How to Write Better

Someone asked me for some tips on being a better writer.  I’ve not been asked this question before.  How do you plot a story?  Where do your characters come from?  What is your process?  Okay, sure.  But how to write better?

I had to think about it.  I thought about it much, and then on and off.  Then I forgot about it a while, and after, I remembered I was supposed to be thinking about it.  I was in my car driving somewhere and I remembered this damned question and that I’d said I’d try to answer it.  But I had to stop thinking about it right then because I was in my car and couldn’t get to a place to write my thoughts down.  And if you have a thought with no way to write it down, there it goes.  You don’t get it back.  You can’t think it over again, ever.

So then I tried to think about it when I wasn’t driving, and I still wasn’t getting anywhere.  This fucking question.  Fuck this question; it makes no sense.  How do you write better?  I don’t know.  Just write the son of a bitch, and leave me out of it.

I think maybe he was asking about tips on technique or some sort of bulleted list.  Open a scene in such and such a way, or here’s how you present a dialog.  I don’t know.  I hope that wasn’t what he meant.  It’s all wrong.  He’s worrying about the wrong thing, if that’s what he meant, and it’s all wrong.  It’s a confusion between technique and writing.  Technique is easy.  That’s the thing you consolidate into lists.  Technique is the thing you work over time, you refine it, you hold onto the things that you like and that others like and that work for you, and you throw the rest of it out.  You throw all of it out, if you have to.  You look at the words and search for the ones to get rid of.  Don’t take many words to say a thing when one will do.  Throw the rest out.

But that’s just technique.  Technique is bullshit.  It isn’t writing.  It’s technique.  It’s window dressing.  It’s the fat and the sugar and the salty water they inject into your food to give it body and heft and false flavor.  It is not the food.  The technique is not the fucking food.

How do you write better?  I don’t know.  What the hell do I know?  What makes you sure I’m such a great writer, smart guy?

I can’t tell you what to do, not for writing.  Go figure it out.  Go skin your own knuckles and bleed and sweat, then you come back and tell me.

Here’s a thing I’ll tell you: don’t ever ask a writer how to write better.  Any answer you get from us is bullshit.  We’re all bullshit.  Capital B.  We don’t know.  Even when we think we do, when the confidence comes and money starts happening, we don’t.  We don’t know a fucking thing.  Don’t ask us.  We’ll steer you wrong every time.

Every time.

Here’s what you do.  Right now in your pocket I bet you have a leash.  You don’t call it a leash but that’s what it is.  It has a processor inside and a colorful touch screen, accelerometers, wifi and cellular transmitters.  Take it out of your pocket.

Now throw that fucking thing across the room.  Get away from it.  Unshackle.  It’s poison.  You’re living your life through a tiny little screen.  You’re sanitizing the world around you through a tiny little screen.  You are making it all, everything, all of it, you’re making it all comfortable through a tiny little screen.

You’re strangling yourself through a tiny little screen.

Get up.  Leave the house.  Go outside somewhere, go somewhere you can find a tree.  Sit under it and feel the wetness of the grass seep in through your pants and chill your ass.  Put your hand in the grass and feel it.  Feel every blade.  Breathe.

Taste.

Go find a soup kitchen and volunteer there for the day.  When you’re done handing out the slop, go sit at a table with the vagrants and ask them to tell you where they came from.  Ask them where they plan to be tomorrow, in a week, in a year.  They’ll tell you, believe me, they will.  If you get a lunatic, don’t get up and leave for somewhere safe.  Listen to him.  Listen to her.  Listen.

Experience discomfort, wherever it is.  It needn’t be the life of a druggy, a pimp or a whore.  Do something you don’t like.  Do something that scares you, if only a little.  Go sing in front of strangers in a bar.  Go begin something you don’t know you can finish, and then go all in without a goddamned net.

Hate baseball?  Go to a ball game.  Go to the game and drink the overpriced piss water and ignore the fucking game all together.  Go be there, with everyone.  Go be uncomfortable.  Like baseball?  Go to a hockey match.  Go to a town hall meeting.  Watch how the citizens rail and how the officials yawn.  Go look.

See.  Listen.

Hear.

Have a set of balls?  Use them.  Have a cunt instead?  Use that.  There isn’t any difference between them, though if it helps you to believe there is, go ahead and believe.

Not your brain; the brain is useless.  Be in your guts.  Be in your bones.  Be in your sex.  Not fucking; your sex.  The experience of being your sex.

Feel.  Taste.  See.  Hear.  Smell.

Then go home.  Get out whatever unnecessary tools you have, and write.  Write the truth.  Write the truest thing you can.  Even if you write bullshit, write it true.  Fiction is bullshit on its face, but write it true.

Believe in the one, perfect word.  You’ll never find it, but believe in it anyway.  Every sentence.  Every line must move with energy.  Don’t waste a single phrase.  You will fail, but try.

The one word.  Not the three lovely adjectives, nor the most appropriate metaphor.  A single word.  Find it.  You won’t find it, but search anyway.  Believe.  Words are only symbols, and if we had something better than words, we’d use that, but words are what we have, so search.

Do it.  Go do it now.  Stop reading this and go do it; this is bullshit, anyway.  Don’t ask a writer, not ever.  We don’t know.  Some of us will claim to.  Don’t trust them.  They are worse than ignorant.  They believe their own press.  Run from them like a fucking brush fire.

Go.  Go out and find it.  Go out there, look very hard, and find it.

When you figure it out, come back and explain it to us.

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