Written two years before I was born, Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche?” strikes awful close to home, and is probably more useful than any earnest how-to guide.
In high school, I once had a creative non-fiction assignment given back to me riddled with “C”s, for cliches – it was horrifying. The grade was “Writing = A. Creative Non-Fiction = F.” Luckily the whole class by-in-large failed the assignment, so I got the chance for a manically-written do-over describing, in entirety, what I saw on television as I channel-surfed, so there was something about Tiger Woods and something about Applebee’s, I think. I got an A that time. Dr. Cognard was the best teacher I’ve ever had. She also memorably told me, “why should we give a fuck about [one of my two main characters]?” Tough question!
- First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/ missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age – say, 14. Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at 15 you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire.
- Make up anagrams of his old girlfriend’s name and name all of your socially handicapped characters with them.
- The only happiness you have is writing something new, in the middle of the night, armpits damp, heart pounding, something no one has yet seen. You have only those brief, fragile, untested moments of exhilaration when you know: you are a genius. Understand what you must do. Switch majors.
- Say: ”Mom, I like to write.” She’ll say: ”Sure you like to write. Of course. Sure you like to write.”
- Be glad you know these things. Be glad you are not just a writer. Apply to law school.
- From here on in, many things can happen. But the main one will be this: You decide not to go to law school after all, and, instead, you spend a good, big chunk of your adult life telling people how you decided not to go to law school after all. Somehow you end up writing again. Perhaps you go to graduate school. Perhaps you work odd jobs and take writing courses at night. Perhaps you are working and writing down all the clever remarks and intimate personal confessions you hear during the day. Perhaps you are losing your pals, your acquaintances, your balance.
- Scowl fiercely. Tell them you’re a walking blade.