Whiskey and Cats, Sans Pants


I recently found some much-needed writing inspiration and encouragement by way of a book by Jeff Somers called Writing Without Rules: How to Write & Sell a Novel Without Guidelines, Experts, or (Occasionally) Pants. As you might guess, this book is often silly and irreverent, filled with asides about whiskey and cats, self-deprecating jokes, and rambling footnotes. However, I found good advice and interesting food for thought in it, as well as some welcome motivation to pick up one of my unfinished novels and finish it. Plus, it’s a very entertaining read.

I must warn, however, that this book is not for everyone. Jeff’s humor and long-winded anecdotes worked well for me, but may not for others. More importantly, beginning writers should take some of Jeff Somers’s more unconventional tips with, not merely a grain, but heaps of salt. For example, in a section of the short story chapter (which is actually, cleverly, a short story itself), Jeff seems to imply that the guidelines of short story markets are flexible and needlessly complicated and can be safely ignored. As someone who has worked as an editorial assistant and slush reader for a short story magazine, I beg you, DO NOT IGNORE GUIDELINES! Doing so makes you look unprofessional and generally ensures a swift rejection. Please, please read and follow guidelines.

Luckily, as an experienced reader and submitter of short stories, I was able to see through the untenable surface implications of this passage to the point I think Jeff was trying to make, as shown in this excerpt: “One simple fact of life is that people tell you the things they wish to be. When someone tells you they’re tough, a no-nonsense person, that’s what they want you to think of them; whether it has anything to do with reality is another matter altogether. It’s the same for fiction markets. An editor will tell you they want X, but as often as not, you show them Y and they go for it.” For me, this was the takeaway: not that guidelines for genre, word count, formatting, specific details about content/themes, etc. should be ignored, but that philosophical statements in some guidelines–i.e. “We want intricate, experimental stories and poems with gorgeous prose, verve, and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs” (Uncanny Magazine, one of my favorite SFF short story magazines)–are more subjective and nebulous, and one need not necessarily self-reject because of them.

All this being said, Jeff states from the beginning of the book that there are as many unique paths to being a successful writer as there are writers themselves, and he mentions repeatedly that you should take any writing advice proposed by self-styled gurus, including his own, with a grain of salt, taking what works for you and leaving the rest. Personally, I adored Writing Without Rules, and it helped give me the confidence boost I needed to work on novels again. Check out my Amazon review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3LIELKXVTGWIR and the book itself here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1440352925/