Sunday, September 11, 2016

A little advice I still try to live by

I wrote this a while ago, like six years ago this Halloween, for Storytellers Unplugged. It was my last essay after several years, and I ran across the article on my computer (because I collect semi-finished files like a hoarder collects magazines) and reread it.

It still makes sense to me, so I'm posting it here for anyone who thinks my advice might be worth something.

Yes, There Are Rules

Waaaaaay the heck back (Five years ago last July) I pondered whether or not there are rules for this writing gig. I even gave a few that I think are fairly easy to live with. A few people disagreed with me, but to be fair, at least one of them was just trolling around and looking for something to argue about.  Also to be fair, I was probably wrong about a few of them.

So, here’s my disclaimer. YES there are rules, but any rules I provide (or other writers, for that matter) should be considered and then applied to your personal situation as best suits your needs. Why? Because you aren’t me. My experiences aren’t going to be yours. Learn as you go. Never stop learning. That one is non-negotiable: If you ain’t learning as you go through this life, you’re doing it wrong.

This will, by the by, be my last of these essays for the foreseeable future. Why? Because I’ve earned three strikes. That doesn’t mean that Dave Wilson (he who manages this site and all the archived wisdom placed therein) has banished me. No. I’m banishing myself. After several years of not ever dropping the ball on a deadline for Storytellers Unplugged, I have now missed a total of three essay deadlines. I don’t think that’s fair to you, the reader, to Dave or to any of my peers here. It means that I’m not being a professional. Now, I could go easy on myself and simply deal myself a few hundred laps around the office as punishment, but the problem is my time consumption. Paying bills must take precedence over writing for Storyteller’s Unplugged, especially since I’m not sure I’ve even said anything new in the last year.

That said, it’s been a lot of fun and I mean that. I’ve enjoyed the comments, I’ve enjoyed the correspondences, and I’ve enjoyed having a spot to lay down my opinions for what little they are worth.  I hope someone somewhere got a little useful advice along the way, because, really, that’s what this site is all about.

That said, time for those rules.

1)   Write every day. Read every day.  No exceptions.

2)   Write it first. Edit it later. I can’t emphasize how many people I’ve seen who failed to ever finish a short story, let alone a novel, because they get mired in editing the words they wrote earlier the same day or week. I firmly believe you should make a note to go back and make corrections, and then move on while the proverbial iron is hot. The comparison I use most often is that writing anything of significant length is like walking uphill. You lose momentum and have to start all over again at the bottom of that damned hill every time you edit before you’ve finished the story. Write. Then edit.

3)   Be professional in your dealings. I don‘t care if you’re dealing with an editor, a peer or a fan, be professional. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a little casual. You can. You can talk to your writer buddies as friends, but when it comes time to do business, then, damn it, do business. Listen, I’ve collaborated with several authors on several projects. No matter what the case, we work out the ground rules in advance, and if it becomes necessary we write out a contract in advance, too. Anyone that takes offense to the notion of a contract hasn’t been playing this game for very long. Along the same lines, make sure that you include that self addressed stamped envelope, that contact information, those references, that damned cover letter if that is what is expected of you. Contrary to what you might think, you are not the exception to the rules. At least not until the editor/peer/coauthor tells you so. And as for your readers, well, it’s best to remember that the person you flambĂ© on an online forum will remember if you’ve been an ass (and sometimes will remember even if you haven’t) and will gladly share that information with everyone they know. More than one writer has received digital egg on the face for being foolish and not thinking before making a comment. You don’t act like a fool, you don’t have to recover from foolish actions nearly as often.

4)   Get paid for your work. I’ve gone over this again and again. I’ll continue to do so. Don’t “Sell” your work for free. That means you think it’s got no value. There are always exceptions, but they should be just that, exceptions. Yes, I occasionally write for charity anthologies or write for an anthology that isn’t paying top dollar. No, I’d never give a publisher anything more than a short story without expecting compensation. If you want to be considered as a professional, then act the part and that includes getting paid. Also, from time to time remind those who owe you money that you have bills too. Remember, folks, I’m making these suggestions for those of you who want to make writing your career. If you want writing to be your hobby, you need read no further.

5)   Edit the damned manuscript. Then, just for fun, edit it again. No matter how many times you do it, you’re going to miss things. That’s why there are real editors out there. You may never meet one, but they do exist.  Your manuscript may not need to be perfect to get into print, but get as close as you can, while understanding that you will never be satisfied with your work a year after it’s seen print. You doubt me? Go ask a few authors you know to read their first printed piece again and watch their faces, see how many of them flinch. At least 90% at a guess.  Proviso: Know when to stop editing. If you’ve gone over it three times. Call it finished. Move on and send that puppy out into the wilds.

6)   Expect Rejection. That rule hasn’t changed. No one sells every piece, at least not on the first try. If they do, they’ve either got more talent than God or more luck that an army of leprechauns. Have a good cry if you must, then get that poor rejected story back to the editing board if you think it will help, and then resubmit and move on.

7)   Put your ego in check. I don’t care how good you are, you ain’t all that.  From Stephen King to Stephanie Meyers to every other best selling author out there and a few who think the review they got on MyFavoriteBooks.Com makes them something special, you ain’t all that. You might be successful, you might even be highly praised, but that doesn’t mean you need to have an ego the size of Texas. Though, to be fair, at least two of the aforementioned can probably negotiate for a MUCH higher advance than most of us will ever see. More power to them. Don’t let success go to your head. Be grateful, then move on.

8)   Make your deadlines. If you can’t make your deadlines, make sure your editors/publishers know in advance. Technically this is part of being professional, but it bears repeating, They’re waiting on you and if they’ve paid you and upheld their part of the agreement, you have an obligation to do the same.  Late happens. Life happens and almost guarantees that. Just the same, bust your ass and do it right.

9)   Read everything. Write what you love. You should be well read. The market is always changing, especially these days. Be aware of that. Work with it. As a writer, this is part of your job. If you’re serious about writing, read every day. Write what you love. No matter who you are or how well you think you know the trends, the trends will change before you can finish what you’re writing. That being said, write what you love. That way, you can always be pleased with the end result.  No, I have not written any classics with a twist of zombies/alien invasions or werewolves. Why? I don’t want to steal somebody else’s work and then add a few thousand words and claim it as my own, merely because the original work is in the public domain.  It ain’t my thing. Proviso: Yes, I DID write BLOODSTAINED OZ with Christopher Golden. Yes, I AM writing two sequels (BLOODSTAINED WONDERLAND and BLOODSTAINED NEVERLAND). No, none of those works use a single sentence from the original works, but they most certainly use the creations in the public domain. There’s a difference between an homage and effectively stealing half or more of a dead writer’s work. No, I don’t feel the least bit bad about saying that. Nor will I change my mind in the future. It was cute the first time. Now it’s just a lazy way of trying to make a buck without having to actually do most of the work.

10)                  Have fun. If you aren’t having fun in this industry, you’re doing it wrong.

11)                  Remember that these are my rules and may not work for you. In the long run you have to decide for yourself.

Thanks, folks. Those of you who’ve followed faithfully, I am flattered and honored and I hope I helped. Those of you who actually picked up a book or two, thanks very much indeed.  Any way you look at it, I’ve had a lot of fun.

All the best, and, of course, Happy Halloween!

James A. Moore