The perennial problem of hipsters, humanities graduates, and arts administrators everywhere: how to appear to be a creative person, an artist, a writer, without ever actually producing any creative work?
We all know the lifestyle is 90% of what makes a writer a writer, but what about the remaining 10%? Here are my five top tips for being taken seriously as a writer.
Actually writing anything is recommended, but optional.
1. Avoid Literary Events Like the Plague
This may seem counter intuitive, but sometimes it’s actually better to be not seen at literary events if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.
A: Where were you when Don Patterson read at the University?
B: I was writing.
A: Why did you miss that seminar on vampire fiction?
B: I was writing.
After a while, people start to fill in your answers for you. They’ll notice you’re not in the audience at the book festival, and they’ll think. Ah, that person, always writing. What a writer. I wish I was more like them.
When this happens your mission is accomplished. Note that it is not necessarily to actually do any writing, merely to say that you were whenever an event you missed comes up in conversation.
2. Be Boring at Parties
Occasionally, it will be necessary for you to attend a literary event, so that you can tell people that you weren’t at other literary events because you were writing. While you are there, you should take advantage of your captive audience and attempt to socialise in as writerly a way as possible, that is, as badly as possible.
Advanced practitioners can combine socialising badly with letting people know they have been writing.
“Sorry I’m not very good company today, you’re the first person I’ve spoken to for weeks as I’ve been holed up in the Balmoral writing the second draft of my latest play” will go down a storm. Not only can the person you say this to feel guilty about calling you boring behind your back now that you’ve apologised, but they now think that you have written something.
3. Never Ever Give Details About Your Work
It’s imperative that the content of your work remains a total secret. If people get a hold of specific information, they will be able to refer to the work again in future.
“How is that short story about cats going, Charles?” they will enquire politely at cocktail parties. “When and where can I read it? It sounded great fun.”
This well meaning individual has thrown a whopper of a spanner in the works of your literary reputation. You are now in the position of
- having to remember whatever it was you made up about the story when you first told them about it;
- needing a non-pathetic excuse not to have finished it that doesn’t make you look like you have no commitment to writing.
If you should ever find yourself in this situation, then the classic “I’m desk-drawing* it at the moment” will get you out of trouble, but this card only works a few times before it loses effectiveness. You could also go for an extreme version of the position outlined in point four below, but I don’t recommend this as people will simply assume you’re a crap writer if you push it too hard.
Ideally, you will avoid these awkward situations altogether, by never giving details about your work.
Generic questions like “How is the writing going?” and “Where can I read some of your work?” are more easily fielded: your writing is always going well; and of course they can read some of your work. Get their email address and then never get around to sending them any.
* The desk-drawer is a technique whereby a draft of a piece of creative writing is put aside and all thoughts about it are banned. When the draft is reopened after a few weeks, the writer has a fresh perspective on it, and has developed an emotional distance which allows them to make the changes that need to be made without being sentimental.
4. Disapprove Faintly but Firmly of Publishing
This should be done very subtly, but it is imperative that you make it clear that you write for yourself only – or at least for a very select, refined audience – in order to account for your total lack of published or produced writings.
It must be a moral choice not to publicise your work rather than a practical one. This helps to avoid the implication that you have not been published simply because your work is shit.
Merely never being selected for publication, or worse, always being “about to send something” but “making sure it’s perfect before I send” are simply not satisfactory.
Actually arguing against the merits publishing is fairly futile because it will make you look as though you have been burnt and are merely bitter. It also draws attention to the fact that you have no publications.
Instead I recommend little references to writers like Pinter, Shakespeare, Lochhead etc as “commercial” or “sell-outs”. These will put successfully put forward your publishing philosophy without giving anyone the opportunity to engage with it.
5. The Golden Rule: Don’t Overdo It
In order to successful build up a reputation as a writer without actually writing anything, you must misdirect from the fact that you never actually write anything as much as possible.
The best way to do this is to allow the idea that you are a writer to infiltrate the minds of your friends and family slowly, without confronting them with it too suddenly. They will acclimatise to the idea of you being a writer without scrutinising it too much. This is ideal.
The key is subtlety. Suggestion. Misdirection.
Hopefully you will have noticed these are them themes of all five tips in this post.
Never talk about your writing. Do not make the amateur error of not making it obvious that you are choosing not to talk about your writing, however. Say that you don’t like talking about your writing because expressing your ideas aloud means you lose the impetus to write them in ink.
Do not dress like a writer. Occasionally look embarrassed at the flowing scarves and tweed jackets around you at literary parties to indicate that you choose not to do so in order to avoid pretension.
Do not make writer friends. As an authentic and very productive writer, it is good for you to spend time with normal people.
Also, they are the most likely to catch you out.