Periscope Depth

and the days go by, like a strand in the wind in the web that is my own

I’ve clearly underestimated this Twilight thing.

When Meghan and Melissa started talking excitedly about it a few months ago – especially in light of the (then) upcoming climax to the novel, which a few folks disliked, and the upcoming movie – I remembered being completely confused. I have an ‘in’ to nerd circles. Multiple ‘in’s! Why hadn’t I heard of this book? Okay, ancient vampires and teenage girls, blah blah.

When I started seeing the title and the author pop up elsewhere, I figured I finally understood it. Okay, it’s young adult vampire romance. Like Anita Blake for the pre-college set. Got it. Fits in a neat little niche now.

Then I started seeing stacks of these books at Borders. Then I started seeing them on the T.

Then Katie H’s mom started reading it.

Then I saw the receptionist at work reading it.

Clearly I’m in over my head here.

# # #

People talk about how hard writing is all the time. And I suppose good writing, a really focused craft, has its challenges. But I want to remind people of how easy writing can be.

James Patterson has averaged a novel a year since 1992 and he’s a millionaire many times over. Danielle Steel has remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for the last seven years. Daniel Brown sold 60,500,000 copies of the most mediocre book imaginable. Two hick ministers slapped some plain vanilla names on a literal interpretation of the least literal book of the New Testament and sold 60,000,000 copies as well. Probably to many of the same people!

And don’t even get me started on Tom Clancy.

If you want to write the next Anita Blake or Harry Potter or Twilight series, it’s not hard. I will outline a four-step plan for you.

  1. Watch a lot of soap operas. At least one hour every weekday. You can’t go wrong with Days of Our Lives, although GH is still pretty good.
  2. Play a weekly role-playing game. The game doesn’t matter, the setting doesn’t matter. Preferably not D&D, unless you want to write a steamy tale of supply-chain management, but I’m not picky.
  3. Wait. The ideas will start coming to you eventually. Just let your brain percolate.
  4. Now write 1,000 words a day, four days a week. That’s trivial. I’m giving you a three-day weekend here. If you type with any kind of speed, you can bang out a thousand words in less than an hour. But you cannot slack in this pace for any reason.

    If you’re stuck for ideas, keep writing.

    If you know that the current vein sounds trite and cliched, keep writing.

    If you’re writing on the bus because you don’t have any other time, and you realize that the last six hundred words you’ve written are a completely tangential aside, inspired by your palpable dislike for the bus driver’s snooty accent – in other words, you’ve written him in as a throwaway character for your protagonist to silently judge and then forget – keep writing.

    If you’re high on your own cocktail of off-label Xanax, Benadryl and avian flu, keep writing.

What these “bad” writers have figured out is that the worst published novel is better than the best unpublished novel. There’s an audience for everything except the disorganized shit you’ve never bothered to write down. You might have a head full of brilliant ideas and the best insight into human behavior since Proust got high with Chandler, but until you submit a manuscript you’re a crank and an amateur. Clive Cussler, the Big Mac of American literature, has more street cred than you do, you damned poseur, and I hope the nurse who admits you to the retirement home has one of his paperbacks sticking out of her purse just to remind you.

Go read Nick Mamatas, talking about how you have to be sufficiently weird to be a genuinely great writer – I mean the kind of balls-out, confesses everything, random trains of thought nutjob who you shudder at sharing a bus with.

Go read John Scalzi, when he talks about how ‘working on a novel’ is secret code for doing nothing useful. He and Mamatas have the same point, in different language: there’s a world of difference between having a life and writing a novel.

And go read Stephanie Meyer. Because as hackneyed as her vampire / werewolf soap opera might be, anyone who sells 50,000,000 novels knows something you don’t.