W. P. Johnson

Pompous Advice for Would-be Writers from a Nobody Still in the Trenches

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm

I’ve never been interviewed or asked advice about writing, but by this point I feel like there are a few nuggets of anecdotal wisdom I can pass down to whoever the hell reads this thing. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short.


1: Write a lot.

Seems simple, but I think a lot of writers spend more time tweeting, facebooking, and talking about writing than actually doing it. The hashtag #amwriting is ironic in that it’s usually posted by a writer during their one of a thousand mini breaks to update the world via twitter or facebook about their current musings of brilliance on whatever project their in the middle of being temporarily excited about. Admittedly Joe Hill was a complete twitter whore and still managed to finish his last novel NAS4A2, but I have a feeling he’s someone who doesn’t sleep a whole lot. In short, stop the talk and walk the fucking walk already.

I myself am a little guilty of this. I talk a lot about the “novel I’m working on”, though in defense of myself I’m writing a lot of short stories in order to build a name so I can sell aforementioned book. The work is research and research is a slow burn, something that takes time. Come back to me in a couple of years. If I’m still “working on novel” and don’t have any pages produced, send me the link to this entry so I can summarily hang myself.


2: Read a lot.

Another golden rule. In fact, “read a lot, write a lot” are always presented together when new writers seek advice. There are some who may think they can get away with not reading anything and still write brilliant stuff. Possible but unlikely. Even more important: read the kind of stuff you want to write. If you write crime fiction, read crime novels, see what’s been done so you don’t write something that’s cliche. I read horror fiction to grasp what can be accomplished with the genre, but I also read horror so that I know whether or not an idea I have is new and fresh or something that’s been done to death.

Some worn out tropes: characters surviving a zombie apocalypse, day light vampires, and anything where a serial killer is an anti-hero. 


3: Step outside your comfort zone.

Occasionally it’s a good idea to write something that puts you out of your element. If you write science fiction, try writing a straight crime story. if you write horror, try writing a story where nothing horrific happens to anyone. In the end, genre is kind of a incidental tag we apply to things to make it easier for readers to find the stuff they like to read. In truth, we like good characters and good stories, and sometimes we lean too hard on a comfortable genre and lose sight of this fact. We must know and understand who we’re writing about, otherwise how these characters deal with the zombie apocalypse or whatever is meaningless.


4: Join a workshop.

You might think you’re awesome, but chances are you have a lot of crutches. Workshops can stink, but they can also be a good place to meet other writers and get some feedback. Just remember: this is not a love fest. You’re here to learn what about your work isn’t good. Sure it’s great to get praise, but praise won’t help you get better. It’s the red ink that makes you stronger.


5: Quit the workshop.

Amanda Gowin put it perfectly in an interview she did with TW Brown:  Leave before too many of the lessons and rules start to stomp out your voice and make you doubt yourself.

I’ve always felt this but had yet found a way to articulate it as well as Amanda did. Workshops are great, but at some point they will stop pointing out your flaws and start critiquing your work just for the sake of offering up criticism. They will also make  you sound like everyone else, which is terrible. More so, the workshop environment can become incredibly time consuming and if you’re anything like me, you don’t have all that much time to begin with. There are politics, time wasters, endless drama, and lots of terrible writing to read by newbies who don’t have a clue what they’re doing. When you’re one of these newbies, it’s good to learn together, but when you’ve graduated, its kind of mind numbing to have to explain to someone why their story isn’t very good without sounding like a complete pompous douche bag.


6: Short Stories:

Write them. They’re mini-versions of that novel you dream of writing. In fact, spend a couple years writing them. And don’t just tinker with one story over and over again. Write a story, shelve it, write a new story, shelve that, write a third story, shelve that. Then go back and edit the first, send it to a beta reader for notes, and send it out. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum until you feel like you’re ready to tackle that novel (or better yet, start with a novella, then a novel).

Initially when I started writing short work the plan was that I’d always have three stories in submission and while waiting for responses to those stories, I’d work on my novel. After I had three stories in submission, I decided, why not five? And then, why not eight? And so on and so on until I had fourteen stories in submission. I just kept going. And the thing is, I got better. I started getting the occasional acceptance, some of which were from pro-markets. A lot of rejections are form, but a decent amount praise the work stating that it’s just “not right for them”. Some stories sold right away while others took a year to find a home for (one in particular took two years of submitting). Plus, it helps get that W P Johnson name out there and that’s going to be important when it comes time to shop a collection or a novel around.


7: Play nice.

If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone’s work, just shut it. Maybe you dream of being the next Bret Easton Ellis and enjoy writing bitchy tweets about how so and so’s novel is dog shit, but chances are it’ll just hurt you or make you look like a hypocrite when you start kissing this person’s ass because they might be able to offer you a blurb or put a good word for you with a publisher. Plus it won’t really do anything for your career except cause drama and drama is a time waster.


8: Patience.

You really have to love writing for writings sake and have patience when it comes to publishing. You will be rejected a thousand times. In fact, the mantra I tell myself whenever I submit anything is: this will be rejected.

Right now I have nine stories available on amazon with another five forthcoming publications and another twelve in submission. This took me two years to accomplish, but if you count how long I’ve been writing, it’s taken more than a decade.

You have to love this. If you don’t, you should quit. In fact, just quit. It’s fucking awful.

But if you’re anything like me, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you to quit. You’ll probably keep doing it because its in your blood.


Until then, here’s to being scary.


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