What I’ve Learned after 5 Years and 20 Books: 25 Lessons

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[T]his seems like a good time to look back and offer some… shape, some context, some ragged semblance of what-I’ve-learned after five years and 20 novels.

1. Writing Advice Is Bullshit and Largely the Product of Survivorship Bias

Writing advice is bullshit. That’s not to say it’s not useful — as I’ve said in the past, bullshit can also fertilize. But writing advice should always, always, always be read through the lens of, ‘This is what worked for me, maybe it’ll work for you.’ Problem is, a lot of writers treat this stuff as HOLY GOSPEL, as if they’re the ARCHONS OF AN ANCIENT AUTHORIAL ORDER emerging from the fog of history to give you SEKRIT TROOTHS. This shit isn’t baking muffins. You can’t just say, ‘Put it in the oven at 350 and 20 minutes later, yumminess will emerge.’ Writing as a career is an unholy tangle of threads, from how you publish, to your style, to your process, to when you write, to how often you write, to what precious liquor you quaff to celebrate a book release. None of us get here via the same route. As I an fond of saying: we all burn the map afterward. And none of us know what the fuck we’re actually doing, not really. I sure don’t. Even the list below is just me… spouting off. They’re lessons that apply to me, not to you. Maybe to you, it’s gold. Maybe it’s a sack of angry raccoons, I dunno. The only writing advice you can count on is: you gotta write, and you gotta finish what you’re writing. Everything else is variable. Everything else must be swirled around the mouth to determine whether it tastes like honey or it tastes like shit.

2. Learn First to Say Yes, Then to Say No

This is a hard one to learn, and one I’m still endeavoring to put into practice. Early in your career, you seek opportunity like a truffle-addicted pig. Later in your career, those opportunities will come to you — they’ll stick to your ass like burrs. Earlier, every opportunity is legitimately that: an opportunity. But later on, you start to see that not every opportunity is equal. You need to start being judicious about your time and your energy, because this thing we do is work and you only have so much of it you can give out to the world. Inevitably, people want a piece of you. Not to be mean. It’s usually (though not always) coming from a good place. Just the same, you say yes early in your career, but then you gotta start practicing that big word: NO. HELL NO. FUCK NO. Can’t do it, won’t do it, don’t wanna do it. Practice it in the mirror. Shake your fist. Scowl and sneer. Urinate aggressively. I’m urinating aggressively right now. Like a territorial bear.

3. The Muse Doesn’t Hunt You, You Hunt the Muse

Waiting for inspiration is a fool’s game. You hunt it. You summon it. Writing is an act of laying traps for the Muse. Writing does not follow inspiration. It goes the other direction. You become inspired through the act of writing, of telling stories. Just sitting down and doing the work lays bait. It’s an alluring trail Reese’s Pieces meant to draw the extraterrestrial Muse into your house.”

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