Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Cult - Ten Horrible Writer Habits

Posted by LD Keach on Thursday, January 3, 2013

The start of a new year is the season of self-deprecation, reserved as a time to look back at all those miserable things we did for the last 365 days—things like binge-eating, smoking, all those murdered neighbors, nail-biting—and then forcefully berate ourselves for being such awful people. Yay!

Another grand tradition is to adamantly promise that next year, oh yes next year, we will stop sucking so badly and finally get off the couch and do something worthwhile. So, in that vein, the Self-deprecation Gnomes here at Dark Markets have whipped up a handy list of 10 Things We Must Never Do As Writers.

They may be resolutions. They may be barbs of hot lava spearing our sensitive writer hearts. They may also be things that, should we avoid, will make us more powerful in our craft and our careers, but we'll have to wait 'till next year to know for sure. In any event, here they are, in all their horror:

10. Responding to rejections with hate mail.

The first thing one can do as a writer to completely obliterate their credibility is respond to a rejection with anything other than "Thank you for your comments." Don't try thinly veiled barbs or passive-aggressive links to certain snarky blog posts, either. Also, don't write sweeping sagas about a disgruntled writer who destroys their red-penned enemies in elaborate revenge scenarios and then send it to the editors whom you despise. It's just bad form.

9. Emulating the Masters.

It is desperately important that we, as horror writers, commit to memory every word ever printed on the dusty page by Edgar Allen Poe (or H. P. Lovecraft, depending on which way you lean.) But, trying to write exactly like them does more harm than good. They are wordy bastards. And what I mean by this is: our darling Horror granmas and granpas held to a number of narrative conventions that are not necessarily in style anymore, and modern audiences are generally not trained to read like that. Poe, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, even the famous Horace Walpole wrote so heavily in adjective-laden exposition that bores most of our TV-trained frontal lobes.

Not to mention, most modern writers who attempt long-winded tributes to horror tales of old generally end up looking like mad purse dogs humping a thesaurus. (Unless you're Laird Barron of course, but, come on. That guy has an eye patch. A frickin' eye patch!) Take the overall lessons on atmosphere and suspense, but leave out trying to outright copy them unless you really, really like that thesaurus.

8. Ending a sentence with a preposition.

Just kidding. This is actually a myth. For the most part, we can choose whatever damn preposition we want to end a sentence with.

7. Starting up your own publishing company under which you publish your own stuff.

Nothing says "I've submitted to a million editors and couldn't get a single one to like my story, so instead of just saying 'well, let's move on' and writing something new, I'll ignore the major flaws my story probably has and thrust it into the limelight anyway, because I don't care if a reader wastes their time and money on an unsatisfying read as long as they waste it on mine." like this.

6. Killing every 'was' or 'were' in your manuscript.

This might be okay in a near future hell dimension where we all refer to ourselves in third person because the tyrannical regime has outlawed various forms of the verb "To Be" which actually turns out to have little to do with the actual definition of passive voice before we discover we've all been doing it wrong all this time anyway. But for real life, no. It's not okay.

5. Expecting Riches and Fame.

The 2010 median pay for authors and writers is $55,420 a year according to the US Department of Labor. That's before over 148,000 print books were self published in 2011—and don't forget 87,000 ebooks, too. Overall, the book market produced 1,542,623 fiction and nonfiction books that year according to Bowker stats, and for Horror 2012, there are over 24,000results on Amazon Kindle (over 7,000 hardcover! Who has the money for hardcover anymore?!) Anyway, it can be a marvelous Stephen Kingian dream to imagine ourselves to be rolling around in heaps of word-earned cash and leagues of adoring fans, but the hard science says that, statistically, most of us are going to be happy to make around 10,000 a year after working 60 hours a week and losing 1500 hours of sleep writing a 300 page novel. Awesome.

4. Cussing too much.

Nothing says, "The only way I know how to lend authenticity to my writing is to have every other word be 'fuck' or 'shit' or 'hell,' because I learned to write by emulating Stephen King's The Tommyknockers, which is consequently the only book I've ever actually read." like this one.

Alternatively, no one will take us seriously if we write the word "fudge" as an expletive. No, never ever.

3. Listening too much to people who give advice about writing (including me.)

Show, don't Tell. Never open with a dream. Go easy on the exposition. Third person or first person only. No switching perspectives. Use past tense. Chapter breaks. Don't emulate the masters. Turn three times in a circle before tossing the ceremonial Plot Urn against the wall in deference to Baphobaalthlu, the Dark Lord of Fiction. If we follow every rule in the handbook (or the Dark Lord's policy manual) then we will forever crank out bland, cookie-cutter, manufactured crap.

Try something new. Like, wildly new—write a novel in cut-up Creepypasta on the walls of your twelfth grade shop class entirely in citric acid and phosphorescent ribbons, take a picture of it and upload it to Matt's Shop Class Conspiracy Blog in disjointed chunks. Then, see how easily you disappear into those 24,000.

2. Not Writing

We are writers when we write, and not a second before or after. This is not an excuse for paltry publishing credits; it's a hard reality. When we long for a blockbuster novel or legions of adoring fans, but we can't make ourselves sit down and actually put together a sentence, that is not being a writer. When we put words together in a recorded form that speaks to us or communicates something, whether it be fiction narrative or poetry or a series of disjointed photos of text, that is being a writer. Be one if you want to be one.

1. Not Reading

If you are the kind of writer who does not read, your writing sucks. It's true. Lots of people have said it. When we read books, specifically the kind we want to write, then our brain does this strange thing and absorbs the awesome stuff about those books we love, stashing them away for later. When we read, we fill our brain-trunks with goodies that bolster up our own narratives without ever consciously realizing it. Never mind that writers who don't read are like jerks who hog the mike at the karaoke bar, or that publishing is more awesome when occurring within a community of like-minded reader/writers—to write well, one must read well.

Plus, writing can be so horrible, it's nice to be reminded why we do it. We do it because books happen to be awesome. And anyone who makes a decision to be a part of Books in some way is doing an awesome thing.


Artwork by Nina Prommer.  Nina really knows what it's like to have a keyboard nibble your fingers.