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Laird Barron On Writing

 


 

 Laird Barron On Writing

 

 


 

Observations:

 

Five observations about writing:
*Beware of prescription masquerading as advice.
*Methods of the writing process are unique to the writer.
*People are fond of saying, “X is lazy writing.” No, X is probably fine. Lazy writing is lazy writing.
*Characters must be compelling. It isn’t required that they be sympathetic.
 *I prefer the long view of my writing life. I don’t get trapped in the daily ebb and flow of word count. Assessing progress on a monthly and annual basis is more coherent. It also tends to keep me saner.

 

Horror v Terror:

 

Horror is a complex realization of disorder; it is related to disgust. Terror is a visceral reaction to a threat; it is related to violence, especially the fight or flight defense mechanism.
Yes, Virginia, Horror and Terror can and do overlap.

 

Grist for the mill:

Every day, I record three or four one-sentence story ideas. No matter how absurd, or unlikely, or fragmentary, every day I write them down.

 

On responding to criticism with justification:

 

You will never justify yourself to the satisfaction of your detractors.
You already had your say.

 

The Weight:

 

Writing well doesn’t get easier. It’s not supposed to get easier–as you gain power and skill, you load more weight onto the bar. The struggle between a writer and the weight of the infinite isn’t for the weak. The secret is, those hip-deep in the struggle are much stronger than they realize, else they wouldn’t be standing.

 

Resistance:

 

To new writers, and especially to young writers: expect resistance. I am forty-three. I’ve written since I was five. I know one thing if I know anything.

They will try to stop you.

Resistance to artistic aspiration is typical. In general, people aren’t going to leap onboard your dream train. It’s cute for a teenager to talk of becoming a novelist, or a poet. The gloss is tarnished once you travel beyond the solar system of middling youth and into young adulthood. If it has not already begun, it will begin. If it has begun, it will now begin in earnest. People will gently, or not so gently, undermine your artistic endeavors. How will you pay off your loans? How will you pay off a mortgage? How will you afford a family? What will become of you?

Grow up. Get real. It’s for your own good. We love you. Stop, just stop.

They will attempt to subvert you. They will attempt to cajole and coerce you. They will roll their eyes and shake their heads and talk about you in hushed tones of mourning. When you pursue the dream of being an author, people always mourn you. They will bargain with you. They will read your words and pronounce you No Hemingway, no Jackson, no McCarthy. They will probably be correct in this latter judgment. It doesn’t matter. Hemingway was no Faulkner, Jackson was no Shelley, McCarthy is no Steinbeck. None of them were Shakespeare. Be sure they were told this or something like this and by someone who loved them, wanted the best for them.

Print is dead. Publishing is dead. No one reads. We love you. So stop.

They’ll do anything to blunt your progress, to deflect your trajectory. They’ll offer you a raise at the sausage plant. They’ll marry you, knock you up, or get knocked up. They’ll send you down the trail behind a team of huskies. They’ll jail you. Drug you. Withhold love. Punish you. Blast your mind with a 24 hour news cycle and infinite cartoons on the Cartoon Network. They will guilt you for the hours you spend apart, writing, dreaming. The most insidious of them will publish you, review you, praise or condemn you, encourage you to rest on your laurels or to simply quit, the world is better off without you, because you’ve made it, or because you never will. And so they say, Stop. Quit. We love you. Come back to us, don’t leave us here.

They will do anything to stop you. Remember. They love you. You have to be ready for that.

 

 

Gird:

 

Put on your armor. Gird yourself. Whet your blade. Don’t bother counting your teeth. Make no mistake–you’re writing, you’re in a fight.
“Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.” ? William Faulkner

 

 

Lumps:

 

Writing is a form of masochism. Students complain of tough instructors. New authors complain of tough editors. Established authors complain about bad reviews.
It doesn’t get easier with publication or paychecks or awards. Good editors continue to bust your chops. As far as reviews go, novelist Joe Abercrombie sums it up nicely: “If everyone loves your stuff, it’s not being read widely enough.”

 

 

Film Rights:

 

This goes for all writers, but especially for those of you without agents–pay attention to your contract language. Some small presses will attempt to take a cut of film/television proceeds, or attach them outright. My answer is No. Without exception or remorse.
Newer, unestablished authors are particularly vulnerable to this ploy. They fear rocking the boat, or they tell themselves, “what’s the harm, it’s not like my stuff will sell to Hollywood.”
Do what you must, of course. Saying no to a rights grab may well result in a lost deal. My opinion is that no small press offers enough money or exposure to an author to justify going after film/television rights. Not even close.
Weigh the costs and what you’re willing to surrender to make the sale. Whatever you do, keep in mind this isn’t, at the moment, standard behavior. Don’t sell yourself short.

(Reprinted by permission of the author.)


 

From our Interview with the author On Writing 

 

LP

What do you hope to achieve with your writings and writing life?

 

Laird Barron

As a kid, the possibilities of money and notoriety didn’t occur to me. The very ritualistic act of writing was necessary and transformative. My dreams were pure—I wanted to do what my literary mentors had done; share stories with the world. Getting my thoughts onto paper was the essential mission. It was an obsession.

I’ve knocked down many of the artistic and material goals that arose over the course of a professional career. Now, I try to improve upon areas where I’ve done well and shore up points of weakness. This is the instar of an author’s lifecycle wherein he or she has a choice to remain largely what they have always been, or to transform into a new animal.

 


 

 LP

When, where, and with what do you write?

 

Laird Barron

Of late, I work in two-hour blocks. Mid-morning, late afternoon, and mid to late evening. Sprint, cool down, sprint is the typical pace. When closing in on the end of a draft, I sustain a longer push until the writing schedule becomes a marathon with brief respites to eat and sleep. The work is accomplished at a sturdy knockoff antique desk. I compose everything on a computer. In the bad old days, I composed with a pencil and transcribed via word processor. To hell with that.

 


 

LP

What essential advice would you give to the writer trying to write their first novel?

 

Laird Barron

I’ve come to believe that process advice is largely fruitless because the creation of art is personal. As a writer, you f**k up again and again until you get it right, you get lucky, or you die.

No advice you receive is going to save you from the cold hard fact that you must square up to the blank page and put the words down the same as everybody else.

 


 

LP

Story mechanics, do you outline a plot? Any advice on outlines?

 

Laird Barron

I’ve struggled with outlines. They tend to drain the joy from writing without much in the way of return. Yet, I circled back time and again, drawn by the sweet promise of imposing a sense of order on my chaotic process. My outlines for the Coleridge series tend to be bullet point sketches—a rickety wooden guardrail that extends into the mist. So far, I haven’t fallen into the abyss.

Advice? Try outlining on and see if it fits. Odds are, each project will possess different requirements.

 


 

LP

Who are your most memorable characters from fiction? 

 

Laird Barron

My favorite characters are hard-bitten. Samurai, Vikings, Old West gunslingers, Continental Ops, leg breakers, cynical private dicks. That sort.

 Arkady Renko, by Martin Cruz Smith—especially as seen in Polar Star. Robert Parker’s Spenser and Hawk. Corwin, by Roger Zelazny. Sarah Linden from The Killing. Beowulf, Odysseus. Blackburn, the young traveling sociopath as depicted in a series of short stories by Bradley Denton. Cass Neary by Elizabeth Hand.

 


 

LP

Which authors inspired you to write, and still do?

 

Laird Barron

Influence comes in waves. Early: Roger Zelazny; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Robert E Howard; Jack Vance; Fritz Leiber; Shel Silverstein; Robert Service; Poe. Numerous Golden Age and New Wave science fiction authors.

Later: Lovecraft; Stephen King; William Goldman; Shirley Jackson; Angela Carter; Martin Cruz Smith; Clive Barker; Michael Shea; Ann Sexton; John D. MacDonald; Cormac McCarthy; the editing work of Karl Edward Wagner and Harlan Ellison. Ellison’s Dangerous Visions changed how I looked at science fiction. The experience of reading that anthology taught me how sharp an edge literature can hold.

Now: There are a host who deserve mention, but I’ll restrict myself to a fistful of writers who will change your life if you let them: Victor LaValle; Kelly Link; Stephen Graham Jones; Paul Tremblay; and John Langan.

The editorial work of Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran is a treasure trove in regard to short fiction, especially the macabre variety.

 

 


 

About Laird Barron

 

Art by Justin McElroy @thoughtographic

Laird Barron, an expat Alaskan, is the author of several books, including The Imago Sequence and Other Stories; Swift to Chase; and Blood Standard. Currently, Barron lives in the Rondout Valley of New York State and is at work on tales about the evil that men do.

 

Laird Barron’s Patreon

 

Below is the authors new for 2024 Patreon Introduction:

“The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out;

At one stride comes the dark” –Samuel Taylor Coleridge

My name is Laird Barron and for the past quarter century I’ve written in the fields of crime, horror, and the weird. My first collection, The Imago Sequence, arrived in 2007; my latest work, Not a Speck of Light (Stories), is slated for September, 2024. Between those points, I’ve published several other collections, novels, and a host of short fiction and essays.

The goal of this Patreon project is threefold—first, to consolidate my social media presence; second, to serve as a repository for my extant interviews, reviews, and commentary; finally, to act as a conduit for new material; be that essays, videos, or serialized fiction and nonfiction.

In coming years, this site will stand as a growing treasury of my interwoven universes and their myriad denizens, from Jessica Mace and Isaiah Coleridge to Rex and Old Leech Hisownself. I invite you to join me on an odyssey that spans the bronze dust of Ultra Antiquity into the nightmare core of the Great Dark.

Click the links for details of each reward tier: