For some reason, you never come across posts about ‘How Not To Be A Writer’. Which is a little bit odd, really, because wanting to be a writer is a disease, a sickness, and most people (yours truly included, very probably) are never going to get well, aka make it as a successful author. Which means, in turn, that all these helpful bloggers are not unlike enablers in a perverse take on Alcoholics Anonymous (‘Be sure to drink booze every day’; ‘Set yourself a number of drinks, for example ten, and try to drink them all in one sitting, although don’t beat yourself up if you only manage nine.’).
Funnily enough, very few of these posts about how to be a writer start off with (or mention at all) the need for some talent. ‘Before you begin your soul-shrivelling journey into oblivion, first ensure you have a flair for swilling martinis at 3pm in the afternoon, every afternoon. Your wife believing that you are a useless booze-hound simply isn’t enough.’
Anyway, given that being a writer is a tough gig, but wanting to be a writer is that soul-shrivelling experience, and particularly if you lack talent, and that I’ve spent the last two decades embarked on such a journey, I hereby present for your delectation ‘Declan Burke’s How NOT To Be A Writer’ (© Declan Burke, 2012). To wit:
How NOT To Be A Writer
1) Read, read, read, read, read. And keep on reading. What’s the worst that could happen? An education?
2) Write every day. Especially on Twitter. Blogging helps too, and especially guest posts on other author’s blogs and unpaid self-promo gigs masquerading as op-eds in your local newspaper. If you’re of an ironic bent, you could specialise in ‘How To Be A Successful Author’ pieces.
3) Develop an obsession with honing your craft. An extreme example of this is Ernest Hemingway, who learned to write by typing out entire books by writers he admired. The trick here is to read back over these manuscripts once they’re typed up, accept that you’ll never in a million years do any better, acknowledge that there’s few enough trees in the Amazon rain forest anyway, and go read some Hemingway.
4) Express yourself. Many people turn to writing as a cathartic exercise, a means by which they can purge their inner demons. But why waste your time impressing complete strangers with your lunacy? It’s much more fun to allow your anger to build and build, then terrorise your nearest and dearest with irrational outbursts of (preferably inarticulate) rage.
5) Learn to delegate. Come up with story ideas and then hand them over to someone else to turn into a novel. If you’re very good at this, you’ll come up with the same story every single time. If James Patterson sues, great: you’ll be so busy fending off his lawyers you won’t have time to scribble so much as a Post-It note.
6) If at first you don’t succeed ... immediately accept that repeating the same action over and over again and getting the same result while expecting a different response is a kind of madness, albeit not a madness sufficiently interesting to be worth writing about. (see Number 4).
7) Shoot for the moon. Aim to be the next James Joyce, Mary Renault or Raymond Chandler, et al. If you’re useless, that should keep you locked away in a shed working on your first manuscript for at least forty years. If you’re halfway good, you’ll give up immediately. If you’re as brilliant as you think you are, you’ll pack it in after three pages, consumed by self-loathing at how close you came to stooping to compete with the likes of raggedy-ass Joyce, Renault and Chandler, et al.
8) Learn from the experts. Sign up to every creative writing programme in town. Literally. Not only will you be too busy attending classes to do any actual writing of your own, the conflicting advice offered by the internationally renowned, prize-winning and critically acclaimed authors hosting said programmes will melt your brain to the point where even your special brand of lunacy is left smouldering in the ashes.
9) Identify your target demographic. Don’t go writing any old tat in the hope people will find it interesting. Do some research and find out what it is people actually like to read (the NYT best-seller list may be of some use here), and then write that and publish it under the name of James Patterson. He’ll hardly notice one more, will he? And even if he sues, we’re back to Number 5 again.
10) Get a life. No, really. Make some friends, have a kid or two. Go for a walk. Play some ball. Travel the world, swim with the dolphins, stalk James Patterson. Start living first-hand rather than through the mirror darkly. What’s the worst that can happen? A life?