Lets Be Clear: I Know Fuck All About Writing and Publishing

A whole bunch of people showed up to read yesterday’s post. Like, four times as many people than would ordinarily read this blog. More of you this morning.

This makes me very happy, but also extraordinarily nervous.

Because, here’s the thing: I know fuck all about writing and publishing.

I mean, I know some stuff, but in terms of the writing and publishing world, I am an utter bantamweight. I am thoroughly not ready for prime time. I am three steps into a journey of a billion god-damn steps. The fact that I have a job where I talk about these things and people listen to me like I’m an expert? Fucking terrifying. The fact that you’re here, paying attention as I blather on? Equally terrifying. Every instinct I have says shut the fuck up, send people elsewhere, let them pick this up from people who actually know their shit.

When you are trusting me as a reliable source, you are trusting a man who thought this was a good idea:

Paper Bag Hat!

The gulf between what I’ve actually picked up about the topic, over the years, and what I’d need to know in order to actually feel comfortable talking about it? Massive. Immense. Deep as the Marianas Trench.

I know fuck all about writing and publishing.

I acknowledge that, openly, without any real sense of shame, because knowing you know nothing is an incredible source of strength. It means that you don’t take the handful of shit you do know – ’cause we all know a little – and use it to blind yourself to your own limitations. It means you don’t assume that just because you’ve got some knowledge about one particular corner of a field, you’re ready to rumble in every aspect of that field.

It means, when you come up against shit you’re not sure about, you go looking for resources and good, diverse sources of information rather than trusting your untrained gut.

I love knowing fuck all. It means I get to go and figure things out. This blog is frequently me figuring things out in public, pressure-testing my ideas amongst a group of readers that include, among other things, a whole damn lot of writers who know far more than me. Folks with very different strengths and experiences who will weigh in when I’m acting like a dumb-ass.

*takes a deep breath*

Right.

So…two weeks back, Lifehacker published a really unfortunate article about how to finish and publish your first novel. And when I say unfortunate, I mean egregiously bad.

People are going to get themselves ripped by by scam-artists bad.

I hope to god that link no longer works, ’cause in any sane world you’d pull it down due to the potential for shit to go wrong, bad.

And its the perfect illustration why you need to get comfortable with the fact that you know nothing, ’cause even when people started pointing out the problems with the business model advocated, the author doubled-down with “no, you don’t understand, my situation is different.”

Well, yeah.

No.

I’ll be clear: it may be that the writer in question wasn’t scammed in this particular instance. They are, at this point, perfectly happy with their experience

Whether they’ll still be happy with their experience in a few years is up in the air, since you can basically mark off the checklist of things you’ll get warned about on sites like Writer Beware. Their article literally reads like the the advocacy pages that appear on vanity publishing scams as they try to convince you they’re not vanity publishing.

It’s made worse, I suspect, because I’m pretty sure the title got rewritten by Lifehacker editorial, which subtly changed the tone of the article by giving it even more authority.

Just…no.

Assume you don’t know enough. Assume you need to find out more. When you think you know shit, your opinion is set in stone. You extrapolate big things from very little knowledge. You stop focusing on the mountain and start focusing on the difficulties of the path you’re currently following.

Writing is a place where lots of people extrapolate very little into a whole bunch of authority.

Should I ever do that, shoot me.

‘Cause I know fuck all about writing and publishing. I can – maybe – hold my own on a handful of topics, with the caveat that I should be one of a diverse range of opinions people study. It’s the barest sliver of what I should know, given my current day-job gig and my tendency to write about writing.

I try to be cool with that. I work to fill the gaps. The nice part of my job is that I get to do things like GenreCon, where the program is essentially two days of me testing ideas by putting three or four writers much smarter and more successful than me onto panels where they talk out a topic.

I get to sit down with writer and editors and agents and ask questions that fill the gaps in my knowledge.

I get to talk to folks who self-publish and learn what’s working for them (and what’s not).

And even with all that, it’s futile. ‘Cause I will never know all I need to know.

That’s the nature of actually trying to know stuff – you just become more aware of the gaps.

  4 comments for “Lets Be Clear: I Know Fuck All About Writing and Publishing

  1. Kylie
    25/11/2015 at 11:08 AM

    Another great post. Thanks for the ever growing list of things to think about.

    Beyond the fact I’ve met you in the real world & loved workshops you’ve presented, this is why I keep coming back here. I will always trust those who admit to their limitations over those who refuse to. The advice I hear a lot is to fake it & ad-lib your way through, & that makes me deeply uncomfortable. I’d much rather say I know nothing but I’m happy to share what I learn on the way. Makes life far easier.

  2. 26/11/2015 at 12:02 AM

    Definitely an important point to make. Occasionally I will get cock thinking I know stuff. Luckily the Fates are always there ready to bring me down to Earth with a bang.

    First rule in teaching is be ready to say you don’t know.

    I’m willing to read any blog where the guy says that. It shows they actually know what a huge area writing is.

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