1. Be Better At Advice
I am terrible at taking advice, which is why I’m writing this at number one. This list is mostly for me, because I learn things by writing them down, but I figure you can benefit as well. Also, I like attention and money, so, y’know.
So, when you read this list, don’t question it. Don’t point out that you’re better than I am, or insist that this doesn’t apply to you, or that the criticism you received isn’t valid.
A teacher I had once gave me the best advice I ever got regarding advice, which was to only take the critiques that stung, the advice that made me want to grit my teeth in the face of or flee from entirely. Those are the quiet truths you knew, deep down, that come back to haunt you, the ghosts of your own laziness back to return.
2. Be Better At Reading
Good news! Reading doesn’t have to be reading. Reading means consuming media, bringing in ideas and appreciating them. Don’t just digest or dissect, because it’s not that serious and if you’re writing without joy or wonder you’re going down, hombre.
Here are some authors I recommend: James Baldwin. That’s it. That’s the whole list. Read some James Baldwin essays and watch this dude make you smarter while never making you feel dumb. Instead, in his mercy Baldwin expands you, giving you a fever dream of borrowed genius and knowledge that will recede, clumsy, as you try to explain it. It will make you want to tear up everything you’ve ever typed.
Similarly, read some Mallory Ortberg, a writer for The Toast. She’s the type of good that makes you blush because she’s just skating on words. Her writing is important because there’s no excuse left for you not to compete. She’s not canonized- she’s just writing, and she’s better than either of us. Reading Mallory Ortberg reminds you that even on the internet, even spread thin across the infinite, talent rings true.
Find people better than yourself. You will be ashamed. You will burn to ashes. But it will make you better.
3. Don’t Write For Exposure
Write for yourself and the joy you need expressed and milk that fucker for hard earned pennies. Make something out of nothing. Wring life from air, power from jangled keyboard keys.
Exposure is a humility you can’t afford. If you must write for free, if you are that filled with passion and desperation and devoid of avenues, then at least have the decency to be bitter. Spite, used sparingly, is the spice of ambition.
4. Minimalist Noir Keywords
Cigars, poker, whiskey, smoke. We get it. He was alone. A dog was there. Scruff. He wiped his butt with steel wool.
Your protagonist is wack and lame. You want menace, swagger, or character? Earn those things with your originality. No cliff-notes any doofus could hang their hat on.
5. No Editorials
Don’t tell us somebody was angry. Don’t even show it. Let it seep out in words unwritten, actions, tension, pace and commas. Same with every emotion. If you can evoke in silence, you’re going to be doing well.
Coax the genius from the quiet void and claim it for your own.
I am bad at this. Terrible. I’ve written about it before, but it comes to a shame born from laziness, a fear so scared to see my flaws that I’ll turn from them entirely, even at the expense of solving them.
Learn from my mistakes. Do better than me. Read your words, and read them aloud. Hear them ring. Savor and devote yourself to greatness, because it will come if you coax it.
7. Keep It Honest And True.
Don’t starch your words. Don’t add dust where it doesn’t belong, or confuse difficult for smart.
Words live and breathe as people do. To leave them paralyzed in a misremembered past of whiskey and smoke (see note #4) does us all a disservice. Err on the side of the true and present.
8. No Pretension
A cardigan doesn’t make you a writer. A degree doesn’t make you a writer.
It’s not an identity or a title. It’s a pursuit, open and free to all. Make it happen and make it resonate. Make it matter. Let it reach, sing, shine and happen. Polish has its place, but the more exclusionary you are with your writing, the less will come out of it.
9. Just Do It
This isn’t a critique of laziness, or a rah-rah-rah to get you going, but a gentle assurance against your fears. Even now, even after this, you still deserve to write.
Writing is for everyone, and you are not so uniquely bad as to be left out. Don’t let documents die unseen. Share and shine. You are as good as anyone to ever live, and even if your writing isn’t- even if it’s clumsy, thick and heavy on the page- the pursuit will bring you that much closer to the divine.