Thursday, 1 July 2010

Advice to would-be writers

Acquire the habit. That's all, really: but you must understand that the habit means: write all the time; think things through in terms of how you you would write them up all the time. Which is to say: become a writing nerd. It's an uncomfortable truth, in an age in which 'nerdiness' is so denigrated, but there you go. The nerd live for, eats sleeps and breathes his/her chosen object of nerdiness. That's what you must become.

Put another way: I read an article about Jack White in which various beautiful women who had dated him explained the main reason why they'd broken it off ... they'd started seeing him because they thought they'd be dating a rock star; but it turned out they were actually dating a massive rock music nerd. And in a nutshell that's the crucial difference. Many people aspire to become writers because in their head they're in love with the idea of being a sort of literary rock star. But to be a good writer, you must make yourself into a massive writing nerd. That's the price you pay.


Anonymous said...
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Mark said...

EM Forster talked about the phenomenon of people who want to become literary rock stars - though he didn't put it quite like that. He said it's not enough to wish to be 'a man in a hat' - that is someone who is seen to be a writer and who reaps a reward of social esteem.
I think it's better to have the ambition to be someone who writes for a living, rather than to be a writer. It seems like a fatuous distinction but the word 'writer' seems to imply that it's an essential quality of the person we're referring to rather than just a description of something they do.
Also, you can tell if you're someone who writes for a living. Describing yourself as a writer when you haven't been published seems pretentious. It may be accurate, of course, but it still seems at least presumptuous, simply because, just as 'Rock Star' implies success, the more modest 'writer' seems to too.
Was EM Forster himself a writer by 1950? He hadn't written anything for years although he may have still lived off his writing. Perhaps 'writer' is a better term for someone who has retired or is dead. To use the music analogy, Marc Bolan wasn't a rock star by the time he died but he sort of is now.
Maybe, in music terms, I'm looking to reposition the term 'writer' closer to Kraftwerk's 'music worker' than to 'rock star'.
'Rock Star', like 'writer', seems to come with a whole set of expectations about how you will look and behave. I experienced this when single and using internet dating sites. Women would meet me expecting to encounter Shelley only to find I was nearer to Benny off Crossroads. One described me as 'like Byron. Without the charm, money or looks'. Hey, she left 'talent' out of it, that's a win in my book.
Mind you, I wouldn't mind being a rock star, to be honest. I could eat my weight in free Pringles on the rider.
As anyone who is a writer will tell anyone seeking to become one, the job doesn't hold the same cultural clout as it once did. It may impress a very small section of the population but, if you're after acclaim, you'd be better off studying that guitar. The bad news is that,as in any field where you seek success, music is full of Jack Whites who didn't see the sunlight growing up because they were so absorbed in their art. So if your aim is global stardom then, like Jack White, Prince, Johnny Marr and The Beatles, you better spend your time locked in your room with your instrument rather than talking about how great you're going to be in local bars.
It's the same with writing. The only way to become a writer, as Adam says, is to write, a lot. It's not to concentrate on being a thin bloke with a floppy hair cut and a shoulder bag. Actually, Adam...

Mark said...

By the way, last comment was by Mark Barrowcliffe/MD Lachlan aka King of the Rumbling Thighs.

Adam Roberts Project said...

Mark speaks wisdom. And his thighs ... well, they do rumble.