Writing advice from Champion Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale has been writing for nearly 40 years and is still considered a hidden gem. When asked what genre he liked to write in he said that he doesn't listen to just one kind of music so why would he only write in one genre. To this day I have never forgotten the chills I experienced from his short story The Night They Missed the Apocalypse. 

On his Facebook and Twitter accounts Mr. Lansdale has been doling out advice about writing in a matter of fact way that you can't help but be inspired. Not only a wonderful writer but a wonderful teacher.

Cold in July, a movie based on his novel of the same name is opening in Sundace this week staring Dexter's own Michael C. Hall. Lansdale also wrote the short story Bubba Ho-tep that the much-loved Don Coscarelli movie was based on.  I cribbed all his notes in one little post. And here they are:


Writers. Here is a simple method that works for me. Now and again there are variations on any theme. But, my primary approach may help you establish your own.

    Have a time to work at least five days a week if possible. My goal is six to seven days a week, but now and again I work a five day schedule. If you only have three or four days a week, then use that.

    Revise as you go. Don't knock it all out with a I can fix it later attitude. You end up with a lot to fix, and that can be depressing.

    On the other hand, don't expect it all to be perfect, but do it as well as you can and revise the previous days work before you start, and at the end of the day reread what you've written and revise that. When you finish the novel there will be revisions, but the weight will be easier to bear and swifter to repair because there will be less to do. I usually say I do one draft and a revision, which is usually a light touch up. But I revise constantly as I write, so there's no telling how many revisions I do, but as I go. Not multiple, complete drafts. Now and again the final revision is more than I expected, but most of the time it is comfortable to do and reasonably quick to do.

    Show up for the time you have scheduled and write. It can be as little as fifteen to twenty minutes of dedicated time each day if that's all the time you have, but show up and work during that time. Better yet, if you can manage at least an hour, do that. I average about three hours a day, but some of that is thinking time. Now and again I have less time, once in a while I might even work two or three shifts, resulting in many hours a day. But that happens only when the writing is pulling me so hard I have to do it. Sometimes I'm working to meet a deadline. A deadline can be your friend if you let it.

    Give yourself a number of words or pages to do. I like pages. I set a three to five page goal a day. Obviously, if I were working fifteen minutes a day, I would set that goal lower. Half a page for example.

    There are certainly reasons you might not be able to show up to write now and again, but do not give yourself excuses. I know it can be hard. I had one person a few years ago say, yeah, but you don't have a job, you can write. My job is writing, so that was a stupid remark. But it hasn't always been. I wrote with jobs, sometimes more than one. I wrote while being a house dad to our two kids while my wife worked. 

    Once you establish a working pattern (and it certainly doesn't have to be the one I've laid out, but this works for me), stick to it, but know now and then you do have to take a day off. Sometimes more. But if you've only done a week's worth of work and think a week off would be nice, then you haven't established any kind of pattern.

    Do not procrastinate. That is not time off. That's screwing around. I don't care what you do, but for those who keep telling me how they want to be writer if they only had the time, you have the time. Think about how much time you spend on TV shows, hanging out etc. It's bullshit and you know it.

    For those who tell me they don't have any ideas but want to write. Get another career.

    For those who say they have a great story and want to be a writer, but just can't put it down. Get another career.

    For those who have been working on the same book or story for years, get another career unless it gives you pleasure to work on that one book. Yeah, I know, there's always the writer who spent their life on a book, and look it was a masterpiece. Yeah, but mostly, not so much.

    And furthermore, these notes are for the professional or would-be professional writer who wants to make a living at it, not the academic. 

    Finally, before you ask a question about markets, where are they today, do the research. With the internet there is very little excuse to ask me or any other writer, but where do I sell my stories. There are a lot more markets than you think, but it's not my job or any other writer's to find them for you when they are at your fingertips. 

    Don't spend all your time having others read your work for validation. Write and send it to editors to read.

    Do not ask me to read your work, or any other professional writer. I have done it, and may do it again, but that's not my job. Between writing and living and reading what I choose to read, I only take time to read books that are to be published for possible quotes, and even then I only have so much time for that.

    Writers who don't want to read your work are not evil demons. They have a life, and your career is something that should be important to you, and it should be understood that professional writers receive numerous requests to read manuscripts. How do you choose?

    And lastly, reading others manuscripts can lead to law suits, so why should we take the time, Happens all the time. I had a dog in my story and he had one in his, so he stole it, the bastard. So it's best not to do it at all.

    And no, I don't want to write your life story, or the life story of anyone you know. I have my own ideas. I don't actually feel anyone who offers that is giving me a gift, but instead they are offering me something they can't do and hoping for a cut of the money. It's not to my interest, though I wish you luck finding someone who is interested, or better yet, write it yourself. This will determine how much you really want to see that story told.

    A degree in creative writer can certainly be helpful if you have good teachers, preferably someone who actually is a writer, but you don't need one to write. I don't have one. You send in a manuscript it's about the work, the story, not how many degrees you have.

    If you have one good reader you enjoy having look at your work, or like a writer's group to do that fine, do so. But be careful, the only person that really matters for a professional writer is the editor.

    Self-publish if you must. If you just want to see it published, have at it. If you're already a professional, then that could make sense. You already have been vetted and may have an audience and you perhaps can control your career more. I may do a bit of that myself. But I've been published for forty years by a variety of publishers. And they paid me. Bottom line, I'm talking about professional writers here. People who want to make a living at it, not hobbyist, or those who want to spend their life on one book.

    If you have been rejected for something you think is just wonderful, sure have at it. But remember this. Anyone can pay to be published. Anyone. Don't send me all the reasons that self-publishing is the shit, I don't care. I'm not against it. I've read some good self-published work. I'm reading one now. There is a lot of bad work being done that is published by New York Houses, but laid end to end with the self-published books, there being a few exceptions, they comparatively look like Tolstoy. 

    Writing by hand or on a typewriter is no better than writing with a word processor. Find the way you like to write and do it.

    Finally, sure, there are variations and exceptions to everything, and these are only my thoughts and what works for me.

    Be a big dog. Don't whine about it. Quit making excuses. Quit looking to others to solve your problems about writing.

    Write. Time is passing.

If you are interested in more Lansdale (and I hope you are) check out his homepage (where every Thursday he releases a Free story for you to read.


and his Facebook page, where his advice on Writing is still coming.


James C. The Cold Open-BC