I’m warning you: this review is so totally non-objective. But as a look into the effects of pouring a strong solution of John Scalzi into my insane little brain, probably priceless.
I’m going to talk about how the book affected me. Just as John Scalzi comments that he’s writing from his own perspective of what worked for him, I’m giving you a mileage-may-vary review. Attempting to frame the text in some theoretical valuation of “goodness” is really not my strength.
This is my day job: pays well, 24/7 pager, team that is not, to put it mildly, gelling.
I thought about writing to supplement my sanity. You see, they let me write functional and technical specs because they want quality, and got it from me.
I can write! I realized. Maybe I could write fiction! That would be so awesome. That would rule.
But how do you get there?
I read all sorts of books about writing, all of which were helpful to some extent (I only pick up the good recommendations), but not many writing books answered some questions I really wanted to know. Such as:
- Say I want to quit my day job one day; how much work is it and when can I safey do that?
- Yeah, yeah, writing is not a well-paying gig. But surely not all full-time fiction writers, who aren’t King/Gaiman/Rowling, are starving and can’t have families?
- So how do you do it? No, really, how? I’m pretty sure magic fairy dust is not necessarily involved.
Later on, my questions started getting more specific and kept me awake at night:
- Hey, I kind of want to write this science-fiction mystery thing. But I’m not a sci-fi whiz. So even if I wrote it, all the sci-fi fans would hate my guts and the earth would open up and swallow me.
- I like blogging, it’s rewarding to me, even with the insane schedules and crap when I start to take it seriously. But will it yield money or anything? Maybe the only way to make money is words on real paper.
- I want to put fiction, that’s never been published before, online. That should be a good marketing technique, if the fiction is good. But I guess that means I screw up the publishing future of those works.
- Is there something wrong with writing non-fiction articles and columns and such, if you want to be a fiction writer?.
- … I don’t fit in. I know it’s my fault. I guess I suck and will never go anywhere.
Enter Scalzi and You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop.
This book is bigger than it looks like on the website and chock full of Scalzi’s experiences and opinions, all rendered in down-to-earth, pragmatic, “I’m telling you like it is” style. Freaking refreshing, I tell you!
A few of the things I learned from this book:
- How he earned a living from just writing. The process was long, hard, and painful, but did not involve magic fairy dust, although luck certainly helped. That and connections. It’s not going to be how everyone will do it, or even can do it, but it certainly gives one ideas.
- Don’t count on fiction to support you.
- Writing non-fiction and copy for marketing does not steal your soul. And you’ll get to explore cool stuff, like astronomy, for money. And for the latter, you’ll make lots of money. This money you can use while you write the Great American Novel.
- You don’t have to hit the big one right out of the gate. You probably can’t, in fact. Start with something of interest to publishers, that you’re sure you can do, and do well, and build up from there.
- Publishers really can give you crap deals. Here are some guidelines to crap, decent, and “I’ll get the next round” money levels.
- Posting fiction on the web is OK but a) doesn’t work for many people, b) but it HAS worked in some very prominent cases AND some of it has actually gotten paper-published, yet c) there’s so much crap out there that you won’t get respect for it even if you’re Scalzi or Doctorow or Stross, so d) get something published for real. Which your e-writings can help out with.
- Writing online (professional blogging) really can yield direct money opportunities, and here are numbers to prove it in the Scalzi case. And there’s also indirect money opportunities to be had; see re: Penny Arcade.
- Here are some stupid things writers have done. Don’t do them. With lovely details.
- The multiple sub-cultures of the science fiction genre. What I want to write would appeal to someone there. Even perhaps be a nice gateway for people who don’t usually read science fiction.
- There is always another way.
- Stop caring about how other people think of you. You should be nice to people, and you should help others whenever you can, but the whole fitting-in thing… Whatever.
- You can’t argue with success.
My 2008 resolutions are pretty much a direct result of reading this book.
- Find non-fiction markets and write for them, and start that long road to being just a country writer.
- Get into another area of the company that, while giving me more work to do, will actually give me fulfilling and useful work. If I’m going to keep my dayjob, I might as well be happy about it.
- Concentrate on what I can do well now, and build up from there. I’ll start working seriously on Arcady and Zene.
- Take a serious bent to blogging, understanding that this and the non-fiction writing is going to become one of those second job sweats.
- Be fearless! and explore: new mediums, new styles, new money opportunities, new subjects I thought I’d never, ever write about.
- Stop thinking that I suck. Because I don’t. I don’t even suck with writing lyrical text that entertains people.
- Play more Wii. Okay, that wasn’t a direct result of this book. Unless I get a job writing Wii articles. Well, I should get some practice, you know?
You know what else?
I’d dump just about every other writing book I had for this one. In fact, the only books it seems I wouldn’t dump are on the level like Scalzi’s book is (Larry Young’s True Facts comes to mind, with respect to comics publication).
Some of you are probably thinking, “gods, what a Scalzi fan girl this Arachne Jericho is.” Well, duh. I have an entire tag label on my blog called wisdom of scalzi.
So yes, I’m a total fan of his. But I wouldn’t be if I didn’t think his words worthy of that tag.
This book totally deserves: [rating:5/5]