10 Ways to Fail at Being a Writer (And Why You Should Do the Opposite) Part 2

Here’s a conveniently placed link, just in case you missed the first part of this post.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait while you get caught up.

Read it? Good.

Before we get started, I just wanted to say I have this horrible habit of being really long winded and super wordy. I’ve never quite learned the lesson that I need to kill my children… err… words. I need to kill my words. Or something like that. Anyway, what I’m getting at is you’re going to have to forgive me for writing overly long posts and then breaking them up into an arbitrary number of parts.

And, now… let’s get back on the path to failure.

  1. Don’t Read Inside Your Genre

I read that somewhere, as actual advice someone was giving. Thought I think the person giving the advice was making fun of the person who originally said it. But, on the path to failure, it’s a golden nugget of information. Reading inside your genre would give you an idea of what’s been done before, it will also expose you to different writing styles, world building techniques, and about a hundred other factors that would be super important in improving your writing.

But, Mr. Kinsgrove, my writing is already perfect, and I’ve got this awesome story idea about a boy that finds a dragon egg, and he’s destined to rebuild this ancient organization of dragon riders, all while he battles the last dragon rider who turned against his brothers, which is why the dragon riders aren’t around anymore.

That’s an awesome idea! It’s so awesome, not only is it literally stolen from another young adult fantasy novel, but the plot line is also drawn from a movie that is borderline fantasy in its nature while it tries to pretend to be science fiction. But, you wouldn’t know that because you’ve not read in your genre.

That doesn’t mean that the story idea is invalid, it worked very well for Christopher Paolini and George Lucas before him. It can also work well for you, but you’ve got to find another way to spin it, otherwise you’re going to have a hefty lawsuit on your hands. And, that’s a one hundred percent certain way to fail.

  1. Don’t Read Period

This is almost as good a way to assure your failure as not writing is. Reading is the act of studying how to write. Every time you sit down with a paperback novel, a part of your brain dedicates itself to pulling the work apart. Judging how the writer uses their talent and voice to create a sculpture of words. Your mind works with what you’ve read. It molds it and transforms it. Every book you read alters your writing style, even if only a tiny bit, but that book will have left an imprint on you. Knowing what magic that writer shared will make it a little easier for you to share your own magic.

On top of all the philosophical stuff, reading other writers helps teach you the hard and fast rules of writing, such as phrasing and grammar. It gives examples of when you should and shouldn’t leave out an oxford comma. (Never leave out an oxford comma. Ever. Period.) Another primary reason to read is so that you know the “rules” about writing, and you will see examples of how other people break those “rules”. This will help prepare you for the day when you break those “rules” yourself.

And, I can’t think of any other reasons to read right off the top of my head. There are hundreds of thousands of reasons to read, and every one of those reasons is an avenue towards better writing, and if you straight up want to fail at being a writer… you should avoid reading. In fact, there’s probably some mind numbing reality TV show on. I’m sure it has one of those Kardashians in it, or Cardassians, not sure which… they kind of look the same I suppose.

  1. Never Write Surprise Ideas Down

You know when you’re in the middle of taking a shower and this amazing idea comes to you about how a group of coal miners from West Virginia are going to be the first colonists on the moon. You know, right from the get go, from the first word you put on paper, that this would be a million-dollar best seller. A book that would sell more copies than the Bible. But, gosh darn it, I’m in the middle of something and I don’t have time to stop and write it down. Not even just a sentence to keep the idea alive in my mind. I’m sure I’ll remember it later.

You’ll regret that decision… unless of course, you want to fail at being a writer.

Surprise ideas are the fuel that feeds our creative fires. Those tiny moments in the day where something we see or hear or touch or smell strikes us in just the right way and we’re like hmm… I could see that being a story. Or you might find yourself asking “What if killer clowns roamed the streets terrorizing the populous and Batman was the answer to stopping them?” Or you might be reading a blog post, and be like “gosh, there are so many of these posts out there. I wonder what it would be like to write a post professing the exact opposite thing of the last inspirational post I read? I wonder if there was a way I could turn it into a satire too, and tweak it just enough so that I’m really expressing the same ideas but the delivery and voice of the post are kind of making fun of other posts of this nature?” I had a random idea along those lines, and I’m thinking it might become a whole series of posts.

Still, though, this is all about failing. What you need to do when these ideas come along is ignore them. Don’t quickly jot them down on a little notebook you carry around. Or don’t type them into the notes app on your phone. Don’t do anything at all that might preserve that idea for further perusal later. After all, who really wants to read about coal miners in space?

  1. Always Compare Yourself to Bestselling Authors

Yes, they’re selling hundreds of thousands, even millions of books, and how many have you sold? Hmm? What did your grandma buy a copy of your last self-pub? Did she even read it? I bet Dan Brown’s grandmother reads his books.

You’re just a failure, because Stephen King has sold fifty million copies of his latest book.

It can’t be because he’s had sixty + years of experience under his belt. And, it definitely can’t be because he’s spent the last sixty years doing everything, working every trick in the book, to build his audience to the point he’s at right now. I mean, come on, he was an overnight success. Carrie hit shelves and BAM! major movie deal. And, yeah, we totally need to gloss over the fact that he spent two decades of his life working on his craft. We can forget all the short stories he’d sold up to that point too. As well as the number of rejections Carrie went through before it was picked up by a publisher that turned out to be kind of a pity contract from the higher ups at Doubleday.

So, if you’re measuring stick is Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, and just about any other writer whose name has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, then… well, you’re guaranteed to fail. There’s a reason gaining levels in WoW is called grinding. The same is true in writing. You only get better by doing it, by reading everything you can, and by putting yourself out there.

If failure is your goal, go ahead and compare yourself to the big wigs, nothing like feeding the seething self-loathing growing in the pit of your stomach.

  1. Always Submit Your “Perfect” First Draft to Agents and Publishers

So, against every nugget of wisdom I’ve shared with you in this little post, you’ve gone and finished yourself a novel. It’s a massive thing, running better than five hundred pages, with at least two parts of the novel being an essay about the way buggers taste when seasoned with salt and pepper. But, it’s perfect, and you know it is.

Why?

Because bestsellers write massive novels, every single one of them. You never see a book by Stephen King with less than a hundred thousand words in it. And, by gum, you know your literary diamond is ten times the book Stephen King could ever hope to write.

Now, let’s see what else you did. This is your first draft. Good. Who needs feedback? We already covered that earlier in the list. Did you proofread for any grammatical errors or any other rules you might have missed? Nope, good. That’s right, the moment it touched the page it turned to gold. What to do with the book now?

Well, there’s only one answer. Now you start the submission process. Sit down and writer yourself a nice query letter, but ignore the guidelines on the agent and publishers page. Go ahead and send the whole novel, why not? I’m sure they’ll love it. After all, they’ve got all the time in the world, and this is YOUR novel after all. They have no choice but to sit down and read it the moment it drops into their inbox. And, yep, that sweet publishing contract is right around the corner. I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave you a six figure advance on that. After all, it’ll sell better than the Bible.

But, in case you did want to continue to ignore my advice at least listen to this. Put the book away for a couple of months. Start on another project. Read for six weeks straight, then come back to your monster. Look at it with new eyes, and wonder just what the hell you were thinking when you wrote it. Maybe it’s not gold, maybe it’s still somewhere in the area of a turd, but it can be turned around. Write another draft. Then find a critique partner, or a couple of them, or a whole group. Get them to look at the book and give it another run through the typewriter. Now, you might be looking at a book that’s worth submitting. So, go ahead and start that process, but while you’re doing that work on something new. Start a blog. Mingle with the writing community and maybe build yourself a fan base. There’s a reason Fifty Shades of Grey became an instant bestseller, and it’s not because of the quality of writing. Ah, the power of networking.

Anywho, those are my little pieces of wisdom when it comes to the world of failing as a writer. I’ll tell you what though, I hope I see you on the side of success. It’s always nice to know that it’s not an impossible goal to achieve, much as it seems like it is some times. So, sit tight, grab your pen, and keep writing. This world needs that 500-page monster of yours, we need your touch of magic to make us all a little better.

Consecutive Days Blogging: 3

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