And now, Christina Cooke. Christina is a UNB Alum who graduated with her MA in English in 2012. Her work appeared previously in Decolonization and is forthcoming in the Fall 2013 issue of Sou’wester. You can follow her on Twitter to learn about upcoming publications: @cjctlc – she takes no responsibility for any grumpy cat photos her Twitter feed may hold.
10 Rules for Fledgling Writers, Courtesy of a Fledgling Writer
Taking a page out of The Globe and Mail’s column “10 rules for writing” (who took a page out of the Guardian’s “Rules for writers” series, who took a page out of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing . . . down, down, the rabbit hole descends):
10. Pack a pen before heading to the airport, in case inspiration strikes while hurtling through the clouds. Pens may leak, but pencils smudge – or if you can’t decide, bring both (choose your preferred vice while waiting on your complimentary peanuts). But for the love of all things literary, never bring a laptop. Do you know how hard it is to sleep while someone’s on their keyboard, tap-tapping away?
9. Go ahead: write that story about that boy who never loved you or that girl who screwed you over. Jot down every detail, every scathing word they said; wrap them up in all their heart-breaking glory. Then leave that story on your hard-drive to rot.
8. If writing in long-hand, cough up the extra cash and buy a notebook with reinforced covers. Few things are as harrowing as realizing that your notebook’s back cover has fallen off, thereby exposing your writing to the rotten crumbs and patches of coffee-smelling something in your bag (all because you wanted to save $1.25 to buy more beer for that party that didn’t turn out to be that fun anyways).
7. Don’t kid yourself: not everything you write is worth the hassle of getting published.
6. When reading, if a story doesn’t grab you by page four, for short fiction, or page fifty, for a novel, put it down and read something else. You’ve got more books to explore than there are waking hours left in your life. Apply the same logic to your writing: if the central conflict hasn’t been set in motion by page four or page fifty, something’s gone awry.
5. Writing is stressful. Writing is hard. Writing can seemingly consume your life. Don’t whine to other writers about the inherent nature of the beast. You’re not as special as the crushing anxiety may make you feel.
4. If writing doesn’t feel stressful or difficult or anxiety-inducing, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong.
3. Don’t collect books just for the sake of collecting them. If you’re sincerely interested, take the book home and introduce it to your two closest friends: your chewed-up pen and bedside table. If you only like the cover or the way the spine feels: Resist! Reassess! Walk away. There’s probably someone out there who’s honestly interested in book-with-a-shiny-cover. Would you really deny them the joy of finding that nugget for themselves?
2. Wearing a fedora doesn’t make you a writer. Sipping espresso in Starbucks or eating organic carrots or attending slam poetry readings in the basement of someone’s house doesn’t make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer. Devise and follow your own process, no matter how “artsy” or “un-artsy” it may seem.
1. There will be those who will have you believe you’ve committed a disgraceful folly by becoming a writer. “You’re studying English?” they may sneer. “So you’re going to be a barista?” And you may very well be a barista – or a ski instructor or a mailman or the poor sod who gets paid $8/hour to round up the stray carts in the supermarket parking lot – but keep writing. Day in and day out (before breakfast; between shifts), just keep writing. Don’t let the haters get you down.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to exclude fedora-wearers and Starbucks-lovers from being writers. If wearing a backwards-turned fedora while sipping a venti caramel latte amidst the quick rhythms of slam poetry unlocks your creative channels, you have my full support (and my adoration. You sound like a very cool person). But to put it plainly: stop worrying about your clothes and start worrying about your sentence structure. Ya dig?