Meaningless Drivel, The Writer's Life, Top Posts


Writing fiction can make you crazy.

Here’s how.

Step One – Over the course of your next three lifetimes, visit a few thousand publishing-related blogs and read every nugget of writerly wisdom you can find. Pay particular attention to literary agents’ blogs. They’re jam-packed with practical tips, such as:

“If your novel includes a prologue, you’re obviously a demon from the pit of hell. I don’t represent demons. At this time.”

“Don’t even think of misspelling the word query. Seriously, stop thinking about it. Have you stopped thinking about it? I didn’t think so. Please go away.”

“Backstory in a novel is like back hair on a competitive swimmer. It slows you down. And it’s totally gross. Three words: laser hair removal.”

Step Two – Look up published authors’ websites. Then read about their writing journeys and routines, where you’ll discover inspirational gems like these:

“I write an average of twelve million words before breakfast. Then I go for a 30-mile run and save a beached whale or two before lunch. Well, on my off days.”

“I sold my very first book. I wrote it with an eyebrow pencil on cocktail napkins while distracted by a lounge singer crooning Neil Diamond songs. It was a story about cannibal vampire monkeys. No one had written a story about cannibal vampire monkeys yet, so it became a bestseller. My next book is about cannibal vampire orangutans.”

“I wrote 97 novels before landing an agent. That 98th novel is the charm, writer friends. Just hang on until the 98th. Be encouraged!”

Step Three – Read every book you possibly can on writing.* Here are some of my favorites (I might have gotten the titles wrong):

Writing Adverbally for Fun and Profit

The First-Time Author’s 127-Step Guide to Probably Getting Published

I Wrote a Bestselling Novel. That Qualifies Me As a Writing Teacher. Buy This Book.

Step Four – Meet regularly with fellow writers at a trendy coffee shop to talk about your works-in-progress. Pay close attention when crit group members say things like this:

“Your protagonist should wear a hat. I think your book would be ten times better if she wore a hat. A blue hat, with white, frilly trim. Or you can keep her hatless. But then your book will suck.”

“You totally need to rewrite chapter one. And all the other chapters, too. Except for chapter nine. That’s the one with the sex scene, right? That one is brilliant. Did you want me to return this copy of the manuscript? How about I just keep chapter nine.”

“I thought your story was lovely. I especially liked the part where the cannibal vampire monkeys attacked the…what? That wasn’t your story? Yours was about a woman who is reunited with her long lost sister? I must have misplaced that. Sorry. But have you read the one about the cannibal vampire monkeys? You should write one like that.”

Step Five – Go insane.

Everyone on the planet has writing advice. (Including me.) If you try to take it all in, your head will explode. If you try to apply everything you do manage to take in, your head will explode. If you stuff dynamite in your mouth and light it, your head will explode, but that’s beside the point.

The point is this: DON’T PANIC.**

Study the craft. Read helpful blogposts and books. Listen to wise counsel. Then write. And write some more. And when you need a break? Take one. Don’t beat yourself up because your collection of writing advice isn’t complete. This isn’t Pokemon.

You have no reason to panic. You have plenty of time to follow your unique writing journey. Unless you’re on deadline. Or have sticks of dynamite in your mouth. Then you might want to panic at a level commensurate with the potential for serious injury. (Helpful hint: deadlines trump dynamite.)

Meanwhile, enjoy the ride. (And take notes. Someday you’ll probably want to write about it on your blog. You know, to inspire other writers. Or make them insane.)

Happy writing, kids. And relax, okay?


*I should probably mention here that I’m writing a book for fiction writers, too. The working title is, “Your Muse Isn’t Real (And She’s Trying to Kill You).” It will be a small book filled with potentially helpful advice and an equal portion of possibly harmful advice. You’ve been warned.

**The title of this post is offered in honor of the late, great Douglas Adams, who could have penned just those two words and I would still call him a favorite author. However, he didn’t stop at two. He wrote a few more. Many of them were quite well organized. You should read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy again.


21 thoughts on “DON’T PANIC

  1. I was just sitting down for my evening writing shift (with kids who are NOT sleeping…but that’s another thing to make me crazy). I’m so glad I read this. Very funny. Very encouraging.

    Thank you.

    1. You have an evening writing shift? Lucky. Mine’s between six and seven a.m.. Mostly I use it for research. And by research I mean sleeping dreams.

  2. I did read Hitchhiker’s Guide, 47 times, as well as all 5 books of the trilogy at least 5 times. I had one lame conversation via email with DNA (“Are you really him?”,”yeah”) then he died. I read the post because of those 2 words (and Tosca Lee retweeted it). It was great, the post that is.

    I never could get the hang of Thursday.

    1. There’s no such thing as a lame conversation with a writer. Quite to the contrary, your “Are you really him?” question was probably quite nearly possibly brilliant. Such a question gives authors permission to ponder something they often forget to ponder: who they really are. This is an important exercise for people who spend most of their time in the heads of fictional characters. Especially fictional characters who are pondering something like space. Which as we know, is big. Really big.

  3. Are you really writing a fiction advice book? Cool. But Stephen, where is that novel I am STILL awaiting?? …. ??! Keep the title, but turn it into a fictional story, and I’ll buy it.

    (Who am I kidding, I’d buy the advice book too.)

    1. Yes. I am writing a fiction advice book. Or rather, a book with words, some of which could marginally be categorized as advice-like.

      I’m still working on the novel. That will probably be done first. And then there’s a collection of short stories. Oh, and a YA novel that recently told me it wants to be written.

  4. Three cheers to the noveldoctor (and to DNA, of course!) for this timely reminder that this whole writing thing is a long, long journey. Savor every day. And don’t forget your towel.

    1. I’ll just take three tenths of a cheer and let DNA have the other two and seven tenths, if that’s okay. Unless you meant three cheers for each of us. In that case, he can have two of mine and I’ll just keep the one.

      I never leave home without my towel. Actually, I never leave home, but my agoraphobia is not particularly towel-related.

  5. Thanks so much for this charming article. I’ve let writing drive me insane by equating it to my self-worth, my financial success, my definition of self. After two years away from fiction followed by two semesters of creative non-fiction, I’m sticking my toe back into the novel-writing pool. Articles like this one are a great help!

    1. Wait, there’s a novel-writing pool? Do you have to be a member to use it? Do they provide towels? Oh, right. Never mind. I never leave home without my towel. (See how I tied that into a previous comment? I know, I’m clever like that.)

  6. I don’t actually remember the last time I laughed so hard while reading something. I love it when people are witty and real! And you, Sir, seem to be both.

  7. Oh, and I meant to add that writing fiction drives me crazy in a different way. I never take the opportunity to do it. I’m afraid of failure, you see, so I never start. Have a bit of inspiration for that? I would bet you I’ve heard it.

    1. I don’t have any magic inspiration, but if you can embrace that fear instead of using it as an excuse (think of it as a vicious black bear with sharp claws, but really, really soft fur), you might find the motivation to write a bit.

      BTW, we all write badly at first. But if we don’t have an “at first” we never get better.

      Write now. Worry about failure later.

  8. Such a timely post. I was just about to kill myself after reading at least 3 authors’ blogs who, apparently, write at 2 or more novels a year. I’m just in the middle of the 3rd draft of my first novel and it’s taken me a year and 9 months to get to this point. In addition to the insult of these authors whipping out 2 (or more) novels a year they also all have full time jobs to pay the bills.

    But now I think I’ll just get down off the bridge and not panic.
    And reread the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy.

  9. Nice and funny. Unfortunately I mainly spend my time by myself not reading advice and wrestling with painful adolescent memories via fictional characters.

    I haven’t read all of your posts, but do you have any books or anything like that you’d recommend for beginning novelists?

    I always enjoy your tweets. (glassdimlyfaith)

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