You Can’t Scare Me
by Dave Smith
My most memorable childhood epiphany was this: a good number of kids’ songs, nursery rhymes and the like were designed to scare the bejesus out of five-year-olds. That’s right, they’re not bedtime stories, they’re scary movies.
Don’t believe it? Then sing along with me: “Don’t go down in the woods today; if you do don’t go alone … ” yeah, see what I mean? Teddy bears picnic my ass. That ditty’s purpose is to make little boys paranoid about the forest so they won’t wander into it.
How about Jack and Jill? Don’t climb up there; you’ll hurt yourself.
Miss Muffet? Spider anyone?
Recently I ascertained another undeniable truth: Famous authors use their notoriety to offer mortifying advice to novices (like me), which is fabricated to discourage neophytes (like me) from writing. Why? Basic economics—it eliminates the competition. And just like the sneaks who prey on kiddies’ fears, they make it sound wholesome.
Not convinced? Let me provide some examples.
“Should take no more than three months.” Stephen King on how long it takes to write a book. Way to crush my resolve, Steve. That’s like running a race against a cheetah. In the desert. Over rocks. Barefoot.
“The first draft of anything is shit.” Why don’t you give me some of your shit, Ernie, so I can revise it and sell it. E. Hemingway with D. Smith—hmmm, nice ring, but sounds fishy. He just didn’t want anyone to write anything.
“I leave out the parts that people skip.” I do that too, Elmore. So far I have 27 words down which I’m pretty sure someone will read and not skip. In King time, I should have four, maybe five, paragraphs completed in the allotted three months.
“Murder your darlings.” That advice was actually meant for a friend who was writing a murder mystery. Over the years it has morphed into boogeyman talk to gin up paranoia, and to get the competition to leave out good parts so their stories will suck.
“Write something every day.” And if I don’t? Wait, don’t tell me … I’ll never be a success at anything. And because I know there’ll come a day—maybe tomorrow—when I’ll break some part of my writing arm, wrist, hand, finger, pencil, it’s best to not even start.
“Write what you know.” Actually that’s how a lot of ax murderers who write books get caught. I think it’s because at the police academy officers are taught to read. For sure there are no successful ignorami.
Armed with this revelatory knowledge I now pay no attention to successful authors or believe anything I read in self-help books, and I feel much better. My blood pressure is lower, the urge to throw things has lessened, and my constipation has resolved itself. And because there are no rules, my creativity is soaring, my first drafts are award-winning, I retain all my darlings (even the unreadable ones), and if I want to take a day off—or three months off—I do.
I’m also gathering up my courage to go into the woods on teddy bear picnic day.
But I’m bringing my gun.
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