Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The K.I.S.S. Method (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Books can be complicated. Take a long-running fantasy series like Lord of The Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire. The former has a massive history, a complicated world, and a cascade of actions from the dawn of the world leading to the present adventure. The latter is a political thriller with magic, where dozens of major noble houses, and hundreds of minor ones, all jockey for position in a story line filled with betrayal, murder, and more secondary characters than you could shake a stick at.

But while those books are complicated in the details, the thrust of their stories are fairly simple. In the first story, a magical Weapon of Mass Destruction has to be thrown into a volcano in order to destroy it. In the second, the fight for who sits on the throne of a kingdom is steadily eclipsed by a fight for the entire world, with a massing army of monsters just over the horizon as petty factions fight for scraps rather than uniting against the looming threat.

One sentence. Easy to follow. K.I.S.S.
The problem is that many of us will miss the forest for the trees when we look at the masters, and try to emulate their complexity in our own work without understanding the bedrock simplicity that supports it. So instead of a clock, which runs crisp and clean, we end up with a Rube Goldberg device that technically does the job, but by the time we reach the end we've totally forgotten what we set out to do in the first place.

The K.I.S.S. Method


K.I.S.S., in case you didn't intuit it from the title, stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. In short, if you're writing a story, make sure you can draw clear lines from where you are, to where you're going. Even if you're putting together a convoluted spy thriller, or a sleight of hand mystery, you need to be sure that everything makes sense once the reader reaches the end.

The easiest way to do that is by keeping things as simple as you can.

Don't make us find the lady for your plot.
As an example, let's take The Maltese Falcon. Private detective Sam Spade takes a case from a woman he's pretty sure is lying to him, and he quickly finds people trying to bribe him, follow him, and shake him down for information. His partner is gunned down in the streets, he finds gunsels and thugs around every corner, and it just keeps getting worse. He has little to no clue what's going on, and every time a new figure steps on the scene things get even murkier. It's not until the end when the deus ex machina is revealed that we finally get all the answers to all our questions.

However, the plot is simple in terms of structure and story. Sam gets embroiled in a conspiracy between four thieves, each of whom are trying to get their hands on a valuable artifact they stole as a group. Despite all the back-and-forth, the changes of allegiance, and even the gun play, the story is simply a gang of criminals where each individual is trying to get their hands on the loot before the others do.

The Importance of Simplicity


Simplicity should be thought of as the foundation of your story. It is the tale you're trying to tell, free from any bells, whistles, or plot twists. Everything, from your hero's needs to your villain's motivations, is something you should be able to explain simply, even if the story attempts to make those things more convoluted.

As an example, take the film Die Hard. It's a classic movie full of twists, turns, fakes, and convoluted decisions, but it can be summed up by Holly's reaction to Hans Gruber's plan. "After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief."

With uncommonly good dialogue
For all the other complications of the plot, from Gruber's fake-out at being a terrorist, to the manipulation of getting the feds to cut the building's power, to John picking off the invaders one by one, that's the plot in a nutshell; a heist movie with a cover story.

Simplicity gives you firm footing to stand on when you start building your story, and hanging window dressing. It is the bedrock that keeps your story anchored, no matter how strange or colorful it gets. As long as there is a clear through-line, and your readers can see it, then you'll never lose anyone. Even better, you won't get lost in a plot morass because you ended up making a swamp when you were trying to grow a forest.

Just remember, if you start running into a problem, what is the simple solution?

That's all for this installment of the Craft of Writing. If you liked it, and you want more, feel free to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support me and my work, why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? All I ask is $1 a month, and for that you buy both my everlasting gratitude, as well as some sweet swag of your own.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

You Don't Need A Degree To Be A Writer

I remember when I was a teenager, and I made the decision to be a writer. I was already a voracious reader, and thanks to extra credit assignments I was passingly familiar with writing short stories for my English classes. So I took the next step, and started writing out of school, putting together stories and universes in the clumsy, excitable way most writers do when they take their first steps. Several year passed where I made progress, and my enthusiasm for the written word remained undimmed. Then I realized I was approaching that mystical age of 18 where I was going to be expected to go to college and choose a career.

I knew what I wanted to do. Problem was, I didn't have the first clue about how to do it.

Problem is, no one else seemed to know, either.
The problem with being a writer is that it's one of those jobs people know exist, but they have no idea what the hiring process entails. It's like being a fashion consultant, or a bounty hunter... there are people who get paid to do these things, but the general population scratches their heads regarding how you get that job. Most folks assume that writing is one of those things you train for at college. After all, that's where journalists and media people get their skills, so why wouldn't it be the place you go to get your degree in creative writing?

You can do that, if you are one of those fortunate people who have a lot of money laying around, and you need to spend it in a hurry. If you actually want to work as a professional writer, though, then that degree isn't going to be worth the paper it's printed on, much less the checks you wrote to the bursar's office.

There's No Universal Way To Be The "Right" Writer


Most careers you go to college for have some kind of universal standard you're being trained to. If you're a doctor, then you're learning how to diagnose illnesses, how to perform surgery, etc. If you're a lawyer then you're learning how the law functions, how to argue within the bounds of the legal system, and what the rules governing our actions really are. Whether your major is research or telecommunications, teaching or psychology, you are learning the skills and rules required to do a given job. A job that is going to be performed within a certain set of boundaries you need to be trained into.

The problem is there are only three rules to being a good writer... and no one knows what the hell they are.

They were lost in the great ruin of Answeria, where dwelt the winning lottery numbers, and the key to successful marriage.
Taking creative writing courses can be helpful, don't get me wrong. You can learn about the elements of story, get feedback on your work, and most importantly, get practice writing (and completing) stories. You can talk to people who have more experience than you, who have been on the inside of the industry, and whose creativity plays well with yours.

With that said, you can achieve all of those things on your own without paying the costs of college classes. You can sign up for writing symposiums, get a writer's group together, go to conventions, read blogs and books by authors telling you about their experience, and submit your work to forums and other places to get feedback. You can learn just as much, and make just as many publishing connections, that way.

Lastly, though, a creative writing degree is useless for a specific reason; publishers aren't buying your degree. They're buying your book.

Will People Buy Your Book?


A degree is a statement that you have been trained by a university in a given field. Even if it's just a welding certificate, your school is stating that you have the skills to do a particular job. Which is great... but a college's assurances isn't what publishers are buying.

This is more what they're interested in.
Publishing is an old-school trade, in the sense that your employers are buying your work. They don't care where you learned to produce it, who taught you, or who you studied under. What they care about is if you can do the job. So if you can write stellar magazine copy that gets readers to actually subscribe and take an interest in a publication, the editor isn't going to care if you got your degree at Princeton, or Cornfield U. Most of the time the publisher doesn't even care if you went to college at all. They only care about one thing.

Can you do the job?

No one can teach you how to write a compelling novel, or short story. You can't get a red stamp that makes you an ace reporter, or which guarantees you can write great product descriptions. Nothing can make you a great script writer... except one thing.

Practice.

Once you go through the process enough times, you'll find something unique happens; people start coming to you. Whether it's readers who want more of your stories, or publishers who have seen your other work and want to hire you, nothing guarantees your tomorrow like the work you put out today.

So sit down at that keyboard, and bleed. Then just keep doing that, day after day, until you get where you want to be.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. Hopefully it helps the writers out there who are wondering how the rest of us do the job, and it stops you from making a foolish decision. If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to help support me and my blog, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All I ask is $1 a month, and I'll give you both my everlasting gratitude along with some sweet swag to call your own!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Want To Be A Better Writer? Stop Second-Guessing Yourself

As I've alluded to before, I've been an author for some years now. And before I was an author, I was a young writer trying to figure out how to become an author. I read every genre book I could get my hands on, I picked up the usual how-to guides, I took creative writing classes, and I shared my thoughts and ideas with other writers that I knew.

Some of the other writers I knew when I was younger made the jump from writers to authors (which is to say, from those who wrote as amateurs to those who write as professionals), but not all of them. Not even most of them, if I'm honest. Now, part of that was because not everyone wanted to make that leap. They were perfectly content writing as a hobby, or as a group activity, and they didn't really have an interest in making a career out of it. A lot of folks did, though. However, there was a major problem that stopped many writers who wanted to go pro from doing so. It wasn't their vocabulary, their plots, their subject matter, or even their voice or quirks. It was, simply put, a lack of confidence in their stride. They would take a step, maybe two, and then they'd hit that backspace key until they were right back where they started.

No, wait, I've got a BETTER idea!
There's nothing wrong with deleting text that genuinely doesn't work, and going in a different direction with it. However, if you find yourself constantly asking if you should start over, or start another project entirely, then you might find yourself in need of a firmer stride.

A Bad First Draft is Better Than NO First Draft


You've probably heard that phrase before, but a lot of writers don't really appreciate it. Mainly because, for many of them, the fun is in all the build-up to the project. That's when your synapses are firing, you're creating a world, and you're drunk off the first shot of your new idea. When you're fleshing out your characters, making up your plot, and naming everything, you can feel like the most brilliant son of a bitch who ever put words to paper.

Then the writing starts. For a lot of folks, that's where the fun ends.

Well... what if this isn't the right project? Could I go and PLAN a different one?
Second guessing can take a lot of forms. Maybe you re-write your opening chapter ten times because it never sounds just right. And then, when you finally do get it right, you want to throw it away because it sounds too much like Tolkien, or Martin, or another author you've read a lot recently. It's even possible that you get halfway, or most of the way, to the end, and then decide to scrap it and start over. Or put it in mothballs, and start something else instead. Because it isn't right, or it feels boring, or you don't have the same energy you had before.

Imagine, for a moment, that you had a friend who really wanted to get in shape. They did all their research, and figured out the ideal diet, and the best exercise routine based on their body type, their interests, and their goals. The first session is hard, but they feel it's going well. They struggle a bit with the second, and the third. Then they skip a day, and claim they're trying to reset. Then they show up, and try again, but taking all their weights and reps back to start. The same thing happens. Then they decide to try a different program entirely, thinking that maybe they weren't getting the results they wanted because they were using the wrong method. But they keep bouncing around, switching, and stopping.

Are they still getting a workout? Sure. But that isn't the point of the exercise. The point is to mold yourself into a finished product. If you're constantly backtracking, changing, and not going forward with your book, you have the same problem. You're burning a lot of calories, but adding no page count.

Finish First, Polish Later


Writing, much like exercise, is all about building a habit. It's about programming your mind and body to do the heavy lifting. It takes a while to set a habit, and it takes even longer to unlearn one.

That's why finishing a project is so important.

Don't even think about it.
How many times have you read a bad book, and said, "I could do better than this!" Probably a lot. But it takes just as much effort to write a bad book as it does to write a good book. It takes even more effort to edit that book, get a contract for it, get it edited, and release it to the reading public.

Finishing anything is hard. But once you start doing it, and refusing to stop until you have at least a rough draft, it becomes habit forming. Once you're used to finishing, then you can build your other skills. But being able to write perfect prose does you no good if you never finish what you start.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Told you I'd get around to it. If you want to make sure you stay up-to-date on all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support the work I do, why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? All it takes is $1 a month to get my everlasting gratitude, and some sweet swag, so stop on in today!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Boy Who Cried Censorship

I spend a lot of time on the Internet talking about stories. I talk about my process, I big-up other authors who need signal boosts, and I try to offer advice that's worked for me in the past. However, there is something I've noticed that has become a part of online discourse in general, and a part of writers' groups in particular, that I wanted to talk about. It's the cry of censorship as a defense against someone else having a differing opinion to yours.

Because unless the government is demanding you stop talking, no one is censoring you.

Yes language means more than what's in the dictionary. We'll get to that.

Meaning, Usage, And Your Opinions


We love the idea of the freedom of speech, but most of us don't actually know what it means. In the broadest of broad strokes, it means you can say what you want without legal reprisal from the government. So if I want to say that Donald Trump is a leaking sack of suet re-purposed for sexual misadventure, I can't be arrested for that. Plenty of people may disagree with me about that, but at least at the time of this writing I'm perfectly within my rights to say that thing.

Now, that right to speak doesn't guarantee anything else. It doesn't guarantee me a right to be agreed with, or the right to use someone else's podium, or the right to be granted equal time by other people. Nor does it mean that I am free from the consequences of my speech.

The arena of public opinion isn't particularly forgiving.
Let's take an example we've all seen before. You're on social media, and you see a conversation that catches your eye. Maybe it's someone lamenting that a new major motion picture has cast a white performer in a role of a character that was originally an ethnic minority. Perhaps you agree with the original poster, or you share a differing opinion, but the next person to comment after you says something like, "Ugh, stop trying to shut out other people's opinions. You're just want to censor people who don't agree with you."

That statement is stupid for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is that, according to the definition we're all working from, only governments can censor people. However, in the sense that some people will attack or shut out dissenting opinions, that does happen. Most of the time, though, that's not censorship. If you go to a Facebook group, or a subreddit, or an open mic night, you are not guaranteed the chance to speak and be heard. You're on someone else's page, and your ability to talk or not talk, to be a member or be banned, is decided by the people who actually run those facilities. If the moderators, bouncers, or page owners decide no, they don't want you in their group, they can shut you up, and kick you out.

That's shitty, sure, but it isn't censorship. You still have the right to say whatever you want to say, but that group has made it clear they don't want you saying it there, and that's why they've closed their door in your face.

What Was That About Consequences?


You know how, when you were a kid, your parents would sometimes tell you that you wouldn't get in trouble if you just told them the truth? Even if you said or did something wrong, they were more interested in honesty than they were in punishment? A lot of the time we think that's how freedom of speech works. You can say whatever you want, and you won't get in trouble for it. Especially if you're just being honest with people.

With the government, that's usually true. With everyone else, not so much.

Yes, I heard you. That silence? That's the sound of judgment, sweety.
From big, important issues of the day, down to issues of nerd emphemera, we all have our own opinions. Whether you feel that Jared Leto is the worst Joker in the series, or you think that writing accents phonetically is a bad idea, those are your opinions. If you put those opinions forth in the public arena, wherever that might be, you'll likely find folks who agree with you. However, you'll also find folks who disagree with you. Their disagreement is not your ideas being censored, any more than if you disagree with someone else that you're censoring them. That's just the open market deciding whether your ideas will be accepted, or wadded up and thrown in the trash.

No one likes to admit it, but sometimes we're the ones the general consensus tosses on the trash heap.

And if there are extreme repercussions for the views you espouse? If you lose friends because they find out you hold particularly sexist views about why it's perfectly okay for women to be paid less for doing the same job? Or if a partner breaks up with you because they found your racist rants on a forum? Or if you get fired because someone caught you berating and belittling someone who is supposed to be part of your team? Well, none of those are censorship. Those are the consequences that come from speaking your mind.

You can say whatever you want. However, you can also hit a hornet's nest with a stick. If the hornets fly out and sting you so badly your eyes swell shut and you can barely breathe, that's not them censoring your stick-swinging agenda. That's reaping the consequences of what you chose to do.

If you're still not sure about the difference, read the comments below. People espousing their opinions? Just fine. But it's my blog, my page, and my soap box, and I don't have to let anyone up here to speak if I don't want to. Is that narrow-minded, or prejudiced, or rude? It might be some, or all of those things. But it isn't censorship.

So, it seems I accidentally did two Business of Writing posts in a row. Next week, something on craft, you have my word. If you want to keep up to date on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support my efforts, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is $1 a month to get some sweet swag, and my everlasting gratitude.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Want To Sell More Books? Target A Niche

For those who don't know, my "day job" is ghost writing blogs. And though I've got a deep pool of topics I can draw on, a lot of the clients I work with want content that's all about marketing. One of the biggest topics in marketing that keeps coming across my desk is how to corner a niche. So I thought I'd cover that for my fellow writers.

Because, counterintuitively, you can sell more books by narrowing the number of readers you're actually trying to reach.

It's kind of like how a sniper rifle has a bigger impact than a shotgun on a given target.

How The Hell Does That Work?


Right, so, let's say you were running a blog. Ideally, you want the content on your blog to be so popular that it appeals to everyone. People of all religions, all political leanings, all ages will come to your site, read your content, view your ads, and make you money. However, the only way you can do that is by creating something that's bland, thinly-spread, and inoffensive. Which, ironically, is more likely to bore your potential readers so they don't come to your blog at all.

Think of your site as if it was a pizza. Because even if everyone likes pizza, not everyone likes the same kind of pizza. So it's pointless to try to appeal to every possible pizza customer out there. So what you need to do is ask what kind of pizza you specialize in. Do you do kickass veggie pizzas, appealing both to the vegetarian demographic, and people who like your unique flavor? Maybe you want to do a meat lover's pizza, and get all the carnivores in your corner? Maybe you want to sway the organic and all-natural crowd by using fresh, local ingredients in your pies? Perhaps you're offering cheap and tasty pizza to get the demographics who can't afford more, but who still want what you're making?

And what does this have to do with books?
You're writing books instead of cooking pizza, but the thinking is the same. You cannot make a single product that appeals to everyone. So instead of driving yourself mad (and possibly taking down your overall quality), you need to pick a niche to appeal to. Ask who is going to read your story, and then establish yourself within that community.

It sounds simple, but too many times authors will try to appeal to the broadest possible demographic, instead of appealing to the entirety of a single, smaller niche. And that second one is where you can get better, more reliable returns.

Have You Ever Heard of Dark Souls?


If you're plugged-in to video games, or geek culture at all, you're probably heard of Dark Souls. It's a video game series that is punishing, unforgiving, but most unusual it caters to those who love a mixture of fantasy and horror. If you know anything at all about video games, you'd know that horror is generally considered a minor niche, and it's one that publishers either ignore, or only fill partially. Particularly with series like Dead Space, which is less of a sci-fi horror shooter, and more of a shooter with weird enemies that occasionally jump out of cupboards.

So... when does the scary part show up?
Dark Souls, as one might expect, did not become a massive blockbuster overnight. It was hard, scary, confusing for a lot of players, and it was different from safer, mainstream genres. A lot of players tried it, and walked away. However, a surprising number of players said it was the greatest thing since ice cream orgies, and would not shut up about how fresh and unique it was. This led to word of mouth spreading, and it started to get a cult following.

Catering to that niche, and giving a specific group of fans what they wanted, was enough to make the sales the company needed to bring out sequels in the same vein. Dark Souls II, Bloodborne, and now Dark Souls III all had bigger and bigger sales as the fan base grew. The sales increased, not because the games adapted to appeal to bigger, broader audiences, but because they served a specific niche. No one else was doing anything like them, and even when imitators did step onto the field, the fans kept coming back to this company because they had a reputation.

In short, you get better results by making something everyone in a certain niche wants, rather than trying to appeal to the mass market and rolling the dice.

You Still Might Need To Take Multiple Shots At It


Zeroing in on a more potent target is a smart move, marketing wise, but there's still no guarantee it will work the first time. My other blog, Improved Initiative, is a gaming blog that focuses on tabletop gaming in general, but on the Pathfinder RPG in particular. So, while I have something for the broader niche of people who like tabletop RPGs, I have very specific content for people who play Pathfinder.

And last Monday I put up a post that got me over 37k hits over the weekend. Though that is far and away my most widely-read post at the moment, even my unpopular pieces consistently hit the 4-figure range now. When I first started writing that blog? I was lucky to get 500 hits on a new piece, and that was if it was popular.

Roll enough dice, and you'll eventually get a 20.
Part of my success with Improved Initiative has been that it's been running for several years, and I built up a backlog of content. I've gotten known in the community as a writer who provides quality content, and I've lucked into some formats and topics that always get readers to tune-in to see what I'm talking about. One of the most important factors in my success in that blog, though, (limited as it is) is that I appealed to the market who wanted what I was producing.

Find a base, and get their attention by giving them stuff they want. Do that, and you've got the makings of an audience, a paycheck, and if you're lucky, a career.

That's all for this week's installment of Business of Writing. Next week we'll get back to technique, and I should have something interesting for you. If you want to stay tuned-in to everything I'm putting out, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter so you never miss an update. Lastly, if you want to help support my work as a blogger, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! $1 a month is all I ask, and it buys you my everlasting gratitude along with some sweet swag to call your own.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

5 Signs You're Actually A Writer

There is an obsession within the writing community about separating the real writers from the poseurs and pretenders. Sometimes it's easy to tell the difference. If you can walk into a bookstore, and pick your book off the shelf, then there's no doubt you're a writer. You have physical proof. However, if you haven't hit the big-time yet, you might be feeling some anxiety about whether or not you can lay claim to that title. That's why this week The Literary Mercenary is laying out the top 5 signs that you're probably a writer.

So let's get started, shall we?

#1: You Adopt Pens


Hello my darlings... where are your parents?
When you're walking along the street, and you find a discarded pen, what is your first reaction? Normal people will see them, and usually walk on by. Writers, on the other hand, will stop. They'll pick them up, and give them a field examination. They'll check the grip, pop the tip out to check how much ink is left, and typically write a word or two to feel how well the pen works. Then they'll tuck the pen into their pocket, and take it home with them.

This happens pretty much anywhere you are. Whether you're signing for your check in a restaurant, or staying in a hotel room, pens just find their way into your pockets. Even if you have hundreds of them at home, there's always room for one more. Because you never know just when you'll need it.

#2: You Have More Notebooks Than You Have Socks


Come here, sweety. I just had a new idea...
If you're a writer, you're one of the easiest people on the planet to buy gifts for. Because no matter what time of year it is, no matter the event, and no matter how rich or poor you are, nothing will make you happier than a new moleskine notebook. Full-sized or travel, cheap or expensive, notebooks represent fields of potential. And whether you get it as a stocking stuffer, as a free sample in the mail, or just as a throwaway present from a friend who found this old notebook and has no use for it, there's always a little spike in your happiness when you hold it in your hands.

#3: You See The Threads When You Read


This is the part where they kiss. Yep, saw that one coming.
It's true that the best writers have a voracious diet of fiction. They read as much as they can, and they absorb what they see. Much like Neo in the Matrix, they develop the power to see the code. This means they understand the building blocks of story reality, and they can recreate them in their own worlds. So if you find yourself watching TV in a pose reminiscent of The Thinker, or analyzing the story line of every book you pick up regardless of the audience it was intended for, you understand the basics of the writing craft.

#4: You Can Tell The Age of A Book By Its Smell


And sometimes you can even tell the genre.
There are two types of people who walk into bookstores. People who look at the books, and people who smell the books. Whether it's the scent of fresh print on a new bestseller, or the smell of vanilla dust that lingers around old libraries, you have an acute sense of where these books come from. That perfume always makes you smile, and you inhale books the same way a wine connoisseur would sniff his glass. The body is certainly good, but first you need to savor the aroma.

#5: You Actually Write Things


Mileage may vary.
 I said this way back in my post How Do You Know if You're A Real Writer?, and I think it holds just as true now as it did then. Everything else on this list is amusing, and you may even find that it's true for you. However, if you don't write things, then you're not a writer. And if you do write things, no matter what they are, then you are a writer.

It's easy to hem and haw, and to claim someone isn't a real writer. It's a lot harder to actually sit down, put your fingers on the keys, and finish a project. Whether it's a poem, a short story, or a novel, and whether it's good or bad, if you wrote it, then you are, by definition, a writer.

Speaking of which, don't you have work you should be doing instead of reading listicles on the Internet?

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully you got a snicker or two out of it. If you want to keep up-to-date on all my work, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to help me keep it going, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. All it takes is $1 a month to buy my everlasting gratitude, and to get some sweet swag as thanks for your support.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why Do People Think Writing Is Easy? Largely Because of The Dunning-Kruger Effect

If you're a writer, you know there are a lot of people out there who think what you do is easy. People who assume that, because they have the ability to pick up a pen and write intelligible sentences, that there is really very little difference between them and you. Oh sure, you might have a little more practice, maybe a few more connections, but if they wanted to be an author all they'd need is a little time. They've got stories, man, and if they wanted to they could write them up the same way you do.

You just watch, I'll write my own novel! With hookers, and blackjack!
If you've ever had to deal with these folks, then you already know they're full of shit. Because sure, they might be able to construct complete sentences, and put them into paragraphs. It's even possible they'll be able to explain a cohesive story to a reader. But as we all know, those are just a few ingredients needed to make an author. You need to mix in a lifetime of reading, stir it with genuine love of stories, and add a pinch of experience to be able to tell what does, and what doesn't, work. Just because you've got some flour and a few apples, that doesn't mean you can bake an apple pie from scratch. Even if you think you can.

So why do so many people seem to think all you need is a notebook and a few months of spare time? Well, it's complicated, but science calls it The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Who With The What Now?


Have you ever noticed how people utterly unequipped to do a task not only think they'd be pretty good at it, but rate their performance as higher than it really should be? Well, that's the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. In short, dumb people are too dumb to understand that they're dumb, and thus think they're doing pretty great. Or, put another way, if you completely lack a skill, then the only way you'll realize that is if you sit down and actually receive some training for that skill.

Sharon, I know you think you can do Susan's job. Trust me, you'd be as effective as a match in a hurricane.
Put into more scientific language, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias. Your brain tricks itself into believing something that isn't true, despite evidence to the contrary. The original study, performed by Dunning and Kruger natch, was inspired by the curious case of a bank robber. This guy had pulled off two bank robberies before getting caught, and he did it after covering his face with lemon juice. His logic was that, since lemon juice is used in the making of invisible ink, it would obscure his identity and make him impossible to record on security cameras.

Was that one guy a lone loony for believing that? Or was that just an extreme example of how people think they've got the inside track on life every, single day? The scientists decided to find out. They asked students in a psychology course to rate their own skills in areas like grammar, logical reasoning, and even humor. Then, after students were scored on a test (how you score humor I don't know, but that's not the point), they were asked to evaluate how well they did compared to the rest of the class. People who scored well, and who had some demonstrable skill in a given area, pegged themselves pretty accurately. If anything, they underestimated their own abilities. Those who had scored poorly? Well, they figured they were still slightly above average. They weren't, though. In short, the people who belonged in the D and F categories thought they deserved at least a low B.

You Can't Explain It If They Don't Speak The Language


Among Americans (since our culture is what gives rise to this effect), there really is no winning. Even if you want to sit your co-worker, extended family member, or casual friend down to explain why writing a book is really difficult, they aren't going to get it if they lack the skills and experience in doing any of the tasks associated with it.

At the end of the day, authors really do speak our own language. A language only other authors can understand. The more you write, the better you'll be able to speak and understand that language. So, congratulations to those willing to put in that work.

Speaking of which... shouldn't you be writing?
That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. While it might sound like it belongs in the craft section, trust me, you're going to need this knowledge when you work in the business side of books, blogs, and other literary endeavors. If you'd like to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support me so I can keep making content just like this, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. For $1 a month you can buy my unending gratitude, and some sweet swag. So head on over, and pledge today!