Saturday, March 18, 2006

Guest blogger: Tom Piccirilli

We're always open to guest bloggers or to those of you who'd like to write up to 750 words about your latest book if it hasn't been self-published.

From Tom Piccirilli

WELCOME TO HELL by Tom Piccirilli

A friend of mine just finished her first novel. It was five years in the making and, like every first novel, it was a hell of an arduous task. Like all of us she’s got a busy life full of family and debt and kids and a career and moving apartments and plenty of other ups and downs and around-the-bends. Over the course of the last half decade she’s had a lot of ground to cover.
Point being, she still managed to swing finishing that son of a bitch first novel.
So she treated herself to a bottle of Dom and called to say thanks for some advice I gave her a while back, a few helpful words she printed out and taped to her desk. It wasn’t the kind of advice that changes the course of your narrative voice or alters your precepts about the writing process. Or anything else even remotely discerning or insightful.
It was just one of those basic suggestions that everyone needs to remember no matter where he is in his writing career. If you’re just starting out or if you’ve been in this adventure for twenty years, it’s pretty much the primary rule of the game.
KEEP YOUR ASS IN THE CHAIR AND WRITE.
Nothing like the voice of God from a burning bush, right?
Since she phoned I’ve had two other folks drop me emails asking a bunch of questions about the publishing biz, all of which I answered faithfully. Both of these acquaintances are newer writers.
One told me that she had five stories written but was a little worried about sending them out. I told her that insecurity and indecision is normal, we all have our reservations but eventually get over it and start submitting. I led her to a website of market listings and told her the names of some of the best editors, magazines, anthologies I’d worked with. Did she think she had anything that might fit these guidelines? What were the word counts of her tales?
She then mentioned that the five stories she had written were still in her head and hadn’t been put on paper yet.
Oh, Mama Piccirilli and the sweet Baby Jesu, protect yer little boy.
Which leads me to revise my original suggestion to now state KEEP YOUR ASS IN THE CHAIR AND WRITE...WITH WORDS, YOU KNOW, THAT YOU TYPE OUT ON THE KEYBOARD...OR WRITE OUT WITH A PENCIL ON PAPER...BUT NOT JUST THOUGHTS DEEP INSIDE YOUR SKULL, OKAY?
The empty page is a lonely landscape for all of us, but especially for beginners. There’s a natural fear of writing the first word because it might not be the right word. That the idea is wrong, that the first sentence will be weak, the characters dull, the plot hackneyed. And you know what?...you’re probably right.
But so what?
We put down a sentence and we pick it up and put it down again. We need to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter where–you might replicate someone else’s voice or style. You might use cliched concepts without understanding how unoriginal they are. You might write the same story twelve times over before you see that you’re not breaking any new ground.
And yeah, not dropping it down on paper is the safe way to go. Nobody will ever see your errors that way.
Not even you. And without seeing those problems you won’t ever be able to resolve and overcome them.
It’s natural for a writer to feel the terror and the exhiliration of everything leading up to the process of the writing itself, but don’t let it stop you. You can find a thousand reasons for not starting a story, and if any of those reasons means more to you than the very fact that you HAVE to get it written, then don’t bother. You don’t need that kind of pressure on you. Go to the beach. Watch Seinfeld repeats. Cook a pizza. If you can get by without having to do the work, then you should. Life is already hard enough.
Otherwise you need to plant your ass in the chair and write. Now, baby, right now.


Tom Piccirilli is the author of fourteen novels including NOVEMBER MOURNS, A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, HEADSTONE CITY, and THE NIGHT CLASS. He's a hardcore fan of noir fiction and film, Asian cinema, and grade z-horror flicks. Learn more about him and his work at his official website: www.tompiccirilli.com. You can often find him with his ass in the chair writing. He adds this codicil to his column–if you don’t want your ass to be as fat as his own, he urges you to go out on occasion and do laps around the block.

3 Comments:

Blogger Richard S. Wheeler said...

Great stuff. Tom Piccirilli can write, and I plan to read a few.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Duane Swierczynski said...

This seriously is the best writing advice there is. I heard it first in a Joe Lansdale essay, and came down to:

WRITING = ASS + CHAIR

There's no other way.

And by the way, HEADSTONE CITY was just fantastic--that great blend of crime and horror you rarely see.

6:04 PM  
Blogger BookWorm said...

In 2006 I reviewed Tom Piccirilli’s “The Dead Letters,” for "Romantic Times Book reviews" magazine. I was so impressed that I bought several of his books including “Welcome to Hell." I hoped to pick up some pointers and I did. Thanks Tom. I'm going to review it on Ezine.

2:18 PM  

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