Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Fantastic Writing Advice

“Write like everyone you know is dead…”

Joe Lansdale said that in the post that he allowed me to copy here last night. And I wanted to point out that one simple things he says. Here is what he said on the topic in total:

“Write like everyone you know is dead. To hell with everyone else’s opinion when you write. Write for yourself. I don’t have a perfect reader in mind. That works for some, but it makes me write for them which means I might not be writing for me. I have no idea what anyone else will like. I only know what I like, so I write for me. It’s a wonderfully selfish moment. When I’m done, and the book or story is out there, then I hope a lot of folks like it. But face it, you can’t be universally admired, so don’t try to be.”

I can’t begin to tell you how important that advice is. Newer writers look at me askance when I say I never care about reviews on my work, about trying to get people to read my books to give me reviews, that I never read reviews, and never ever want anyone to give me their opinion of my work.

Why? Because, as I have said often, your opinion of me or my work means nothing at all to me. I write for myself and not one other person, ever. I write to entertain myself, telling stories I want to read. So I write them.

Writing to market, working for reviews, writing for your local workshop, or worse yet, letting someone read a work-in-progress all fits under the same ugly poison umbrella. And it will, given time, kill your writing. You will become so consumed about chasing some false market or what others think, you will drive all the joy from your writing and then just stop.

Sadly, I have seen it so many times over the decades.

So if you don’t believe me or Kris about this, listen to Joe Lansdale and that one paragraph above. It just might save your writing career. Not kidding.


  • Kate Pavelle

    YES!!! Totally, I twigged on the same paragraph you quote above. And it’s not an easy piece of advice to follow, because it’s only human to want approval, right? Writing like everyone’s dead is, essentially, going to that happy place when I had a secret screen name and didn’t give a damn. I was just playing, and I am beginning to rediscover my capacity for play (and for flouting genre conventions) through the Great Challenge.
    Writing like that can have some interesting results. Like character death and polyamory and necromancy and stuff, but I digress.

  • Linda Maye Adams

    Weird. My browser autopopulated this site with someone else’s name and email address…and no one I knew.

    I think that need for being admired for writing comes from a lot of people who aren’t getting much validation in their lives. Worse, they may not even realize it, so they come into writing a novel expecting five star praise. In their head, they’re going, “How hard is it? I read INSERT BEST SELLING WRITER and there were flaws! He broke grammar rules and I didn’t like X, so it must not have done it right. I can do better than that.” It’s a type of thinking that no only leads to major meltdowns over even four-star reviews, but can lead the writer into getting scammed. I still remember seeing desperate writers signing up with a scam agent, saying, “I know he’s a scammer. But it’s my only chance to get published.” If you care too much about what everyone else thinks, you’re not only going to down out yourself, but your actual chances of getting published at all.

    • dwsmith

      Agree, Linda, that is one reason that some writers get taken. But sadly, they are open to the stupidity of agents and other scammers because it is a dream and they have listened to all the myths. And logic and sanity go out the window when dreams are on the line. I know a number of lawyers, good lawyers, actually, who have signed up with an agent, let the agent get all their money and all the paperwork for that money from the publisher, and think it totally normal, until asked if they would give a complete stranger their money and the paperwork on that money. They say no. But still let the agent have it. Dreams are a powerful thing.

      And so is the need to be patted on the head.

      Linda, that strange auto-population is a flaw in this theme and going to be fixed and changed out shortly, thankfully.

  • BDS

    This is definitely one I need to work on. Just last night, I was writing a scene and found myself thinking “I should tone this down. It’s too sexy/kinky/weird for this sort of book. People won’t like it, or they’ll think there’s something wrong with me.” I didn’t though, and when I ran out of steam and re-read what I’d just written it worked just fine and I was really happy with it. The critical voice trying a new avenue to thwart me, I suspect.

  • Cora

    This theme is one of the most common memes about joy in your life. Everyone has seen some version of “Dance like no one is watching”. So bring joy to your writing. Write like no one will ever see it. It’s liberating and who cares if there is someone out there who doesn’t like it? Someone will. And then, of course, rule 4. Put it on the market.

  • Kenny Norris

    This flies into the face of so much I’ve learnt over the years. Not just in writing but also in marketing.

    For years I heard time and time again that I need to write for a certain person, an ideal avatar, or something similiar. And I believe that that advice stopped me cold for a long time.

    Now, thanks to you Dean, I’m back writing (even if I’m struggling getting over a very minor life roll).

  • Jason M

    IME the books on which you were the most “selfish” —
    — are the ones that people seem to like the most.

  • James Palmer

    Good advice. I took that first part to mean write without self-censoring yourself. Don’t hold back because you think some of your readers might not approve. While it sounds good the way you presented it, it’s much harder to do in practice. I write for myself, yes, but I also want to make a living. And that means others have to read and like my work as well. That means reviews are important, because the more good reviews a book has, the higher it appears in the online bookstores. Writers who need to make money do need to worry about these things.

    • dwsmith

      Interesting, James, because I make a ton of money and never once worry about any of those things. Might that be because I am lucky or because I don’t worry about reviews or what anyone thinks. I will bet Joe Lansdale never worries about those things either and he is not broke.

      Actually, I repeat this over and over and no one listens, but I spend my time worrying about writing the best story I can each time and copyright and licenses, since that is where I make money. Sales are good and sure, they help, but licenses of my IP is far, far more lucrative. And yup, very, very few new writers will understand that at all. All they think about is the narrow world of got to do ads, be on Facebook or whatever, and get reviews.

        • dwsmith

          Scott, way too much to talk about in one post. I give it a rough treatment in the Magic Bakery classic workshop, but rough. And if I even tried to cover parts of this in a workshop, almost no one would take it. The focus is on sales for most writers.

          Kris and I will be attending a major licensing conference here in Vegas the first of June. I will imagine we will both be talking about the cool stuff we learn on our blogs. And realize, we will be attending classes on this stuff during the conference and we know a ton of it, but we still want to learn more and more. And I bet we will be damn near the only fiction writers there out of the thousands attending.

          And one small deal there on one of our IP could make us more than a year of book sales through Amazon. Yup, an alien world for most writers, especially since most don’t even understand copyright.

          And that’s not even counting the idiots who want to sell their books for all rights for the life of the copyright to a traditional publisher just so they can be patted on the head.

          • Kate Pavelle

            Dean, I hereby commit to taking a licensing workshop, should you offer it in the future. I poured a ton of money into audio. It seemed foolish at the time, but now after the gold rush meltdown, I’m happy I’d done so. That independent income stream is mightly nice. Ditto for print and book stores. I’d love to find out how to harness this stable of horses I have chewing electrons in my catalogue and make them pull their weight.
            Having independent income streams frees my worry-wort mind up so I can create.

          • dwsmith

            Kate, you are dead right, cash streams are everything. It’s how I look at anything we think of doing, if it will be a cash stream for either me or Kris or one for WMG Publishing. And I look at the cost of creation of the cash stream vs the possible income. Just all good business.

      • James Palmer

        You have a large back catalog. New writers are just starting out. I don’t want to run ads either, but everything is pay to play now. You are right to focus on creating IPs, and having a large number of books out. The reason newer writers get hung up on that is because without readers, we’re going to run out of the money needed to produce good books. My day job just won’t cut it. That’s why I’m focusing on building multiple income streams (royalties from Amazon et al/small press deals, Patreon, freelancing, etc.) so that I can continue building my catalog up to your level.

        • dwsmith

          James, sure wish I had that back catalog you seem to think I have. When the indie movement started, I had exactly ONE novel. I had 106 novels in print that were either under NDA agreements or media.

          I built my catalog by ignoring all that other stuff and writing like crazy for the last eight years. So not sure at all about that large back catalog you seem to think I have.

          • James Palmer

            Perhaps “large” is a relative term. I mean larger than mine, which is probably too subjective to be helpful. You’ve written hundreds of short stories and dozens of novels since beginning to indie publish. My point is simply that newer writers’ concerns over getting reviews or running ads isn’t a trifle because you’ve reached a level where they’re no longer a concern. They are the unfortunate reality of this new world of publishing.

          • dwsmith

            And that, James, is an unfortunate myth. And can kill many writers and take the joy out of writing. A writer is so, so much better served to just write the next book and work on becoming a better storyteller. Sure, get the books out to readers when finished, but don’t even think about all the silliness that is going on now with ads, reviews, and so on until skill and craft and a bunch of books are under control.

            Getting in a hurry has never, ever once worked in publishing. Not in the old days, not now.

  • Chong Go

    A real eye-opener for me was when you dropped the line, “And ignore the good reviews, too.”

    Because, as you explained, even good reviews get in your head and urge you to chase after what got you praise.

  • Prasenjeet Kumar

    Dean, in one of your comments you said, “Sales are good and sure, they help, but licenses of my IP is far, far more lucrative.” Now I keep hearing all the time, “Why should a film producer be interested in your book if it hasn’t sold a million copies?” I think it means you won’t be able to license your IP if your book sells a few copies here and a few there. That’s why authors tend to worry about sales. What’s the truth?

    • dwsmith

      Horrid, horrid myth. Especially for movies and television and gaming, the big three areas. And trust me, a million copies of a book is pocket numbers to what movies and such are looking for. And it doesn’t translate apples to apples.

      Not sure where that stupid myth came from, more than likely some agent trying to find a way to discourage being bothered by writers not knowing what they were doing.

      Now having good sales sure doesn’t hurt on the other hand. But it sure isn’t a deal breaker. The story is the key.

      I have had numbers and numbers of short stories optioned for movies. Trust me, none of those short stories had sold that many copies. (grin)

      • Amy Laurens

        Really glad someone asked this, as I was living under the ahadow of this misconception too. Great to hear the truth! And as someone who a) hates marketing and b) has pretty much $0 to spend on it, it’s always so, so encouraging to hear that it really is okay to just focus on the writing. Phew!! 😀

  • Catherine Mesick

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing this advice. I’ve just recently started to read your blog (and your fiction :)), and I you have helped me so, so much! Like Kate Pavelle above, I would gladly commit to taking a licensing workshop ahead of time. I didn’t even know Iicensing was a possibility!