How to be a writer

How will I know when I’m a for-real writer? Will I one day just stop giving a damn, start sewing a flask in my jacket pocket and slipping things like, “You must take risks!” and “Show, don’t tell!” into everyday conversation?

And why are stereotypical writers always drunk? Better yet, why am I NOT drunk?

Wait, am I drunk?

"How to be a writer" Comic by The Oatmeal

Source: The Oatmeal

So I’m sitting here, drinking (orange juice), reconsidering my technique, and I suddenly recalled a thing by James Parker I read a few years back that deconstructed the way society romanticizes the traditional “literary bad boy.”

“It’s the question every writer faces, every morning of his or her life:

… Do I sit down with my pumpkin latte and start Googling, or do I fire a couple of shots into the ceiling and then stick my head in a bucket of absinthe?

… in the end, who cares? Drink, divorce, insanity, firearms: all beside the point. The work is what counts. Who was badder than Emily Dickinson, housebound and life-abstemious in Amherst, Mass., but kicking open the doors of perception with every poem? The real mischief is on the inside. Get it down on the page. Break on through, but don’t forget to click “save.”

… Hone your disciplinary habits, in other words, labor fiercely and in grim sobriety to create the imaginative space, and then let that bad boy run wild.”

So I guess I can skip the bad acid trip and high-stakes cock fight I had planned for tonight.

But, right? I mean, everyone’s turmoil manifests differently. For some it seethes quietly below the surface, and for others it’s all breaking dishes and chain smoking on a stranger’s stoop until you’re shooed away with a broom. In the end, you just have to do the work. Or at least, that’s what I hear.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether I’m digging in deep enough, if the hours of writing I squeeze in while standing on the subway, tapping out one-handed lines with my thumb, count as writing like a motherfucker or just make me the MTA’s most irritating strap-hanger?

So okay fine. Pour me another.

Related: Sentences I Wrote While Trying to Write Like a Motherfucker

How to be a writer via The Oatmeal


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