Writing Lesson: Learning to Say “F*ck You.”

Let me just go ahead and say this post will have some NSFW language. But that should have been obvious from the title. How much bad language? Well, you remember that scene from Goodfellas?

That much bad language. And yes, I realize this is a bit out of character for what I normally post, but stay with me, here. I think I might be onto something.

Now, as a writer, the first person I need to say “F*ck you” to is myself. That’s right. Want to watch TV? F*ck you, write. Want to sleep in? F*ck you, write. Want to check out Reddit? F*ck you, write. Now I’m not saying I need to live some monastic lifestyle. I have a wife and a life. But if I want to be a writer, that means I need to write, often and well. And I can always write more. It’s time to grab my time by the throat and whip it into submission. F*ck you. You work for me now. Now let’s get to work.

But that means, the second person, or group of people, I need to say “F*ck you” to are my loved ones. If I’m under a deadline, sorry, but “F*ck you, I need to write.” And just so we’re clear, no, I don’t tell my friends and family to go f*ck themselves. But it does mean that sometimes I can’t go out for drinks or watch the game or shoot the $hit online. Sometimes I need to hunker down and write–alone and without any intteruptions.

And so we get to the writing. The third group? F*ck you, characters. Oh, you want to get the Princess, kill the bad guy, and save the world? F*ck you. The Princess already kicked Koopa’s ass. You want to be a good Detective and put away a murderer? F*ck you. He’s got a great lawyer, and your evidence is garbage. In other words, I am learning to be very mean to my characters.

These fully-realized, well-developed (I hope) characters that I have created and come to love? F*ck you. You’re going to be hurt, frustrated, denied, broken. People are going to lie to you, cheat you, steal from you, betray you. Answers will come slowly and painfully, if at all. Sorry, but conflict, tension, and suspense–you know, the keys to good drama?–require these things. Once readers get beyond the “See Dick and Jane” level, they deserve a few try-fail cycles. And made up people in my head? Oh, boy are you going to fail. Hard and often. You will be bloodied and scarred come the time “THE END” rolls around.

And what about those readers? Guess what? F*ck you. You want a happy ending? F*ck you. You think you know whodunnit? F*ck you. You think you know what the next chapter will hold? F*ck you. Who wants happy and predictable? You’re getting shock and pain. Oh, you may hate me when it happens (think George R.R. Martin or the Sherlock’s “Reichenbach Falls”), but you’re still going to keep turning the pages, aren’t you? Damn straight.

How do I know? Because I don’t want to just tell you a story. F*ck you. I want to crawl inside your brain and turn your emotions up to 11, all at my command. If I do my job right, your brain will be swimming in dopamine and cortisol. You won’t be able to turn away. All you’re care about is “What happens next?”

Of course, such a lesson, although perhaps obvious to some, has taken me a while to learn. You see, I’ve always been a square. A goody two shoes. Mister Nice Guy. And so my stories have been a little soft. A little too easy. A bit grey. Time for that to stop. Like I said, it’s all about getting my mind right. It’s one thing to hear “Kill your darlings” or “P your ass in the chair and write,” but it’s another thing entirely to say, “I’m a writer. F*ck you.”

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