Friday, May 7, 2010

How to be a Writer

Here's a fun post by member Laurie Lesser Chamberlain.

Ever since you told your fellow second-graders how you spent your summer vacation, everyone’s been telling you what a great storyteller you are. Even your e-mails get praised. You know you have talent, and true genius doesn’t have to follow rules. Being a great writer comes naturally to you. But just to be sure you succeed in this dog-eat-dog world, here are a few small tips you should keep in mind as you go down that road to becoming America’s next Hemingway. And have fun doing it.

First, act the part. Appearance is everything, for a writer. Nothing says “successful writer” more than a beret on your head and a baguette under your armpit. And sprinkling your speech (and your prose) with obscure foreign phrases adds that little je-ne-sais-quoi that people will just love, even if they know you’ve never been further east than Brooklyn Heights. Don’t worry about sharing anything you’ve actually written (or actually writing anything), as long as you talk a lot about being a writer and “living the writer’s life.”

Don’t try too hard. You’ve got a natural gift, why sweat it? There’s no need to search for a clever, witty way to express yourself when there are so many tried and true expressions out there already. Clichés become clichés for a reason – use them. To your heart’s content and with gay abandon. And don’t worry about seeming pretentious. Throwing in technical words that no one will understand will make you look smart – and the odd foreign word or expression can only add to your cachet (see above). And don’t bother to proffread your work or worry about grammar. That’s what editors are for.

Don’t worry about making sense. If someone complains that your heroine, who was a brunette in the first chapter, gets her “golden locks” chopped off in Chapter 3, shrug your shoulders and ignore it. You shouldn’t have to compensate for your readers’ lack of imagination. And if you find yourself dragged into a sentence that is so long and convoluted that even you can’t find your way out of it, don’t worry. Think of Faulkner. Or James Joyce.

Write only when you feel like it. Discipline is for athletes, you’re an artist. You don’t need practice, or training – all you need is an agent. Writing should be fun, not hard work or drudgery. Remember, writing is a gift you were born with, not a skill that can be learned or developed. And stay away from formal writing programs and workshops – they will only stifle your creativity.

Forget about writing only about what you know. The sky’s the limit when it comes to choosing your subject. Sometimes just changing the label is enough – you added a few juicy incidents to your memoir? Just call it fiction. The action in your story could never happen in the real world? Sci-fi. Don’t worry about accuracy or consistency. Any publication worth its salt will have fact-checkers who will correct any minor “inconsistencies with the truth.”

Finally, don’t listen to your critics. Ignore them, please. They’ve got their own agenda to push and never have your best interests at heart. If, once you are published – and you will be! – you should get a bad review in a major newspaper, then do the thing you do best – write. Send a letter to the editor complaining about the review, leave comments on every blog you can think of about what a moron and how incompetent the reviewer is, and most important of all, don’t take any of what he or she has written to heart. You know best.

Follow these simple rules and you won’t go wrong. Leave the classics like The Elements of Style or On Writing Well to other budding writers, less gifted and less confident than you. And for those of you who are saying that rules are made to be broken, I wish you luck. If you ignore my suggestions, writing will be full of hard work and responsibility. And that’s no fun, is it?

1 comment:

donl said...

Clearly that's what I've been doing wrong. I thought it was all about craft.