process or speed to any one author. You're still going to finish your book--at your speed. Not every writer is going to write every single day. Not every writer is going to edit every single day. Not every writer is going to do something writing-related every single day. Not every author is going to publish more than one book a year. Not every author is going to put out a book every five years: Martin makes a shitload of bank, shall we say, doing it this way. Same with Rowling.

I think it's a misconception that non-writers have of writers, one that I know won't stop after this blog post: the whole, "If you have so much time on your hands, why aren't you doing it each day, every day?" It's just rubbish. We're not machines. We're human.

There are no true rules. If there are any rules, it should be these three:

Repeat as many times as necessary.

That's it.

Basically: Pace yourself, and set your own rules for yourself.

Happy writing.