Hacks for Hacks: Top 5 Affectations Every Writer Should Adopt

Photo by stephcarter
Photo by stephcarter

We’re thrilled to introduce you to our newest contributor, Bill Ferris. Bill was one of the over fifty applicants for our humor columnist position, and–as we told the funny finalists who were not Bill–we fell in hard love with his voice and quirky sense of humor. Welcome, Bill!

The fragrance of coffee and overpriced pastries wafts through your favorite cafe. You choose a table with a clear view of that cute barista whose chai tea you can’t stop thinking about. Trouble is, every singleton in town has the same idea. If you want to impress your coffee crush, you’ve got to let her know you’ve got more than good looks and charm. You’re a writer, the sexiest and coolest of all professions. Since she’s avoiding eye contact, you’ll have to make it obvious.

1. Dress to impress. Don a T-shirt commemorating an author whose image you want to portray (Hemingway–I’m a tough guy with a sensitive side and a drinking problem; James Joyce–I like to tell people I read James Joyce. I am also a drunk). Gentlemen, catch her eye by sporting…well, a sport coat, the kind with those swanky elbow patches. Ladies, try on some big librarian glasses. Hold your hair in a bun with a number two pencil, then whip it loose like you’re in an ‘80s music video. To make sure he sees you, do this every fifteen minutes. Both sexes may accessorize with berets, scarves, or pipes–but never more than one. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard.

2. Talk the tahlk. Nothing speaks to a life of culture, travel, and literature like an accent of indeterminate origin. George Plimpton was a nobody until he ditched his south-Georgia twang for a Mid-Atlantic posh the envy of boarding-school headmasters nationwide. Homebrew your own signature speech patterns by fusing Katharine Hepburn’s old-time Hollywood with Hagrid’s West Country accent. Your beloved may ask you to repeat yourself, which totally counts as witty back-and-forth.

3. Bring your imaginary entourage. Your efforts are paying off, because Miss Barista is approaching your table. Ignore her passive-aggressive comment that paying customers can’t find a seat, and casually tell her you’re waiting for two close friends. Begin an anecdote about the interesting lives your friends lead, full of wine, women, and time travel. When she tells you the café’s Wi-Fi password is only printed on sales receipts, let it slip that your friends are not flesh and blood, but CHARACTERS IN YOUR NOVEL! Tell her you hope she meets them when she reads your masterpiece. You may have to project your voice if she’s stomping away.

4. Go Luddite. Every wannabe writer in the coffee shop is clacking away on their laptops, writing in huge fonts in hopes that somebody, anybody will notice their work. Pathetic. Differentiate yourself by closing your laptop and opening a leather-bound journal and fountain pen. You may “accidentally” spill some coffee onto the pages, which she’ll interpret as fervor for your craft. She’s still pretending to ignore you? Make like a peacock by busting out a quill pen. The time you spend helping her mop up your spilled inkwell is what Roger Ebert calls a meet-cute.

5. Give the gift that keeps giving. No, I don’t mean a magazine subscription (unless it’s your literary magazine). Give her the gift of immortality. No, don’t turn her into a vampire (unless you’re writing a vampire novel, which I hear is all the rage these days). I mean she’ll live forever as a character in your book, spending eternity with the creatures born inside your head (describe it to her in exactly those words). If she doesn’t respond like Kate Winslet asking Leonardo DeCaprio to “Paint me like one of your French Girls,” remember that promising to put someone in your novel works equally well as a threat.

Success! Your barista notices you. She’s so impressed that she tells her shift manager about you, too. Nothing to do but ask for her number. Oh, she’s gone home, the manager says, even though you can plainly see her beyond the kitchen doors. No matter. You’ll be back tomorrow. You should get home anyway. You’ve been so busy, you haven’t had time to get any writing done.


About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife, Jen, and his sons, Elliott and Wyatt, and he looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.


  1. says

    Excellent suggestions all, Bill, and up to the incredibly high standards of writerly guidance we have come to expect from WU. I look forward to your forthcoming guidance on cocktail party small talk strategies for impressing the less enlightened (non-writers).

  2. says

    I often pull pencils out of my hair but I’m not sure how they got in there to begin with. Why question it, though? Free pencils!

    This is a great post. Just what I needed today. Welcome to the crew, Bill. :-)

  3. says

    Welcome, Bill! I’m heartened by your reminder that this is the sexiest and coolest of all professions. After a meeting with our financial advisor yesterday, who was somewhat less impressed, it’s a real boost to my slumping countenance. So thanks.

    • says

      Melissa, it’s obvious you were just working up the nerve to talk to this charismatic fellow. And you gave him the perfect opening for him to buy you a coffee. Well played!

  4. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Welcome Bill. I think your coffeehouse writer has a weightlifter brother who hangs out at my gym.

  5. says


    I’m reminded of a writing “partner” I had once, lovely woman. She didn’t write much of anything, but she spent a great deal of time planning our matching outfits to wear on Oprah.

  6. says

    Thanks for the giggles. And for the characters.

    It’s been done before, but your hapless writer would make a great corpse in a romantic mystery. The put-upon barista is the sleuth. Or maybe she’s the next victim, and the sleuth is the coffee shop owner…

    Do you mind if I riff on your characters? :-)

    • says

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Angela. By all means use them. All I ask in return is a lot of money.

      Or just buy me a coffee sometime, whatever’s easier.

  7. says

    This is totally fabulous, Bill. Fortunately, I’m reading this at a coffee shop so I can get right to work.

    Welcome aboard!

  8. says

    Welcome to WU, and kudos for a post filled with The Truth!

    Suggestion for Affectation #6: develop an impenetrable answer to the barista’s inevitable question of “what’s your book about?” Oh, and make sure you use phrases like “exploring the human condition” to give it an extra helping of authorial authoritativeness.

  9. Kate Klein says

    6. Extended cell phone chats with your agent and/or the producer of Morning Edition and/or Yaddo cannot go unnoticed by that hard-to-impress barista or baristor. Especially if you take the call (“oh, I have to take this–it’s NPR!) whilst trying to pay for your mint latte.