Advice to a Young Writer V

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Advice to a Young Writer V


Best to marry a good copy editor, ala Dostoevsky etc.

#ThanksforTyping: the women behind famous male writers
From Tolstoy to Mark Twain, the most famous writers owe many words of thanks to their long-suffering wives.

Or, if you are single, you can self edit. I edited my own first novel (or was it my third memoir?) polishing each word, sentence, paragraph, punctuation mark and chapter, leaving 457 blank pages of incandescent brilliance.


Write when you are sober, and edit when you are drunk?

The great irony of writing, my friend, is that the more you do it, the more you will want to drink, thus destroying your ability to write. I think Joseph Heller explored this in his concept of “Catch 22”. Writing is the cure for the disease of drinking: or is drinking the cure for the disease of writing? Oh well! I trust you will work this out for yourself. If not, there are always antidepressants.

Robert Benchley: “I know I’m drinking myself to a slow death, but then I’m in no hurry.” (He died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1945)

Or you could take advice from the Persians, via Herodotus: Get drunk and write. Then the next day you can read what you have written, while sober, and decide which course of action to take. This could go back and forth forever!

William Faulkner: “Civilization Begins with Distillation”.

Or Ulysses S Grant, who wrote one of the best memoirs of the 19th century:

“Grant, Chernow makes clear, was an addict, who fought his addiction, with various degrees of success, throughout his life, and finally intuited that he could manage his problem best by bouts of binge-drinking followed by long episodes of abstinence. Grant drank in a very American way — not like the sociable, southern-European kind of drinking, or even the clubbable, competitive drinking of the nineteenth-century British Army. This was hard-edged, solitary drunkenness in search of oblivion.” (Welcome to the club!)

Writer’s retreats

I myself prefer the “The Dostoevsky Retreat”: languishing for years in a Siberian Gulag. The story of the dude who wrote a novel but ended up smoking it.

Your Audience

This is very tricky. Ideally, you want to write something that appeals to everyone: children, adults, teens, postmodernist realists, magical-realists, depressive-realists, adult/postmodern depressive realist teens and children, immigrants, laborers, lesbians, postmodern-lesbians, post-apocalyptic transvestites, etc.

I labored diligently for years on a work of politically correct inclusion … Which paid me nothing. I never achieved the sort of monetary success dreamt of by most writers until I wrote my brilliant collection of short stories for paranoid-schizoid preschoolers: “Puppy, Get Out Of My Head”! Which sold over 1 million copies and garnered me a Newbery Medal. A book subsequently banned in every elementary school library — which of course only drove up my sales.


Freud’s theory of sublimation comes is quite useful here. If you have given up your physical seed to a woman then you have failed as a Writer. You must hold it. You must nurture each individual sperm, a tender newborn, until it is transformed into symbolic works of genius — the real alchemist’s work — work that neither dies like children or crumbles into dust like the mortal products of the womb of women.

In response to one of Yeats’ many marriage proposals, Maud Gonne told him:

“You would not be happy with me. … You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry.”
In 1911, she wrote a letter to him and said, “Our children were your poems of which I was the father sowing the unrest & storm which made them possible & you the mother who brought them forth in suffering & in the highest beauty.”

I.e. The most beautiful literary turn down in the history of the world.

Writing Rituals

John Cheever took an elevator to the basement, then took off his pants. Should I take the stairs to the the top floor, thus exercising and reducing my carbon footprint, and don my cloak of creativity?

I myself prefer the Revised Edith Wharton Method.

See “Publicity Photos” below

1. Be born into a really, really rich family.

2. Marry a really really rich friend of your father’s who conveniently has mental problems.

3. Build a 35-room mansion called ‘The Mount’ in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

4. Sit in bed, write longhand on sheets of paper, toss them to the floor to be gathered up by your maid (a really hot one?) which are then handed off to the butler (a really hot one?) who then proceeds to hand them to your driver, who then drives them to your copyist, who then types them up. Then the whole process begins again, so you may edit the typed page, write some more on the back of the pages, then casually toss them to the floor, whereupon the whole process continues. Noblesse Oblige! You employ so many people! Kudos to you, Kiddo!

Publicity Photos

Should you become a famous, world renowned writer, you must have a serious publicity photo.

  1. My own personal role model and template. One who honestly earned that photo!
Do I have to caption this? BTW, Great Bokeh!
  1. Karl Ove Knausgaard
  1. Ibid, to a lesser degree. Certainly more fierce and brooding if you’re into that sort of thing.

4. Just in case I change my gender.

Zadie Smith

5. A photo of me in a dark, brooding phase, surreptitiously captured by an accidental selfie whilst thinking about incredibly serious stuff.

Stop Thinking Dude!

6. Me as a literary gunslinger, circa 1832, just minutes after I have been shot by Alexander Pushkin in a now forgotten but fascinating literary duel: the Russian Intelligentsia version of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Thank God for literary posterity, Turgenev was only clipped in the shoulder.

Nice shot Pushkin! BTW don't duel with Baron Georges D’Anthès!

7. The Author poses by her car. A completely new photographic genre of the Author photo.

  1. Perhaps I could find a photo of Camus posing serenely beside the car that killed him?
Close enough. The Facel Vega FV/FVS

9 . A model to avoid at all cost. Sorry Houellebecq.

The ultimate anti-author photo?
  1. Let’s get funky baby!
Oh Hannah. No wonder Heidegger called you his "saucy little wood nymph"
  1. Oh Susy S.!!!
  1. Roth!
Moses Reborn — in a really ironic way?

Suicide (to be cross-referenced with drinking, writing, editors, women/muses, punctuation, language, writer’s block, book jackets, fame or lack thereof) (Inspiration?)(Etc)

John Cheever’s brilliant advice on this account:

“What did I learn from Ernest Hemingway? Not to put a shotgun in my mouth”.

And Walter Miller Jr.,

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller: 9780553273816 | Books
In the depths of the Utah desert, long after the Flame Deluge has scoured the earth clean, a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz has made a miraculous discovery: holy relics from the life of the great…

who wrote one of the best defenses against suicide I have ever read (see the end of the book) then proceeded to shoot himself in the head with a shotgun. With writers, one must read what they write, and ignore how they live.

If you must, I advise the route of Ambrose Bierce. Just lose yourself in the Mexican wilderness, your body never discovered.