Saturday, February 06, 2010

Dear Ryan (part two)

Dear Ryan

I’m back, and this time I’ve brought a bag full of the bleeding obvious.

If you want to write, you’ve got to write (yeah, don’t groan, I said today was Bring A Bag Of The Bleeding Obvious To Work Day, didn’t I?). It’s as simple as that. If you want to be an actor, or a rock star, and you can’t get a part in a play, or an audition for a band, then there are mitigating circumstances for you not acting or rock-starring. Except for “I haven’t got a pen”, there are no excuses for not writing. And even without a pen, crayon, pencil, or lump of dried monkey poo, you can be thinking about stuff to write down later.

Writing - being a writer - is an ongoing, long-term, cumulative thing. It accretes like dust. It’s not something you do for a few hours one weekend, like kayaking or SingStar. It’s an ongoing lifestyle choice, something that is never far away, like a favourite sweater, or an annoying brother.

It’s up to you how much of a lifestyle choice it becomes. You decide where to place it on the bell curve that runs from idle pass-time through serious hobby to life-altering obsession. It’s a little like smoking, I suppose. You may smoke a couple of cigarettes at a party once in a while, or you might be a forty-a-day guy: either way, you’re still a smoker, dude.

The point is, you’ve got to be doing it to be it. You’ve got to write. In the early stages of what, if you’re lucky (and I use the word advisedly), will be a process that eventually comes to dominate your life like a giant and petulantly demanding Writing God, you should write for yourself. You should write as often as you can. You should write for fun. You should write anything.

Just write. Get those writing joints shaken out. Build those writing muscles. Pump it! Get limber and flexible. Have a laugh. Hum the Rocky theme as you jog up the steps in Writerdelphia (note: metaphors in use).

You can write scraps and fragments, you can write a book, you can write short stories. It doesn’t really matter what it is. I’ve got a stack of folders and file cartons filled with stuff I spewed out as a teenager, and as a young man trying to get into the industry. Sometimes I can still fish a fragment out that's got some battery life left in it, but most of the stuff is beyond recycling. The folders and cartons simply represent the training montage from the movie of my career (note: there isn’t a movie of my career, obviously.)

Once you’ve got the habit of it, the habit of writing things down, and trying them out for size, and for the way they sound in your head when you read them back, you can start showing them to people. That will be the moment when people start saying stupid things to you that you don’t want to hear, which is a fun issue we’ll deal with next time.

For now, buy a pencil. Hey, why not buy a BOX of pencils!? Or, you know, a laptop. Or feed your monkey extra fibre and wait beside him with a hairdryer. Just get writing.

Visualise it this way: a poem or a song lyric is a 100 metres sprint; an article or feature is a 400 metres race; a short story is an 800 metres steeplechase; a novel is a marathon.

Would you try to run any of those things if you hadn’t been in training first?

Oh, and if this bag of the bleeding obvious has come as a disappointment (sorry, you were warned), let me throw in one Actual Solid Practical Tip, free and gratis, no purchase necessary. Buy a small notebook, one that pleases you to use and is small enough to carry in your pocket. Carry it in your pocket at all times. When you are not equipped with a pocket (I’m thinking, in bed, in the shower, dressed as Wonder Woman) strategically place the notebook near to your location (ie on the night stand, by the sink, in the glovebox of the invisible jet).

Write down any ideas you have. Any good names, or words, or notions. Any jokes you like, or stories, or whatever the hell else. Write down anything you think might be of use in your writing (suitably recycled, adjusted or customised, etc). Just collect stuff up for later use. If you don’t write ideas down when you think of them, YOU WILL FORGET THEM. Do not tell yourself you will be able to remember them later when you get home, because you will be lying to yourself, and no one likes a liar.

I’m only going to tell you that tip once.

Talk to you soon.



Jack said...

Zing! Well that was a Bag Full of the Bleeding Obvious, now wasn't it, Mr. Abnett?
Oh, wait. You said that already.
Isn't it odd how often the Bleedingly Obvious is also Bleedingly Useful though? And yet it's always good to see it written out like that by, y'know, a professional. Someone who writes words for a living.
Cheers matey!

sredni vashtar said...

the phrase "writing for a living" has reared its head in a few comments on recent entries to this very fine blog. because i'm an insufferable smartass, i'd just like to throw out a caveat regarding that: lots and lots of people "write for a living", but most of them you won't want to emulate as a writer (professional or otherwise).

for example: what was the last article in a top-shelf magazine or (shudder) tabloid newspaper which you can recall recommending to a friend? or even recall the author's name, for that matter? these people are "writers", but they are certainly not Dan Abnetts. yet the vast majority of the material the vast majority of people read-- and PAY to read-- is written by them, and they almost always make a damn sight more money than most good authors do. just sayin': don't fall into the trap of assuming that just because someone can write for a living, they can actually WRITE.

(and yes, granted: some of Those Writers do go on to author books, like, say, The Da Vinci Code... but that's a whole other can of worms).

Blitzspear said...

I like writing little back storys for my scratch build models, dose that count? I also got a nice new note book from tescos last week about A6 size and with an elastic strap to keep it together, good for keeping loose notes in the book also. I also collect the wavey randomly generated words that these blogs use to keep robo spammers from commenting as possible names.

Big said...

Im gonna right a story about.................................................................
oh dear i have writers block already!

Big said...

Xhalax Dorns charater has come on leaps and bounds since the H.H. storys lets hope he continues to rise of course he will in the final battle!

Xhalax said...

As unhelpful as it is, I really want to buy a box of pencils now. A proper wooden box with a sliding lid full of pencils.

Big - Agreed. Though my favourite Dorn moment is definitely when he slapped Garro clean across the room in Flight of the Eisenstein.

Xhalax said...

In truth, I think all the Primarchs have benefitted greatly
from the Heresy series and I found myself whining at how awesome Horus was when he appeared in Horus Rising. I didn't want him to become evil and I found myself rather upset that he would and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

I've just been watching the great BBC series Empire of the Seas with Dan Snow about the history of the British Navy. The ships, the culture, the officers, the politics and the buildings were really inspiring. It got me thinking that the Imperial Navy is a much under used plot device at Black Library. Any possibility that you would include a novel or two about major space battles in development of Sabbat crusade? With the way you go about researching things it would be awsome.

P.S. The Imperial Fists are awsome. Any plans to look into Dorn and co in HH again?



sredni vashtar said...

agree that a Dan-authored 40K warship novel would be the veritable canine cullions. the naval battle in Sabbat Martyr is one of my favourite parts of any BL novel ever... and i'm sure that i don't even need to cite Fell Cargo, cos y'all were thinking of it already, right?

i dunno how much management-level interest there'd be in such a story since the shameful decline of BFG's visibility as a game, though :[

Big said...

Dan would re,envigorate BFG in one fell swoop for real! we are gonna see some of that i H.H. hopefully with the battle For Terra coming, the Phlanx is a mighty opponent even for the Emperor ,Dorn's ommand ship.Hey that another thing you hear alot about Dorn and his succesor chapters is they have great naval assets , have we stumbled on a new strength for Dorn!
We will fight them ship to ship, doesnt he die a ramming speed, true hero

Phillip said...

See I was right, wisdom. And some funny metaphors thrown in for good measure.

Thanks Dan, the notebook idea is one I'm going to adopt sharpish. At the moment writing is an idle pasttime that strangely enough is never far from my mind and not writing much is a sad function of having too much else on. I know'they' say you should write whenever even for only twenty minutes a day or blah blah blah but I find I need to know I have a few hours ahead of me to get into the zone.

When I find myself sitting around or in a queue I'm thinking through the story I'm writing trying to see where it wants to go. Many of those ideas have actually stuck around in my mind without writing them down, however, there have been so many more that I've long since forgotten. But no more!

Thanks again Dan, useful advice made all the more powerful by the passion with which it is written..and let us not forget the hilarious metaphors :)

ooer another p.s. No, I didn't hear back from you when I emailed. I sent the email to the address on the 'contact us' section of your website. I certainly took no offense at the no response, I figured you were incredibly busy. I also figured that you must get a thousand emails a day with stories (or parts of stories) attached and the question "whatchu reckon then?". It was still worth trying.

Jay said...

An Imperial Navy (BFG) book from Dan = YES PLEASE (hey anyone who is a fan of BFG I would recommend "Execution Hour" by Gordon Rennie or "Relentless" by Richard Williams until Dan does one!!!!!)

frieslander said...

A pity the Dorn vs every other primach debate has moved here. I made a good point about the Iron Cage (once more championing Perturabo, I'm not repeating it, only to say, Xhalax, this proves that the Iron Warriors are far beter at siegecraft hands down).
Gorden Rene's BFG novels give the Imperial navy some much needed character, and the Fleet battle in Sabbat Matyre is a brilliant specticle. Would love to see Dan give the full treatment to the fleet. Or even, if there is another Legio Invicta novel, some of the action given over to there support fleet, which I gather has warships.

sredni vashtar said...

Big: IIRC Dorn was dismembered and tortured to death after being captured by the World Eaters, but that may well have been retconned out by now

Big said...

Sure he dies on the Phalanx dude, i will look it up.Man Dan has me talking about Dorn and not Russ!
See what a great author can do

Xhalax said...

Rumours of Dorn's death could have been greatly exaggerated....though I suspect not, I can only live in hope that another Loyalist Primarch may yet still live.

And Big - Russ is just so awesome we don't need to sing his praises as they speak for themselves. No matter what happens to him and what the laws of nature and physics demand, he'll return when his children need him.

Rock on the Wolftime!


Big said...


Unknown said...

I loved your comments, most of my life I have desired to be a writer of some sort and have scrap paper with perhaps one word written on it that I have kept for years just in case. I have never written anything of publishable quality though a couple of fanfictions I am semi proud of. It may be bleeding obvious but it is something that should be said.

Was admiring the Hardbound Blood Pact in the store yesterday and needed to convince myself that I really should wait until the paperback comes out and spend the money on food instead. ha ha

frieslander said...

I agree with Xhalax that Dorn may well still be alive as his body was never found, though the rumors of his death did not stat with him falling on the Phalanx, but on the bridge of a traitor command ship near the Eye of Terror during the 1st Black Crusade. All the fists ever found was his for arm.
Also, is Russ actually dead, I know there is that old death speech of his, but the more reacent back ground (from the old Index Astartes series from WD says that the last time the Chapter saw him, he was taking is greatest champions on a journey. Leaving not dieing. Which is a pity as the death speech was on of the best short bits-o-prose I read in the old 2nd edition.
If you want to talk about mysterious leavings of Primachs, how about Corax and the manner of his going. Only uttering the words "never more"
(caws, then repeats "never more in the voice of Bart Simpson)

Dju said...

I for one adopted the Small Notebook Method © something like a year ago, and Dan, you'll be happy to hear that I'm reaching the last pages of it.
All I can say is : do it. Even if you end up writing nothing, chasing ideas is fun in itself.

Big said...

Once we have written something who do we send it to?

Rob Rath said...


In a future post, would you mind giving a little guidance on the rewriting and revision process? Most writers and books on writing don't give much attention to it, partially, I think, because it's a bit nuts-and-bolts and less stimulating than talking about creating the story itself. (For example, I recently read a "guide" to novel writing that spent 60 pages talking about the outline and character sketches, 30 pages on writing the first draft, and a whopping 3 pages on revising and rewriting.)

I confess selfish motives for asking- I'm in the rewriting stage of my first novel, and have found that it takes a wholly different skill set than creating the book in the first place.

To Everyone, On Notebooks:

This really, really helps. However, I also keep a voice recorder on my phone, since it's safer in traffic and easier to use in the dark- when a burning idea wakes you at 3 AM.

Anonymous said...

completely agreed with Jay
1) Naval engagement - yessssss/ Me and my friends usually dreaming about that from the moment we read "Sabbat Martyr" all those 6 years ago.
Please mister Abnett make it real -big engagement with names of ships and casualties, and not as you usually do - 1-3 pages. And Ghosts right in the middle battling against boarding chaos marines and blood pact in their troopship.

2)Now we have two books there nobody dies from the Ghosts!
And i want to mention that the main characters are: HARK Gaunt Criid Curth Dorden Mkoll Larkin Ludd Domor Rawne Brostin Bonin Maggs Beltayn Kolea Daur Varl - thats all - please mister Abnett kill one of them in your next book - and not some minor private ghost!!!

Andare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andare said...

"If you don’t write ideas down when you think of them, YOU WILL FORGET THEM."

It's true

e.molinski said...

the effort to not forget things when i think of them results in snippets of writing on reciepts, envelopes, old shopping lists, and whatever other scraps of paper i can find in my bag. this has led me to invest in a small notepad for just these situations...

Tornik said...

If Ryan happens to be reading any of this, I would like to offer the following to him.

If you aree remotely interested in writing, then please take the plunge and go for it. At the risk of sounding patronising, you sound much like myself when I was your age. I've alwayts loved to write, but chose not to pursue it as I felt I had no talent, and wasted the last ten years of my life working at a thankless job. I've finally got round to applying for a place on a Creative Writing degree, and even though I'm scared witless, I can't wait to get started.

I think that very few of us are born with so much of a natural talent for anythgin that we don't need to be taught to do it. I encourage you to seek out somewhere that will help you learn how to write all of the things you want to write, as I have.

Tornik said...

Also, apologies for the spelling errors! That'll teach me to pay more attention to what button I'm pressing.

Edmund said...

In furtherance to the Small Noetebook method, if you are ever without your notebook and an Idea strikes you write down a key word - it will aid recall when you do have your notebook. Roald Dahl used to tell of the time he was in a carpark when the idea for Mathilda came to him and he didn't have a notebook, so he wrote in the pollen left on a car the word "Mathilda". When he finally got to his study all he had to do is remember the car and the idea came flooding back.

Jeffery A. Dobberpuhl said...

Harlan Ellison, the great writer of Science Fiction, said, in response to a fan asking if they should do practice writing each day:
"A writer is paid. Do not lift a finger, move a pencil, or type a key unless you are being paid. Period."
Now, Harlan did NOT say do not write each day, or practice, or train, or whatever. Only know that there is a cost for all things. If you want to be a great writer, you need to write - It just may be the only reward you see is from yourself.
Just an interesting thought.