Most writing advice comes off as watered down and lacking both bark and bite. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it has something to do with the writer being hesitant to have his or her name attached to something potentially offensive. Very few seem to crave the public attention of being a curmudgeon spitting on the idealistic novice.
I’ve spent the last month contacting authors (both major house and indie; critically acclaimed and up-and-coming; big names and small; cock wavers and VIDA junkies) and a few influential editors, asking each to submit their most heartfelt, brutal, and honest writing advice they could think of. I promised to publish what they wrote anonymously. The following are the results.
1) Imagine an interesting and real fucking person reading what you write, not history or Shakespeare or your mom or your dick or your D&D club. Together with that, imagine everything you write on a piece of paper held in a stranger’s hand hovering over a trashcan.
2) Your pain is not valuable to anyone else.
3) Take your own life before writing your sad regrettable paltry novel, not after. People you know will think more fondly of you.
4) Write what you want to read. Write what your 12-year-old self wants to read.
5) You have to be stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life with only one other person. Each of you gets to bring one book on to the island for the other person to read. Write that book.
6) Distrust advice. Figure it out for yourself through reading, writing, life.
7) Take it as a goddamn miracle if anyone cares what you have to say. All your hard work means nothing because you mean nothing. Don’t believe for a second you have a right to someone’s attention.
8) My writing advice is: keep writing! Write a lot. Read a lot. Never believe what you write is very good. Always know it can be better. Feel pain in that. Always remember: your shit DOES stink. Let multiple rejections fuel you, not destroy you¬—there will ALWAYS be rejections. Listen and learn from better writers. Don’t be afraid. If you ARE afraid, do it anyway. Whatever you do, don’t write boring. Boring will never take you where you want to go. Remember that language is color, so PAINT.
9) Spend a month or two using all your writing time for direct correspondence with loved ones. Write unique, long, careful, descriptive, analytic letters to dear and old friends and close family members, and print them on paper, and mail them, only one per person. See what this does to your “need to write” feeling. If you still feel like you need to write poems, and fiction, and whatever else you write, for the public sphere, then go ahead and write it.
10) If you start thinking you’re good, that’s the first sign that you’re fucked. Believe it. Also: drink less, floss more.
11) The world is not waiting for your book. Nobody but you and maybe your mom or spouse cares if you finish it. Do it anyway.
12) Don’t talk to anyone ever again.
13) Most people have not needed art to live happy lives; recognize that art is a new myth and that most contemporary art is advertising and/or entertainment. You would have lived just fine without MOBY DICK, so why do you believe that the world needs your book?
14) Don’t write. If you can stop writing, stop. Take real risks for the sake of others that require you to leave your bedroom or office; tangibly help people. Only write if you are unable to stop.
15) Don’t forget that writing is a way to both escape and to stare down the nightmare of death.
16) Develop a close group of friends/classmates/lovers with whom you are intimately honest with. Educate each other through setting goals, readings, writing practices that keep you in an intense discourse. Let these people be your support, and guides.
17) Don’t get an MFA and title everything with some bougie title like Billy Pilgrim’s Long Halftime Walk or The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards or A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Don’t move to New Disney York. Work harder than you’ve ever worked and don’t expect to be rewarded. Don’t listen to anyone who gives you writing advice. Do it for yourself.
18) Stop using flashbacks. You aren’t using them well. Right now you think a flashback is a way to make a character interesting or relatable, but your characters should be interesting, vivid, lively, memorable in the present reality of the story or you’re screwed. Whoever wanted to hear the history a person they don’t find interesting?
19) Work for very little pay in a corporate office for 40 hours a week and never ever go back to the classroom to teach poetry or anything else unless it’s gym class or to supervise a cafeteria. Stay at your corporate office job for the rest of your life and allow men to treat you like a garbage bin with tits. Smile and say, ‘sure’ when they ask you to clean the breakroom sink because ‘that’s what our wives do at home.’ Then, when you’re 50 years old, go to a reading in New York City, slap a 21 year old twink with your sagging tits, and then write something.
20) Laconically lose your virginity, partially peruse Nietzsche, go and graduate from college, and move into a cheap apartment at the cheap side of town; now start a Tumblr, using one of their free minimalist themes, and begin liking the posts of whom you perceive to be your ideal peers, the ostensible “in crowd” to which you wish to gain entry; begin liking, favoriting, reblogging, and retweeting the respective content of these people, all of these people, all of the time, consistently for 2-3 months until you garner reactionary clicks to your own Tumblr, whose most recent post (at this point) should be a 0:46 second clip of you eating a mango alone in your room, with contemporary rap in the background. Click on the avatar of the first person to like your video, who may be on the masthead of a new literary journal. Do not open Microsoft Word, or Google docs; simply compose a new Gmail and begin writing down any erratic thoughts or feelings you may be having, using a line break every time a particular thought or feeling has ended. If you are on any drugs, please list them. If you have just binged on calorically dense food, or if you are starving yourself, please include those details. At the end of 16-18 of these thoughts or feelings, title the poem—call these sets of thoughts or feelings “poetry” from now on—by the most evocative or oblique line therein, and email the poem to the editor who liked the clip of you eating a mango; when, five days later, your poem is published, take a screenshot of the poem and post it to your Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, whose subsequent journey of likes, favorites, reblogs, and retweets will legitimize, perhaps even historicize, the publishing of the poem as some kind of formidable event. You will shortly be invited to read at a reading in New York City, reasonably located within a three hour radius of your current residence. Take a train to the reading, live-tweeting sardonic remarks about your fellow riders, and optimally arrive some four hours earlier so that you can indiscreetly have upwards to seven Pabst Blue Ribbons at the host’s apartment, gleeful footage eventually captured into a 6:13 min Vimeo whose main conceit is the pre- and post-reading fun times that everyone had, shot, edited, and posted by the host, who wanted you there because you are beautiful.
21) Write slower, publish less.
22) Maybe stop writing dumb fucking articles like this and just work on novels for the rest of your meaningless life and you’ll produce one meaningful one.
23) Make the connection early on that a life dedicated to writing and believing in the imaginary coming off the page as something real is the same as worshipping religion and a God.
24) Study poetry. All these books being published are by people who have no grasp of image and language and it’s so obvious. Study poetry and you will have an advantage. Start now.
25) Kill your outside self so all you have is your inside world to put on the page.