How To Be a Writer

Today’s guest post is by Morgan of Dust and Soul. It is the essential how-to on how to be a writer without actually having to write anything. 

Being a writer isn’t about what you’ve had published or whether it’s any good; anyone can do that. Being a writer is about more than just writing things. It’s also about how you dress and whether or not you’re an alcoholic.

If you’re really serious about becoming a writer, you should dedicate yourself to being suicidal, drug-addled and destitute. If you aren’t suicidal, drug-addled and destitute then quite frankly, you have no business calling yourself a writer, no matter how many books you’ve written.

What you want to do is give people the impression that you’re a writer without having actually written anything. It’s easy. When people ask you what you’re doing with your life, tell them you’re a writer; when they ask what you’re writing exactly, say something vague like, “it’s a work of vast scope” or “it’s a genre-defying piece” or, “it’s about several generations of people and I’ve been working on it for a decade.” Onlookers will naturally assume that you’re a great genius and walk away, quietly admiring.

The next thing you’ll want to do is to buy a bunch of pretentious books in which you have little to no genuine interest. Anything from ‘Cult’ or ‘Classics’ or The Independent’s Top 100 Books of All-Time is fine. Try to choose hefty, intimidating tomes that will make you seem more cultured than you really are. Display them on your bookshelves, bending the spines to look ‘used’, then invite acquaintances to admire your collection, spewing the cliff notes from Goodreads in an imitation of great intellect.

Don’t bother actually reading said books, or going on any Creative Writing courses. Proper writers don’t actually write things, anyway. They merely talk about writing them, at parties and over coffee. They don’t need to prove that they are writers because they so obviously are, as is evidenced by the way they live, lurching disorderly between reckless nihilism and crippling self-loathing.

That’s the part you want to focus on, along with being suicidal, drug-addled and destitute, of course.

Sound complicated? Well, of course it is! No one ever said being a writer was easy. Luckily this author is at hand to provide you with a snappy how-to guide.

1. Your Personality

It takes many years to cultivate the noxious personality required to be a writer. For the greatest of literary legends it is a lifelong work, nurtured since childhood. Becoming just the right shade of arrogant and misanthropic is a great achievement in itself. Not everyone is cut out for it. But if you’re serious about learning the literary discipline, you will dedicate as much time as possible to being insecure, awkward, narcissistic, self-important and clinically depressed.

The more messed up you are, the better. Ideally, you’ll have a string of bland misadventures in your past (your one attempt at cutting, your parents’ divorce and that time the special needs kid accidentally touched your breast), which you can exaggerate out of all proportion and use as justification for being a twat.

2. Your Lifestyle

Shun all responsibility. Embrace debauchery. These are the key themes. If you can get away with not working or having any hobbies whatsoever, do so. Ideally, you will do absolutely nothing as often as possible, because writers need plenty of time for thinking. Be flighty and feckless, so that no one expects you ever to turn up for anything.

If you do do something with your time, make sure it involves indulging your amoral urges. Drink and drugs are must-haves for any writer. Writers are particularly suited to criminality and painfully intense personal experiences. How can you possibly be a writer unless you’ve been spat on by a crackwhore or kneecapped by your boyfriend? The more bad experiences you have under your belt, the more convincing you will be. In brief, you should systemically sabotage your life until such a fragile, hollow, turbulent wreck remains that there is no doubt as to your true calling.

3. Your Appearance

For the writer, physical appearance and personal hygiene are annoying bugbears, superficial burdens, the petty concerns of plebeians. Writers should always look shabby and malnourished. They have just three fashion essentials: black trench coat, moleskin notebook and a pair of dirty boots with holes in the soles. (Wayfarer Ray Bans optional.) You can tell a true writer from the hungry gleam in his red-rimmed eyes, his shaking hands and twitchy feet. He smells of damp and sweat and cigarettes; his clothes are crumpled, his fingers ink-stained, his hair unwashed. The fouler one’s visage and scent, the greater the writer.

4. Your Lovers

In general, writers are much better at writing about love than actually doing it. They are addicted to the idea of romance but too self-centred to properly invest. Most often they tirelessly chase a string of idealised objectifications of their own dark, twisted psyche, masochistically soaking up every ounce of emotional pain they can inflict upon themselves. While they may occasionally wax lyrical on the vast and epic nature of the human heart, real writers have little concept of what an adult relationship entails. Too much work. Love is merely an artistic abstract, like pointillism, or Jesus.

5. Your Family

If you’re a proper writer, your beleaguered family will no doubt be selflessly nurturing your grandiose sense of your own ability, encouraging you by suggesting that you might be truly great one day, like Dostoevsky or J.K. Rowling. Writers treat their families like slaves in order to dedicate themselves to greater things, leeching off them until drained of all money and hope, only to promise to pay them back via some insincere dedication in the acknowledgements of an unwritten book.

In certain cases, writers transform their families into a cast of psychological horror monsters, whose bizarre upbringing is ultimately responsible for the human stain they have become. They have a whole menagerie of Daddy issues, abandonment theories and Middle Child syndromes. Like I said, the more fucked-up you can become over what life dealt you, the better. If God hands you lemons, slice them up and pour their acid juice directly into your eyes. That sort of thing.

6. Your Friends

Writers don’t really need friends, but they do like to go to parties and fancy dinners where they can monopolise conversation. Writers instead amass large circles of acquaintances, all of whom can feed their insatiable need for validation without requiring any kind of commitment from them in return. If writers do have friends, they should expect to have their ideas stolen or mocked, or have themselves turned into unflattering caricatures. At the very least, they should expect to talk about themselves little in the company of said writer.

7. Your Personal Space

All writers need a place to write, a ‘Room of One’s Own’, but it is what you do with it that defines your true potential. Proper writers live in squalid caves in the middle of vast forests, heating themselves by burning book-fires and lighting waxy, atmospheric candles. If your personal space is clean and tidy, ask yourself how you are possibly supposed to derive inspiration from it? There is nothing literary about good domestic skills. Instead, you should allow your garbage to pile up and fester, so that you might see patterns in its putrid chaos. Your house or room should be a reflection of the state of your mind, therefore it must be as disgusting, confusing and shocking as is humanly achievable. Also, you should get a cat. All good writers have a cat.

8. Your Finances

Writers never have any money, even when they are very famous, therefore they are never expected to pay for anything. The more penniless you are, the more people will admire your dedication to your art. Make it a habit to beg, borrow and steal from friends. If they protest, make them feel guilty for not supporting your dreams, or accuse them of being jealous.

There are many ways for writers to make money, but writers are also very lazy people. As such, it is pertinent to refer back to the ‘Lifestyle’ section, where criminality is suggested as a choice life path for literary types. Not only will selling drugs and your vagina pay your rent, it will give you good fodder for dinner party anecdotes, or that novel you’re never actually going to write.

Remember: the bigger disaster you are, and the more unpleasant your personal conduct, the more interesting you will be to the legions of readers that undoubtedly await. Think of any famous author – Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy, Rushdie, Maya Angelou… What do they have in common if not for being ginormous asshats?

Think on that.