I’m always a touch skeptical when I read writing tips from famous writers. Scrolling through Open Culture’s recent selection, I wondered whom these authors—from George Orwell to William Safire—saw as their intended audience. Beginners, most likely. Students, dabblers. But what about that vast, silent majority that lies between the beginners and the pros?
“Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes," suggests Margaret Atwood. "Pens leak.” I am immune to the kind of privileged bullying going on here, and I won’t stand for Neil Gaiman’s condescending #2: “Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.” I know when I’m being teased. Most of these tips read like your mother telling you to put on a sweater.
At the same time, I find them irresistible. And sometimes it’s a comfort just to see famous authors revealing the dull daily tasks that allow their work to proceed. Sometimes I need to be told to put on a sweater.
Here, then, are some suggestions for those of us who have surpassed the intermediate phase and are now approaching the very real, very dark side of the writer's life.
1. Become a better drinker. If you’re unable to write while drunk, get drunk on the nights reserved for not writing. Devise a hangover method that works consistently. Never edit under the influence.
2. Maintain a cordial relationship with your parents, as they provide useful storage for all the books and manuscripts you refuse to relinquish. You will also, at some point, need to live in their basement.
3. Do not get married. Never have kids. If you have to sleep with someone, do it in a public restroom or over at their place so you can leave easily and get back to work. Never have someone sleep over at your apartment unless you have a separate study with a door that locks. Also, your parents can hear you.
4. Survive by routine. Eat and wear the same things every day. You’re not going to look good; you’re not intended to.
5. Embarrass yourself publicly, as often as possible, in order to build up solid reserves of shame and insolence in your heart. And to convince yourself you don’t live a life of monotony and work, which you do.