Wannabe Writers

I was at Coffee Bean the other night doing some work when in walked this woman meeting up with a friend of hers at the table next to me.  Now, I don’t know any Valspeak, but among the like’s and um’s and OMG’s, I heard the newcomer tell her friend that she’s thought about being a writer.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear this because, frankly, I thought Trixie’s reading skills were restricted to tweeting.

But then she dropped the bomb.  “I want to be a writer, but I don’t know how.  I have, like, soooo many ideas I don’t know which on to pick.”  Boom!  My high hopes for her vaporized like downtown Hiroshima on a bright August morning.  In fairness, I don’t know this girl, and I probably never will, but let’s suppose my ego had taken over.  What would I have said to her?  Or better yet, what would I have said to myself at that age?  Or, shit, let’s go all out and apply this to anyone who wants to take up writing.

So, in no particular order, I would say…

“Do something else.”

Seriously.  Study geology.  Be an accountant.  Wipe jizz off the windows at a strip club.  Consider doing anything other than writing.  If you’re capable of doing anything else, I’d suggest you go do that.  Right now.

Still convinced that the written word is your passion, your drive, your reason for living?  Fine.  In that case…

“Sit your fucking ass down!”

I mean this both physically and mentally.  Yes, writing involves sitting down and getting the work done, but more importantly, it involves settling on a precious few ideas at a time.  You’ll never get anything done if you’re trying to write a hundred things at once.  If you did, you’d only get fifteen minutes a day for each one, and that’s if you commit all twenty-four hours of the day to your work.  That sucks.  I understand.  I’ve been in that situation where I don’t know if I want to write this story or that story.  But by stretching yourself out too thinly, you’re only torturing yourself in the long run.  You don’t get brownie points for how many projects you try juggling.  You get brownie points for actually finishing stuff.

Speaking of which…

“You’re going to fuck up!”

You really are.  People are going to read your early work and tell you it’s crap.  Ray Bradbury once said that he went over his early material that got rejected, and realized that all the magazines were right to pass on them.  But that’s okay because it’s really the only way you’re going to learn the do’s and don’t‘s of writing.

And while I’m on the subject of learning, this is completely optional, but…

“Consider enrolling in an MFA program.”

An master’s degree in writing is not required, but I think it does help out a lot.  You get to study under established writers and learn from their years of experience.  Furthermore, you get to meet other writers from all kinds of walks; some of those students are published too, but there are a lot of writing students were are starting out just like you.  As with any other career, making those connections will help you out in the long run.  You can all share advice with each other, refer each other to openings for submissions.  All sorts of goodies.

And you don’t even have to worry about whether or not you’re school-savvy either.  One of my instructors at Antioch remarked that he went from high school to master’s degree while jumping over college.  Yes, writing programs do want to see your transcripts, but more than that, they want to see a sample of your work to see how much promise you’ve got.

But what’s that?  You don’t really want to pursue a degree.  There’s the alternative, which is…

“Join a writing group.”

A writing group has all the real-world learn-as-you-go experience of a master’s program but without the tuition.  Unfortunately, this also means that you’re all students without a teacher to guide you.  An MFA program is like sitting in cold water with the heat slowly turning up.  You steadily feel when the pressure is getting to you and you can call out for someone to lower the burner.  Outside of an MFA program, learning on your own, you’re getting dunked into a pot of boiling water straight away.  Mistakes will be even more frequent.  Frustrations will be higher.  A writing career is still possible, but it’s going to involve a lot more sweat.

Well, not just sweat.  Regardless of the road you take, you’ll need to

“Be a patience little psycho-gnome!”

Even if you carpet bomb the magazines with submissions, it’s going to take a while to hear back from them just for a rejection.  And there’s going to be a whole lotta rejection!  But don’t wait with a dry thumb up your ass.  Send your stuff out and immediately get to work on something else while you wait.  Or you could dance like Jesse Hughes.

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