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Writing Advice: The Secret to Success

Dear Frankie,

I thought I’d involve you in my quarter-life crisis. I recently went on two dates with a giant tit of a man who told me that, despite all assertions to the contrary, you “are” what you do 40 hours per week. So, by his reasoning, I’m not a writer; I am really only a secretary at a corrupt and largely incompetent nonprofit. It bothered me when the tit said it then and it bothers me now. What if he’s right?

I continue working on my novel on days that I’m not too depressed to do anything but eat scones and watch Maury Povich, but is there some other outlet you’d recommend in the meantime? Should I start writing for a blog? Should I start sending out short stories to incestuous literary journals? Should I quit my day job and do nothing but write, write, write? Should I just accept that, at 26, I’m probably too old or too young for this writing thing anyway? Oy vey! What are your ideas?

—Just a Secretary

Dear Secretary,

Well, first of all, I’d advise against making major life decisions based on the philosophical principles of a giant tit of a man. I’ve been down that road, pal, and take it from me: you don’t want to go there. Whatever you decide to do, don’t do it for a giant tit of a man, or even for a small tit of a man. Do it for you.

How easy it would be to wave away your concerns with hollow reassurance! “Oh, honey,” I could say, “anyone can be a writer! Did you know that some famous writers had jobs?! Herman Melville was a customs inspector. Franz Kafka was an insurance officer. Ayn Rand was a phone sex operator. Therefore, you’re a writer. Problem solved! Go forth and write!”

But I suspect that your actual question is not “Am I as legit a writer as Ayn Rand?” but “How can I achieve Ayn Rand-level success in my writing career?” Forgive my presumption if you are not, in fact, interested in fame and fortune — but if that’s the case, then you are much more enlightened than I. I think there’s an entire lobe of my brain devoted to giving imaginary interviews to The Paris Review, fantasy-casting the Hollywood adaptations of my novels (or my memoirs — get me Ellen Page!), and planning the outfit I’ll wear in my author photo (jeggings, with a pinstriped vest worn as a shirt over my favorite black Chantelle bra that makes my cleavage look really intelligent). If it spurs me to keep writing, is that so wrong?

Luckily for you, it just so happens I have the secret to success. Just kidding! But I am measurably more successful now than I was when I was working a crappy job and struggling to write a novel. And I can tell you what worked for me.

I plugged away at that damn novel. It took me three years and over 400 pages, but in December 2009, I actually finished it. Hooray for me! All the hard work was over! I sent it to a bunch of agents, washed my jeggings in anticipation of my author photo shoot, and waited.

Pro tip: agents generally take a really long time to get back to you. After a while I got bored of waiting, and I decided to write a personal essay. Why not? I’d written a 400-page novel; surely I could write a little essay. And I did, and then I wrote another essay, and another — and the next thing I knew, I had a whole book’s worth of essays! Sure, by then every single agent had rejected my novel, but I barely cared, because my essays were actually even better than my novel. I began to send the essays to agents instead.

As I waited to hear back about the essays, I found myself seized with the urge to write a short story. Why not? I’d written a novel and a book’s worth of essays; surely I could write a short story. I wrote one, and then another, and the rejections for my essay collection began to trickle in — but that was okay, because my short stories were even better than my essays. And one day, as I was in the middle of working on a short story, my phone rang. It was an agent. He was calling about the essays. He was not calling to reject me.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Writing begets writing, and while I don’t have the secret to a big break, I do know one thing for sure: your big break won’t come unless you write. Which is why I am on Team Finish Your Damn Novel, Above All Else. Save the blogging and the incestuous literary journals for later; I think you already know in your heart that right now they’d just be a form of procrastination, every bit as much as the scones and Maury Povich. Finish your damn novel. Even if it comes out Randian in quality, at least you’ll know that you have it in you to write a whole novel. The rest, I promise, will follow.

Well, what do you know? I guess that advice does boil down to “You’re a writer. Problem solved! Go forth and write!”


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