Writer Blog: How to Bootstrap

I’ve been talking to someone about writing, about learning to write, about integrating parts of your life so you have something to write about…

…and she’s kind of soaking it up like a sponge.

It’s eerie.

(I’m perfectly fine running at the mouth, but having people take me seriously gives me the creeps.  I’m not built to be an authority, even though that’s where it feels like I’m going sometimes.  Ugh.)

Here’s the deal, though:

No matter what writing advice I give, no matter what I say, every writer has to do it for themselves.  It?  What it?


Bootstrapping:  the act of walking up an imaginary staircase by pulling yourself up by the straps of your boots, one step at a time.

Every single writer you’ve ever read?  Bootstrapped themselves.  (Except those employing ghost writers, but even then the ghostwriter had to do it.)  And every single short story, every single book, brings new challenges which then must be bootstrapped on an individual basis.  You don’t ever magically get to a point where writing stops requiring bootstrappery.

If you wanted to identify a single meta-skill that would put you further ahead in writing, it’s this:

Learn to read faster.

Not joking.

But if you could name two skills that would put you further ahead in your writing, here’s the second one:

Learn to bootstrap.

Seriously.  It’s not just a writing skill, it’s an everything skill.  But how do you do it?

I can only tell you how I did it…because everyone, of necessity, bootstraps differently.

  • I don’t accept other people’s advice until I’ve tested both the advice and the opposite of the advice, or at least the cost of not following the advice.  Yes, I will stick my hand into the fire just because someone told me not to.  Because sometimes people tell you bullshit things like, “Don’t eat the cake, it doesn’t taste good.”  Just because they don’t like cake.  Is it cake or is it fire?  Nobody else gets to decide.  Plus, if you’re too scared of the fire, you never learn how to make cake.
  • When testing advice, I test the holy crap out of it.  I don’t just try it once.  I try it multiple times, in multiple moods, in as many ways as I can think of.  Even bad advice, if it catches my eye.
  • @#$% perfection.  Nothing I make is going to be perfect, right?  Nothing anybody else makes is going to be perfect, either.  Especially when I try to apply it to my own imperfect self.
  • Instead of searching for perfection, I search for the razor’s edge between satisfaction and discomfort.  Comfort Zone | Outside Comfort Zone.  I shoot for that moment where I have no idea where I’m on familiar ground or not.  If I head too far out into the unknown all at once, I shut down and start telling myself that it’s too hard, that I have no idea what I’m doing, etc.
  • I don’t make anyone else responsible for teaching me.  I hope.  This is a lifetime’s habit to break.  I’ve had to learn how to disobey, ignore, subvert, mock, destroy, and otherwise spit on the idea of following directions.
  • At the same time, though, because bootstrapping is a paradox anyway, I had to learn to respect the giants upon whose shoulders I stand.  Even the midgets who wrote nothing but crap filled with typos and handed it out from a Xerox machine, I stand on their shoulders.  I’m heavy.  Show some @#$%^& respect.
  • I ditch what’s not working, even if it used to work.  This is kind of sad, actually.  Because nothing happens without touching other people’s lives.   I turns out the people I value the most support me, the ongoing project.  I treasure you [mwah! mwah!] and try to follow your example by supporting your and other people’s changes, even the ones who whine whenever I don’t do what they want.  Because bootstrapping isn’t without hypocrisy, as we learn to pull our heads out of our butts.
  • I keep faith.  This isn’t like “Every day I wake up and I am filled with faith!”  This is more like keeping the fire going or keeping kosher.  It’s @#$%^& work.  Writer’s faith:  I keep working at this, I’ll get better.  The only mistakes are 1) not trying, and 2) not accepting that mistakes are mistakes, so I can learn from them.

Finally, I pass it on.  What I, personally, have to say isn’t all that new.  But it might be a clue that someone else hasn’t picked up yet.  And if nobody passed on what they learned, we’d be screwed within a generation.

We’re completely alone in our bootstrapping…and yet we’re all in this together.  Cheesy but true.

So: don’t make me the first voice you listen to, or even the hundredth.  If you can’t learn to listen to yourself, it’s always going to be a waste of time to listen to me, or to listen to anybody.

Writers and artists don’t need their hands held and their egos stroked…they need their asses kicked.  The best way to get this done is to make it a self-kicking ass.


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