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Introductions and Caveat Emptors

Hi there.

This is a book about writing. But! It is not a book about how to write. God knows there are enough books on that particular subject, not to mention classes and workshops and Web sites and public television shows, and the thought of trying to cram another one of those books down the gullet of the public makes me want to jam my head into the nearest garbage disposal. I barely know how I write; trying to tell others how they should write seems fraught with peril. My only real advice to you in that regard is to find a nice, strenuous composition class so you don't get tripped up by the laughable mess that is English language grammar, and then write and write and write and write, and then write some more. That's what worked for me, so far as I can tell.

So there: if you were looking for my advice on how to write, you're done! That was easy. Set this book down and go about your life. I look forward to reading your books.

This is about everything else to do with writing, from the business of writing, to the stupid things writers do to sabotage themselves, to how writers interact with other writers, to various thoughts about the different sorts of writing out there. In short, it's about the writing life—or at the very least, my writing life, which is the one I am most qualified to discuss.

The essays you'll read in this book are entries that I have written over a five year period (from 2001 to early 2006) on my personal Web site, the Whatever ( During this time I've written and/or published and/or signed contracts for ten books, wrote for newspapers and magazines, was paid to blog and write online, and wrote lots of anonymous but stupidly lucrative corporate work. It's been an interesting time in my writing life, and through all of it I've been posting my thoughts about writing (and my writing) online.

Since these entries are tied in to my professional writing life to a greater or lesser extent, they tend to be practical-minded; not so much about the art of writing as the practice of it. As I say a number of places in the book, I love writing but I'm not especially romantic about it. It's groovy to talk about writing as this great thing, but my mortgage is due at the first of the month, and paying that is a great thing, too. This is off-putting to some folks; I totally understand that. This probably won't be your kind of book if these practical aspects of the writing life don't hold much interest to you.

On the other hand, if you are interested in what it's like to be a full-time working writer here in the first slice of the twenty-first century, I think there'll be a lot for you here. I don't know about anyone else who writes for a living, but I've been having a hell of a lot of fun these last few years doing this job. It's a good and exciting time to be a writer, and I think that comes through. At the very least, I guarantee you that if I have managed to transmit half of what being a writer is like these days, you won't be bored reading this.

* * *

This book is organized very loosely into four chapters. The first chapter is actual writing advice, because even though this isn't a book on how to write, if you are writing, there's lots to say about it. The second chapter is about the writing life—I write a lot about money there. The third chapter is on writers, and mostly about writers doing stupid things. Think of this chapter largely as cautionary tales. The final chapter is about science fiction, the genre in which I wrote almost all of my fiction so far. Read it even if you don't read science fiction; a lot of what's written about there is applicable across genres.

The entries in these chapters skip back and forth across time—they're arranged mostly for flow and for interest. Lots of topics will get explored but I suspect some topics will not always be explored to everyone's satisfaction—there's only so much space and so many things to cover. But I write at the Whatever on a close to daily basis—if there's something about writing you'd like to ask me, you can always drop me an e-mail ( and maybe I'll write about it there. If I get enough questions, maybe I'll be able to crank out a sequel to this in 2010. Everyone wins.

I hope you enjoy the book. Thanks for reading.

—John Scalzi January 24, 2006.

Dedicated to Laurence McMillin, who is not here to know;
And to Daniel Mainz, who is.

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