I’ve always been a bit touchy about the clichéd perception of writers – the brooding, enigmatic outsider who stomps along cliff tops in a long coat and flowing scarf, plucking inspiration out of thin air at just the right moment.
I think it’s my dad’s fault that I’m so sensitive about it. When I told him I was moving to Cornwall to write professionally, he said: ‘What? You’re moving to the seaside to write stories?’
I wrote this as a way of puncturing any potential pretentiousness – it’s based on Lorrie Moore’s How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche?
Then I submitted it to Telltales and read it at one of their events to a room full of people all clutching Moleskine notebooks…
Before writing anything, get yourself in the right frame of mind. George Orwell said: ‘All writers are vain, selfish and lazy,’ and, if you’re careful, you can use this as the basis for your entire personality. It’s OK for you to be moody and cynical; it’s OK to eat badly, drink heavily and smoke endlessly; it’s OK for you to get up every day to the theme tune to Neighbours because you’re a creative person and you don’t run with the common herd. If someone should point out your deficiencies as a human being you can always justify your behavior by telling yourself that people don’t understand you because you’re ‘different’. Don’t for a moment consider the alternative – that people don’t understand you because you’re a twat.
Revel in your status as an outsider; cultivate an air of aloofness and detachment. Become a master of the wry smile and faraway look. If you are forced to interact with anyone, make sure you’ve got a ready arsenal of witty and intellectual comments pinched from Have I Got News For You or whatever panel show you’ve heard on Radio 4 that week.
Carry a Moleskine notebook wherever you go and only write in it when plenty of people are around to see you do it. If anyone is foolish enough to ask you what you’re doing, say something vague and dismissive like: ‘Oh, I’m a writer’. Be modest and understated, they’ll fill in the gaps themselves and assume that you’re scribbling something more profound than ‘To Do’ lists and bitter little rants about society.
Adopt a superior tone and smile knowingly when they tell you about the novel based on 9/11 that they’ve planned out in their heads. Later, you can ridicule them for their naivety as you sit down to write your novel based on 9/11 that you just haven’t got round to starting yet.
Open up a new Word document full of good intentions, then quickly become distracted by working out the American route for your book tour and developing amusing anecdotes to tell to the Guardian Review when they come to interview you. You might also want to pick yourself out a Brazilian supermodel to date when you’re famous. Browse the internet for a while to find one that’s suitable. Spend the rest of the evening doing this.
With the appropriate mental attitude you can now be a writer. However, it’s important that you should avoid actually writing anything. That way, your potential can remain as vast and beautiful as the Pacific Ocean and you’ll never have to deal with the possibility that it really might only be a small drainage ditch filled with stagnant water.
If, by some quirk of chance, you do happen to write something, make sure that you lock it away in a drawer and do nothing other than mention it wistfully from time to time. On no account show it to anyone else. If you do, you run the risk of people realising that instead of the next James Joyce, you’re really just a pretentious little shit.