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Writing Advice From Someone Who Expects Not to Write Again

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Craig Clevenger, author of Dermaphoria and The Contortionist’s Handbook does not expect to ever write another word. He doesn’t plan on a career, he doesn’t worry about his “style” or his body of work. He focuses on every single word as if it’s his last. Above his desk is a note that reads “this is the last book you will ever write.” Far from some cheesy motivational quote, Clevenger truly believes it. And I would suggest that this desperation is what fuels his masterful work. “Forget about a career in writing and focus on your task at hand, holding nothing back. When you make a cut from a story, don’t think about whether you can recycle a particular idea, turn of phrase or passage in some future work… There is only the story at hand and your last-chance, deathbed-stab at writing it down,” he says.

On his website, Clevenger provides some outstanding writing tips. But one item that has been rolling around my head for days now is that you should “know that you might fail. Ignore what decades of American pop culture would have us believe. Sometimes dreams don’t come true, and ‘sometimes’ in this case means more often than not. Years of effort might yield nothing, not even a single publication in a small magazine. If you know this to be true and yet, your need to write outweighs this very real possibility, then you can celebrate every milestone as being wholly and completely your own.”

I recently attended a question and answer session with a nonfiction writer who point-blank guaranteed everyone in the audience that if they found a story they were passionate about, they would get published with a major New York house. I wanted to scream and rip the microphone out of his hands. No one guarantees me that if I’m passionate enough, I can play point guard for the Lakers. No one guarantees me that if I’m passionate enough, I can play guitar for U2. No one guarantees me that if I’m passionate enough, I can take over Brad Pitt’s starring movie roles. So why do so many people feel the need to perpetuate this idea of publishing as a right, as something that will happen if I’m a good boy and I say my prayers, as something that is inevitable? This attitude that publishing is for any-and-everyone is precisely what fuels the scam artists who prey on people’s dreams. But Clevenger points out that when you’re willing to toil in anonymity, when the story is what’s important, regardless of publication, then you’ve tapped into something worthwhile.

And this is just one of the gems that Clevenger records on his website. Check out his other writing tips here.