Thursday, October 03, 2013

Guest Author Anton Strout: Suck-tion Power

By Anton Strout

Please help me welcome fantasy author Anton Strout to the blog today, to chat with us about a few things we all experience at some point in our writing careers--fear and suckage. And why this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Anton is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series and Alchemystic, book one of the upcoming Spellmason Chronicles for Ace Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA). Anton is also the author of many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books. The Once & Future Podcast is his latest project, where he endeavors as Curator of Content to bring authors and readers together through a weekly news show format. He has been a featured author guest of honor, speaker and workshop leader at San Diego Comic-Con, Gencon, New York Comic-Con, the Brooklyn Book Festival and many other conventions.

Take it away Anton...

As Frank Herbert wrote in the Litany Against Fear in DUNE, “Fear is the mind killer,” which was clearly meant to be the inner monologue of writers everywhere.

At each stage of a writer’s career, our destructive troglodyte brains love to try and stump us, to keep us from writing. It’s a process that never goes away, really, at whatever level of your career you might be at from first timer to New York Times bestseller.

The details might differ for you as you read this, but this is sort of a fear ladder that authors go through, starting with the smallest:
  • I want to write.
  • I wonder if I can write a whole short story?
  • Okay, great did that. Now can I write something longer, can I do a whole novel?
  • Woah, did that… hmm… wonder if can I do it again?
  • Yep. Okay. Keen. Can I get one of my novels published?
  • OMG, a publisher wants it… and now they want more of the same, multiple books in a series. Am I even capable of writing a sequel, keeping a series going?
Right about…. HERE is where I am right now as America’s Favorite Lower Midlist Urban Fantasy Author™, climbing the fear ladder rung by rung. I proved I could get down four books in my first series, the Simon Canderous paranormal detective novels. Then I proved to myself I could launch a second series successfully with The Spellmason Chronicles, ALCHEMYSTIC and the just released STONECAST.

But that still leaves me hanging somewhere in the middle of that fear ladder as a writer.

Those higher up than me look down with whimsical nostalgia at how easy those fears were to manage when they were on my rung of the ladder, and those below me look up as they shake their fists, shouting, “Shut up, Strout! You don’t know how good you’ve got it!”

Always remember that fear is a relative thing for a writer, again dependent on which run of the ladder they are desperately clinging to. And of course there are the future fears and woes I worry about, should I ever move up the ladder to, say, making the bestseller lists:
  • Once I’m on, can I make the list again?
  • What if readers don’t like the next book?
  • What if I run out of ideas for the series that is working?
But the super fear lurking behind every stage—word by word, book by book—is: How do I get the words down time and time again, especially in the face of all those fears? And worse, what if I write a book that is terrible? Many wannabe writers I know get stuck at the perfectionist fear stage and barely get a paragraph down, let alone a whole book. So how do I sit down and not give in to the fear of producing a crappy book? I have a simple calming mantra: It’s okay to suck.

In fact, I heartily encourage it. Why?

Because when you first finish your book it is absolutely going to suck. It should. It is, literally, the first draft. That name alone implies there will be many more to follow. The trick to writing isn’t to vomit forth pure gold. It’s to get it down so you have something there to fix.

I can see the holes in a plot or what’s missing in a character once I have that initial draft down and a better feel for where the tale is going. Those are things I can add in later, things I can refine as I stitch the Frankenstein’s Monster of my book together until the reader can no longer see the stitches.

Fear does not keep me from attempting to get my book down. I embrace the suck. I encourage the suck. And then? It’s my job as a writer to beat the suck out of it. Through writing, rewriting, beta readers, editors, copyeditors… once I realized I do not have to get perfection down on the page the first time out—that only many passes will make it whole—I realized there was nothing to fear.

But circling back to DUNE for a moment, sit down at your computer, take a deep breath and incant with me the Litany Against Fear used by the Bene Gesserit to clear your mind and calm yourselves before launching yourself at the page:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Happy writing!

About Stonecast


Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.

With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.


  1. "Dune" to quell writerly fears! Bravo, sir, I love that!

    This was quite a timely post for me; I read a theologian's post yesterday that said while excellence is a worthy goal, nobody's perfect. It's okay to suck.

    So y'know what? I'm going to quit worrying about the extraneous dialogue. It'll be fixed in time.

  2. LOVe that you quote Dune's Litany against fear!!

    Also perfect timing for me--I'm giving a presentation tonight to my local writer's guild about FastDrafting and one of the things I'm covering is giving yourself permission to write a sucky frist draft. I posted this as pre-meeting reading material just now on your facebook wall :)

  3. Yes. I like the idea that it is okay to suck as long as you are willing to beat the suckage out of your work later. That's where I am right now: on suck-extermination duty. And I hope I get it all out.

  4. Thanks Anton, an encouraging post, reminding me how to get through those low point, stuck polishing the first 35k and never writing a sentence more. NaNoWriMo helps that too.