How Not to Do Something

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Learning how to write is a long, slow process. There’s the technical bits, there’s the craft part, and there’s the intangibles that come from learning how to communicate not just effectively, but artfully. There is also learning how not to write.

It’s as important as anything else to learn what not to do in your writing. A good way to make sure you’re not going to end up writing crap is to read crap, and understand why it is, well, crap. Here’s a couple resources that will give you a quick and dirty lesson in things not to do.

Awful Fantasy

I don’t know who manages this Twitter account, and I don’t care. All I want is for them to keep doing what they are doing. Every tweet is a microcosm of terrible genre sins. Heres a few highlights:

Worst Muse

Another great Twitter account, all about encouraging the worst desires in every writer. Please, do not follow this muse.

Red Pen of Doom

One of my favorite blogs to visit is this one, devoted to how to edit well and not write bad. This post in particular is excellent, but the whole blog is worth reading and subscribing.

Cringe Writing*

For a laugh (and some lessons), check out the subreddit Cringe Writing, where redditors share stories and examples of particularly cringe-worthy writing. Hopefully, nothing of mine has been passed around there before. . .

Read Bad Books

Finally, maybe the best of all, is to read bad books. It can be tricky to find them, not because there aren’t a lot of bad books, but because you want to find just the right kind of bad. Books that are written and self-published by people who do not have a literary bone in them won’t teach you much. Instead, seek out the popular books, read them with a critical eye, and see what you find. I read Twilight for this reason. It taught me a lesson in writing and characterization, and also that even weak writing can sell (a lot!).

In the end, it may not matter if your book is a masterpiece. One could write like a marketer, targeting audiences ruthlessly and writing exactly what you think could sell. I don’t do it that way, because I have this illusion that someday I’ll be a great writer. And that means never forgetting how not to write.

*Redditor readbeam pointed out something very important with regard to this subreddit. It contains some examples of writing taken without peoples permission and criticized. I don’t condone that sort of thing. Writers should have the freedom to write whatever they want in private, without the threat of being judged. Critique can serve a constructive purpose (or should), mockery is only for amusement at someone else’s expense. Deconstructing published works is one thing, lambasting someone’s private writing is something else. If you are a writer, you know what it would be like having your material viciously mocked. Cringewriting does not distinguish much between the two. I’m not going to remove it from the list, because that’d be too revisionist for me, but I will note that I discourage people from the practice of mocking writing. This list is about personal growth through analyzing the missteps in other authors’ writing, not amusement.


 

cover3I’ve been writing since I was a kid, so I’ve learned over the years some things not to do, and hopefully someday I’ll learn all of the things not to do. I’m also have a book out now, Absent Hero, the first part of the Gone To Wonder series. It’s about a steampunk theme park, a bunch of teens who know way more than your average teen about story archetypes, and it’s nerdy as hell. Get it now for Kindle.

Enemy, Thy Name is Grammar

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Every writer should know there way around grammar. It is a cold hard fact of a writer’s life that they know how to use a comma, what makes a proper noun proper, and all the other ins and outs that make our written language flow. It’s also a cold hard fact that many self-published authors don’t take the time they need to go over their writing for proper grammar. In that spirit, I’ve decided to share with you a few of my favorite sources for all things grammar.

Adios, Strunk and White

Strunk and White is an outdated and overused piece of writing. It’s a pretty well known fact that the authors even break the same rules they list in the book, in the book. However, Adios, Strunk and White is an underutilized book that can help any author get their grammar under control. Even more, once you have your grammar under control, Adios, Strunk and White can help spice up your sentences and really make your writing pop.

Purdue Owl

When I worked at my college writing center the Purdue Owl was the go-to place for all my grammar needs. The site has a fairly comprehensive citation guide that many college students probably already know about. What’s less known are its useful grammar guides. Any author who needs to know how to use a semicolon, how to form a proper sentence, or what exactly an adverb is, would be well suited to use the Owl for their grammar needs.

Snoot

Okay, you’ve got some resources and you’ve gotten some good editing done, what now? How about you take a break and enjoy a little essay all about grammar. David Foster Wallace’s Tense Present is the perfect way to blow off a little post-editing steam.

 

Never Tell Me The Odds

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Do you like to write? Do you hope to publish a book, or have published a book? Do you have dreams of becoming a bestseller? Congratulations, you’re completely delusional and in denial of basic facts. You should cut your losses and quit now!

At least, that is the logical response to the long shot that is being a career writer. The odds are not in your favor. Anywhere between 300,000 and one million books were published last year (the figures are hard to pin down with self-publishing, but either way, it’s a lot). That’s hundreds of thousands of authors struggling for the reading public’s limited consumption. The chance of breaking out is, strictly numerically speaking, remote.

So why bother? That’s a question I’ve asked myself, as I am poised to begin a self-publishing (ad)venture. There’s cold hard numbers standing in your way. It takes a lot of time, time you may not have with a regular full time job, family commitments, etc. It costs money, whether you are SP or under a traditional publisher – those big guys don’t do the kinds of marketing they used to, or at least they’re not really interested in marketing the newbie like they deserve.

But there’s another way to look at it, and that’s from the story perspective. And stories don’t obey logic a lot of the time. How often do miraculous and rare events happen to fictional characters? A lot, because they have to happen. Let’s map our story, and maybe we can find some inspiration.

The Call

For most heroes, there is a call to adventure. For the writer, that call is a desire to tell stories. Let’s remember this, because it’s the core of our story, our motivating purpose. What we want to accomplish is to write a story and have that story read and appreciated by others, hopefully many. There may be different background causes for this want, and there are almost certainly going to be as many paths as there are writers in the world. But the archetype is the same: person wants to communicate something to other persons.

The Characters

Few heroes can carry the weight of the story alone. We need a cast of characters to help us. The Mentor is perhaps the most important, but don’t discount the others. A good foil or sidekick, an antagonist or two to challenge your resolve (it may be you yourself – I’ve certainly worn that mask, or come in the form of anthropomorphic rejection letters laughing and taunting you).

The Plot

We’ll have trials aplenty. From the actual act of writing, to the editing process, design, distribution, and the Sisyphean task that is marketing, how much effort you put in will make or break your story. Do you have what it takes to slay the dragon? Skill and luck will only get you so far. This is a journey, and you must change and grow to complete it.

The End

Ultimately, you may not achieve the goals you started with, but instead find a different, equally satisfying result. Life doesn’t resolve in a nice, neat finish, and neither will your writing endeavors. It may be a cliché, but the journey is often the best part. There’s nothing wrong with stating things honestly: the odds of success aren’t good if your measure of success is mega sales. So temper your expectations, and let what happens happen.

One more thing about those odds. Forget ‘em. I’m taking the Han Solo approach. Knowing the odds isn’t nearly as important as flying into that asteroid field full speed and kicking some ass.