Tag Archives: Advice

TIMELESS ADVICE FROM HUNTER S. THOMPSON

AA1AIn 1958, a then 22-year-old Hunter S. Thompson wrote a letter to a friend who’d asked him for advice. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a big deal – 57 years ago letters were how people communicated. What stands out is that Thompson wrote this letter way before anyone knew who he was. In my opinion, this letter is a pure statement of faith, written by someone who’d become one of the most influential writers of our time, solely for the purpose of helping his friend. I know the letter wasn’t written to me, but I read it like it was and I’d like to share it with you. 

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume, 

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do!

AA2For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

AA13And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal?

That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man.

AA8We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on.

Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

AA3The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

AA17I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise.

So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. 

WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES. 

AA7But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

AA5As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

AA10In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

AA9So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

AA11If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it.

AA1There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company. 

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your friend,

Hunter S. Thompson

REAL CRIME WRITING FROM A REAL DETECTIVE

By day, Adam ‘R’ is a true-to-life, serving Detective. By night, he advises screenwriters and novelists on realism in their craft. Every day Adam lives in the policing line-of-fire and today he shares his thoughts on DyingWords. 

Adam  HomepageDid you see the story about the Detective Sergeant that can’t sleep until the case is solved? You know the one, where this maverick cop breaks all the rules to nab the crook… because this time…it’s personal?

It’s not only cliché, it’s not reality. Detectives work heinous cases every single day and yet they balance their case loads with their regular lives away from work. They still pick up groceries, spend time with the kids, pay bills, and try to remember to put the trash out just like everyone else, regardless of how sickening, depressing, or exciting their work life is.

Adam McconIf you don’t intend to delve into your detective’s personal life, you should probably ask yourself:  Are the circumstances of your story’s “case” really going to cause your detective to be so emotionally invested? Convince your reader that this case is something special. It needs to be for it to be plausible that your detective forgets about the rest of daily life.

Next, there’s the maverick cliché. It takes far more than workaholism and a lacking social life to be a great detective. It takes knowing “the rules” inside and out, and being the best at playing WITHIN those rules! Detectives are investigating law-breakers; they generally shouldn’t be the ones breaking the law. Breaking the rules usually means letting the bad guy go free eventually.

Adam McnultyAs the author, you should understand the consequences your detective faces for not playing by the rules. Just as you want to keep your story moving, real detectives don’t want to waste time when a life is on the line or a suspect might be moments from getting away.

So how do we play by the rules and keep the tempo up? Just like your brilliant detective, learn when the Miranda Admonishment and search warrants are required and what the exceptions are. Research the legal term “exigent circumstances” to learn when your detective can legally boot the suspect’s door without a search warrant.

Another tool your detective should be familiar with is a “telephonic search warrant”. 

Adam Telepone warrantTo obtain that search warrant quickly, your detective doesn’t need to run back to the office and start typing. Armed with an audio recorder and a telephone, your detective can get a prosecutor and a judge on the phone and verbally explain the probable cause for the search warrant. Once the judge says the warrant is approved, your detective can now legally bust down the door. There is obviously a little more to the real legal paperwork process after the recorded phone call, but consider it another tool your fictional detective has for doing things the real way.

Adam badgeYou’ll notice that I keep referring to your protagonist as a “Detective.” It’s important to note that “Detective” is usually a formal rank, one that is one step above a uniformed patrol officer. The rank is often abbreviated as “Det.” and is often equivalent to a Corporal. A detective’s main responsibility is to follow up on the investigations that are started by the uniformed officer’s initial response to a crime.

One of the departures from reality that authors commonly make is to give their investigating protagonist a rank higher than Detective, usually to make the character seem more important or experienced. The reality is the higher the rank your character holds, the less likely s/he is to be actually playing an active role in the investigation. Or worse, s/he is more likely to be a controlling micro-manager that the subordinate Detectives dislike.

Adam IronsideThe rank of Sergeant (or Detective Sergeant) is that of a line-level supervisor, overseeing a team/squad/bureau of Detectives. The Detective Sergeant is the one that will be reviewing all of the incoming reports from the patrol division and assigning workable cases to the Detectives s/he supervises. The Det. Sgt. usually reviews and approves search warrants or reports before being officially submitted. Most importantly, the Det. Sgt. is the one who acts as a buffer between the Detectives and Management.

The rank of Lieutenant (or Detective Lieutenant) is usually considered middle-management. Think of Lieutenants as the spreadsheet obsessed bosses that are mainly worried about budgets and statistics, just like any middle-manager found in the corporate world.

Adam HannaIf you’ve chosen a specific department for your character’s employment, do the research on their rank structure. For example, LAPD has multiple tiers of Detective Rank, such as D-2 or D-3. Some agencies don’t utilize the Lieutenant rank. In the United States, West Coast police agencies rarely have “Majors” or “Colonels” as titles in their rank structure, whereas those ranks are more common in Eastern and Southern states.

If your character is a Det. Sgt., a Det. Lt., or a DCI (for our UK authors), you might be overshooting his or her rank versus the true assignment. None of this is to say you shouldn’t use artistic license in your storytelling.

However, nailing the realities of the police work aspect will make the suspension of disbelief a little easier when the rest of your story leads somewhere a little more off the wall.

*   *   *

Adam AdvisorAdam R. is a real-life, serving Detective in Southern California who also provides technical advising to authors and screenwriters. Adam asked that his last name be masked out of caution for conflict of interest. To learn more about the realities of police work, and how it applies to creating realistic fiction, visit Adam’s blog:

http://www.writersdetective.com/

Follow him on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/writersdetctive

 

 

26 EYE-OPENING WRITING TIPS FROM GREAT AUTHORS

A2All serious writers continually strive to improve their craft.  The best upcoming authors look to the best established writers, historic and current, for advice. Here are 26 timeless, eye-opening tips from some of the most successful authors ever to put words on paper.

The first draft of everything is shit. – Ernest Hemingway

Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, and judgementally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. – David Ogilvy

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker

A3If you intend to write as honestly as you can then your days as a member of polite society are numbered. – Stephen King

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. – Harper Lee

A4Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. – Paul Theroux

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. – Jack London

My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip. – Elmore Leonard

A5Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. – George Orwell

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. – W. Somerset Maugham

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman

A15Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright

If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser

Write the book the way it should be written, then give it to somebody to put in the commas and shit. – Elmore Leonard

A8Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway

Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain

A1If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. – Elmore Leonard

Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. – Neil Gaiman

The scariest moment in writing is just before the start. – Stephen King

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. – Ray Bradbury

A13Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway

Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

It’ s okay to write shitty first drafts – Anne Lamott

And here’s a bonus that I forgot to put in the original post to make it 27 tips:

A16When asked, “How do you write?” I invariably answer, “One word at a time,” and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That’s all. One stone at a time. But I’ve read you can see that motherfucker from space without a telescope. – Stephen King