A Letter to my 20s. (Sound Advice For Aspiring Writers)

A letter to my 20’s.

So, you’ve got guts and you’ve got a drive that no one in the world but you can understand. You have found your voice and wrote about what you knew then wrote about what you didn’t know shit about and then wrote some more and then again.
Amazing! Congratulations. You’re on the fast track to take over the literary world and shake things up, smash the walls, to hell with conventions and all hail the great (Canadian) writer.

Now that was cute, it is. The right word is…cute. So let me give you some advice while I can.

Because I’m 35 now and, well, here are three truths you could have learned at an earlier age and save yourself some pain of learning them later and then admitting to yourself in a very public post just how wrong you were back in the days.

You will need an editor.

You’re not that good. You’re not that bad either, but you’re definitely not that good. Sure you can fool yourself into thinking no one has ever written prose the way you handle it, and maybe you did find a voice that was sorta, kinda, maybe unique to you.
Yay!

You still suck enough to need an editor. Not that you don’t write well, but there’s bullshit up in there, there’s filler and god forbid you EVER make a typo, right?

You will need an editor. Not just any editor, someone whom you respect and will call you on your crap. And you will send them your book thinking, “this is soooooo close to finished,” and when the manuscript will come back, you’re gonna want to quit the life altogether.

“That’s it,” you’ll think. “I’m done with this shit. Never again. Why did I bother in the first place?” You’ll mope around, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days. Some of these pages weren’t as good as you thought they were.

And then you’ll get back to work, and maybe 90% of editorial comments will make it into your book, making it a much, much better book.

At one point you’ll learn to appreciate this process. You’ll do a lot more editing yourself and when you’re done with it, you’ll happily send it to someone you respect and tell them, “go ahead, massacre me.”

That’s how a book makes it from good to great (Thank BEN!)

You will follow the rules.

I know. I know. You’re still punk in your heart and following the rules is for suckers. But punk only really has three chords and maybe five songs when you really think about it, so what the fuck are you complaining about with rules.

So you will diligently use he said, she said. You will avoid adverbs at all costs and you will structure you writing.

Sure, that free verse poetry is fine and all. It’s cute. You’ll probably never write a Petrarchan Sonnet. But 90000 words don’t come so easy as some spur of the moment snowflake in a beautiful winter storm.

You want that shit to make sense, you better structure it. And guess what, people much smarter than you and much older than you already had figured it out hundreds of years before you walked this earth.

Of course the rebel in you will cringe at this, but let me tell you, and you’ll hate me for this, but the time you’re 35, you’ll be writing a five tome series where each book will be a cog in the Shakespearean five act tragedy structure (boring, right?) and each book is individually organized as a three act structure so that the reader will want to keep reading your shit. (Don’t worry you’ll still get to swear as much as you want.)

You will want a publishing deal.

Finally, you’re gonna want a publishing deal.

I know. You wrote against ANY PUBLISHING DEAL and about how the publishing industry was BULLSHIT and DEAD, so FUCKING DEAD. That was so very punk of you. You wrote that so many years ago in a VERY ANGRY post that managed to land on Huffington post that one time (so un-punk) but thankfully in French, and now every time you google yourself (you’ll do that too) it’s one of the first links up there and you just want to shoot yourself in the face. Or not.

This one’s not ENTIRELY black or white. One thing is for sure: don’t EVER sign a non-compete clause. Those are just bullshit and should belong to the past or a ditch somewhere north of Mont-Laurier.

You see, publishing houses are like people. Some are nice, some are assholes, indies can be both and majors, well, maybe. I don’t fucking know. But you’ve met great indies that offered super fair deals and shitty indies that could go fuck themselves and go bankrupt.

Still, YOU WILL WANT A PUBLISHING DEAL.

A nice one, from a good indie that cares about their writer and you’ve luckily met at least three of them in your short career, so keep hope.

Because you can’t do everything yourself. You really can’t. You’re terrible at selling your own shit. No one single person can properly handle the writing, the editing, the cover, the distribution, getting you to conventions or book fairs and handle publicity on your shit.

You’ll do a lot of that, don’t get me wrong, you’ll do a lot of everything. But you need help, especially you, my twenty-something me.

Besides, you’ll realize soon enough that even assholes aren’t always assholes. Work in this industry long enough, you’ll realize the margins are so thin and the risks are so great, it’s actually hard for anyone to make money in this business.

That’s it. For now at least.

Keep cursing like a sailor, some people actually seem to enjoy that.

Take care,

Your mid 30’s self.

P.S. You will unknowingly fall asleep ten feet away from Harlan Coben on a mezzanine seat of the Orpheum theatre in New-Orleans during your very first convention because you couldn’t afford a second night in a hotel room. Tell you all about THAT some other time.

Advertisements

Some Unstructured Thoughts on the Act of Writing Frantically

The feeling of failure, the will to quit, that shit doesn’t come from the act of writing.

The will to quit comes from the lack of basic need, food, shelter, rest…comes from the social need of “success” that is measured by the number of sales.

But none of that takes into account the notion of a successful writing session. My writing process comes in very intense outbursts of frantic writing. They come as single hours of insane typing where the entirety of the world doesn’t exist anymore. My favorite moments happen when I can’t even keep up with the words in my head. My hands can’t type fast enough, sometimes I even beat Word to it’s speed. The letters appear half a second after I typed them and a full second after they came up in my mind.

The best moments happen when I go blind on the screen and the words just come out. It’s an absolute mess to clean up but I did learn to maximize those creative outbursts in time. Making sense of the emotion, you can do that later when you mind is no longer on fire.

It’s very hard to fall into that one moment of absolute genius or madness. I think music and art is a better place for that mind frame than writing but it’s not impossible. If happens, every now and then, I manage to fall into that insane grove that only people like Trent Reznor seem to find all the time and the words come out. Weird shit comes out, very good shit comes out.

The problem with it is that more often than not, it can’t stand on its own. It’s just a piece of something that could be and nothing more. It’s a few pages at a time. I can go insane, frantic even, and shell out 1200 words in twenty minutes, that has happened. But those words won’t make any sense to anyone, maybe not even myself.

Because the mind frame I was in when I was writing so frantically only existed in that very singular moment. They can only be a collection of momentary lapses of reason.

I mean. You play a riff or you play an entire song… it may last 3 minutes. If you’re Neurosis, it will last 8 or 10 or maybe more, sometimes. That song has a few parts, 3, sometimes 4, rarely 5 or more. They repeat themselves and add on to each other and I love music. Music is absolutely necessary to the “emotion” of writing. But the writing itself doesn’t really work as répétitions of 3 or 4 or maybe 5 parts…

An album is twelve songs, an art expo is a handful of artworks and each and every one of them is perfectly valid, but a novel is a marathon, not sprint.

A novel means locking down all the feelings, the need to rest and the will to stop. A novel means writing when your body is ready to quit. It means to keep going, one line at a time, the way you count your meters at the end of a long race you’re just fucking done with.

It’s not about losing your mind onstage and feeling the single riff through your fingers like the world depended on it. Writing is a slow game and it’s strange to think of it that way, but it’s true.

It’s very, very hard to make something out of a hundred little moments of madness. Poetry works like that, songs work like that. You can put all the insanity of the universe in a few short pages, sometimes a few short words. I still think some of my best work comes in those short bursts, but the need to write novels is still there.

So you take those moments of absolute genius and you make a story out of it. I mean, A novel is 70 000 words, 80 000 words, 90 000 words. It’s ridiculous to write a novel, what an insane enterprise. Why do that at all?

I just need to do it. After all this time, the need is still there. I fucking hate it sometimes, but it’s still there.

And of course you could say “you just need to add up all those moments of pure genius/insanity. JUST those moment,” and that would make a standalone novel or story or anything else. That would be a beautiful thing and I think I’ll get there one day. I hope I make it there one day. It’s the kind of thing that can keep me up at night. CAN I WRITE A BOOK LIKE THAT?

So far I only think Burroughs has managed to do it with Naked Lunch and he probably lost his mind right there and then.

It’s getting harder for me not to go there though. I’ll admit to that. This kind of FRANTIC writing is kind of calling me. It’s a bit obsessive when I think about it. The simple act of writing is not enough anymore. I’ve filled pages and novels and it’s all fun and good, but the need to create something more than myself is still there.

I was good at hard realism and I’m still good at hard realism. But I still have this need to break all the rules again. I haven’t done that in so long, I think I’m ready for it.

I don’t know if it’ll be successful. I don’t really know at all.

Feels like this one’s out of my hands for once.

“We’ll see in a year,” I keep telling myself. “We’ll see in a year.”

Ian.

 

Over Half a Million Words and Counting – Resilience and the Creative Mind

I am about to announce my first “officially” published work, as I was lucky enough to team up with an up and coming indie of the publishing world, and I found myself thinking about the path that led me here.

Part of my intellectual process is to understand patterns very easily and part of my spiritual search is to understand the origin of such patterns (or paths) and their influence on the person I am today.

It is often said that any artist who’s “made it” had to fail time and time again in order to learn and grow. I can only say that the clichés are true as I was trying to figure out how many pages I had written and scrapped before getting to this point.

I did a pretty complete breakdown of everything I could think of between being a geek writing his own role-playing games when I was in fourth grade and looking into a chunk the huge market of mystery writing. (soon to be announced officially.)

I wrote

3 role-playing games – say 90 pages total

4 short stories in high school – say 20 pages total.

2 personal essays in junior college – 80 pages total.

5 “short” political dissertations – 200 pages total.

20 smaller college works – 8 to 12 pages – say 160 pages total.

(I’m not even gonna count all the weekly 2 to 7 pages assignments)

About 50 songs (music and/or lyrics) – 50 pages total

1 really bad script – 90 pages

1 really bad novel idea – 60 pages

2 full length plays – 120 pages total

1 short movie script – 6 pages

1 good full length movie script – 100 pages

3 novels : say 800 pages

1 self-made translation : 140 pages

2 poetry collections : 160 pages

4 years of curating texts for the MainLine Gala for Student Gala.

An unspecified amount of arts events and designs

Plus plans for a series of 5 graphic novels which I have yet to count…

2166 pages of “unsuccessful” or DIY writing to get here. At least 420 pages of which I literally scrapped. Most of it I used but have yet to pay out and some if it I actually look to make small amounts of money from.

I’m not even counting the letters, proposals and blog posts.

@250 words a page, that’s over half a million words I wrote before I got a book deal. (541 500 to be precise)

(With all the proposals, treatments, blog posts, letters, homework, submissions… I’m confident I’ve hit the million words by now… but let’s stick to manageable figures for now.)

So I guess the message is this, If you write every day, or even every week. If you started young because it felt natural to you, keep doing it. Half a million words and counting…that’s what it takes.

If that number scares you, you should probably do something else.

“Until you die or it dies in you” – Charles Bukowski.

Take care,

Ian

 

 

 

So I Just Set Fire to a House…

…In my next novel, of course… (but the title caught you, didn’t it?)

I was sitting there, struggling to try to get my character in and kill the guy he’s supposed to kill and find a way to somehow cover his tracks and try to make it sense and I was sitting and writing and writing and re-writing… shit wasn’t working and WORSE, shit didn’t sound like my book or my characters…

Then I said to myself, “fuck it, I’m burning down the motherfucker.”

With the guy sleeping in it.

That’s right.

I just set fire to the house.

Because my character’s that kind of an asshole anyways. He ain’t no fancy hitman. He’s a guy who gets pissed and just does shit and this time he wanted to burn down the house. It made sense right that moment so he fucking did.

Simple as that.

Which leads me to a kinda-well-known writing tip: Let the characters speak for themselves, they often know what they’re doing better than you do.

Keep writing every day, (I know I’m having a hard time with it.)

Take care,

Ian