The CTFD Writing Method

By Boyd Morrison

Dear Me Five Years Ago,

I just read about a revolutionary new parenting method created by David Vienna called CTFD, or Calm The F*ck Down. Vienna proposes that kids are resilient and will grow up to be fine if parents would stop worrying about every little thing so much. CTFD isn’t for the children. It’s the parents who need to calm the f*ck down. I think his method has great lessons for you, so listen up.

As an unpublished author, you are concerned about everything (yes, I still remember like it was yesterday). You have so many concerns, I wonder now how you get any writing done. They go on and on: How will you get published? What if you’re writing isn’t good enough? Why doesn’t an agent want to represent you? Will you ever be able to do this for a living? Good God, you’re a mess.

I’m writing from the future to tell you…calm the f*ck down.

Even after you get Irene Goodman as an agent, you’re going to wonder why no publisher wants you (BTW, she advocated pretty much this same method, but you won’t really take it to heart at the time). When you get published by a big six publisher, you’re going to fret over the marketing for your first book even though most of it is out of your control. While you’re doing all that, you’re going stagger under the pressure of writing a great follow-up, convinced that you’ve run out of ideas.

Calm the f*ck down.

You’re going to give me an ulcer if you keep worrying about every little thing. You need to pace yourself. You’re so consumed with how that one book is going to be received that you’re not realizing you have a whole career ahead of you. I (we? you?) have six books published now, and I can assure you that there will be plenty of ups and downs in the coming years.

You’ve written three books without getting published? CTFD. Steve Berry wrote eight in twelve years before he got published. If you’re serious about making writing you’re job, don’t get hung up on those books. If they don’t sell, keep writing. You never know what’s going to be your breakout. When you were working at Microsoft, did you tell your boss: “My project is done—well-funded retirement, please!”? No, you went on to the next project.

You plan to be writing for the next forty years. That’s at least forty books ahead of you. Hell, Dean Koontz has written a hundred novels, and it took him forty before he wrote one you’ve heard of. You’re complaining that you’re career hasn’t taken off after three?

Buddy, calm the f*ck down.

I’m telling you, there’s no secret sauce. There’s hard work and luck. Sure, you’d love to have that one stratospheric hit that reaps millions of dollars and readers around the world. But here’s the thing: you have no idea which book that will be. It may be the next book or it may be ten books down the road.

Stop focusing on the book you just finished. It’s done. Yes, do your best to get the word out about  it, but then move on and write another one. As James Scott Bell said in his blog yesterday, if you’re passionate about the story, odds are some other people will be, too. Maybe even a lot of people.

And if the next book doesn’t resonate with people, calm the f*ck down. You’ve got forty more chances to make it happen.

CTFD,
Five Years Later You

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22 thoughts on “The CTFD Writing Method

  1. Funny but similar parenting advice that I gave my girls. First, kids are built tough to compensate for the lack of a good owner’s manual. Second, anything that didn’t require a trip to the emergency room was a learning experience.

    In the ultrarunning world, there are a pair of concepts that work in nearly everything including,I’ve noticed, writing:
    1. Perpetual forward progress. Just keep moving, learning, writing.
    2. You are an experiment of one. What worked for {insert successfully author} may not work for you. If it doesn’t, see Rule 1.

    Your mileage, as always, may vary. A corollary of Rule 2.

  2. Boyd, for years now — decades — when I find myself spinning in circles in the middle of the room I say to myself “Settle. DOWN!” It works.

    Also…many are familiar with the Serenity Prayer, which is along the lines of changing the things I can, accepting the things I can’t, and having the wisdom to know the difference. There is also a short form of the prayer which I say each morning upon rising:
    “F*ck it. Just f*ck it.”

  3. I have never heard my parents use the F word. It doesn’t come easily to me but my husband, bless him, uses it quite a bit and always with feeling. Strangely, I admire this about him.

    This is a very timely post and I’m going to practice my new mantra. Maybe not out loud, not at first. But, hopefully, by the end of this month, I’ll be able to yell CTFD at my writer self on a daily basis.

    Dare to dream.

  4. {{{WHOMP!}}}}

    Sound of big hard board hitting me upside the head. Thanks…I needed that, Boyd.

    I am five chapters into book no. 14. (This doesn’t include the ones that didn’t get published) and I still need to CTFD.

    And while we are calming the f*ck down, it’s good to remember that you shouldn’t be worrying about step 15 when you’re still back on step 3.

    Slower is often faster, grasshopper….

  5. We’re too much of a Type A society to get this without being told in an obvious, but lighthearted manner, as you have here. People need to realize there are things we can’t make happen, as they are out of our control. Get over it.

  6. All hail the well-placed asterisk.

    As writer/psychologist Dennis Palumbo says in his fine book, Writing From the Inside Out, “Every hour you spend writing is an hour not spent fretting about your writing.”

  7. Boyd, I might need to pin this above my desk…though it will be a miracle if i ever manage to abide by it:) Great advice!

  8. …yessir!
    That calmed me down a bit, and got me thinkin about reincarnation

    If I don’t get published this time around, I may have another shot—so—CTFD.

    • Dave– if you care more about getting published in the next life than dying in this one– you are an amazing optimist, my friend.

    • Oh goodie, do we get another life after this one? I’ll look forward to skipping 80’s Big Hair next go-round, plus a certain fiendish PE coach I had to endure in the eighth grade.

  9. Jordan…
    Since I neither share an optimism nor pessimism towards a future life, and I continue to follow a guarded optimism towards this one. I only know that whatever the case of future events, I will continue to act the part of protagonist in my next book of life, “scenes of my soul”.
    Good post Boyd

  10. Wonderful post, Boyd. That’s going to become my new mantra to repeat whenever I get stressed out: CTFD. I might also toss it out as a suggestion to other peeple who are stressing me out, which will pay it forward by helping me CTFD.

  11. What fabulous advice! I was just telling Mr. Stone about this parenting advice and I’ll be damned if adopting this attitude of thinking over the weekend didn’t help. What, you’ve already had seven margaritas and if you have one more you’ll most likely regret it? Who cares. CTFD. 🙂

  12. All day yesterday I wanted to write a comment on this post, but I was piled under by a mass of dayjob work on a hard deadline that absolutely had to be done on time in order for me to take my pre-scheduled leave to join my in-laws on our annual ‘subsistence fishing’ trip. I was stressed beyond belief as I struggled to review, edit, and sign off on over 60 pages of SOPs that some brilliant government genius decided after years of collecting them in a particular format across our entire agency they needed to be collected in a new format…oh…and it needs to be done by Friday…this week…”yes I know it is Monday, but hey that’s 5 days and you may can always reschedule that salmon run, we are after all, the federal government and if the salmon won’t work on our schedule then they’ll just have to settle for the canned stuff right? Right? We knew you’d understand, because you are a dedicated federal employee and we recognize the heroic qualities of your work and devoted service. Thank you so much for all your self-sacrifice and utmost devotion to duty. You are a great example of what we love about our people Roger.”

    “uh…I’m not Roger, I’m Basil.”

    “Right, sorry there Cecil, carry on.”

    “it’s Basil…and the salmon run won’t wait.”

    “No worries…in the end it’s all spam anyway right?”

    “What?”

    and to that I simply decided to sit back and take on a basic ‘Calm the Fstark Down’ attitude and enjoy the fstarking days i have in this fstarking world.

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