Thomm Quackenbush, author

Advice to Future Writers

Don't bother writing. No one is interested in what you have to say. You will never get published. The market is full of talentless people who know somebody and thus got a contract. They are still better than you, because someone wants to publish them. You are not even good enough for the discount bin. Don't even bother self-publishing. No one, not even more of your "friends" on LiveJournal, will ever read a single thing you write.

And if you let even a word of the above faze you, you really should give up writing. The world does not need another person who is passionless, who can be defeated by an article on the internet. All that said, if you can possibly do something other than writing, do it. If not, here is my well-earned advice:

  1. Edit. You speak in first drafts and you certainly do not write better than that. Write out every bit of your story, then cross out most of it. Make your work represent only the best of your effort, and that means making sure that you have deleted a good many useless things you added in to give you work some structure it no longer needs. If your story can survive without a word or phrase, cut it out. In my first book, I ended up deleting over 65,000 words from my "final" draft to what is going to be published, so don't tell me your story is as lean as it can be yet.
  2. Bribe. You need feedback (you cannot depend on the story in your head translating easily to the page no matter how crafty you are) and people are understandably reticent to spend their time slogging through hundreds of pages of the ridiculous words you have contrived to replace terms like "water" and "cows". Buy your critics to dinner, take them to the movies, outright pay them to read what you wrote and tell you why it is not very good. Then, take some of their advice without hurt feelings. It may wound your pride, but they are helping you.
  3. Keep writing until you have cleared all the bad habits and weakness out of your system. We are aware that you did not write the great American novel. Keep writing. Write until you think your fingers are going to fall off. Write through writer's blocks. Have ten projects you can write about, if just to keep from stagnating on that one story you cannot get quite right.
  4. Read everything in your genre (in addition to reading constantly anyway, which I expect you, future writer, do) and make certain you are copying no one. No casting necklaces into Mount Gloom. Yes, there are only a finite number of stories in the world, but you can do better than insulting your readers with obvious plagiarism of the flavor of the week.
  5. Be willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice mornings, evenings, nights out, your dreams, your first drafts. It doesn't have to be every single one, but you need to know that you are giving your effort to making your writing something worthy of being read. Real writing is not a pursuit for cowards or the lazy, however much people think tapping away in a Starbucks makes them a writer.
  6. Admit to yourself that you will possibly never earn a penny for all your work. If you are only writing to sell, you are not writing anything worth your reader's time. If you do not let this slow you down, you have the right attitude.
  7. Delight in rejection after rejection. Affix your failures to the refrigerator door. Be proud you tried. If you let some ponce of an editor dictate how you feel about yourself, you will not last long. Editors largely exist to turn an art into a business, as necessary as they are and as inspired as some can be.
    1. However, money should flow in only one direction: to the writer. If someone promises to publish you for $4000 or wants you to pay a huge submittal fee to read your work, they are scamming you. This goes for contests as well.
  8. Know every rule: how grammar works, dialogue works, how magic works, how chemistry works, how flirting works. Only when you have a firm grounding in these can you break them all and still keep your reader believing in your story.
  9. Make your character authentic and identifiable and your reader will follow them into parallel dinosaur dimensions without a flinch.
  10. Never allow yourself to think what you wrote is even a little bit better than it actually is. No matter how rife your world is with unicorns and dragons, you have to exist in the starkest reality yourself if you are going to be a writer. If what you wrote is not good, make it good. If it is good, make it better. It is rightly said that an author is never really done writing a story, but we relinquish them to publication because it is good enough. No one you idolize ever felt everything they wrote couldn't be a bit better, I promise.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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