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April 18, 2010

You Want to be a Writer? Here's Some Advice.

By Allan Goldstein

Invaluable advice for the word-lorn. The secrets of successful writing revealed! From one who learned the hard way and only wants to "give back."


Originally Published on OpEdNews

You say you want to be a writer? Welcome to the club. Half the people I meet through my work say the same thing: "I've always wanted to write."

It's gotten so annoying that I lie about my profession, and you'd be surprised how rarely I get "I always wanted to try Urology" in response. Though people do have an embarrassing tendency to show me an unsightly rash and ask me if it's cancer.

But you insist, you really want to be a writer. You want it so badly you ignore my first, most valuable advice, which is don't. Fair enough. Pull up a chair, we need to talk.

First, I have a question for you. Do you want to be a writer, or do you want to write? They're not the same thing. I've known people who wanted to be writers so badly they can already feel the leather patches growing on their sports coats. Yet they have nothing to say.

If all you really want is to see a writer looking back at you in the mirror, I recommend self-delusion. It's much easier than the real thing. Actually sitting down and thinking and writing and editing until you come up with something valuable is hard, tedious, work.

Most people don't want to do that. They envision writing as a spontaneous emission of unfettered wit and joy that comes pouring out of their irresistibly interesting minds in an effortless stream, not the product of sitting down and thinking really, really hard.

If you still want to write, and decide to stick to it long enough to produce something, and then something after that and something after that, you better really love it, or need to so bad you can't help yourself, because that's about all the reward you're going to receive. Writing doesn't pay squat, never has--and with the advent of the internet and its quadrillion words of what we used to call writing but now call content available for everybody, absolutely, positively free--never will. So you better be doing it for love because that's all you're likely to get.

You want to tell me about J K Rowling or Stephanie Myers or that chick with the Julia Child blog who wound up with a best seller and a movie deal. Yes, I know, I've heard of them too.

Which reminds me. Have you heard about the guy who bought a sixer of IronCity at the Circle K and took a Powerball ticket instead of a dollar in change? He hit for, what was it, a hundred fifty mil? Moved his wife right out of the double-wide and bought hisself a Ferrari. Sweet story, don't you think?

But you don't care, you say. You're one of the rare few who will do this thing, no matter what. You don't mind rejection and you realize that you're probably not going to get rejected, but totally, helplessly, ignored, which is much, much worse, and you're still going to give this writing thing a go. What advice do I have for you, my fellow literary-sufferers, my colleagues-in-waiting, my brethren and sistren of the written word? And why should you listen to me?

Well, you don't have to. But you must pay me all due respect. This advice is coming to you from one who is seen and ignored by thousands and tens of thousands, online, in print, in magazines, newspapers and books. I have achieved a level of non-success that most of you can only hope to dream about in your wildest fantasies, when you're halfway through a pitcher of 17-year-old Wray and Nephew Rum Mojitos on a nude beach in Cabo where everybody is a supermodel and loves you.

I have written about subjects from airplanes to Zippos and everything in between. I have earned dozens of dollars in my long, triumphant career. You should listen to me.

First, keep your day job. If you don't have a day job, get one. If you can't find a day job, marry well.

Never forget that, outside of your mommy, nobody cares what you think. If you're going to interest people you don't know in what you have to say you better be interesting. Reading, even serious reading, is entertainment. So be entertaining.

Here are a few writing tips you might find valuable. They've helped me, and they're free. Give them a try.

Rule number one: Write every day. Set a minimum time aside for writing each day, it can be as little as an hour, and commit to doing it for one month. You can give yourself one day off a week if you like. If you keep that commitment for a month, congratulations, you're better than most, now commit for a quarter. You need to learn this craft and for that you need practice, repetitive, disciplined practice. Pick your time, pick your duration, pick your subjects, but treat it like a job. Punch in when you start, punch out when you stop and don't cheat the clock. And do it every day.

Rule number two: Write freely, edit ruthlessly. You don't want to stifle your creativity, go ahead and run with your ideas, don't freeze up looking for the precise word right away, write long and adventurously, write creatively.

But you're not as creative as you think and most of your creative stuff is crabgrass. Prune with a heavy hand, cut it down and cut it down again. You'll be amazed at how good your stuff looks if you're not afraid to tear out all the bad stuff. And with enough practice, you'll learn to tell the difference.

Rule number three: Neither seek nor trust "inspiration." I can't emphasize this point enough. Inspiration is the most overrated phenomenon in all the writing universe.

I'm not saying that you will be uninspired by what you are writing, but to expect much from that emotion is a rookie's mistake. Inspiration has a place in writing, sometimes, in small doses, but mostly writing is work. It is a craft that takes a dispassionate eye, even when your mind is enthralled by your subject, especially when.

Sometimes it happens to me. I get a flash of light and a rush of "inspiration" and I gush out a torrent of words and ideas so free and easy it's like time stands still, until I'm spent and my creation complete.

The next day I open that file and gaze upon the worst pile of crap I've written since the last time inspiration seized me by the brain and made me stupid. Then I have to spend hours of cold-hearted, hard-headed work to craft it into something readable.

If you rely upon inspiration you'll only write when you're inspired, and that's not nearly often enough to make a writer out of you. It's far better for the inspiration to come at the other end, when you're finished, and you read what you've created. It's fine to be inspired then. It's almost as good as money and praise.

And it better be, because you'll never get enough of either, not even if you're the hottest, most celebrated author of the day. It's a writer's lot to be unsatisfied.

If I haven't discouraged you yet, and you're committed to this grinding, thankless job, then let me be the first to welcome you to the ranks of The Writers. I wish you the best of luck in your writing career.

Don't pay attention to anyone who questions your writing credentials. If you make the commitment and stick to it, you are a writer. Because, ultimately, it's not about fame or fortune or even being published. You're a writer if you write. And if you write every day, nobody can tell you otherwise.

The writer's revenge is that no one can stop you. This is the cheapest field in the world to get into. And the most costly too. When you've written for a few decades, you'll know what I mean.

Authors Bio:
San Francisco based columnist, author, gym rat and novelist. My book, "The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie" is the best memoir ever written by a cat. Available on, or wherever fine literature is sold with no sales tax collected.

For those seeking more detail on yours truly, the following is from my website,, where you can partake copiously, and for free.

"Allan Goldstein lives in San Francisco with his wife, Jordan, and a minimum of two cats. His op-ed newspaper column,"Caught off Base," has appeared in San Francisco's West Portal Monthly for the past decade. Satire, invective and humor are specialties.

He also blogs regularly on and on under the pseudonym Snark Twain. Other work has appeared in Spitball, The Baseball Literary Review, The Potomac Review, and several magazines including Rock and Gem and Pilot's Preflight. He is currently at work on his third novel."