Tom Howard’s Fierce Pretty Things, winner of the 2018 Blue Lights Books prize, will be released next Friday (3/1). We caught up with the author, winner of our own Short Story Award back in 2015 with the marvelous “Hildy,” who shared some excellent advice on perseverance, writing, and giving a damn. Check back next week for our review of Howard’s excellent debut collection.
On the other hand, I can write a single odd description or a single surprising line of dialogue, and I’ll think:
Oh right, that’s who I am.
Which doesn’t mean I think I won’t ever write something big or ambitious. It just means there are no shortcuts to getting there. It can start with anything—small, goofy, sweet, horrifying, whatever—as long as it starts with something true. That’s what will keep me writing, but even more important than that, that’s what will keep someone reading, if anything will.
I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. I mean that when I was eight years old, I started telling people I was a writer. I’d spend my time drawing the covers of my future novels, agonizing over typography, devising pen names for myself. And I would write. By the time I was ten, I’d written at least twenty mostly murder-and-dismemberment-related short stories, not including my typewritten sequel to the movie Alien, which I typed in red ink (because: blood). At eleven, I won my first writing contest, with a story about a cannibal with a heart of gold. And this was at a time when most of my friends still couldn’t read. Well, they could read, but they didn’t. To paraphrase Twain, What’s the difference?
Point is, I was pretty sure of myself as a writer, and that stuck with me all the way through my twenties and thirties, despite a lot of practical evidence to the contrary. I wasn’t a writer at all. I could write well enough, just in a purely literal sense, but so could a great many other people who had better stories to tell. And I wasn’t even writing all that much. I started a lot of things and had grand ideas, but even if I wasn’t still drawing my book covers, I wasn’t putting in the real work of being a writer, either.
This is supposed to be an essay about my path to publication, and I believe the idea is to write something that might be meaningful to other aspiring writers. Of course writers are all different, and it’s not very profound to say there isn’t one right way to go about it. Half the advice we get as writers is probably wrong (for us) or contradicts the other half. There isn’t a magical list of rules to follow, or a set of universal strategies.
(But lists are fun. So these are just my own strategies, the things I remind myself of to get me or keep me going.)