It all started with a post Chuck Wendig made after he received a ‘helpful’ comment about how he was failing as a writer. Yes really. Chuck’s post addressing this (moderated) comment was quite long, but his base response to the commenter was an extended middle finger followed by a meaningful crotch-grab. Posts like this are the reason I love Chuck’s blog so much.
In his post about how wrong the AWC member who tried to mount him* was, Chuck referenced a post another writer named George had made on his blog, about having problems with a book he was trying to finish. So I trotted on over to see what George had to say, because George is adorable and I hadn’t realized he had a blog, and his post almost made me cry. He’s been trying to finish the book, but he can’t. People have been waiting for this book, and he knows that and he wants to get it done . . . but the story just isn’t cooperating with him, and trying to force it is just making the problem worse. He knows that too, and he’s doing the best he can, and he’s heartbroken that his best isn’t better. He’s also a very brave man, because he left the comments on that post open; luckily many of his fans seem to be understanding and reassured him that they were willing to wait.
And then I noticed that someone at Wired had written a post about George’s post, so I read that too. This person quite obviously didn’t know jack shit about how fiction writing actually works, and the people commenting knew even less. And some of them were more than a little nasty and condescending about it, which led to me becoming more than a little annoyed. It did not lead to me calling the Wired author a crude name I learned from Inexplicably British Loki, however, because I felt that was a bit too strong of a response for a jackoff clickbait article.
Anyway, all of this together got me thinking about how non-writers don’t really understand how writing works, where stories come from, or how writers get those stories out of their heads and into their readers’ hands. Now, I am not an author at anywhere near the same level as George and Chuck, because of course I’m not – Chuck is writing official new canon for Star Wars and George has more than earned his throne among the genre royalty – but I do hear some of the same crap sometimes. Most authors do. So today we’re going to have a little PSA to debunk a few common misconceptions about how writers work.
- Stories do not just keep running in a continuous, steady flow that an author controls at will and can turn on or off or up or down like a kitchen faucet. It’s actually more like having diarrhea: it comes on really strong and somewhat unexpectedly, gradually slows down to a trickle, and then just when you think it’s gone, it comes back. And no, eating bananas doesn’t help. Sometimes going to Starbucks does, though.
- Just because we already know what happens in our story doesn’t mean we know how to make all of it happen, or that we can make it happen quickly. Sometimes the story doesn’t cooperate with us, and there’s not a damned thing we can do other than just ride the uncooperative patch out. Usually by going off and working on something else for a while. Like a different story, or maybe the housecleaning we’ve been putting off because we were writing, dammit.
- Telling an author they could finish a story if they just try harder is condescending and betrays your ignorance about the creative process. Telling an author they’re a terrible person because they haven’t finished a story makes you a spoiled asshole who deserves to be shat on by a seagull.
- We may write because we love it, but writing is work and it can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Sometimes authors do just burn out. That’s when a lot of us go AFK and start binge-watching Netflix, and yes, we do feel guilty for doing that. Mostly because we know we should be cleaning the house instead.
- Authors are humans, regular humans, not magical beings with fantastic powers. That said, belonging to the community of authors is a lot like being part of the Greek pantheon – we may all be related, we do try to work together and help each other some of the time, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of fighting and fucking and occasionally swallowing someone else’s children going on. We are all technically competing for your attention, after all, so shadenfreude is a very popular pastime in the storied halls of Mount Olympus.
- Writing is just a thing we do, the same way every other person does their thing, whatever that thing happens to be. And we all do it in our own way. So if you wouldn’t walk up to a stranger you see knitting in the park and tell them they’re doing it wrong and they suck . . . well, I think you get the idea.
* Since last year we’ve had a surge in Asshole Writers Club members appearing in the wild and trying to breed – ‘I’m just trying to help you be a better writer’ is the AWC mating cry. They had mainly been stalking the newbies, weakest of the herd and all that, so one of them trying it on someone like Chuck may be a sign that they’re getting bolder and/or more desperate. Or possibly that they have rabies.