To Avoid the Inevitable Onslaught of People Sending it To Me

Yes, I’ve seen this:


1. Could be more tightly edited and better lit;

2. Kind of funny, but also kind of mean.

And you say, but, John, you’re the one who tells teenagers their writing sucks. Well, yes, I do. But I don’t do it to get them to stop writing. I do it to assure them it’s part of the process every writer goes through, and if they keep at it they’ll get better.

Mind you, I don’t actually think this is intended to dissuade teens from writing, or that it would stop any even if it were intended to do so. Honestly, teens will keep writing just to show you. And good for them.

It is a reminder to all and sundry that a day job is not the worst thing in the world for a writer, however. Just say it’s part of cultivating “life experience.” That is an excellent excuse, to go along with your health benefits.

34 Comments on “To Avoid the Inevitable Onslaught of People Sending it To Me”

  1. Yeah, that’s a 90 second gag stretched out to 4 minutes. Though, to be fair, that’s been the SNL house style for decades.

    Working with young adults at my library who want to be writers I feel comfortable saying they have realistic expectations. Sure, they’d love to be Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling (or Neil Gaiman, or the really cool ones all want to be John Scalzi) but they also want to teach or go into journalism or comics. The folks who think that getting their MFA and penning the 1000 page opus on the decline of the Suburban American Family is all they have to do to keep themselves in cheetos and beer are, thankfully, kinda rare.

  2. Good idea. Lacks execution. Perhaps the talent behind this videa should consider Real World Film Makers.

  3. Thanks for the link to the writing guide. I’ve never seen it before. I am a teen writer, and though I’d say my style is more unique, it’s just because my writing is rather poorly executed.
    I do write for my school newspaper, but it’s mostly articles which praise everything in a sort of sarcastic mocking way, so that they get passed through, but anyone who actually knows me realizes I’m taking the piss. I’ve been promoted to Associate Editor of News.

  4. I chuckled. Once. But still, I chuckled.

    John, I dont know if your intentions are all that matters about your “your writing sucks” writing advice. I think some folks will take it the ‘wrong’ way (as in you are saying they should never write again).

    but I dont know if theres anything to do about it.

  5. As I’m fairly explicit in noting that the only way to get to the point where one’s writing doesn’t suck is to keep writing, and encourage them to continue, I don’t feel particularly responsible about those who use it as an excuse to stop.

  6. I’m giving up novel writing in the new year, actually. I’m going to focus my energies on my friends and family. My new year plans are simple: a) buy an old Fender Strat on my trip to Los Angeles b) buy a stationary treadmill c) Amazon Kindle d) and a good digital camera.
    No more living underground like a half-crazed animal.

    My non-writer friends in Seoul are proficient with the Korean language, have 2nd/3rd/4th degree black belts in hapkaido and taekwondo or wushu, have really developed their musical skills (guitar and piano in particular, are married to wonderful Korean women, and travel back home whenever chance affords.

    By contrast, my writing friends are overweight, depressed, hopelessly single, unilingual, addicted to pain killers and an assortment of other pharmaceuticals (they give pills away like jelly beans here), borderline alcoholics, and generally not very nice people to hang around with on Friday nights.

  7. DWH @10, not to be too terribly bitchy about it, but your “giving up novel writing” because your “writing friends” are social misfits — while your “non-writer friends” are married and musical martial artists — leads me to assume that your writing might not be all that interesting. Your four plans for the new year are indeed simple. In fact, they are are so unremarkable in their simplicity, it’s as if you are trying to distill the middle aged male into a four-point stereotype. To suggest, as you do, that the community of writers is peopled entirely with losers trades on a tired and boring caricature of the self-absorbed artist. (And please, let’s not pretend that you are just talking about your friends. It’s clear that you believe “novel writing” requires you to be overweight/depressed, as opposed to athletic/hot-wife-having.) If your “novel writing” has the same level of insight, I’d guess that it isn’t something the world will miss much.

  8. One thing a day job definitely teaches you is the value of your free time. If you’ve only got 90 minutes a day of free time, you definitely want to get the most out of it, and you get right to writing instead of faffing about on the internet.

  9. KSB:

    DWH’s post says nothing about the quality of his writing, just his lack of interest in it. Which is fine.

    I will say the writers I know personally tend to be better-rounded.

  10. And DWH is expanding his horizons and learning more about life. I think Jane Austen did pretty well for just wrting about the life that she knew. Good luck DWH!

  11. I’ve met so many aspiring writers over the past twenty years. I’ve attended writing groups in Vancouver and Seoul. It just seems to me that most of the writers I meet are glorified readers, nothing more. They’re overly critical about just about everything they read. They’re self-centered, wear their acquired vocabulary like armor. They call themselves writers because it gives them identity. They’re “writers,” and “writing” gives them a reason to wake up in the morning. They need more than their lousy teaching jobs in South Korea. They can’t even get a real job back home, thus the pharmaceuticals and wine bottles on their windowsills.

    But what is the “writing life”?

    To many it’s an excuse to sit around reading books and surfing writing sites and blogging about their writing life and . . . being their natural anti-social selves. The “writing life” is an umbrella term, really, used by millions of non-practicing writers around the world as means of justifying their lives. They’re simply not what they envisioned themselves to be in high school. They were supposed to be “something.”

    Like me, many published their first short story in a university press, spent their 20s saving rejection slips from the Big Three SFF mags. They toss the slips away in their early 30s. Some get serious and start submitting their manuscripts to the traditional publishers in New York. They learn about the “slush piles” later, and get sucked into the POD scheme for a few years. Once their book hits 8 million in the rankings, they go back the drawing board.

    I’m 40. I published my last story in university 18 years ago. John Scalzi made nearly $200,000 USD last year with his writing life; I made 15 cents, royalties from my POD book. Thanks for ordering another copy online, pops. Hopefully the print quality is better this time around, because they’re never the same.

    KSB, why are you posting on a writer’s thread? Let me guess. You’re going to post your manuscript on your blog in 2011 and land a million-dollar publishing deal? Goodie to be you . . .

  12. I’m glad whenever someone “gives up” writing. They obviously weren’t meant to do it and probably weren’t that great at it anyway. They didn’t want it, so hopefully they’ll toddle off and find their “thing” and now it’s just one less mediocre query in the big pile.

    Go DWH, learn your karate guitar, spread your wings and fly!

  13. DWH: Writing fiction is really something to avoid unless you enjoy doing it regardless of publication status. So if you don’t want to write, then don’t write. Problem solved!

    That being said, it is possible to buy a guitar, learn the guitar, learn Korean, and have friends who aren’t writers and still WRITE. So if you DO actually want to write, then stop publicly flouncing from the “writing life” online and hop to.

    The writers I know hold down other jobs, have friends, spouses, and really interesting hobbies. I even know a writer who is a black belt in TKD (I think. I could have the type of martial art wrong).

  14. That was on the border between funny and painful to watch. It slipped over one side or the other at points. I felt the need to skip ahead at parts…on a video that runs under 4 minutes, that’s not good. Also, yeah…better lighting and sound would have helped. Was this thing made on cell phone cameras?

  15. John, a few months back I wrote on my software development blog about the epiphany I had when I realized that for someone who wanted a career similar to mine, going to college would probably do more harm than good. In a nutshell, the reasoning is that for a web developer these days, your concrete contributions to Open Source projects and contacts within the the developer community are far more important than your degree. Spending a year writing Open Source code in your parents’ basement and giving talks at your local use group will take you further than a Batchelor’s degree, and leave you with less debt.

    I’m curious what your take on college is for aspiring writers. Is the debt worth it? Or are they just as likely to succeed if they spend a few years flipping burgers during the day and working on their craft by blogging every night?

  16. Catherine @18, yes, yes we are. And we’re on a diet. And it’s hard to lose this weight. And… aw damn it, now I’m depressed again. I wonder if there’s any ice cream in the fridge? These pain pills are cutting it anymore.

  17. Avdi Grimm:

    I tend to have the philosophical opinion that education is useful for its own sake. From a practical point of view I advise people interested in writing to major in other things in College, both to give themselves some flexibility in terms of jobs, and to learn more about the world, which will inform their writing in beneficial ways. Writers will write anyway, and this way they’ll have some other tools in their toolbox. So says the man with a degree in Philosophy.

  18. John: I’ve noticed I know a *lot* of happy, successful people with Philosophy degrees. None of them do philosophy for a living, but all of them look back on their school experience fondly. Of course, correlation is not causation blah blah blah, but it’s an interesting correlation.

    I think if I ever had the opportunity to go back to school “just for fun”, Philosophy would be high on my list of majors.

  19. Theodore Sturgeon has written what I think are some of the most wonderful short stories in the English language (e.g., “Slow Sculpture”). Then they started publishing everything he’d ever written, and I bought the first volume. It was terrible. It was TERRIBLE!

    And that was so heartening. If THEODORE STURGEON — the man who’s written some of the most gorgeously-crafted and emotionally-affecting stories ever — started out writing dreck, then that means that anybody who’s writing dreck now has hope. Hardly any of us will actually grow up to be Sturgeon, of course, but writing dreck while young won’t mean that a person CAN’T grow up to be Sturgeon.

    Every beginning writer should read the first volume of Sturgeon’s short stories, then go on to read “Slow Sculpture,” “The Skills of Xanadu,” and “Mr. Costello, Hero.” It will provide enough hope to keep you writing for a couple of years!

  20. Guffaw-worthy:

    Home to the world’s highest concentration of unemployed, unpublished MFA graduates.

    That just made me smile and smile and smile again. I know I’m evil for smiling, but I shall keep on smiling anyway.

  21. getting their MFA and penning the 1000 page opus on the decline of the Suburban American Family is all they have to do

    Sadly, the thinking that “if I just get a degree in X, I’ll have at least a stable career in X” isn’t confined to writers. Also sadly, it isn’t only in writing where this equation just doesn’t work out.

    It’s now becoming clear that there’s a “law school bubble” (a factor of 10 more graduates than positions), way too many “computer science” majors, and don’t get me started on the absolute worthlessness of the B.A. in general.

    If you’re passionate about something (as I am about computer-assisted statistics. Yes, I’m planning on being an actuarial and I know it’s “boring” but I love the field) you have to go all out, play smart, have several back-up plans and a “day job” (or a mate with a day job).

    We’re now learning that the equation of “I get a degree and I automatically get a middle class job in my field” is far from guaranteed.

    Now I’ll stop channeling Glenn Reynolds (though I was thinking about these things before he started writing about them).

  22. I tend to have the philosophical opinion that education is useful for its own sake

    If you’re upper-middle class or just upper class you can have that opinion for an University education, since it’s basically a luxury for these people. If you’re lower class or non-upper-middle class (like me) you have to be pragmatic and view a University education as career training. I know that sucks the life out of the romantic ideal of a liberal education, but that’s the reality that most students have to accept.

    Now, if you’re expanding the definition of “education” to be gaining any beneficial knowledge even if it’s taking adult education classes or just reading a good text, then I agree with you.

    But let’s be realistic. Most people can’t afford to spend 4 years and $100K + sitting on grassy hills engaging professors in the Socratic method (or other methods), get drunk on the weekends and join fraternities. Most people who choose that route have to take loans, use money saved up from parents and themselves, work one or two jobs etc. and can’t afford to blow it all on a nebulous idea of “education is it’s own reward”.

  23. Scorpius:

    Speaking someone who was living in a single-wide in a trailer park when he was accepted to the university from which he earned his philosophy degree, and at which all students have have a required two-year core of classical “liberal arts” education, which in fact includes the Socratic method, among others, I don’t agree with this assertion of yours at all.

    And mind you, during the time I was at school and getting that classical education, I worked several jobs, took loans, etc, and still had time to be the Chief Architect of the Lower Flint Beeramid, in both 1989 and 1990. I would agree that if my primary purpose in going to school was to make that beeramid, I might have wasted my money (and everyone else’s). But inasmuch as I actually came to learn, I was fine.

    To be “realistic” about it, the benefit of the education for its own sake was to give a broad-based understanding of a number of fields and also to learn how to learn, and both of these things have made a substantial and material difference to my life not only in a intellectual and metaphysical sense, but in a real-world economic sense as well. As my peers at my college have likewise done well, economically speaking, I would suggest to you that realistically speaking, there’s a decent correlation between the education of a sort that I have had and the financial benefit thereof.

    Which is to say that education is its own reward — it gives you the tools to be a wiser, more informed and more engaged person in the world — but it also has other rewards, both nebulous and concrete, which compel consideration.

    So, no, Scorpius. I disagree with you pretty much 100%.

  24. It’s good you wrote “correlation”, since the correlation could be that those intelligent enough to be admitted to, or to seek, a University education would otherwise do quantifiably better than the general population, just based on higher intellectual ability and discipline.

    Correlation tells us nothing more than to look further. A text I use notes that there is a close (R2 = 0.8709) positive correlation between the number of radio receiver licenses given out in the UK and the number of mental defectives in the UK between 1924 and 1937. No one in their right mind would conclude that the rise in one facilitated the rise of the other, if one looked further than the superficial correlation.

    I would probably say that your achievement of being accepted to a University and graduating comes from the same ability to become a successful author. The same intelligence, discipline and dedication which made you successful in one makes you successful in the other.

    We’ll never know since we cannot do a comparison study with a John Scalzi who never attended college; unless we breach a alternate universe.

    But if we want to cast anecdotal evidence into the discussion I’d point out that my paternal grandfather, who left his education at second grade to go work in the gypsum mines and become a farmhand (at the same time), was intellectually gifted and disciplined enough to educate himself up to geometry and algebra; learn enough history to challenge his college-educated son, and enough of the English literature classics to be able to teach High School.

  25. The bank forclosed on my fathers farm when I was 16. I went to a University two years later. It wasnt a 100k tuition, but I did end up with some student loans and got some financial aid for some of it. It wasnt exactly a cake walk, and I am better for it, for its own sake, and for the career it has gotten me.

    I don’t exactly know what it is that you’re trying to sell here, Scorpius, but I am not buying it.

  26. Scorpius:

    “But if we want to cast anecdotal evidence into the discussion”

    As opposed to a general statement of opinion unsubstantiated by anything other than “Let’s be realistic”?

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