Thursday, August 4, 2011

Write Like Your Momma Is Dead

Write like your momma is dead.

This remains as perhaps the most useful writing advice I've ever received over the years, and it sounds simple enough, but I have not always had the courage to follow it.

Oh I thought I was being bold, daring, even when i wasn't and still there are times when I type out a sentence or paragraph and then delete it with the thought, No, I can't write that. Or I come up with an idea for a story and think wow, that would be great but people will think I've completely lost my mind. More and more, I eventually say to hell with what somebody might think. It's how or what I want to write and damn it I'm going to write it that way. I'm not all the way there yet, but I do believe of letting it all hang out these days.

Write like your momma is dead came from a fellow writer at a class I took some 11 years back, but an agent once told me something very similar. If your writing doesn't piss off somebody, chances are you are writing strong enough to truly reach anybody. 

At least for me this statement has a slightly different meaning as it's more about passion to your words than self censorship.It's the difference between the married couple that only has sex on the first and third Saturday of each month and the couple that sneaks off the the janitor closet when the PTA meeting gets dull. Passion, it seems to me is the key sustaining anything is this life. Which leads me to another statement about writing that has always stuck with me.

Talent, luck, and perseverance. To get published at least once, a writer needs only one of these things. To have a career they need only two.

I'm especially interested to hear what my fellow writer think about this statement.

I'd like to think I have some writing talent and generally speaking I've always considered myself extremely lucky in life, and given the fact I'm still knocking on doors and rattling cages better than a decade after entering this business I do believe I am persistent. And yet, I at this point I can't honestly call my writing endeavors a career. It's certainly more than a hobby, but given that it's my 40 hours a week at the Post Office that pays the majority of the bills I can't truly say I have a writing career.

Another literary agent once told me ... No one under the age of 35 should attempt tow rite fiction as they do not have enough life experience to pull it off. I was 28 at the time. Her words pissed me off, motivated me. I was certain I'd prove her wrong by publishing at least one, if not more, novels before I turned 35. I'm not 38 nearly 39. She wins. I lost, but I still think her statement was bullshit. So I didn't disprove it these people did.

Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird was released 9 months before her 35th birthday.  
Stephen King was a mere boy of 26 when Doubleday bought Carrie.
and here is more authors who published their first book before 35 ...
  • Junot Diaz – 29
  • Thomas Pynchon – 26
  • Margaret Atwood – 30
  • John Barth – 27
  • Ayn Rand – 29
  •  Ernest Hemingway – 27
  •  John Steinback – 27
  • Joan Didion – 29
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – 24
  • Francine Prose – 27
  • Kurt Vonnegut – 30
  • Salman Rushdie – 28
  • Italo Calvino – 24
  • E.L. Doctorow – 29
So tell me, what do y'all think about these statements? What writing advice or statements have most stuck in your mind over the years? Ever had sex in a janitor closet? I'm only kidding about the last one. Unless of course you feel the need to confess. In that case I warn you, anything you say just may end up in a book. Yeah it will be a book published by an author older than 3 but then again it's never too late to chase a dream.  


A. K. said...

Thanks for sharing this tip..

alex keto said...

My advice is never get in a situation where you pay money for getting advice. Too many people make a living out of offering useless advice. If the advice were any good, they'd be writers themselves. Took a few thousand out of my pocket to learn this, but well, that's my advice.

For free.

Old Kitty said...

My best writing advice? Perseverance, perseverence, perseverance.

:-) So when is it too late to have sex in a janitor's closet?!?! LOL! take care

G said...

Not so much in the advice that I've gotten over the past three years from gifted writers such as yourself has truly stuck (but I use just the same), but the one thing that has really stuck was an insult that someone called me years ago:


I wear it like a badge of honor and its the one thing that keeps me going for all these years.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

How about writing under a nom de plume for those ideas that would really shock your momma?

Cloudia said...

Good tip.

If you wonder if you should write it- your probably should!

Aloha from Waikiki;

Comfort Spiral
> < } } ( ° >


Mr. Shife said...

Keep chasing the dream Travis. I like this bit of advice. My biggest problem is actually finding the motivation to do it, and of course the fear of failure.

Charles Gramlich said...

well, I've been doing it longer than you have and still don't have anything like a writing "career." I've been lucky to get some things published but it has been hard slogging and continues to be, with no big contracts and little enough money. Sometimes I get a bit down about it but most of the time I just keep slogging forward, hoping the mud will fall off my boots eventually.