Writing wisdom states: Write what you know. That’s mostly correct. Kind of, I guess. I mean, “write what you know” doesn’t REALLY work. Think about it. How could we have anything science fiction? No one knows hyperdrives or time machines. Or what about fantasy? Orcs, spells, floating castles, no one knows them. Or, take a more realistic example, how could a mild-mannered author write about a psycho serial killer? All she’s murdered are the trees that made the paper she wrote on.
Putting that nit-pick aside, there is something to the maxim “write what you know.” It is a starting point, a place of authorial authority from which a writer can dive into his subject. This has been weighing on my mind the past few months. I’ve been struggling with things to write. I rack my brain and. . .
Why? Because I’m an idiot. I don’t know shit.
(now, now. that’s not true. what we are experiencing is a kind of writer’s block stemming from imposter’s syndrome. after 46 years of life it’s impossible to not have SOME knowledge.)
**Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!**
That’s it: neuroses! Why didn’t I think of this sooner? If there’s one thing I have authorial authority on, it’s being a neurotic mess. Oh, little voice in my head, you’re a genius.
(well. . . )
I’m a writer and a bundle of throbbing anxieties. That’s a perfect topic. Specifically, how to become a neurotic writer. Who’s hauter these days than the introverted, anxious writer?
And everyone loves a listicle, right?
So, for those of you interested in breaking into the neurotic writer game, here are 15 bonafide steps to get you there. How do I know? I live this hell every day.
1 Jot Ideas in a Journal/Writing Notebook
If you don’t already have one, get a journal/writing notebook. Keep this within reach so you can jot notes down when they hit. More likely than not, you’re already have a notebook. If so, you have a head start because there are probably lots of ideas already in your notebook. What you want is lots of ideas, even bad ones. In fact, the stupider the better. See, the more ideas you have the more you can fret. You can fret over why haven’t you done anything with them. You can fret over what’s the right one to pursue? This generalized nervousness is a great foundation for the neurotic writer. Keep churning this low-level anxiousness until one of the ideas/topics sticks out more than the others. Focus on that, but keep the rest on the back burner simmering. Fret, bother, and worry about whether this was the right choice, whether it’s trite and derivative, whether you can even write it, etc., until you collapse in a heap of disgust. Eventually thought you’ll need to move on to step two, so settle on whatever is the most recent idea in your notebook. It’s probably wrong, but that’s perfect because it’ll cause more doubts down the line. Doubts are the lifeblood of the neurotic writer.
2 Take Class on How to Write Essays/Blogs/Articles/Poetry/Short Stories
Now that you’ve got the worst idea ever, take a class to help you develop it. There are hundreds of classes online for every conceivable genre. This overabundance is fantastic because it gives you the opportunity to get lost down the rabbit hole of possibilities. That is, each choice is a new opportunity to worry, every one a possible existential crisis. Feed the chaos by researching more even if you’ve found “the one.” Vacillate until you collapse in a slop of self-loathing. Finally, pick the class that’s either the cheapest or the most prestigious, depending on which suits your pretensions better. Remember to lament about all the possibilities in your notebook; feed the growing monster.
3 Journal About Inadequacies to Write (X)
If you understood the class correctly (through the generalized anxiety lens), it reinforced that you’re not a writer, rather than taught you how to write. Now properly nauseous, you need to take time to sort out your feelings about the matter. (the nasty ones twisting up your stomach are particularly good.) Take as much time as you need because you can’t start writing in this confused state of mind. It’s all pointless navel-gazing, but excellent compost for the fraying nerves.
4 Obsess Over Where to Publish
Another thing to keep in mind is you can’t know what to write if you don’t know where to publish. While you are a total failure for not writing, it’s okay because you have more groundwork (i.e. procrastinating) to do. You have to know the market—all of it. Likewise, with each possible publication, you have to know who else has been published there, its audience, its design aesthetics (is it in line with yours?), what kinds of pieces does the publication publish, would your friends approve of your publication there, has there been something similar published recently, do you agree with their politics, etc., etc. These questions are wonderful for hours of pointless ruminating, and overthinking is another foundational neurotic behavior you’ll want to nurture and develop.
5 Fret Over Ramifications of Writing for Free
There’s a good chance that if you’re just starting out you’re going to write for free. (and why would you be reading an article on “how to be a writer” if you were already established?) Bottom line: writing is work. Do you want to give away your work? To put it another way, is your time and effort worth the “experience” and “exposure” of writing for free? Or, is working pro bono a slap-in-the-face of the aspiring writer with bills to pay? What is the consensus in the writing community? These questions have to be answered (if you’ve been properly racheting up your anxiety). So, better safe than sorry. Research. Research. Research. (the more your stomach is tied in knots the more you’re on the right track. acid reflux is a good sign, too.) Keep going until you melt into a bubbling puddle of antipathy. Finally, decide to put it on the back burner where it can fester quietly like a chihuahua gnawing a pig ear in the corner of your new black leather sofa, slobbering globs of staining white foam through it’s bared teeth.
6 Research How to Beat Writer’s Block/Procrastination
Jesus Christ! What are you doing? You’ve been at this for almost a month now and haven’t written a thing. What is wrong with you? Are you lazy? (yes, of course you are!) Do you have some kind of mental issue? (duh! that’s what you’re working on!) The more you’re beating yourself up the more you know you’re becoming a neurotic writer. Don’t slow down now. Want to know what’s great for helping foster neuroses? Unqualified self-help. There’s lots of unqualified self-help out there. So go get lost in it. You can spend ages spinning your wheels in the muck of self-help. (remember, you want to seem to be doing something to make things better, not actually improving.) With any luck, the more you research the greater the dread you feel about what you’re doing, and the louder the little voice in your head should be getting. All of which is great! You’re progressing nicely.
7 Take Off (x) Days to Start Fresh Next Month
No sense in starting on the 23rd. It’s only 7, or 8, more days until next month. Cut yourself some slack. You’ll be better for it. Start “fresh” next month. (besides, there’s that new season of. . . whatever. . . on netflix to binge.) Nothing digs at your self-worth like taking time off for yourself and then beating yourself up for not doing more when you had the chance. The absurdity is the neurotic’s milk and honey.
8 Take a “Becoming a Writer” Class
You know what? The problem was you don’t have a solid foundation. It’s like putting an infant on a bike, WITHOUT training wheels. So, to make sure you’re on the right path, sign up for a 6 week “Becoming a Writer” class at the learning annex. Or online. Or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure it’s a multi-week class. The longer the better. Why? Same reason as number 7. You’ll tell yourself the time you’re taking off from writing is good for you, but in the end you can loath yourself for not writing. (besides, you need to make sure you’re definitely a writer, because all this time you haven’t been writing, have you? and writing is the raison d’etre of being a writer, non?)
9 Research Best Hardware/Software for Writers
Speaking of doing this writing thing correctly, how can you do it correctly if you don’t have the right equipment? Two thirds of the battle is the gear you’re sporting. So, it’s time to go back to the interwebs and determine the best tech for writers. This a brilliant time sink. Be sure to take plenty of time to go through as many of the myriad articles and suggestions as you can. Everyone has an opinion, and they’re all correct, so. . . AGGHHH! What do you do? (more fretting, duh! idiot haven’t you been paying attention?) This is a gift that keeps on giving because when it’s time to test the software, many offer free trials. Free trials mean you can take advantage of them all. Mix, match, and test, test, test. It’s more time wasted not writing AND you get the extra benefit of being driven mad by all the half-assed technology out there. Neurotic heaven. (make notes along the way in your notebook. there might be an article in this. that is, if you every get around to actually writing.)
10 Research Best Pens and Notebooks for Writers
There’s something to be said for backup plans. There are lots of things that can go wrong. Murphy makes sure of that. You should have contingencies for contingencies, like Batman. (he’s a stable fellow to emulate.) For instance: What if your computer dies? What if the file you’re working on gets corrupted? What will impress the other people at your local artisan coffee shop? Answer: A fine pen and notebook. There are as many pens and notebooks—and reasons for each—as there are twists in the perfectly quaffed handlebar mustache. Just like number 9, it’s time to go off into the wilds of the interwebs. (be sure to search for the “best” pens and “best” notebooks for writers because there’s nothing as polarizing for the purists than the “best” analog tool. let their quirky biases become yours. besides, you deserve the best.)
11 Obsess in Journal About Your Shit Executive Functioning
A third of the year has passed and you still have yet to write a word. (there’s the lamenting in your notebook, but you don’t get to claim that garbage. that stuff is not REAL writing.) You’ve got ideas, the foundation, the gear—both analog and digital—but. . . Nothing. Since you can’t get traction, and have already been whinging in your notebook, why not keep that going? At least it’s something, right? Time to admit it. No sugar coating. Really give it to yourself. (you’re a worthless piece of shit. always have been and always will be.)
12 Collect Motivational Quotes on Reddit
Number 11, while necessary, was harsh. You can’t get blood from a rock. What you need is some compassion and reassurance. You can do this. And there’s nothing like a good motivational quote to fire you up. Reddit’s r/GetMotivated has some great quotes, in the form of images, which you can easily save to all your devices. That way you can look at them every day, multiple times a day, in order to get your head straight. Don’t skimp here. Get as many as you can. (you should put in as much time looking at all the inspiration you’ve collected as you took to find them.)
Finally. It’s happening. You sit down and write in your writer’s notebook with your special writer’s pen. That is, until your hand cramps up. It’s hard to keep up with all the thoughts flooding into your head. So, thankfully, you’ve got a fancy new iPad. You switch over and fight to type with the small keyboard. (wtf?!? you spent all this money to get the perfect device for a writer, going on the recommendation of unbiasedreview.apple.com, but it doesn’t work. IS EVERYTHING EVER CREATED BY EVERY TECH COMPANY EVER ALWAYS A PIECE OF SHIT!?! ) FUCK! There’ll be no writing today. A whole day of productivity lost. Best thing to do is get these feelings down in your journal.(really beat yourself up for being a dipshit.)
14 Quit Writing Forever
Ugh. What’s the point? Time to give up. You never were a writer. It was cruel to keep trying to force your obviously square peg into that clearly round hole. Time to face facts. It’s over. (and this time you mean it.)
15 And Then
You have an interesting idea for an essay, poem, short story. Jot it down in your journal/writing notebook. . .
See. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.