Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Suffocate Your Creativity and Irritate All Your Friends (A Guide for Aspiring Writers)

"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe." -Neil Gaiman

I once thought about how much math I would have to do just to calculate all the people in the world who want to be writers. It was around that point that I decided math was beyond me, and I should leave it to the people who are qualified.

We've all got that one friend. Maybe it was someone in college who had a "novel" he would talk about for hours at parties. Or perhaps a coworker who regularly tells you to watch what you say around her, just in case you end up in her novel. You know. The friend who writes as a hobby and will, no doubt, one day become the next J. K. Rowling/Stephen King/Suzanne Collins.

Suffice it to say there a lot of people who want to make a living writing. (It can't be that hard, right? People just string sentences together. I could do that. I can speak in sentences.) But the thing is, making a living at writing is hard. Nobody ever quite seems to get how brilliant we are, and publishers are never wise enough to see how clever this novel of ours is. If they'd just shape up, we'd be fine. But for now, making a buck with pretty words is tough stuff.

My question is, why bother? I propose to you that we can get all the benefits of writing (sans the paycheck) with this easy-to-follow four-phase program. That's right; we can be detached, pretentious reprobates without having to work at all.

Lend me your ears, countrymen, and I'll tell you the secrets of How to Be a Writer, or Something That Is Very Nearly the Same Thing as a Writer.

(I'm not very good at titles.)

1. Talk about writing projects all. the. time.

The critical thing about Being a Writer is to make sure that people know about it. Even if you've only just met them. Even if you've never been published. You know you're a writer, and that's proof enough, but it's crucial that everybody else know, too. What use is being a writer if no one knows? 

Look at that person walking down the street! He's seen your face but he doesn't know the frightfully important truth! You may be the greatest writer of all time and he's just crossing the sidewalk away from you! Does he not understand? If Ernest Hemingway had read your stuff, he'd still be alive! F. Scott Fitzgerald would have wept great, big, effeminate tears if only he had seen your sentences! Edgar Allan Poe...(well, actually, Poe was a bit of a jerk about most things. Let's leave Poe out of this.)

This person—nay, the entire world!—MUST BE TOLD OF YOUR GENIUS.

Introduce yourself as a writer. Tell everyone about that novel project you've been working on for a decade. It'll be brilliant, obviously. Once it's finished.

(Bonus points if you threaten everyone who crosses you with "being put in [your] novel." That'll show them!)

2. Let them beg to read it.

Now that you've told everyone about your world-changing novel project, it's time to let them all see it. After all, they didn't run away screaming when you introduced yourself as a writer. That's invitation enough, when you think about it. So tell them that you have some of it written out. It's not quite finished, of course (if it were finished, it'd be in bookstores. Obviously). But if they'd like to read it, that's totally fine by you.

Once they've graciously acquiesced, don't give in. They're only being nice for now. You can't be having with that; if they really understood your genius, they would fall to their knees and plead with you, "Please, ascendant one! Share with me your art! I am but a worm, desperate for the pleasant rain of your words upon my brain-stuff!"

Whenever they finally catch on that that's the entry test, they'll do it. Of course they'll do it. They'll have to. You're a genius.

3. Do nothing without inspiration.

Alright, so you know you're a genius. (And now, everybody else ought to, too. You've told them often enough.) But here's the thing: you haven't written in a while. A couple weeks, say. Or maybe longer. Maybe two or three months.

That's okay! Inspiration just hasn't hit yet. Everybody knows you can't work without inspiration! Thomas Edison said, "Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent...umm...more inspiration. Nothing else."

Or something like that. The point is, everything hinges on that inspiration, guys! Everything! What if you started working on something and then realized it wasn't inspired? You'd have to—gasp!—throw it away! You can't throw stuff away! Revision is foolhardy! No real writer ever needed to rewrite anything!

So sit. Wait. And, above all...

4. Do not, under any circumstances, write anything new.

Someone silly once said that "Writers write." Well, yes, that's sort of true. I mean, technically. I guess it's a little implied by the word. "Writer" = "one who writes." Well, to that I have nothing to say but a great, hearty "whatever."

So writers write. That rule doesn't need to apply to you, right? All those corporate windbags are producing mindless drivel for cash, but you! You're brainstorming something that'll matter! Once the inspiration falls on you, the whole world will quake! But, in the meantime, it's important that you not add to the stuff you've already made. Don't take another new step until that wind of glorious creativity fills you up!

Ooh! In the meantime, maybe you should keep tinkering with that opening chapter until you feel ready for the new ones. As long as your book doesn't progress, you are in safe territory, my friend. Successful writers have to deal with temptations like money, fame, and vanity. Keep this up, and you will never have to worry about those. Not as a writer, anyway.

Common Obstacles

So there you have it! In four easy steps, you can train your brain to act just like a hugely successful writer might—without needing to worry about the intermediate steps of success, or even writing! Isn't that great?

Be sure to revisit this list every now and then. It'll be tempting, sometimes, to bow to the conventional "wisdom" that writers ought to be too busy writing to talk about all the things they're writing. Don't cave to the man, man! You're an artist, and artists have unlimited time.

Some people will tell you that the best way to improve your manuscript is to let people read it if they show even the slightest interest—that most people are nice(ish) and really want to help you out, and if you'd just give them a chance they'd be very obliging and would read through your whole unpolished manuscript and tell you what they didn't like. I'll tell you what: that's just a load of nonsense.  If they really appreciated you, let me tell ya....

You might even hear that pagan lie that if you would be inspired, you ought to treat inspiration like a caveman treats his lady-friend: bash her on the head with a club, drag her back to your cave, and ply her with sweets and soft music. All art is where a little inspiration meets a whole lot of perspiration? Ha! You're joking, sir!

And, last but not least dangerous: the idea that "writers write." Well...I mean...yes. Technically. But writers think! And everybody knows you cannot write while you think! Not simultaneously!

[Hint: re-read just the red text.]


I apologize if this feels a little bit...scathing. Even, erm, "bitey." I'm not a subtle person.

Everything above that P.S. is what I wish someone had said to me when I was younger. I have wasted so much time just talking about what a Writer I was instead of actually writing. Maybe you're different, but there are days when I just need a kick in the pants. If we want to be taken seriously in any kind of artistic pursuit (and I think that every pursuit is an artistic one), we must own up to the inevitable conflict: at some point, we gotta fish or cut bait. If you would create, then do it. Stop wasting your time talking about how awesome it's going to be when you finally get around to it!

Seriously. Just stop.

Your creativity is a divine blessing. Why are you wasting your efforts talking about it? Use it. All we have in life is time and creativity. That's it. Of those two, time is a finite resource; we'll run out of it eventually. Creativity, though, is a self-perpetuating investment; the more of it we use, the more of it we have. 

Genius isn't innate; genius occurs at the intersection of creativity and labor.

So go! Create! Be worthy of the gift you've been given.


  1. "If you would create, then do it. Stop wasting your time talking about how awesome it's going to be when you finally get around to it!" Great thoughts, Chandler! I have a friend (male -- 55 years old, probably) who confessed to me recently that he's going to be a novelist when he retires. He'll write Danielle-Steelish romances. Ha!