September 7, 2011

Don’t Become A Novelist

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What is the issue?

Most of my friends want to become novelists. The rest want to be screenwriters. It’s a calling, they say, and apparently everyone I know has it. I don’t even live in Brooklyn. How is this possible?

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be a writer. First of all, literary parties are disasters. They’re insufferable. Every last attendee believes that they are, or will be, the greatest writer in the universe. This includes people as obscure as 1) that girl who published some flash fiction in a students-only magazine six years ago and 2) the fucking social media intern who got hired by a small publishing house because he’s 22 and knows what a Klout score is. I’ve had more fun at NA meetings, even the sober ones. Which brings me to my second point.

If you want to be a writer because you think it’s going to be all cigarettes, whisky, and sex with bountiful literati, think again. Today’s writers – the ones who actually get published – are qualified, like accountants. They’ve earned MFAs and teach at universities. This means they worry about things, like their careers, and the debt accrued in order to attend an MFA program and become a Qualified Writer in the first place. And all of this practical stuff is about as sexy as being an actuary. So forget becoming the 21st century’s Henry Miller. There’s just not enough time to be a libertine.

Lastly, aspiring novelists are miserable conversationalists. They can only talk about themselves, or their unpublished books. If you have the misfortune of engaging one in even the most basic dialogue, you will, with 100% certainty, hear the sad story of “How My Manuscript Is Coming Along.” I’ve listened to variants of that confession at least twenty times, and it turns out that all these would-be writers have the same problem: coming up with a good ending. (And also a good middle section. But everyone has a totally bitchin’ first chapter. I’ve heard enough bitchin’ first chapters to put together a whole book.)

I can picture them on Sunday nights, gloomily thinking about not being published. I can see them making resolutions. They say to themselves, My stories are so good in my head. I’m such a genius. I just need time to get them down on paper. Next weekend, I’ll lock myself in my room and do nothing but write.

Don’t be like them. It’s not what you think it is. You want something else, even if you don’t know it. That’s what I keep telling my friends, but none of them listen. They’re deluded. An entire generation with a manuscript locked away somewhere. It’s depressing enough to make you write a book. Well, not me, of course… but maybe someone else. TC mark

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Alexander Sullam

Alexander Sullam is from San Francisco but lives and works in London.

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