Dear Young Writers,
You know who you are. You are a true writer. You’re reading this on your phone, computer, tablet, or maybe a soggy newspaper you found in a gutter.
Maybe you’re in college or in high school. Maybe you’re a middle-schooler with an exceptionally grandiose vocabulary. Maybe you’ve written to me for advice. God help you.
Either way, you’re a writer. You know you’re a writer, deep inside. So I’m writing back. Because you’re confused. You don’t know what you’re doing with your life. You’re embarrassed to talk about it. You’re lost.
Writers are viewed as oddballs in our American culture. And it’s a shame because it’s not this way everywhere.
In Europe, for example, if you tell someone you’re a writer, the Europeans get dreamy eyed and converse about “War and Peace” and “The Brothers Karamazov.”
But in America, when you tell someone you want to be a novelist, they look at you as though you have just broken wind in church.
To many people, saying you want to be a writer is like saying you want to be an astronaut. “Don’t quit your job!”
Thus, I am going to share with you a few thoughts about the field of professional writing. Things many writers don’t want you to know. Such as, how to find a complete three-course dinner by rummaging through the municipal garbage.
Because, you see, professional writers are sort of like stage magicians. It’s all an act. These “magicians” continually try to pull literary rabbits out of their hats. Only, instead of calling them “rabbits,” they obsess over whether they should use the word “bunnies,” “hares,” “cottontails,” “lagomorphs,” or in extreme cases, “chinchillas.”
So the first thing I can tell you about writers is that none of us know what the heck we’re doing. This is true for every single writer alive. Don’t trust any author who says they know what they’re doing. They are full of chinchilla.
Writers are not nuclear engineers. We confusedly type words on a page. We haplessly think up crappy plots. Then, we reorganize them. Rework them. Redistribute entire paragraphs. We try to correckt mispelings.
Then we hit the backspace button, delete six hours’ worth of work, and attend our scheduled mental health therapy appointments.
Number Two: Writers are also stupid.
I mean this with all due respect to my colleagues. But it’s true. We are all—each one of us—about as bright as a box of hamsters. I’m not saying we’re the dumbest people who have ever lived. But I’m telling you, we are not exactly the quickest lagomorph in the forest.
I say this because the American misconception, of course, is that “true writers” are freaking geniuses. Which is bologna.
I know one professional writer, for instance, who is well-respected in the world of American literature, regarded as a true artiste by the mainstream world. He cannot figure out how to empty lint from his dryer without calling a repairman.
Yes, writers occasionally write some smart stuff. But this is all part of the big illusion. Whenever a writer writes something truly smart, it’s usually because he or she has either (a) stolen it from another writer, or (b) a cat has walked across the keyboard.
I’m not saying writers don’t have original ideas, they do. I’m only saying don’t be too impressed. Don’t buy into the myth that your literary heroes are above you.
Number Three. Do something else with your life. Get a real job. I’m not saying don’t write. In fact, quite the opposite. But don’t JUST be a writer. Or else you’ll have nothing to write about.
Go do stuff. Be a human. Join the real world. The best writers are not the frozen chosen who sit upon the sacred throne of academia and squat out Pulitzer Prizes. Good writers have experiences. They live real lives.
Then, when they are thusly inspired, they sit down and write grossly irresponsible and exaggerated accounts of it all
Therefore, do something fun. Get a weird job. Learn to play an instrument. Go see the United States at eye level. Meet wonderful people. Eat bizarre foods. See new things. Fall in love.
Don’t worry about trying to be great. You won’t be. You’re probably not going to write anything worth a cuss until you’re 85 years old anyway. I haven’t.
And even if you do accidentally write the Great American Novel, or win a major journalism award, here’s another secret you will learn as a professional writer: Nobody cares.
That’s right. Nobody cares how many accolades you wipe your nose with. In fact, nobody in this world cares all that much about your successes or your failures.
And believe me. Your life will be much easier if you don’t, either.