INside Advice How to do justice to how-to?
By Daryl Jung
A renewed commitment to how-to is afoot at IN.
I’m all for it, of course. That’s what we’re here for, after all. Rhodes couldn’t have stated it more stridently in his final Rowdy Words — and I’m here to tell ya, this guy would take a bullet for wannabe/fledgling writers.
So, as I shudder at the thought of more point-form lists of the dos-and-don’ts of query letter-writing and characterzation-101 stories, I too am shouldering the load and resolve to pass on, as our top-flight stable of writers do and have done, what I know (and don’t know) about “being” a writer, damn them torpedoes.
Of one thing I’m certain. Writing ain’t no fun, at awwwwl — especially when you do it for a living, and even less when you have constant deadlines, which, if you hammer at ‘em long enough, can literally kill. Missing many of them generally involves a firing and/or breach of contract suit. For the life of me I can’t crack the mystery of why anyone would choose writing as a career. Fools, all, of which I am one (well, it chose me, but that’s another long, boring, self-indulgently drivel-ish story, and of little interest to IN readers).
Writing is lonely. Unless you work in a newsroom or an ad agency or a government office — and even there you’re faced with your own empty cubicle/screen/mind, a void no amount of camaraderie/office politics can fill — you’re alone in a room with your own thoughts/imagination. Depending on the quality/quantity of these thoughts and imaginings, and if you’re comfortable and content in such a solitary state, this can be a blessing. But for the most part, if you like human company, you’ve got a problem.
Writing is ridiculously hard work — particularly when it’s a job, or if your credibility is at stake, or you’re trying to appear intellegent, or at least amusing. It’s often said, there’s writing and there’s typing. True. And the later is as deadly boring to write as it is to read. There is nothing worse than having to wax fascinating, no matter how many glowing press releases you’ve absorbed or whatever research you’ve been forced to do, about a subject you detest. Don’t even get me started on accuracy and fact-checking.
That’s just the Big Three — the triple-pronged tip of the gargantuan iceberg of a list of reasons not to want to “be” a writer. But anyone willing to face down its obvious and potentially obliterating evils have already made a very important leap. If you can say, “Yeah? What else ya got?,” you’re very likely on your way. And we’re here to help grease the wheels, illuminate the path, turn up the volume, fan the fire, jack you up, mellow you out, show you how-to.
Which is why, in every IN cover interview, we append our question regarding advice to neophyte writers with, “…other than, ‘Just read. And write!’” — which, given much thought, is the only advice that makes any sense. At least it makes the most sense.
But maybe I’m biased. As I said, I am one (if you’ll allow me to indulge myself) of the fools on this writing game ship. I decided to stagger aboard as a kid, and in seventh grade did my careers term paper on my chosen profession: novelist. Half of the grade was based on an interview with an established practitioner in your field. There were as many novelists in my town as there were Jews (and African Americans) — none.
Call me precocious, but I’d read Portnoy’s Complaint already and the lightbulb scene (“In my eye, you shits!”) still tortures my sense of humour. So naturally I’d choose Philip Roth, likely the most Jewish of any Jewish author that ever walked on water… oops… the earth. I wrote and very meticulously and articulately asked, bottom line, for any trade secrets (love that) that may prove enlightening to an earnest young corn-fed gentile lad.
“No ‘trade secrets,’” he scribbled, in fountain pen, right on my letter. “Just read… and write!”