If you haven’t yet read, met, or followed the career of Chuck Wendig, you’re in for a treat. I’ve had the great pleasure of following Chuck’s blog at terribleminds.com for a couple of years now, and the writing advice he offers is some of the best—as well as some of the grittiest, most honest, and sometimes shocking you’ll find out there.
Chuck has become the quintessential “hybrid” author by using traditional, e-book, and various online publishing options to release his novels, novellas, stories, games, and scripts. But the glue that keeps all of Chuck’s publishing endeavors together is his acerbic wit and gut-punch humor, which is on full display in his new release from Writer’s Digest Books, The Kick-Ass Writer: 1,001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience.
The book contains Chuck’s expert advice about what writer’s need to know regarding self-publishing, working with agents, earning an audience, building dynamic characters, plotting a novel, blogging, suspense and tension, and how to defeat writer’s block, among many other topics. And each and every chapter is geared toward helping you become the kick-ass writer of your dreams.
Want a taste? Here are ten tips from Chuck’s chapter, “25 Ways to Be a Better Writer.”
1. Practice Makes Perfect, Little Princess
The easiest and most forthright way to become a better writer is, duh, to write. Write, write, write. Write regularly. Get on a schedule, whether it’s 100, 1,000, or 10,000 words a day. Writing is a muscle, like your bicep, your heart, or your private parts. If you don’t use ‘em, you lose ‘em. And then they fall to the ground and rot like oxidizing apples and are in turn eaten by hungry gophers. Om nom nom.
2. Read Widely, Weirdly, Wisely
Here is the prison that writers build for themselves: it becomes harder and harder to read purely for pleasure. Reading for pleasure often means sticking to a few genres, with a few authors—“Oh, I like fantasy, so I only read fantasy fiction,” or, “I love the Detective Cashew Pepper series by K. J. Staplenuts, and I’ve read up to #47.” That privilege has been revoked. You now must read widely, weirdly, wisely. Read everything. Move outside your desired library. Read obscure British literature. Read poetry. Read nonfiction. Read science fiction even though you hate science fiction. If you want to do what everybody else is doing, fine, read only in your preexisting sphere of influences. But this is about improving your work, not treading water like a poodle who fell off a boat.
3. Don’t Be a Book Racist
Those who write books are occasionally “book racists.” They pump their fists and espouse Book Power while denigrating other forms of the written word. “TV will rot your brain,” they might say. As if the Snooki book will somehow do laps around an episode of The Wire. Books are not the only form of the written word. You may not even want to write books. Branch out. Watch television. Watch film. Read scripts. Visit great blogs. Play games. Don’t be a book racist. The storytelling cults can learn much from one another.
4. Be Ripped Apart by Other Writers
Writers are not editors. (File under D for “duh.”) They have different priorities and different perspectives. (And they’re probably also raging drunkaholics. Editors are nice and drink wine. Writers will drink all the cough syrup at CVS if they can get their ink-stained fingers on it.) Whereas an editor will oft en highlight a problem, a writer will come up with a solution. That doesn’t mean it’s a solution you want, but it’s worth it to have that perspective just the same. Submit your work to other writers. Demand that they not be kind. Mercy will not strengthen you.
Pull up your pants, that’s not what I mean. I mean, you must smack your word count with the horse whip of scrutiny! You must become your own cruelest editor, your jaw clenched tight with the meat of your own manuscript trapped between your teeth. This doesn’t need to be a consistent mode of operation, but once in a while it pays to take a page of your writing and go at it with a blowtorch, a car battery, and a starving honey badger. Cut your words. Make them bleed. Behold the healing power of bloodletting.
6. Throw Down Your Own Crazy-Ass Gauntlet, Then Run Through It Naked
Set challenges for yourself and then tackle them. Write a piece of flash fiction. Write poetry. Attempt to tell a story in a single tweet. Play with the second-person perspective. Write a novel in sixty chapters, each only 1,000 words. Treat it like a game where the rules are ever changing.
7. Embrace the Darwinism of Writing Advice
Here’s what you do with writing advice (says the guy delivering a nighconstant stream of dubious penmonkey wisdom): Hunt it down, leash it, read it, absorb it, and then let it go free once more. Let it compete with your other preconceived notions about writing. Sometimes the new writing advice will win and become a dominant meme inside your wordsmith’s brain. Other times your preexisting beliefs will hold true through just such a test. You must take in writing advice and test it against your own notions. Tell all writing advice: “NOW YOU MUST FIGHT THE BEAR.”
8. I Just Blogged a Little in My Mouth
You often hear, “Writers should blog to build their platform,” to which I say, pants, poppycock, and pfeffernusse! I say that writers should blog because it keeps them writing, because it exposes their writing to the air of community, because it tests your skill in the open plains. Blogging is a great place to play with language, to put words out there that aren’t headed to market, that aren’t forced to dance for their dinner. It allows you to use words like poppycock and pfeffernusse. True story.
9. Wade Into the Mire of Your Own Fetid Compositions
Time travel a little. Go back into your past and dredge up some writing from a year ago. From ten years ago. Read it. Learn from it. Also gauge how well you’ve grown. This can be instructive because sometimes you don’t know in what ways you’ve changed—further, you might identify darlings that repeatedly come up in your writing, darlings that deserve naught but the edge of your editorial chainsaw.
10. Embrace Your Inner Moonbat
All writers are a little bit batshit. We’ve all got some combo pack of Charlie Manson, Renfield, and Bender from Futurama running around in our skulls. Embrace it. We’ve all got a head full of ghosts and gods, and it behooves us to listen to them, to let them out and play on the page, to use the madness granted to us rather than deny it and walk the safe and sane line.
11. Do Not Defile the Penmonkey Temple
Your writing is the product of a machine, and that machine is your brain and body. The higher that machine functions, the better the writing that blubbers and spews from it. I’m not saying you need to treat your body like it’s a white tower of physical perfection—but we’re talking the basics, here. Move around. Eat a good breakfast. Heroin is not a great snacktime treat. Fine, maybe you don’t need to treat your body like it’s a temple. Just don’t treat it like it’s the urinal in a Wendy’s bathroom.