Sam Hawken Posts

Sam HawkenYou can.

Occasionally I’ll see an author berate his writerly readers about writing every day and writing oodles of words in every session and to hell with you if you want to spend time with your family and I worked ten jobs, twenty-five hours a day, for six years while writing my first novel!

Ahem.  I can see why that turns some people off.  There are a couple (or more) misapprehensions in this attitude, namely: 1) that people write for hours and hours every week, and 2) that those people turn out words like a crazy.  And the fact is that sometimes there really is little time for writing, and sometimes you really can’t crank out a thousand words at a sit, or whatever.  But you can write, and if you say you have no time and you can’t write any words, you’re not being honest with yourself.

I write a minimum of two thousand words a day, seven days a week.  Monday through Friday I write what I call my Weekday Book (natch), and on Saturday and Sunday I write my Weekend Book.  When the Weekday Book is done, the Weekend Book becomes the Weekday Book and then there’s a new Weekend Book. You follow?  I make time for my writing, even when there doesn’t seem to be time, because it’s important to me.

If you want to write, and I mean you really want to write, then you will write.  Maybe you won’t write two books at once.  Maybe you won’t write for two hours at a time.  Maybe you won’t write two thousand words.  Hey, that’s a lot of twos.  What’s happening there?

Do not say you can’t write.  You can write.  When you don’t, it’s because something else has priority for you.  And if it does, that’s totally fine!  No one says writing has to rule your world.  Simply stop making excuses, and get on with your life.

Writing

NoThis doesn’t apply to the hobby writer, but if you are professional, or aspiring to be one, I have some advice you may find useful.  It has to do with when people say no.

Be they editors or agents or what have you, at some point someone’s going to say no to something you’ve written.  Maybe it doesn’t fit what they consider your personal brand.  Maybe it’s “not quite right for us.”  Maybe it’s that, but you could make some changes and then it’ll be right for them.  Maybe it’s not what people are reading right now.  Or at least what they think no one’s reading right now.  Maybe it’s not enough like something you wrote before.  Heck, maybe it’s too much like something you wrote before!

When someone says no, you need to have a good think about what happens next.  Sure, you could ditch your writing and go along with whatever they say.  Or you could dig your heels in and refuse to compromise even a little bit.  But in the publishing business it’s often a straight yes or no, so if you’re going to take the latter option without thinking about it, you’re probably going to lose.

Discouraging, sure, but here’s the thing: what happens is up to you, not to them, whoever “they” are in the situation.  The question becomes whether you truly believe in your work.  Did you do it because of you, or did you do it because you wanted money, or approval, or whatever else?  Is this something you told your way, and can’t be told any way else?

If the story is true to your intentions and your abilities, then you should say no to that no.  Don’t change it to change it, because that will never be right and you will never be happy.  But don’t be difficult about it, either.  Sometimes what works perfectly for you may not fly with others, and no amount of complaining will change that.  In those cases, find another way.  The publishing world is full of opportunities.  Pursue those.  Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

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Writing

A plate, fork and spoon.

Famously quoted on the original, Japanese Iron Chef, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”  I guess I believe that, because food is a thing with me in my writing.

Granted, food is a thing for me in general.  I spent a few years in my early twenties with so little money that eating every day wasn’t always an option.  I never miss a meal now (if you know what I mean).  And my characters rarely miss meals, either.  Also, you may notice when they eat I tend to tell you what’s in those meals, occasionally in detail.

Once I was told by a beta-reader that I had a seeming obsession with chairs.  That’s more of a hangover from a weird piece of advice I got as a young writer.  By contrast, writing about food is a way of making character and situation come to life, and it’s such a simple technique.  Ian Fleming used it in the James Bond novels to show how Bond is particular about what he puts in his body.  Tolkien used it to make a cultural point about how hobbits live.  George RR Martin writes extensively about food because apparently he really likes food.

That’s not a fat joke, by the way.  There’s a Game of Thrones cookbook (link), so clearly he’s a food fan.

Are characters eating a fancy meal?  A plain one?  Is it junk food or something healthy?  A particular ethnic variety?  All of these questions and more reveal things about situation and character.  In Walk Away (link), Camaro Espinoza‘s sister makes a complicated dish in one scene because she has become highly domestic after a lifetime of doing things halfway.  You know that now, and all I had to do was show you how she cooks.

I’m not saying everyone uses food in this way, but the next time a character in a book you’re reading eats, pay attention.

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Writing