Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Seth's Writing Manifesto

I found this when I was cleaning to move. It's Seth's writing manifesto, dated October 17, 1995, reproduced here with no changes:

    1. To be a writer, one must actually write.
    2. You have to make your own opportunities or, when they come to you, take advantage of them - free lunch isn't served every day.
    3. Be professional. If you don't think you're a writer, no one else will either.
    4. Be creative. If you aren't interesting no one will care because they won't read past the first page.
    5. Distance yourself from distractions but get involved in experiences and closer to material - and learn to determine what is what.
    6. Write for yourself, but write with an eventual audience in mind.
    7. Learn when it's time to let go of an old project; there's revision, and then there's beating an old, beloved friend to death with a ball-peen hammer.
    8. Spend the time to do the research. Other than "what next?" (or in some cases, "whodunit?), questions in the reader's mind are usually a bad thing.
    9. If you have to steal, steal raw material, not finished pieces of work; use events and characteristics, not plots and characters.
    10. Always, always spellchk and check your grammar,
    11. Read, read, and read some more. Try to balance what you're reading: fiction (and various types and genres), nonfiction, newspapers, magazines; it's all food for the Elephant Child.
    12. Be involved in your writing; if an idea or a work-in-progress bores you, it will bore the reader too. Set it aside until you are excited to write it.
    13. Always be thinking in terms of your writing; observe people, objects, and events with an eye for future use in your work.
    14. Write every idea down. Some of your best ideas are lost to the mists of time, and even if it wasn't the best idea you'll be frustrated at losing it.
    15. The most important trait a writer can have is a determination to be a writer; overnight successes and natural born talents are few and far between, while stories of success through hard work are common. Most writers don't make a living at it until they're 35 or older.
    16. Know the market, both its history and its current state. It helps you to know what editors and the public want, it helps you to avoid cliches through repeated exposure, and it lets you stand on the shoulders of the giants of the past.
    17. Find what quirks work for you and embrace them; if you write best in a crowded restaurant, become a regular there; if you write best on a computer in your living room wearing only socks, do that (although be sure you close the blinds.) And, if your quirks stop working, try that quirkiest quirk of all - variety.
    18. Always be writing, and recognize the writing that you do: a grocery list or classroom notes may not be marketable material, but it's writing nonetheless.
    19. Gather around you people whose criticism you respect, not simply those who encourage or praise you; a valid piece of criticism is worth innumerable pieces of praise.
    20. Be critical of your own work; always strive to improve, to be better, through simply continued practice and/or concentrated efforts - a balance of the two seems to work best.
    21. Have opinions; they are the things that give your work emotional depth and that differ your work form every other schmoe who picks up a pen.
    22. Your fear of failure should be offset by the knowledge that if you aren't up to the task there are plenty of more aspiring writers just like you who are perfectly willing to step forward and take their turn at bat.


grey_zealot said...

Nice list. Especially number eleven. Reminds (1) that Alan Moore said something similar a few years ago in an issue of Wizard, and how a lot aspiring comic book writers need to read stuff outside of comics and (2) that I haven't read a good novel in..... two years?

Anyway, good luck to you and your wife when you hit the U.K. Hope you have the time and energy to keep updating, too. :)

Seth Johsnon said...

Wow. What a blast from the past. At the time I wrote that, it seemed important to me to write everything down and codify it in one document. I needed it in front of me, as a goal to aspire to, and a reminder not to slip or settle.

Now, more than ten years later, I'm glad to see that I've internalized everything on the list enough that I don't need to refer to it--even if I do still sometimes struggle to meet all my younger self's demands.

Simon said...

I love George Orwell's guide to writing.... have yet to find it online but if I do I'll share!