Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Starve Better, by Nick Mamatas

How to be a starving writer while biting the hands that feed you.

Starve Better

Apex Publications, 2011, 172 pages

Starve Better makes no promises of making you a bestselling author. It won't feed aspiring writers' dreams of fame and fortune. This book is about survival: how to generate ideas when you needed them yesterday, dialogue and plot on the quick, and what your manuscript is up against in the slush piles of the world. For non-fiction writers, Starve Better offers writing techniques such as how to get (relatively) high-paying assignments in second and third-tier magazines, how to react to your first commissioned assignment, and how to find gigs that pay NOW as the final notices pile up and the mice eat the last of the pasta in the cupboard.

Humor, essays, and some of the most widely read blog pieces from Nick Mamatas, author and editor of fiction that has caught the attention of speculative fiction's most prestigious awards, come together for the first time in a writers' guide that won't teach anyone how to get rich and famous... but it will impart the most valuable skill in the business: how to starve better.

I've read a lot of books about writing. I'm a little beyond most "writer's advice" books now — not because I've got nothing left to learn, but I know how to punctuate dialog, and I know why it's bad to start your story with your protagonist waking up from a dream and examining herself in the mirror. But I like reading books by writers about writing. Stephen King's On Writing is one of the best, and I also liked John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist, even though if I ever do become a novelist, I'll be nothing like John Gardner (or Stephen King, for that matter). I certainly won't be anything like Nick Mamatas.

Mamatas (known here on LJ as nihilistic_kid) is a professional writer. The traditional kind — the starving, write-anything-that-pays-the-rent kind who will rub your nose in your MFA aspirations and your bourgeois laptop-at-the-coffee-shop pretensions. Starve Better is a collection of essays and blog posts that is about half writing advice (or "advice") and half advice on how to make a living as a writer who has to scrounge up rent money this week. Mamatas has been a writing instructor, he's ground out articles for content mills and tiny, niche magazines, he's written a couple of books, and he also wrote a rather infamous piece called The Term Paper Artist (reprinted in this book). I read it years ago and somehow had not realized that that was Nick Mamatas.

These are all interesting, entertaining, and unromanticized short pieces about the writing life. Mamatas acts the curmudgeon and gadfly, but it's obvious he really does love being a writer. He also loves taking the piss out of dilettantes and blowhards and mocking the mockable. (Unsurprisingly, he's Twitter friends with Misandry Shrugs of Requires Only That You Hate.) So he's got something of an online rep. Like John Scalzi (and less affable about it), he pisses people off by saying your writing probably sucks, you've got lousy taste, and you should get some home training before you go to cons and start skeeving on people.

I am one of the people he mocks, someone who once dreamed of being a writer but who went for the day job with health insurance instead, and now monkeys around with a laptop at cafes. But at least I don't write fantatwee. (Actually, I'm not sure where he stands on Harry Potter fanfiction. :( )

If you really are one of those starving writers who means to make a living writing and aren't too proud to scrounge and hustle for whatever freelance jobs you can get, Starve Better seems to offer quite a bit of useful advice, though the publishing landscape is changing so quickly that any advice about current markets is likely to be dated by the time you read this.

Verdict: Starve Better is aimed at would-be writers and anyone who just likes reading about making a living as a writer. Also, anyone who likes to read a writer bagging on critique groups, slush piles, and the inflated distinction between literary and genre fiction. A short, quick read which I enjoyed quite a bit, and has more actual useful advice than you'll get in most "how to improve your writing" books.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, nick mamatas, reviews, writing

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