So you want to be a writer?

Rebecca Long draws on the wisdom of the internet

So you want to be a writer eh? Not really you say? Oh. Well never mind, read on anyway, because just in case you ever decide you do, some of the advice I’ve managed to glean from the interweb may be of some help to you. Or then again, maybe it won’t.

The first article I perused tried to tell me how to become “a writer that writes.” Yes. I can see what you’re thinking – I thought it too. Surely if you’re a writer, that’s what you do. Write. It’s all there in the job description. Whoever heard of a writer who doesn’t write? The article’s author had apparently. She also included a quote from Gertrude Stein which confused me even more: “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.” Yes of course it is Gertrude. The author heroically tried to explain just what Gertrude meant by this little gem of wisdom but merely ended up using the phrase “to write” so many times in the same sentence, I started to lose all sense of its meaning. So not exactly the best start, considering I wanted to actually learn how to be a writer. I struggled on.

Next I was told to “claim” myself as a writer. Frankly this is where it all started to get a little bit cultish for me – I was half afraid that I was being subliminally hypnotised by some creepy fanzine writer. But still, because I’m naturally curious and I wanted to see whether this person would actually give me any sound advice at all, I persisted.

And then came the next bombshell: apparently being published has nothing to do with being a writer. It has to do with earning money as a writer. OK, maybe this is blatantly obvious to all of you people but I’m sorry, I’m quite a materialistic person at heart, so I’m not going to be slaving away at a second hand typewriter, trying to produce a masterpiece for the goodness of my soul. No, I want some reward at the end of it all. Preferably a financial one. I also thought it was funny that the article was telling me about the monetary yet obviously unethical joys of being published before it had actually given me any writing tips. Hmmm.

A candle helps. No honestly. It not only illuminates dark spaces but metaphorically illuminates the dark spaces of the mind where that tiny little mote of inspiration might be hiding. For some reason, a light switch (despite the obvious connotations on offer there) will not achieve the same effect. Also one is not to stop talking long walks or looking at the sunset as this might be detrimental to the aforementioned inspiration hunt.

At one stage I was told to “make an appointment” with my writing self. Well yes that’s all very well but what if your writing self isn’t in the mood to talk? What if it’s just not punctual? Suppose it ignores the little notes you leave to it in your calendar and stands you up? What are you supposed to do then? Clearly you cannot write without your writing self. That’d be just silly.

To be fair not all the advice and tips for aspiring writers on the net is, well, frankly as creepy as all of that. In fact in April 1862 Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote an essay called Letter to a Young Contributor a guide for young would-be authors on how to progress in their chosen field. The article made such a strong impression on one young reader that she wrote to Higginson to thank him. That was how the epistolary relationship between Higginson and Emily Dickinson began. Which goes to prove that there’s hope for all you aspiring writers. Although to be fair – and no offence to Emily – I’d quite like to reap the rewards of all my hard literary work before I myself am reaped. But that’s just me.