Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Okay, real talk here.
Do you call yourself a writer? A capital-R-W Real Writer?
Sure, you spend your lunch breaks pecking away at your novel. You’ve got a blog and a Twitter you suspect people read. But is it really safe to label yourself a writer? Should you sell a short story first? Publish a book? Is the mere act of putting pen to paper enough, like how you only have to kill one person to be called a murderer? Or do you need to go to school for it, like a doctor or ninja? If so, fancy-schmancy writing workshops and MFA programs only accept a handful of students every year, leaving most writers out in the cold.
This week, the illustrious Neil Gaiman tweeted an endorsement of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, a pricey, six-week writing retreat in California:
https://t.co/KxqDo9CY9y is where you apply to go to Clarion. If you want to be a writer, you want to go to Clarion, NEED to go to Clarion.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) January 15, 2016
Whoa, wait a minute! Did he mean “need” in the same sense that we need oxygen to breathe?
The answer is yes, that’s exactly what he meant, and if you don’t have six weeks and a few thousand bucks to spare, there’s no daily word count that will save you, poseur.
This revelation ignited a firestorm among the common rabble. Many writers argued that Famous Author Neil Gaiman had forgotten that not everybody goes to bed with a rock star on top of a pile of money, and that many writers have various personal and financial obstacles preventing them from attending such programs—obstacles that Gaiman works tirelessly from the shadows to keep in place. Tough job market? Rising child-care costs? Debilitating disease? If you knew how much power and influence he and his fellow Real Writers have over your day-to-day lives, you’d never pick up another book again.
The most shocking thing about this whole kerfuffle is that Gaiman revealed even that much. Real Writers guard their secrets closer than [TOP SECRET ANALOGY ONLY VISIBLE TO REAL WRITERS]. Don’t believe me? How many people bought Stephen King’s On Writing? A million-billion. Yet only a fraction of those folks got published. Now do you see what I mean? King served up a salad of low-hanging fruit, such as setting a daily word count—and how brazen is it to sell a book that basically tells you that the secret to being a good writer is writing a lot of words?—but he kept all the arcane incantations and blood rites to himself.
Being a Famous Author myself, I’ve known this stuff for a long time. I’d wanted to write a tell-all book about it, but this is obviously the sort of thing that the publishing world doesn’t want to get out. At the risk of my personal safety and under penalty of banishment from the Real Writer Annual Picnic, I’ll share what tidbits I can.
The bad news is that the fancy workshops and schmancy degrees are just the first step, the equivalent of the first day of school where they make the seating chart and tell you when you go to lunch. There are so many other requirements to being a Real Writer. There’s the Reading of the Tome of Fate, a volume bound in unicorn hide, thicker than the entire set of 1991 World Book Encyclopedias you saw at the thrift store, which foretells how many books you will write and how many figures your book deal will be (to keep pace with the times, it’s available on e-book now, which weighs only seventy-eight pounds). There’s the Eyes Wide Shut-style masquerade where writers are tempted to permanently delete their latest draft in exchange for wicked, unspeakable delights—I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin. There’s the Cleansing Fire, a pyre of silver flame that will burn away the dead wood of bad ideas to make way for a forest of epiphanies. Like The Velveteen Rabbit, a faerie is involved, but she is tricksy; do not believe her lies. And throughout it all, so much blood. So, so much.
The good news? I never promised good news.
Yet after all that, it still may not be enough to make you a Real Writer. There is no ceremony. There is no certificate. But then one day, you’ll make an innocuous comment that causes thousands of writers to stop working on their manuscripts, instead using their precious few hours of writing time to yell at you on the internet. A day will come when you are so successful that people willfully misunderstand your words as proof that you’re an elitist snob.
Then, only then, will you know you’re a Real Writer.
Think you’re a Real Writer? Crow about it in the comments section!
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