Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Writer Mojo: Ten Things to Remember

By Cornelia Read

1. Many people will try to give you advice about the writing life. Some of them are idiots.

This guy manages to put most of the stupidest writing advice I've heard over the years into a single schmaltzy performance. If you hear anybody spouting off about this stuff in a similar vein, RUN, because the person advising you is an idiot.

2. It's good to have a plan for promoting your book. Before it comes out in paperback.

3. If you win an award, be gracious. (If you DON'T win an award, be even more gracious.)

4. It can be a good idea to have a distinctive signature, but if you have a lot of people standing in line with your books, there is such a thing as too much (do yourself a favor and don't watch this until the end. The guy takes forEVER).

5. Signing books can be like signing yearbooks, back in middle school. When in doubt about how to personalize something, a good general fallback phrase is always, "Have a Bitchen Summer."

6. Buy a Mac.

7. There's an unspoken writing etiquette about what to do when you finish a book signing. Here is Todd Snider's breakdown of the practice:

8. Consider writing endorsements:

9. Accurate rendition of dialect is very important, if you're going to use it at all:

10. Don't forget to swear, early and often:

11. (bonus!) And last of all, if you're not sure you can pull something off without embarrassing yourself, try anyway. Better yet, ask for help. It's amazing what can come out of group risk:

Please share the best piece of advice you've ever gotten, especially if it's about writing.


  1. As a loyal and dedicated Mac user, I have to say the Hitler Vista video is the funniest damn thing I've seen in a very long time. Oh. My. God. Thanks for making my morning.

  2. Best piece of writing advice: Don't quit your day job...just kidding...not.

    As always, Ms. C. You're amazing.

  3. You are the multi-media queen! Love these.

    Peter Taylor, my creative writing prof in college, once told me to stop showing off. "Just write the story," he said. Good advice that I still struggle with.

  4. Debby, I just had to watch the Hitler Vista video again. Every time he complains about the printer drivers, I practically cry, I'm laughing so hard.

    Ah, Patty, if only I HAD a day job. Something to aspire to. It's sad that I'm such a horrible waitress.

    I like the not showing off advice, EM--it's always the stuff you have to cut out anyway, you know? It's so *fun* though.

  5. Write. Read. Don't read about writing.

    Follow the example of writers who have the kind of career you want.


  6. Fun post, Miss C...

    My favorite bits of advice:

    1. Do unto others, etc. etc.
    2. Never let 'em see you sweat
    3. What goes around, comes around - just be patient


  7. Great as always, Cornelia.


  8. The best advice ever received" "Don't do it".

    Okay, i lie. No one ever told me that. It's the advice I most WISH i'd ever gotten and didn't. No one EVER offered it to me on at least two occasions when I needed it and yes, I might have listened. No, really, I might've. Depends on who said it.

    Not advice exactly but something I've heard from lots of authors I know is "remember, it's all material." That is to say, every experience, every amazingly stupid-ass thing anyone ever says to you, you can use it.

    Alas, i can't watch videos on this damn little machine - they drive me crazy because...they are...very....herky jerky...and they...take...forever.

  9. Best overall advice: Don't let the other guy do the math for you. (From my grandfather.)

    Best writing advice: Anne Lamont's "bird by bird" and "shitty first draft" concepts, though the latter comes with the corollary that, when you are done, what you have is, well, shitty.

    Worst writing teacher: The wall-eyed failed literary writer who taught my college short story class (Caltech, though a fine school, does not draw the brightest stars for its humanities faculty), who said after I read my (admittedly rather slight) short story, "Well, that was completely plot-driven, so I don't think there's any point in discussing it." Hag.

    Andi: Try hitting play, then pausing it and waiting for the video to load, then play again. That should take care of the stop-and-start problem.

  10. Best piece of advice: Forget about being Shakespeare and just write. (Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write).

    Best line in this very funny collection "I should have stuck to XP like Stalin!" Also loved the British condom people, especially their lovers' descriptions. Brilliant.

    You are a very funny girl, Miss C!

  11. Ah, Ari, it's not me, it's Stephen Fry. I'm just the bitch at the switch.

    And I am eternally grateful to you for having introduced me to Brenda Ueland, lo these many years ago. I also love her line from ME, where she says she isn't sure she can actually write a novel, and that it may turn out to be "the most perfectly awful weasel vomit.

    Andi, Daisy knows all things technical. She is a goddess that way. And I wonder whether I would have listened on the occasions when I MOST needed to hear the advice "don't do it!" The last time someone tried to tell me that in college, I ended up needing a rather hefty prescription for tetracycline. Ahem.

    Daisy, I am so down with calling that teacher "hag." And will add that the person him/herself probably actually wrote nothing but weasel vomit.

    Mr. Born, thank you!

  12. Bill Witliff, a fine Texan and screenwriter of THE BLACK STALLION and numerous other cool works, once interrupted his own answer to a question at the Austin Film Festival with what I still consider to be some of the coolest and most useful advice I've ever heard:

    "I see a lot of you folks writing down everything I'm saying, but you'd do well to consider the possibility that everything I claim to know might just be a load of bullshit."

    Caveat emptor, baybee.

  13. And that McFerrin vid is among the coolest things I've seen all year.

  14. Glad you like it, B, and I love the Witliff quote.

  15. Cornelia-I wonder if you'd be willing to post a forgotten book recommendation for me next Friday, May 30th? I've been asking people every Friday if you want to check it out:
    If you're too busy, I understand.
    I can put it on my site if you can't post here on Friday.

  16. A total howl, as always. Special wonderfullness of the BBC skits with the very young Hugh Laurie (Dr. House) You are the bomb!