Among his advice over the years a few things have really stuck with me:
1) Don’t get an MFA, it’s a waste of money. If you need a grammar class, take one. If you need more of a basis in x literary genre because that’s what you want to write in, take a class or just read a ton in that genre.
2) Set up the habit of writing. If you don’t write a lot of crap on a regular basis you’ll never write anything. You will throw away a TON of what you write, but it’s only by writing that 99% of crap that you’ll find the 1% that’s worth keeping.
3) Don’t quit your day job. You will never, ever, ever write for 8 hours a day straight. Rather than sitting around depressed all day because you haven’t written anything worth a damn, you may as well have a basic 8 to 5 office job that pays the bills, health insurance, etc. Not only does it remove money as a concern, but it gets your mind off of the fact that you haven’t written anything good and frees up your creative juices for that next scheduled writing period.
4) Don’t be pretentious and refuse to write anything that isn’t “pure” or “worthy”. All the advertisements you see and brochures you read are written by someone. Being persuasive with your writing can pay really well and give you the security to pound out that next great American novel.
Edit: line breaks
Not that I'm interested in changing my career or anything, but your comment was interesting and I do like writing, so I think it's worth knowing!
He wrote Agent to the Stars to try to figure out if he wanted to write and what it was to write. http://scalzi.com/agent/
> In the summer of 1997, I was 28 years old, and I decided that after years of thinking about writing a novel, I was simply going to go ahead and write one. There were two motivations for doing so. First, I was simply curious if I could; I'd had up to that time a reasonably successful life as a writer, but I'd never written anything longer than ten pages in my life outside of a classroom setting. Two, my ten-year high school reunion was coming up, and I wanted to be able to say I'd finished a novel just in case anyone asked (they didn't, the bastards).
> In sitting down to write the novel, I decided to make it easy on myself. I decided first that I wasn't going to try to write something near and dear to my heart, just a fun story. That way, if I screwed it up (which was a real possibility), it wasn't like I was screwing up the One Story That Mattered To Me. I decided also that the goal of writing the novel was the actual writing of it -- not the selling of it, which is usually the goal of a novelist. I didn't want to worry about whether it was good enough to sell; I just wanted to have the experience of writing a story over the length of a novel, and see what I thought about it. Not every writer is a novelist; I wanted to see if I was.
I started by... well writing. I wrote a some blogposts, and a few of them trended on HN. Eventually, when we hired our CMO, he saw what I had been putting out and asked me to help out more. At a certain point, it made sense for me to transition entirely to writing.
Since you're not a professional writer, don't expect to be given a lot of writing responsibility. You basically have to prove yourself. If you have an editor at your company, work with them. I didn't have any formal writing training, but I applied the feedback I got from our editor and slowly my quality improved. It took me about 4-5 months before I was fully trusted to write quality pieces without hand-holding.
Given that you're a software engineer, you have the domain knowledge to write some very useful content. It's just about finding your style.
Writing seems like programming in one respect: if you can do the job you can be hired, regardless of your education.
This is basically true for all domain-specific writing jobs as well. Being an expert in the domain and being interested in writing is in many ways advantageous compared to being an expert in writing with an interest in the domain.
1. What do you want to write? Ad copy? News? Fiction?
2. What do you bring to that subject matter that has value?
Here's a real life example: About 10 years ago, a friend of mine was a business major and had a day job in marketing. He liked to write so he spent an hour every weeknight writing on his website. That website gained a following and with that proven success, he wrote a book proposal, shopped it around with some book agents, then they shopped it around with some publishers.
They eventually got him a book deal. That book did very well and he got another book deal. Then one book was optioned for a movie. After his third book deal he was able to quit his day job. The movie option expired after two years and another studio optioned it. It has yet to be turned into a movie, but he continues to get paid by a studio who wants to prevent other studios from turning it into a movie before them. They may never actually do it though. He's written a few more books since then too.
If you're thinking of writing a book though, the book itself is not where you make the money... you make the real money on whatever the book leads to: speaking engagements, movie options (fiction or nonfiction), other gigs that come from the awareness of you through the book, etc.
I think it would be much harder to be hired as a journalist without a journalism degree, unless you demonstrate your journalism ability somewhere else first (your own website perhaps).
As a developer, I think technical documentation could use a major improvement at many companies which might let you use both writing and development skills. But again, your journey to getting paid to write starts with knowing what you want to write.
For journalism, the issue isn't the lack of a journalism degree--which many/most journalists don't have. It's the general lack of jobs, especially those that pay more than subsistence wages. (And, even then, a lot of them are at pretty low quality sites. And the sort of local newspapers that a lot of journalists got started at are gone in large part.)
Lately, I've been writing technical articles for a tech company. It all started because I wrote a introduction to their product on Github and shared it on Twitter. They liked it, and contacted me to write more of that stuff.
I'm sure there are plenty of tech companies that are willing to invest in producing content to get more exposure (guides, tutorials, videos, etc) for a new product.
In this case I do agree however. Perhaps full time journalism would be a bit different, but writing short stories, novels, or freelance news pieces is going to come down to sending it randomly to a variety of publishers and hoping they like it enough to actually speak to you.
None of that process has anything to do with your “bonafides”, it has to do with writing well and composing a story (imaginary or otherwise) and some peon at the receiving firm actually liking it enough to bump it up the chain.
While I’ve used this advice to write better (blog entries, emails, presentations, arguments, etc.) I have not even endeavored to do it professionally. It’s still been helpful for me.
By checking https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MFA, I presume you meant Master of Fine Arts.
I'd argue that this is the number one hurdle to writing more and writing "better".
As I see it, it's not that what you write is 99% crap and 1% good stuff. It's more like you're sketching before producing the final painting. It's not crap, it's just an unavoidable part of the process you need to go through.
Also, thinking that 99% of what you write is crap must be super demoralizing.
If you can accept that and still show up to write every day you will eventually produce some good work. If you cannot then you will very likely be demoralized and quit.
I'd argue some greats and naturals may have a higher quality output rate up to something like 5% but that's still 95% shit.
> 3) Don’t quit your day job.
Is interested advice. Does he actually have advice for how to do this, and maintain any sort of reasonable writing schedule? I can see the practicality, but the obvious downside is having your time squeezed into smaller and smaller pieces (especially if you're also a parent).
Having read about the habits of writers, a lot of writers limit their "writing" to a few hours/day and spend the rest of their time in the business of being a writer. If you're just starting, you mostly need to do the writing part.
To really improve, in addition to writing you need to:
- Read really good writing. A lot. Every good writer I've met is a voracious reader and has been for a long time.
- Read about writing, as in, actually study writing
- Edit and review your writing, and get your writing reviewed and critiqued by people actually qualified to comment on quality writing
If you aren't doing this, a daily habit might get a lot written, but it could stay crappy for your whole life. I would argue that real study and less production writing is actually a better use of your time.
Some of my favourite books to start on serious study:
"A Sense of Style" - Steven Pinker
"The Making of A Story" Alice LaPlante
"Steering the Craft" - Ursula Le Guin
"On Writing Well" - William Zinsser
"Dreyer's English" - Benjamin Dreyer
The problem is that everyone thinks their writing is great. You need to be willing to think it could be better. :-)
Any favorites? I like the writing style of some authors in your study books (Pinker, Le Guin, Zinsser) but what books really inspire you in terms of sheer writing genius? (in both fiction and non-fiction)
I'm basically making a Lovecraftian text editor / puzzle game / walking simulator(?) where progress is gated by writing. My goal has been to nudge players into being more prolific writers.
There's little content aware changes to the environment based on what you write, and lots of little touches intended to spark ideas.
If you play it "right", you'll have a pile of art you created that's yours, that you can export. It's not opinionated on what you write, there will be some prompts you can take advantage of if you want, but players can type nonsense if their hearts and souls are truly, irredeemably empty.
I apologize for the shameless self promotion. My suspicion is that my target audience is rare and razor thin. I feel pressure to evangelize for a genre that to my knowledge doesn't exist. ( latest tweet showing this crazy thing. https://twitter.com/LeapJosh/status/1316830278644531200 )
If that's anathema, what's your preferred method of hearing news? Mailing lists? My email address is in my profile, I'll write you personally when it's done if you email me there.
That goes for anyone.
As William Faulkner says: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”
With writing (as with many things), there is this myth that you should only do it when inspiration compels you to write. But that is total rubbish. You need to create conditions so that inspiration will strike, and creating a habit of writing frequently will lay the groundwork for inspiration striking. Tyler Cowen, for example, talks about how he writes every morning - whether it's the weekend, Christmas, or anything else . This is an example you agree with his philosophy/economics or not.
- "War of Art" is a fun little book that lays this idea out, and frames what's stopping you from creating as "resistance". In the end, the book can be summarized as: create and stick to a daily ritual of creation. If you do that long enough, you'll create something worthwhile.
- Someone else posted Writing Streak  which can be fun to use as well.
- Others use Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way"  ("morning pages") to develop a "daily writing practice".
Honestly, they are all the same. No matter what you choose to do, the most important thing is consistency! Do it enough and you'll get to some level of ability and more than a few finished pieces (Can't guarantee a Nobel Prize in Literature, though, unfortunately :/ )
What do we mean by writing better? If we're referring to an improved ability to articulate thoughts and produce more text, then sure, writing more will help with that. Maybe quality will improve marginally over time.
But if we're talking about actually producing writing of a higher quality, I'm afraid simply writing more can only help so much. Improving the quality of the craft requires readers to provide feedback on the writing itself and/or writers to actively learn how to actually write better. The former is rare, and I'm not sure many writers actively take part in the latter.
If you don't try, you can't know.
1) writingstreak.io which is great for daily word dumps.
2 ) writing.com which is a writer's community and very much reminiscent of the web 1.0 days. It may not be a nostalgia trip in terms of blinking marquees, but it has simple links, a website-specific markup, forums, and probably a LAMP stack based on its unsophisticated styling. You can post your writings there, and review other's writings for in-site currency, which you can spend on getting others to review what you've written for said currency. The community there is friendly and also has other groups for journal passing, mailed handwriting practice, poetry/story contests and more.
Edit Bonus: doing NANOWRIMO each year really helps the writing habit since you are trying to get to 50,000+ words written in a month.
Same for running. Daily runner. It is the best thing I have ever done. But it sucks and never gets easier.
Is there anything to get rid of this feeling of suck?
> Writing is painful—it’s “fun” only for novices, the very young, and hacks — Mary Karr
For daily creative writing, I use a journaling app (happens to be Day One on macOS/iOS) and then pick a writing prompt from r/WritingPrompts if I otherwise have no other ideas. I choose one of the top three submissions.
When I started, I had no idea what to write. It was a struggle to write a paragraph. It's weird how it gets easier to create ideas. It's the same people say about improv class - overtime you get better at coming up with reactions to things.
For daily running, I finally gave in and bought bluetooth headphones after thinking they couldn't be that much better than wired headphones. Though I'm sure most people already have a BT headset solution here.
But what I do is have a podcast or audiobook I only listen to on runs. For example, maybe it's a Joe Rogan interview with someone I like. Or a thrilling work of fiction. Currently listening to Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, kinda fun (https://audiobookreviews.com/Dark-Matter/1357).
I now look forward to running. Especially if it's a good episode or book that I want more of. Sometimes, during the climax of the book or a great twist, I've even gone out to run again just to get another hour in.
I also just look at runs as some personal time. Running sucked when I was out of shape, but now they are some nice time away from the world. Oh, and if you're just running on a treadmill, there's nothing that will make that pleasant, I don't think.
I suppose choices of music or might help? I don't know what to say - if you run daily and still hate it, that just blows my mind.
EDIT: coming back to say - maybe you just aren't a runner? Try lifting instead? I know a few people who, like you, totally hate running but love to lift heavy things.
I used to run regularly but I never looked forward to it. Even with goals like 5Ks or half marathons, I didn't enjoy the experience of improvement. I had to drag myself out of the house to do it.
I look forward to and enjoy lifting weights (deadlifts, front/back squats, presses, cleans, snatches). I enjoy the idea of being able to lift something that I wasn't able to lift a year ago or even a month ago. And, even if I added just 2.5 lbs to my personal record, it is such an accomplishment in my head. I don't drag myself out of the house for lifting. I cancel plans to ensure that I can lift.
Maybe it is the difficulty in tracking improvement. I find it hard to track how much I improved in running. To me, it isn't discreet improvements over time because so much can happen during a running session (traffic, lights, people) which can vary results. Whereas lifting, it is usually in a more controlled environment and you add discreet number of lbs/kg to the bar.
And I lift daily as well and it is engaging than running.
I think it's just learning to be uncomfortable and that it's 'part of the process'.
Imagine how good you'll feel after. It's all I can come up with.
First, getting on a streak reduces the suck. Breaking the streak and getting back into it multiplies the suck.
Second, have no thoughts about the suck. Let it leave but a whisper in the mind. Dismiss it as quietly, casually and quickly as possible and get to the next thought, or no-thought.
I evaluate my writing based on how much my comments were incorrectly perceived by the readers, based the replies of the comments.
So far works quite well. I have noticed my writing becomes more precise and accessible.
Writer's block is what happens when you try to write a final draft on the first try.
Now trying to make it a permanent daily habit.
Then attempt to rewrite that thing from memory, and see what you came up with and how that changes the story.
If you practice this repeatedly, you will inevitably write better. This is copying the brush-strokes of the previous greats in painting, but in prose.
How come there's never much comment like that in writing threads?
Consistency beats intensity 10 times out of 10.
There is no choice between reading and writing, you definitely need both.
By reading someone I can implicitly understand how they structure their thoughts and how they think (where and when they stop to explain something.) This, opposed to me experimenting how to structure my own thoughts as to make sense for someone who might then be reading (which might be myself). It's in this sense that I prefer to have various inputs as to how different people write their thoughts rather than just experiment on my own (with the corollary that when I have to write something, when I really have to explain something -- it will just come up in the page without giving too much thought to the structure of the text. The structure is inherent and can be traced back to me reading different authors.)