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Author of the Night Angel trilogy and The Black Prism

4. Writing Questions Brent Frequently Has to Say No To

a. Can you help me be a writer?

b. Will you read my novel/screenplay/poem/magnum opus?

c. If my ideas inspire you, can I have credit?

a. Can you help me be a writer?

First, and perhaps most obviously:

WHAT DO YOU THINK I’M DOING HERE?!

Seriously, though, these posts are my monthly way of trying to help out those of you who have the same dream that I had: to write, and maybe to make a living doing it. I do feel a huge sense of obligation to my fans, who are after all helping me live my dream.  But here the rubber meets the road: people are my fans because of the fiction I write, not because of the wonderful advice I give.  So me answering these questions is me doing the best I can to help you out while still doing my own writing. Which, for me, is the Main Thing.

b. Will you read my novel/screenplay/poem/magnum opus?

In short, no.

In long, this no is for a number of reasons. Some of them the predictable, and some of them more altruistic. First, as I said above, writing is my Main Thing.  That’s what I do, that’s what I love, that’s how I pay my mortgage. There are a lot of writers who enjoy writing a little bit, and enjoy talking about writing a lot. Those writers end up becoming writing teachers, or traveling the book convention circuit. That’s great, and I don’t have any condemnation for them if they’re good at their jobs, but that’s not me.

There are other reasons why I don’t read your writing as well.  I am, I hope, a pretty good writer. What I’m not is someone who has ever been paid as a book critic. And in my opinion, these two functions are very, very different.  Just look back at the writers that a smart great writer like Edgar Allan Poe championed as fantastic and amazing and genius writers… who weren’t.  Now Poe was all those things, but as a critic he was garbage (if I’m remembering correctly. It’s been a while since I’ve studied my Poe-etic literary criticism).

As a writer myself, I have very strong biases about what I like and what I don’t like.  Those are very different from having judgments about what works and what doesn’t work. Much of my own literary judgment is intuitive rather than analytical. I think this is true of a lot of creative types. In my own life, I’ve found that other creators are very rarely as helpful to me in making my own work better than the kind of people who have some distance from it.  Agents and editors tend to be good at telling you, “X, Y, and Z don’t work. And please cut A, B, and C.” Whereas artists and novelists will say, “I really, really liked it.” Or, “You’re a genius.” Or, “This was terrible.” Agents and editors also don’t have to deal with their own egos getting in the way if what you’ve written is absolutely brilliant. I don’t mean to trash-talk creative types and their input. And obviously every creative person has to bring their own critical faculty to bear, or else they’re never able to edit their own work. (Maybe you’ve seen this a time or two with an author who has become a big bestseller and whose later work sucks.) But all too often I see successful writers saying, “X worked for me, and thus X is the only way to do it.” And that’s simply not true. So maybe your novel is all about Furries who save the world from a secret plot by the Catholic Church. And this point, I’m rolling my eyes. You’ve already lost me. But that’s just my own biases, and maybe you’re going to make Furries the next Sparkly Vampires. (Sparkly Vampires? Whoever thought that would catch on?)

The gist of my help to you is going to be the kind of common sense advice that might hurt your feelings. Like this: writing is an art and a craft. If you can’t be bothered to spend the years – yes, years – learning the craft, I don’t care what kind of genius you are, your books will suck. Maybe you can be a poet, where many of the forms are shorter and more quickly mastered, and where your genius can quickly shine through. (This is why Keats could be remembered as a great poet even though he died at 25. If Shakespeare had died at 25, you’d never have heard his name–and his first play was rubbish.) The writing business is slow. It will most likely take you a couple of years to finish a book. It will then most likely take you a year or two to rewrite your book. It will then probably take you a year or two to get an agent. It then may well take you a year or two to get a book deal. Does that suck? Yes. Is that suckage enough to kill your dream? If so, dream different. There’s nothing morally wrong with dreaming of having a big house and kids who have enough to eat. If writing stories is your dream, and you don’t care how you get to do that, and you want to make a ton of money, go to Hollywood. Writing novels is amazing, and it’s fun, and there’s nothing else like it in the world. But it’s not easy, and it’s not quick.  If you can nod your head and say, “I’m willing to pay the price. I’m willing to be patient.”  Then keep writing — and I’ll keep writing these posts and trying to help you out.

c. If my ideas inspire you, can I have credit? (Often followed by: Here’s my idea!)

No. Ideas are the easy part, and I already have a lifetime’s worth of ideas to write about. Especially if you have ideas about more Night Angel plots I could write–your ideas may well be informed by the numerous prophecies I sprinkled throughout the Night Angel trilogy. I did that because I already HAVE ideas. In many cases, more than ideas, I know exactly where I’m going and what’s going to happen. If your “inspiring ideas” happen to line up with what I’ve already planned, you should give me credit, not the other way around. 😉 That’s called foreshadowing.

On another level, I like coming up with my own ideas. It’s a fun part of the process. Don’t try to take that away from me.