The thoughts and work of Sam Witt

Loving the Grind

A manual grind stone being used by a womanI’ve spoken before about my writing career and how the first part of it hit the ground like a lawn dart and exploded into a fireball that almost took me out. I’ve spent years climbing back out of the crater that I made for myself, which has given me a lot of time for bitching, moaning, and navel-gazing.

Looking back on that time period and the years in between, I think I finally figured out the root of all those problems. I really, really wish I’d had a better idea about what all this writer business was before it got out of hand and I lost my way in the wilderness that is my own herky-jerky thought machine. Short version:

I was kind of a lazy fucker.

Longer version after the jump.

Don’t get me wrong. I was still writing during all those dead, dreary years. I wrote nonfiction for a per-word-rate that was decent, putting ideas that weren’t my own onto paper to build a corpus of work for other people. I generated an epic amount of fiction that was, by and large, pretty shit. My day job was technical writing, which is great for honing basic composition skills but also a mind-killer when it comes to writing fiction.

All of that, all those millions of words, look great stacked up in sheafs of paper that reach to the ceiling. From the outside, I was a busy little beaver. But, inside, I was being so very, very lazy and I was cheating myself of the fruits of my labors.

Because I was only doing the fun part, the actual writing. I kept putting one word after another, hoping the trail of ink would eventually lead me out of the wilderness. It was the lazy kind of production, only doing the parts you want and not doing the parts that let you actually do something well.

The real success as a writer comes from the parts of being a writer that I used to hate, because I didn’t really understand them and didn’t want to stop doing the part I loved to learn about The Grind.

Do not be like me.

The Grind looks unsexy from the outside, but it’s where your writing or painting or Excel spreadsheets or blood rituals or whatever else you do changes from something decent into something awesome.

For a writer, The Grind can take a lot of different forms, but they’re all important.

The Grind Part 1 – Get a Plan

Stories have an internal logic that holds them together and makes them more interesting and readable than the ink jizz I filled up notebooks during my younger, more vigorous days. Everyone has their own idea about story mechanics, and I won’t try to sell you on what I think is the best, but you need to understand how all that fiddly crap works. If you don’t, you will write and write and write and write until your fingers bleed and your eyes swell shut, but you won’t write anything people want to read. Sorry.

These story mechanics become the core of the plan for your writing. No one’s asking you to cram everything into some holy formula, but you’re going to have to take your stream of consciousness monkey scrawls and hammer them into a shape someone else can recognize as a thing we can all agree is a story. If you want to get really organized, turn that plan into an outline or a beat sheet or a scene catalog or a pretty snowflake schematic of your forthcoming literary crime.

This part of The Grind is about understanding what it is you’re going to do, what you need to do to make that work, and having a plan to get that work done.

The Fun Part – Wheeeeeeeee, I’m Squirting Phosphors!

Once you’ve got your plan down, put it into action. Slam the pedal to the floor and enjoy the ride. Because once you get done spraying your janky thoughtsquirts onto the screen, we’re back to The Grind.

The Grind Part 2 – Grinding Off the Dull Bits

Man, that was fun. Hoowee you sure did get them words out. You’ve crafted a monolithic edifice to your own creativity, a big ol’ slab of wordiron dredged up from the very core of your soul. It’s enormous and kind of scary and I bet you want to snuggle up against it like a fuzzy puppy to its mama’s belly.

Too bad.

It’s time to gut that bitch.

This is the part that used to mess me up the worst. Killing your darlings isn’t just a cute phrase, it’s the gut-wrenching truth. Your first draft, it’s kinda  crap. Edit. Slice. Dice. Chop. Hack. Spindle. Fold. Mutilate. If it’s not good, cut it out. If that doesn’t leave you with a manuscript, but instead with a Swiss cheese mess of scenes that don’t hang together, then write better next time.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Then get someone else to edit it and tell you what you missed.

It’s the only way, young padawan.

The Grind Part 4 – Talkin’ ‘Bout Talkin’ ‘Bout

This part of The Grind is totally optional. Provided you are willing to write purely for your own entertainment and do not give one single fuck about anyone else ever reading it or ever getting paid for what you’ve done.

Or if you’re willing to take the chance that in some far distant future alien archaeologists will discover your scribbled pages and declare them works of astonishing awesomeness and your name will ring out through the ages as a great and undiscovered genius.

Neither of these is a great plan if you want to be a writer who gets paid to write.

The age of the introverted author is over. No one is going to discover you squatting over there in the dank corner of your basement squeezing wordpaste from your turgid brainbowels. 

You have to get to know people. You have to go where your readers are, be it Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, the latex body suit forums, or wherever else your potential fans live their digital lives, and engage with them. Eventually, people will start to know who you are and that you have books for sale. Those people may buy books from you.

You can also partner with other sites, make cute little videos of your cute little self, and cross-promote with your fellow authors.

Shed your introverted husk and spread your glittering wordwings, writer. Show the world your stuff.

And never stop doing it – because if you’re not talking about how great your work is, why should anyone else?

The Grind Part 5 – Produce

And here we get to the end of The Grind for a project. You’ve laid out your plan. You spurted your words onto the page. You and a trusted second party went at your inksquizzle with hatchets and blowtorches and fashioned from them a lean, mean, brain-penetrating machine.

You even made some friends along the way.

All cool. All awesome.

Now comes the part where you take your widdle biddy baby and wrap it up in the finest linens (or, you know, some kickass coverart), and kick that little fucker out into the world. Publish. On Amazon. Smashwords. iTunes. Unca Jimmy’s Jiggly Internet Hut o’ Jammin’ Books.

Or maybe you ship out query letters to agents and get your product out that way.

Prepare your thoughtvirus and then unleash it on the world, so the people can praise your awesomeness and drench you in spritzing Cristal for what you’ve done.

The Grind – Part Omega and Alpha

Do. It. Again.



Learn to love The Grind, because it is the way to succeed at what you do.

The Grind is what turns someone who writes, someone who draws, someone who thinks up cool shit, into an artist with an audience.

Do you have your own version of The Grind? Post a comment, I’m always interested to hear from others about their work process!

About Sam

I am the author of the popular Pitchfork County series of horror novels. I also write a newsletter with great reading suggestions and free fiction.