How to be a better unsuccessful writer - The first two rules of Writers Club

The general public has a low opinion of someone, especially a young person, who calls themselves a writer.

For the most part, this is because crying "artist" (of any kind) is a lot like crying "wolf".  If you turn out to be wrong (or deluded), you cut away at the credibility of future criers.  If you turn out to right, it means a lot of effort on everyone else's part.  (Meaning (if you've followed my simile this far) to either kill the wolf or to bother to understand your work.)

When someone asks you "What do you do?" they are usually just saying "What would you like to talk about next?"  So your answer doesn't really matter to them, or shouldn't.  Sometimes, however, in slightly less casual conversations, your interlocutor is really saying "How would you like me to think of you?".

We all wish, naturally, to be thought of highly by others; modern culture is easier to navigate the more respect you get.  So the temptation in these conversations is to pick the most enviable of your vocations (or avocations), or, possibly, to pick the one about which you have the most to say.

Most of us who consider writing to be the most important activity in our lives do not get paid for it.  We are "writers" only in the strict linguistic sense of the word, as in "ones who occasionally perform that verb".

The problem here lies in the Americentric tendency to define oneself (and, more importantly, others) in terms of discrete occupational categories.  These categories are defined by popular culture as a whole, and they come in arbitrary degrees of specificity.  Each of these categories has attached to it, in each person's mind, some moral assessment or set of conclusions that automatically get attached to anyone we put into that category.

Now, the people who call themselves writers at cocktail parties have in their own minds some desirable set of attributes attached to their own internal "writer" category.  But what writers (and especially unsuccessful writers) must understand is that in the mind of the sufficiently cynical listener (which, let's face it, is most people these days) there exists right next to the "writer" category, another category called "person who claims to be a writer".

Everyone who says they're a writer, and whom the listener has not heard of as such via other means, goes into this second category.  And, friends, let me tell you, that category is death.

If you tell someone you're a writer before they read your stuff, especially if you are not getting paid for it, and then they do read your stuff, they will fail to see the work as writing-in-itself.  It will just be a piece of typing done by someone who is trying to be a writer.

Their eyes will crawl over every word, finding your desperation and countless evidences of why you're unsuccessful collected in the cracks .  They will find all the justification they need for why you work tech support in a marketing firm during the day.

And then their eyes will be adjusted enough to see all of your 'yearning', first expressed as a semi-cocky, falsely modest "admission" of being a writer, and now fully flowered in this unpublished piece of shit, which arrived in their inbox accompanied by a puling request for editorial feedback, which is either disingenuous and actually just an excuse to show off, or it's a sign of utter self-delusion about why both Asimov's and Harper's have rejected this work of quiet genius.

This is the path you tread, friends, up a hill made up of the stones of your own desperate, yearning words, spoken not in the spirit of communication or occupational fellowship, but in the simple service of ego.

When you enter that cocktail party what-do-you-do conversion, be proud of your work in tech support, or if this is impossible, then be gently self-deprecating.

Do not attempt to become a professional writer from the outside in.  That only happens when someone decides to pay you (more than once) for doing this thing we love so much.

Throwing it away

Gina: a cat from 1999 until today