Never Say You Can’t Survive
By Charlie Jane Anders
Tor (240 pages, $22.99 hardcover/13.99 eBook, August 17, 2021)
Let’s talk writing for a minute.
Ask a published writer at any level and they’ll tell you writing is, in some respect, a colossal pain in the ass. (Can’t remember if I’m allowed to say “ass” here but let’s leave it and see what happens.) Superstar authors with massive advances and multi-book deals rightfully claim that it’s tough to maintain the passion when writing becomes the day job. Folks at the opposite end of that career spectrum point out how demoralizing it is trying to break in. We’re all at the mercy of luck, circumstance, editor whims, etc, and it can be tough. But we’re passionate about telling stories, so we keep doing it anyway.
Which makes something like Charlie Jane Anders’ Never Say You Can’t Survive so incredibly valuable, and so poignant given the rough year and a half for a lot of creatives. Or longer, if we’re being honest. I read some of Charlie Jane’s essays for this book when they published on Tor.com last spring, and honestly they kept me going when I thought I was creatively dead in the water. Watching the world essentially fall apart is awful for anyone, but trying to create amidst that turmoil is a specific kind of demon.
The reason why Never Say You Can’t Survive works so well is that Charlie Jane doesn’t use platitudes or aphorisms to make things seem brighter, or suggest gritty resolve and writing every day. Like with her fiction, she acknowledges the sticky weirdness of being a creator, and uses humor, raw honesty, and helpful tips to provide a path forward for anyone who’s stuck. And let’s face it, many of us are at different stages of our careers.
From idea generation, to plotting, to revising, to impostor syndrome, Charlie Jane covers a lot of the basics. But this isn’t your generic “tools for the writer” sort of book. This is a genuine, heartfelt, conversational series of essays meant to help any kind of writer through the rough patch. There’s no “have to” or “should” in here – only kindness and warmth, reminding us that just because the world sucks sometimes, it doesn’t mean we can’t still create and have fun.
Never Say You Can’t Survive is the best writing advice book I’ve seen in a long time, and will have a permanent place on my shelf from now until I quit. Which, with this book in my toolbox, will likely be never.
An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon has been published in On Spec, Pulp Literature, THIS Magazine, and elsewhere. His latest story “Soulmark” (about selling your soul and rock ‘n’ roll) appears in issue #7 of Fusion Fragment. You can follow Brandon at brandoncrilly.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @B_Crilly.