S.G. Browne

Five Stupid Non-Writing Things Writers Do

There are all sorts of bad habits writers can get into and all sorts of distractions that can keep us from doing what we’re supposed to be doing, which is writing. We can spend all day on the Internet. Play video games. Watch the entire first season of Breaking Bad in one day on Netflix streaming.

This list could be called Ten Stupid Non-Writing Things Writers Do. Or twenty. Or fifty. But I decided instead to list just the following five, which are really less about habits and distractions and more about destructive behaviors that can have a significant impact on your writing.

1) Read Your Reviews
Yes, I know. How are you not supposed to read your reviews? And if you’re fortunate enough to get a positive review from Kirkus or Entertainment Weekly or The Washington Post, of course you’re going to read it and share it with others. But if you’re constantly reading about what others are saying about your books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Goodreads, that’s when you get into trouble. Not everyone is going to love your book. And as most reviewers will tell you, the reviews aren’t there for you. The reviews are there for other readers. Which leads to Stupid Non-Writing Thing #2.

2) Get Attached to Reviews
Every writer knows that a bad review can ruin your day and that the best way to get over a bad review is to read a good review. Though you’ll have to follow the Rule of Ten and read ten good reviews to offset the one bad review. But whether the reviews are positive or negative, don’t get attached to them. After all, writing is subjective. What someone thinks about your book has nothing to do with whether it’s good or not. What ultimately matters is how you feel about the book. Don’t let the opinions of others dictate how you feel about your writing.

3) Argue With Reviewers
Never, ever, ever argue with someone about a bad review of your book. Again, writing is subjective. And as I’ve said before, the truth of creation is no more valid than the truth of interpretation. When you let your creations out into the world, they no longer belong to just you. They belong to everyone who reads them. So whatever someone thinks about your book is true for them and to argue about it makes you look like an idiot. Which is another reason why you should avoid doing Stupid Non-Writing Thing #1.

4) Get Fixated On Sales Numbers
While selling books and making your living as a writer is something every writer hopes to do, the sales aren’t always there. Or what you hoped they would be. When this happens, it’s easy to get fixated on your sales and start measuring your value as a writer in the number of books you’ve sold. This will only lead you to a dark place. So stop focusing on book sales and focus on the satisfaction and the gratification the act and art of writing gives to you. Even if your sales are better than expected or beyond your wildest dreams, don’t allow that to impact your writing. Whether you sell a hundred books or a hundred thousand doesn’t change what you’ve written. It’s still the same book. And you still wrote it.

5) Spend All Day on Facebook and Twitter
Yes, social networking is important in this day and age, but you need to have some balance, and the balance should be weighted more heavily toward writing, not Tweeting or Facebooking. Plus it’s good to disconnect. Get out and have new experiences. Receive stimulation from a world that doesn’t exist on computers. As Francoise Sagan said: I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live. She didn’t say anything about constantly updating her Facebook status.

Filed under: The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 9:08 am

The Writing Life: Where to Start?

“To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.”
–Nicolas Cage as Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation


Many a writer has had this conversation with himself (or herself), though personally I would be thinking about a blueberry muffin or a cranberry scone instead. Who am I kidding? I’m an apple fritter guy. So yeah, that would be my pastry of choice.

The point is, as difficult as it can be to finish a book or a story or a screenplay, there’s always that moment at the beginning where you’re trying to figure out how to start. Sometimes it’s easy. You hear some song lyrics or read something in the news or a line just comes to you out of nowhere and you’re off and running. Or rather, off and writing.

Other times, you sit and stare at a blank screen or a blank page and run through an internal dialogue similar to what Nicolas Cage does above. When that happens, you can spend hours searching for a beginning. Looking for the door that opens into your story.

I’ve had my fair share of both. And as I’ve mentioned before, since I don’t plot out my stories but discover them as I go, my opening line is always the impetus that propels me forward to the next discovery. I usually don’t have any idea where the story is going or where it’s going to end or what it’s going to be about until my characters start talking and doing things and letting me know what’s happening. So the opening line helps to get me going.

However, that’s not to say that I wait to come up with the perfect opening line every time. Something close is helpful. And even though I might think my opening is perfect, there’s always the chance that I’ll go back and change it to make it better. Or completely different.

My original opening to Breathers began with:

My name is Andrew and I’m a survivor.

The first chapter took place in his Undead Anonymous support group. It wasn’t until halfway through the 82 rejections I received that I moved the Undead Anonymous chapter to Chapter Two and wrote a new opening chapter with Andy waking up drunk on the kitchen floor and finding his parents stuffed into the Amana bottom freezer.

I don’t think that necessarily helped to land an agent, but I think it started the story off on a more active note. It’s not everyday you wake up and realize you’ve killed your parents and stuffed them into the refrigerator between the mayonnaise and the leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

While the opening chapter to my second novel, Fated, remained more or less the same and took place in a shopping mall in Paramus, NJ, the original opening line was:

I look at people and see what they’re going to be like in twenty years.

Eventually, after making some edits and adding a list of rules to the manuscript, I rewrote the opening to read:

Rule #1: Don’t get involved.

This worked on several levels and helped to tie some things together. It also set up the rule to be broken because that’s what rules are there for.

So even though the opening is important, just because you don’t come up with the perfect opening to start with, if you walk through the right door, the opening you’re looking for will eventually find you.

Below are several opening lines I’ve come up with that never wavered and led to two short stories and a novel that were inspired by: 1) a song from Beck; 2) my first novel; and 3) a writing exercise.

Grandpa only had one finger left and it was pointing at the door.
(From my short story “Softland,” which will appear in my upcoming e-book short story collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel, available March 27.)

Is it necrophilia if you’re both dead?
(From my short story “Zombie Gigolo,” inspired by my novel Breathers; “Zombie Gigolo” can be found in Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel, as well as in The Living Dead 2.)

It’s my understanding that naked women don’t generally tend to carry knives.
(From my third novel Lucky Bastard, scheduled for release on April 17.)

Sometimes, the first time is the charm.

Filed under: Just Blogging,Lucky Bastard,The Writing Life — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 7:14 am

I’m Your Boogie Man

I’m not one of those cool, edgy writers you see all over the place. I don’t listen to Nine Inch Nails or Metallica and I didn’t go through a Goth phase in high school or take up smoking. And I don’t dress all in black and wear Doc Martens to show my rebellious side. Hell, I own the soundtracks to Saturday Night Fever and Grease and I don’t think any party mix is complete without “Get Down Tonight” by KC & the Sunshine Band.

So instead of Metallica, you’re more likely to find me listening to The Beatles or Weezer. In high school I went through a preppy phase and wore button-fly 501s and Izod shirts and had three pair of Sperry Topsiders. My favorite band was Night Ranger and I had a haircut like Rick Springfield. And the closest I get now to being rebellious is listening to old Green Day or not coming to a full stop at a STOP sign.

Rather than black jeans and leather, I’m most comfortable in board shorts and T-shirts. I wear classic Ray Ban Wayfarers. And I own half a dozen Hawaiian shirts. If I could I would go barefoot all of the time. When I do wear shoes, I like my Chuck Taylors. And whereas most writers drink scotch or whiskey, I can’t stand the stuff. Chalk it up to a couple of bad experiences in high school with Chivas Regal and Jack Daniels. Give me a Guinness or a mojito, or any rum drink, and I’m good to go.

Oh, and that thing about writers and coffee? I never developed the habit. Sure, I’ll have an occasional cappuccino or mocha but never just a cup of straight coffee. I was 44 years old before I lost my virginity to Starbucks and Peet’s. And that was only because I was doing research for my next novel, Lucky Bastard.

So that’s me in a nutshell. Or in a beach chair with a cold Corona and some colorful board shorts. Now if you’ll excuse me, “I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC & the Sunshine Band is rocking on my iTunes.

Filed under: The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 8:15 am

Shooting Monkeys & Lucky Bastards

Hello 2012. Pleasure to meet you. How have you been? What’s that? You’ve got some news to share? And it has to do with shooting monkeys and lucky bastards? Well, now, that does sound interesting. Tell me more…

On March 27 I’ll be releasing an e-book collection of ten short stories titled Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel. Details on pricing and availability are TBD but you’ll be able to get it for your Kindle, Nook, iPad, and any other e-reader you might be partial to. While it’s not available for pre-order yet, you can read a description of the ten stories included in the collection on my previous blog post Zombie Gigolos, Luck Poachers, & Dream Girls.

Three weeks later, on April 17, my third novel, Lucky Bastard, will be released into the wild in hardcover. Although the final cover hasn’t yet been approved, you can click on the link to read a description of the book and pre-order if you’re so inclined. You can also read a brief description below:

Nick Monday is a private detective with a penchant for coffeehouse baristas and the ability to steal other people’s luck. Politicians and celebrities. Lottery winners and game show contestants. Accident survivors and successful athletes. All it takes is a handshake and Nick walks away with their good fortune, which he sells on the black market to the highest bidder. But lately, business has been slow.

So when the sexy daughter of San Francisco’s mayor offers Nick $100,000 to find her father’s stolen luck, Nick thinks this is his big break. But he soon ends up blackmailed by the feds, kidnapped by the Chinese mafia, and accosted by vegans and angry naked women with knives…all while trying to save a ten-year-old kid with the purest luck he’s ever seen.

Finally, on July 17, I’ll have another short story appearing in the anthology 21st Century Dead, edited by Christopher Golden. “Reality Bites” is a short story about the lengths a couple of Hollywood producers will go to in order to have the #1 rated zombie reality show.

That’s it for now. More updates to come as release dates get closer. And thanks for the good news, 2012. This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.