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

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Message Allan Goldstein
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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.

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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 (more...)
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