Great Advice from Joe Lansdale
Joe Allowed Me to Reprint This Here…
It is an amazing post. Very clear and to the point. Worth the read. Thanks Joe, for saying this on Facebook and then allowing me to reprint it here.
Facebook Post April 23rd from Joe Lansdale:
Each to his own, but the idea of multiple drafts is not necessarily a good idea. A writer can get lost in all those drafts, and think the more drafts the better the book. I polish as I go, so there’s essentially one draft, though by polishing as I go, I’m doing a lot of little daily rewrites. I don’t outline or plot, except subconsciously, I just write, correcting each page the day its written, after the juices are done with the creative part. Then I look over yesterday’s work the next morning before continuing, touching up here and there. For me, this creates a more polished draft. About halfway through I reread the whole thing to regain momentum, polishing if needed, then I write the rest, and reread it all and polish. So it’s one draft and a polish. Now, this may not work for everyone. There is no right way, but this is my way. I can only offer as evidence a forty-six year career. Other’s may feel they need to do a lot of drafts. I don’t. I also have found the more I’ve worked like this, the tighter the work is first time out. I write more loosely with letters, notes, things of that nature, and that is a kind of freedom from thinking about how “right” it is. But stories and books are better polished in progress for me instead of juggling a lot of drafts. I did that in the beginning, and it just depressed me. I let the story come fast every day, but when I’m done, I read over what I’ve written and make touch ups.
Everything has variations due to circumstances, but this is my common method. I also try to write three to five pages a day. That way I’m a hero everyday and those pages are easily polished, as they are few. If I write ten or twenty in a day, I don’t try and stop it. I let whatever comes out come out. My only law is I write every morning for about three hours to write three to five pages. When traveling, I may have to write in small bursts while on a plane, in a hotel, or what have you. I finished one book sitting on the floor with my lap top on a waiting section chair in the airport. I had a long lay over, and I was ready to finish it. It was coming hot.
What changed my writing life for me was consistency, expecting small amounts in a reasonable time, and eliminating that multiple draft idea, which can be helpful to some, but can be misleading to others who feel they are writing better because they have a lot of drafts, or working a tremendous number of hours. Writing is best fed by life and the library, not just the library.
I also like to quit daily when I feel like I still have a bit of story left in me, and then I don’t think about the story until I get up the next morning, at least not purposely. By stopping when I think I have a little bit more to tell, my subconscious builds up anticipation. I don’t talk about the book outside of something like, “Yeah, it’s a crime book in the early sixties with a used car salesman.”
Sometimes, if I feel really fiery, but the main story is mostly through, and there are only fumes, I switch to another story. I may have nothing in mind, so I’ll write the first thing that comes to mind. It may be nothing, but I’ve been surprised more than once when it led to another story. I have also found that there are some stories I write as my main story, but the other is there when I get my three to five pages, and I can jump over to it, writing whatever amount comes out. It might be an equal number of pages or less. This all generally happens, that story and the other, in the three hours. I rarely work more than that, though now and again I have come back in the afternoon, or before bed, or I might wake up and go upstairs and work. I find those times are rare, and they may be dedicated to a completely different story than my morning story. Again, rare, but never fight what’s working, and what works for me mostly is three hours, three to five near finished pages.
Don’t talk out your energy and originality. When the story can be talked about, give it to the screen or paper, not to someone who doesn’t want to hear about it anyway. Nothing bores me worse than someone trying to tell me the story or the book they’re writing in detail. Put it on the page.
Write simply, which doesn’t mean the words should be laid out like turds in a row. They need sparkle and they need poetry, and if you need a run-on sentence to give your story the feeling it needs, fuck the grammar police, but know what rules you’re breaking, and why, even if you only sense why.
Writing isn’t about pretty manners, but it isn’t about trying to show you don’t have pretty manners either. It’s about the characters in the story, the dialogue, and a feeling of a subliminal story existing under the story. That there is more in the forest than the trees.
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.
Write clearly and visually, and avoid tags for the word said. Use said. A rare nod to he whispered or yelled is acceptable, but best avoided. Avoid She replied, She remarked, He responded, He said convincingly. She said with excitement. If you have to explain how they speak, you haven’t written the scene right. Or turn it into a character reveal at the same time. Set the scene and show how they talk, and if you explain it, do it cleverly so that it reveals character. He talked like had just eaten a puppy and had enjoyed every bite. That actually tells how he spoke, but it gives you an idea of how the narrator thinks, and what he or she thinks of who they are talking to. It’s more than, and in my view, better than he said with confidence. Which really doesn’t have the impact. It just says he was confident, the other shows you he’s confident.
Stay away from exclamation marks. The scene should tell you. You are allowed them, of course, but sparingly. Say you do use the word yelled, again a rare choice. Most of the time the scene will explain it.
I got caught up recently in semi-colons, and I like to think they fit the tone of the narrator, a kind of formal speech, but on the other hand, they may just have been semi-colons. I usually rewrite if I start to use a semi-colon, turn it into two sentences, or often a comma will do in place of a semi-colon.
Don’t join writers in being members of clubs like Splatterpunk, Noir, Cyberpunk, etc. Be your own club. As soon as those things can be identified, they are pretty much over with, and if you are member of such a club, you begin to write for the title of the club or members of the club, not yourself. Also, it becomes mechanical, then you start to write in a way that bores the reader, and you. Write what you want. Let the badger loose.
A note. You are allowed to say hi and hang out with those who like to be members of clubs. But, as soon as you join a club, you have most likely limited your possibilities as a writer. No matter how much you love something, if you cling to it long enough, you break its bones or smother it. Pet it, move on. You might come back and pet it again, but you don’t have to make it your constant companion.
If you start something, and it doesn’t quite jell, and next morning it’s still hiding, write something else. But generally the reason your mind moves to something else is because what you’re working on is getting hard. So learn to finish what you start. Abandon if it’s a failure, but if it’s just hard, keep on until finished.
All rules are suggestions, and all are made to be broken. Except these. To be a writer you must read, and read a lot, and read out of your comfort zone. Don’t just read, horror, Science Fiction, what have you. And write regularly. Best of luck.
What a way to start a new writing week. Thanks for posting. And I’ve already gone to Facebook to follow Joe’s page.
Ever since last year (2018) when I finally started writing one cleaned and polished draft, the writing has become so much more entertaining (to me) and prolific. This process is liberating, bringing joy to the entire process, and not a drudgery to multiple drafts. It’s so fun to be in on the secret life of joyful writing.
LOL, Scott. It is amazing, isn’t it? That myth about rewriting has killed more writers and it is so much fun to watch a writer get past it. Like the sun came up.
Thank you very much Dean for asking and getting permission to reprint this gem.
Many thanks to Joe Lansdale for sharing his writing process and advice and allow the reprint here.
This was valuable to me. And now I will return to my hard story and write the next sentence.
Wow, thank you so much. And it explains a lot. I haven’t been burned out as much as I’ve managed to smother the genre I write in, as opposed to the “pet it, move it on” concept. So much good advice. Thank you for obtaining the permission to reprint, Dean!
Thanks for posting this for those who don’t do Facebook, Dean. It’s something that, like so many of your own posts, should be read and re-read and dog-eared and read some more until it sinks in.
Oh wow, that’s great! Thanks so much for sharing this.
Thanks to both you, Dean and Mr. Lansdale, for reprinting this here, since I don’t do FB. At all.
Finally, I’ve found a description of how I try to write “into the dark”.
Yup, always good to have another way of saying what Kris and I talk about with writing into the dark and cycling and writing one clean draft. Most long-term writers like Joe won’t talk about this kind of thing, just like Heinlein later regretted giving out the five rules. You just get too much crap from beginning writers who think they know the only way. But notice Joe gave his amount of time he had been doing this?
Dean, thank you so much for sharing this!
I love it when Joe talks writing. Much of it resonates with me and I see similarities (in writing method) in many writers I admire.
I like what he says about consistency in writing and I find I need that as well.
Linda Maye Adam
Unfortunately, one of the problems with revision is that it allows sloppy writing. You know you can fix problems later on, so it’s easy to say “I’ll fix it on the revision” when you run into a problem. But that problem turns into a major fix once the story’s built because everything after is based on what you already did. In an early novel, I ran into a scene like that. I couldn’t come up with an answer for how to get the characters into the situation, except that it needed to go in that direction. Instead, of backing up a little to figure out what I really needed, I put a placeholder for the entire scene and went on. On the revision, I figured out the solution…and promptly broke all the scenes that followed. I fixed those, but those fixes broke all the scenes that followed. The result was an unending wave of revisions until I got to the end of the story.
So I really don’t get how writers can say “Write straight through to the end without and don’t worry if you’re sloppy.” If you want to be efficient at writing, revising ain’t it.
That’s what Joe was saying. He was describing a method of cycling and writing one draft and being done.
Who the hell would listen to Joe Lansdale’s advice on writing? He’s only written a zillion great stories across just about every genre for nearly half a century!
Great post. Today is my 40th birthday, and I’d like to think this post is a nice little gift. This is one of the reasons your blog, Dean, is the only one I must check daily. Thanks.
This is a real gem. Joe R. Landsdale is one of my favorite authors, particularly for his absurdist stories. Yes, he’s the guy who wrote Bubba Ho Tep, one of my favorites for the pure insanity of it. Few authors can actually pull off a story like this let alone have a movie made of it. A very special talent.
I also love writing absurd stories, and he’s probably a big reason why. So if he speaks, I’ll definitely listen. Fantastic that he writes into the dark!
Only 46 years.
Pshaw. What does he know.
Thank you, Dean, for reposting this! I think it’s something I really need to hear right now. Many many thanks!