Saturday, March 10, 2018

Advice from the mailbag: Write bad books

People often email me asking for advice about writing. I answer the questions directly, but as I do receive similar questions, it makes sense to post some of them in the hopes of helping other authors, published or aspiring.  Here is a paraphrased question I received recently:
I'm struggling with writing fiction. I find planning a book extremely difficult let alone a series of them. I have abandoned more than a few projects in the past, frustrated that I couldn't come up with good enough plot twists or how to satisfyingly end the book. Any advice?
Here is how I responded:
It is hard to remote diagnose, but my advice in how to avoid being discouraged about not coming up with good enough plot twists or a satisfying end, is to not try to write the perfect book. One of the biggest obstacles for aspiring writers is to think what you create must be great. All too often writers make impossible goals and when they fail, grow discouraged. It is highly unlikely that anyone can hit a home run the first time they step up to the plate; one does not make a symphony after their first piano lesson. 
What separates writing novels from brain surgery, (or more accurately one of the things)  is that no one dies when you screw up a book. It can take from eleven to seventeen years to become a good surgeon. It took me twenty years to become a decent writer, and that doesn't include the first ten years where I wrote three complete novels, dozens of partials, and a dozen short stories. That's what I did  between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three. I doubt too many kids get to practice medicine at the age of thirteen. 
Writing is insanely complex. All literate people can do it, so it appears easy, but while most people can whistle a tune, few can compose a jingle much less an opera. Even after thirty years, and more than thirty novels, I still learn all sorts of new stuff every day. Why? Because good fiction writing has so many facets, but at its heart is how you think, and how you communicate this using words. There is an infinite number of ways to do this, and as a writer you need to make millions of decisions, many of which will make or break a book. Only through trial and error, only through committing to your sub-conscious and muscle memory of the basics, can you hope to master enough of the complexity to get it right enough to succeed at making people love what you write. 
So don't sweat it. Write bad books. Write awful books. Make lots and lots of mistakes. That's how you learn. And never, ever, aspire to become perfect. To be perfect is to give up. Concentrate, instead on constant improvement, on learning, on doing better on the next novel you write. Give yourself the freedom to fail and you will learn to write.


  1. Excellent advice, really helps, thank you. I am getting better at writing.... I think. Oh and if I buy a signed book do you ship to the UK? Thanks. Big fan!

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