I’d like to thank Sam Sykes for taking time out of his busy life of writing, pillaging and plunging the entire internet into painful bouts of laughter, to do this guest post for us.
Who is Sam?
Sam Sykes is the author of The Aeons’ Gate trilogy, a vast and sprawling story of adventure, demons, madness and carnage. Suspected by many to be at least tangentially related to most causes of human suffering, Sam Sykes is also a force to be reckoned with beyond literature.
At 25, Sykes is one of the younger authors to have arrived on the stage of literary fantasy. Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo are currently published in nine countries. He currently resides in the United States and is probably watching you read this right now.
Serious Thoughts for Serious People
By Sam Sykes
Above all else I fear about heavenly figures, it is my deepest terror that we are not beholden to a wretched, vengeful god, but rather that we live at the whims of a god with a sense of humor.
Not the harmless, pointless kind of humor one finds in relationship comedies, the kind where the intellectual aspirations never rise above deriving great joy from the fact that two sexes have sometimes incompatible values, if compatible genitalia (women like shopping? Well, I never). No, this god prefers the coincidental humor that breeds ill-informed awkwardness amongst terrible people. This god watches British television and insists its great and you don’t like it just because you don’t get it.
It was clearly this god that, upon seeing me bashing my face against the keyboard in the vain hopes of writing something that wouldn’t get me executed for crimes against humanity and subsequently experiencing the spiral of self-doubt that makes every writer wonder if he can actually do this, sent Sandra Wickham to me, asking me if I wanted to do a bit of verbiage about writing.
So naturally, I said yes.
Because it’s true: whenever I experience hardship in this profession, I start to question myself. When I hit a wall with a scene I’m writing, I wonder if those previous books were just lucky flukes. When my books aren’t as popular as someone else’s, I wonder if it’s an indication of my own quality. When I stare at a blank computer screen for hours, a little black bar flashing next to the word “The” I have just written, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing at all.
Just like I felt when I first started writing. Just like I’ll be feeling moments before my death.
And yet, somehow, here I am. Working again. On this very piece, in fact, which is about a few things you should do should you stumble and fall and think god is playing a cruel joke on you.
Here are a few things you need to realize about being a writer.
Work is hard.
As a matter of course, whenever meeting a new person, I ask what they do for a living. And when they tell me, I nod and say: “You’re a lawyer, huh? I’ve always wanted to do that. If only I had the time.”
Because, at some point in the life of everyone who has ever sought to make a living at spinning lies, the harsh realization that writing is work and work is hard sets in. I don’t mean hard in the romantic way where you spend all day writing the singularly most beautiful sentence in the world and then fall back in your chair and reach for your wine glass.
I mean the harsh, working stiff’s hard. The kind where you slap your greasy palms upon the keyboard because it’s all just shit anyway. You write sixty paragraphs of stuff you hate and go out and say: “what a fucking day.” And your roommate says: “what was so hard about it? I just saw you playing Puzzle Quest at the computer for three hours.” And you’d like to refute that, but you really can’t. And then you go to the toilet and suddenly you realize that you can fix all sixty paragraphs by cutting them down to two and instead of being glad that you solved the problem, you’re mad that it took you this long.
It’s rough. It’s hard. It’s work. And it’ll happen to you more days than not.
This is something you can’t avoid. The time you hope to have will never come unless you make it. There will never be a moment where writing isn’t hard. There’s never going to be a way to make your writing work unless you do it and screw it up a couple thousand times first.
Other People Suck.
We’re always at a bit of a conundrum with other writers. The best writers are often readers, but the best readers are not always writers. Frequently, if you’ve any great desire to write, any success at it will make you fear reading.
You’ll fear reading authors you love because you’ll think you aren’t as good as them. You’ll fear reading successful authors because you’ll think you’ll writhe in envy at their success. You’ll fear reading authors you’re interested by because you’ll think they’ve got something you don’t and never will have.
So that basically leaves you with books you hate written by authors you don’t like.
And thus, you’re left with a world where you either read and feel envy or don’t read at all.
The choice is obvious.
So here’s how you combat that envy: you realize that no one else’s success matters. No matter what they write, what twists they make, what characters they weave, what worlds they build, it doesn’t matter. Because you’re not them. And if you want to be them, you’re not doing it right.
Here’s what most authors and the New York Times alike don’t realize: there is no such thing as a reader that reads only one author. There are people who don’t read often and don’t read anything but the big names, true, but they aren’t important. They’ll find you when your name is big and your name will be big by hearing it from those readers who have read you, amongst many, and like you and talk about what you do.
And you get those readers by writing what they’ll love. And if you’re doing it right, they’ll love what you love. So the only way to do it is to love what you write, not what other people do.
Because I’ll tell you this from experience: even when Author A has sixty times your readership, even when they make more money and have seen more reprints, there is absolutely nothing on earth that compares to hearing someone, just one person, say: “Author A? Yeah, he’s okay. He’s not as good as you, though.”
He On The Toilet.
Wil Wheaton once posted a great saying on twitter: “The muse visits during the act of creation, not before. Don’t wait for it.”
I once posted a bad saying on twitter: “Writing is a lot like being constipated. You sit in one spot for a long time, forcing stuff out and hoping it all turns out okay.”
His is better. But mine is more accurate.
The act of writing can be pretty romantic, in the same way sex can be pretty romantic. When it all goes well, it’s rose petals, perfume and doves flying out the window John Woo-style. And then sometimes it’s people screaming “oh god oh god oh god don’t move no aaaaaaaugh my eyes.”
When you do it frequently, you get one outcome far more than the other. And when you give up and try to start over, you almost always have to clean stuff out of your hair the next day.
But if you do it frequently with something you love, you get better at it. The rose petals are always ready. The sheets are always silk. The doves take your breath with them when they leave.
That’s not to say that those moments when you’ll bash your head against the keyboard will never come. They certainly will, and frequently. But the only way to avoid them is to keep doing them. And like love, it sometimes hurts.
There will be people who will tell you that there is one way to write. These people are liars.
There will be people who will tell you that they need time, that they need a muse, that they need to learn more from other literary giants. These people are turds.
There will be people who will tell you that they have no idea how to write a good book. These people are usually writing good books.
Trust yourself. Trust your loves. You can do this.