This is in response to the string of "How can I get off my ass and write" threads I've seen on message boards recently. This is not difficult, people. I am just a mere shmoe, so if I can write and get things done, anyone can.
As an example here's Jeffrey Yamaguchi's "Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Jumpstart Your Writing Projects," the straw that broke the camel's back. What follows is in all due respect to Jeffrey and I promise I'm not trying to be an asshole. I'm just going to level with you and try and wake your ass up. Because if you're trawling the Net looking for "inspiration" to "get you writing," then you need to wake up.
Please note that this article makes the assumption that you're trying to write your own stuff and not what someone else wants you to. This is for fiction and poetry writers only, really. And I'd like to point out that these are strictly my opinions, and as always, I urge you to go out and form the same opinions on your own.
1) Most importantly of all: What is your goal? Are you writing because you have something to say? Because you want to be read? Or because you want to publish a book and make a lot of money? Here's the truth of it: if you're getting into writing to become filthy rich, take the energy you would have put towards the great [insert nationality here] novel and just work harder at your day job to get a raise. I'm not saying it won't ever happen, but your chances of becoming the next Dan Brown or Stephen King or J.K. Rowling is roughly equivalent to your chances of being run down in the streets of Mexico City by a polar bear driving a 1973 AMC Gremlin. Your chances of actually being able to live off of what you write–making the assumption that you want to write what you want to write and don't feel like being beholden to someone else or conforming to someone else's editorial whims–is roughly the same, but it's a John Deere tractor instead of the Gremlin. Don't count on it, is what I'm saying. If you're one of those types who decides, "Well, I'll try for a year and see how it goes," save yourself a year of frustration. Quit now. I used to tell the folks in my band that Soundgarden was a ten year overnight success and if we weren't willing to just go until we made it or died trying, we should just forget it. Unless you're prepared to labor in obscurity for little to no pay and die with nobody knowing your name, seriously, save yourself the aggravation. If the work is what makes you happy and is the reason you're in this game, then play on. Otherwise, take your ball and go home.
2) Decide to Write. Jeffrey's post is right in one major regard. Quit talking about writing and actually write. You have to make the decision to write. This is the hardest part of what you will do. Honestly. Staring at a white space and filling it–sounds easy, but it's not. Just like we do with any really hard work (especially the type we're not getting paid for on a regular basis), our first inclination is to avoid writing. It's a pain in the ass (sometimes literally) to sit, alone, and just write. It's like exercising. Marathon runners are enjoying themselves when they're running a marathon. When they're training, though, or just getting started, they would rather somebody shoot them in the head and put them out of their misery. It's no fun building up the muscles, it's only fun when you get to use them later on. So just decide: are you going to write? or not? Do you feel like watching TV instead? Then you've decided to go enjoy someone else's story instead of making your own. Would you rather play a video game? Then you've decided to immerse yourself in someone else's world instead of making your own. Decide. And then, the most important part: own your decision. If you find you're deciding to play video games or go play teeball or chase chupacabras with a paintball gun instead of writing–and you're doing this on a regular basis–you need to face facts: chances are you're not a writer. Sorry.
3) Writing Groups Are Good If You're Just Getting Started. But your mileage may vary. If you can find a group of talented, motivated folks who can form a support system to kick you in the ass when you need it, great. But those are a rarity. Same thing with writing classes. I took my fair share of writing classes and I learned precious little from the critiques that I received. If you're really aching to "have a theme to write for next week," I'm sure there's a Yahoo Group or something that doesn't cost anything that will do you just as well. Or spend that tuition money instead on a copy of Zen and the Art of Writing. Ray Bradbury's book is the best book on writing there is and it's more than any class could teach you. If you need ideas for what to write about, Uncle Ray can bail your ass out. I wouldn't have the short stories in my anthology that I do without this. If you don't have one, buy one. Then read it until it falls apart on you.
4) Literary Magazines and Journals Can Go to Hell. I don't know if anyone informed you, but this is 2006. Why in the world would you go out looking for somebody to publish your stuff for you? After all, if any shmoe can publish a list of how to write better, then you can certainly publish your own damn short story. Are you looking to get paid? Really? Have you seen what magazines pay, for the most part? They pay in copies. Some pay a little. A very few pay well, but unless you're already a name, they don't want you. So what do you want to do–write a story, then spend the next twelve months sending it off places and spending postage to beg for permission to get published in a magazine that either doesn't pay or pays very little? Or do you want to write a story, hit the Publish key in WordPress, and get it online, then go on to write your next story? And the next? And the next? Again, see Item #1. Why are you here? If you want your stuff to be read, then publish it yourself. Again, go look at a calendar, people.
5) Contests? Give Me a Break. Take all the postage and entry fees you would have used on contests and use that for Lotto tickets. Honestly, it's a better use of your time and money. If you don't recognize the name of the contest, neither will anyone else when you brag about it. So save it.
6) Regular Book Publishers. This is worse than going to a magazine to ask permission. These people don't want you unless they can market you–and why should they? Unless you're talking about a really niche type of house, they want something where they can maximize bang for buck. About the only use I can see for these folks is if you're trying to ride a particular wave, that is: for example, I can't tell you how many DaVinci Code knockoffs I've seen. Just like the Harry Potter knockoffs that preceded them. But if you're writing your own stuff and not following a particular trend, and you don't write anything that can be summed up easily in a sentence and in turn marketed to a specific demographic, you're screwed. Sorry. You send in fifty pages and a synopsis and wait probably for a minimum of six months. That's six months that you can't do shit with your own book while waiting for some guy to dig through the slush pile and find it and then maybe read it. I had one submission returned to me after eight months–unopened. Eight months…totally wasted. Now, certainly, you can win the lottery and snag a book deal, but I've heard too many stories about publishers letting the first book of a trilogy go out of print before the third book hits shelves to be happy even if I were to snag it. Nice, huh? Again, unless they think you are the Next Grand Burrito, you're going to end up publicizing your own book, working your own book tour, etc. etc. etc. And wow, it only took you how many months of begging for permission? Christ, publish it yourself. So it won't be in every bookstore in the country. At least it'll be in print as opposed to sitting in your desk drawer or on your hard drive.
7) Read. Very good advice. If you're not an avid reader I'm not sure how you can be a good writer. And read everything. Hell, listen to audiobooks instead of the radio. It's not like anything good's on the radio anyway. If you aren't reading something that you can't later translate into something to write, you're wasting valuable time. I don't care if it's a magazine article or a book on the history of guano. Make it work for you.
Finish the Fucking First Draft. Some wise person once said that you can't edit what's not on the page. Don't try to edit stuff that's in your head. If your method is to create finished pages behind you and that's how you roll, great. But most of us, we'll feel a lot better if we just squeeze it all out and then play with it a bit afterwards. That way the scary white space isn't staring back at you anymore. Don't get hung up on a scene. Skip it and come back to it. It'll still be there later.
9) There is No Writer's Block. Writer's Block is the generic term writers use for "I don't feel like writing." There's no such thing. If you run into a brick wall, there's always a way around it. And your characters will help you if you only give them the problem. It's their story, after all, let them fix it. Case in point: I got to a certain point in my first novel where I had no idea what the hell was supposed to happen next. I had reached a key point in the story and then…well, I knew what the next key point was, but how the hell should I get to it? I tried and tried and banged my head against the keys and nothing. Then finally, I thought to myself "Nothing is working out today." Then, for some reason, I typed it out. "Nothing is working out today." Then I realized that my character was the one with writer's block, not me. So I gave that sentence as the opening line of one of my characters in the upcoming chapter. And from there I was able to finish the book. No fucking joke. Didn't run into another snag from then on till the finish. I gave the problem I had to my character and he solved it for me.
It's not rocket science. If you can just get past Item #2, then you're ahead of 90% of people out there. And when you look back you'll kick yourself for all the time you wasted. My advice is this: there is no cavalry coming. No one's going to descend, deus ex machina-like, from publisher heaven and perform a miracle. Honestly, no one gives a shit, and frankly, they're probably tired of hearing you blow hot air with nothing to show for it. You're going to have to save your own ass.
Now get to work.