The Big Jewel has received an advance copy of an essay on creative writing to be published as the introduction to the next book by a major bestselling author. For legal reasons we can’t identify him by name, but suffice it to say that he writes the kind of glitzy doorstop-sized novels that you see in every airport and second-hand shop in the country. Also, when NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescope had located the exact center of the known universe, he was very surprised and disappointed to find out that it wasn’t his house.
You can bring the prisoner down now.
Now that I’m an internationally renowned writer, it’s surprising that no one ever comes up to me and says, “How I envy you. How I wish I could be a writer too.” But I know so many of you would say that, if only you had the chance, so I am writing this article to set the record straight once and for all: you can’t be a writer. You can’t be a writer because you can’t write. You don’t believe me? Well, try it:
You see? Pretty pathetic. Now watch this:
Lucinda’s nostrils flared ever so slightly as Derek handed her an icy glass filled to the brim with vintage champagne. Small beads of perspiration formed on her tanned forehead, kind of reflecting the beads of condensation forming on the glass, in a way. If you see what I mean. So then Derek leans forward meaningfully and says, even more meaningfully, “I want to run my fingers through your hair. I long to kiss your luscious lips. I yearn to embrace your delicate neck. I’ve got a hankering to drop to my knees and rip open your dress and. . .”
I could go on, but let’s stop there. Now I’m not trying to be arrogant (in fact, I’m exerting no effort at all) but if I wanted to, in about three or four days of intense, frenzied, all-consumingly obsessive work I could expand that little gem of an idea into a 900-page blockbuster epic saga packed with life, love, romance and power, full of undeniable lust, unimaginable wealth, seismic sex and Pi to 7,000 decimal places. Hardback sales would top eight figures. The movie rights alone would put me and all the future generations of my extended family on Easy Street for good. But hey, I don’t feel like it right now. I’ve got ideas like that to burn. Also, I’m supposed to be telling you what it takes to be a writer. So here goes:
First, you have to be born. A writer, I mean. Even in your earliest childhood you have to be aware of that uncertain, obscure, indescribable, ineffable, intangible, impalpable, ungraspable, unknowable nameless something that will enable you later in life to write a succinct, accurate description of any thing or concept whatsoever. For instance, sitting here right now, I could give you a complete summing up of all of human spiritual and philosophical thought for the last 17 centuries in just three words. But I won’t. For writing is more than that. Writing is also ideas.
People never send me letters, but I’m sure they would if it occurred to them, to ask: Where do you get your ideas? And the answer is: I have no idea. Let me illustrate. Right now I am sitting here in front of my old, broken-down, beat-up, dented-in, rusted-out, rotted-through manual typewriter, made in 1897, with the keys in alphabetical order. The “B” and the “U” only work in upper case and the comma key doesn’t work at all. It weighs 92 pounds, the ribbon is always jammed and it smells like a wet sheepdog, but I just love it. I wouldn’t give it up for any fancy high-tech word processor in the whole world. Mainly because all I ever do with the old heap is sit in front of it. For writing, I have a Powerpunch 2000 MegaMag LXPC-3 with 17,000 gigabytes of RAM and a hard disk that can store two copies of all the written works published since the Rosetta Stone. I have a modem that can contact the Space Shuttle and a laser printer that also does my taxes. The mouse alone costs more than a new Audi.
Now, where was I? Oh yes: to be a successful writer you need to cultivate the ability to pick a topic and stick to it. Was that it? No — I’ve got it now: ideas. Let me explain the genesis of ideas in such a way that maybe even you will be able to understand it (don’t thank me — this is my profession):
To have an idea you have to know how to have an idea. And to know how to have an idea you have to have some idea of how the idea-having mechanism works. Nobody has any idea how this happens, not even the world’s top brain surgeons, so I suggest you just bag it and forget about ever being able to write your way out of a broken condom. But hey, you can keep on reading this particular article anyway.
So to continue, to be a good writer you have to develop an ear for detail, an eye for dialogue, and a very good memory so you don’t get things mixed up. Take me, for instance: I remember the day I sold my first story. I recall it as if it were yesterday, even though it happened earlier this month. I was sitting on the porch of the disused fishmeal plant on the coast of Alaska where I had been living for nine years in total isolation, with no heat, surviving on leaves, berries and roadkills, drinking melted snow, sleeping on a pile of rags that I glued onto my skin in the daytime for clothes and sending out short stories at the rate of about one every three hours. All of them came back with rejection notices, until one day when I was sitting on the porch, like I said earlier, I think, and up to the house came a man from the sheriff’s office with an eviction notice, followed by two men from the telephone and power companies to cut off my phone and electricity, a team from the water company to shut off the water and the gas, and a small army of finance company representatives with orders to repossess my car, my television, VCR, stereo, bicycle, rowing machine, all my furniture, my glasses, the dog and the toilet, when just then the mailman came up and handed me a letter.
I was so used to receiving big brown packages containing my returned manuscripts, I was shocked when he reached in his bag and pulled out a slim envelope addressed to me. Imagine my surprise when I opened that letter and read that the state welfare agency was cutting off my benefits and sending someone out to take my children and give them to wolves so they could be raised in a more salubrious environment. Now that I think about it, I remember that I actually sold my first story a little while later, to a cropdusters’ inflight magazine, and even then it only paid $15, so I lost all my stuff anyway.
But that’s the life of a writer. As you’ve no doubt guessed, a successful writer leads a life that is remarkably different from yours. You probably get up in the morning and go to work, come home at night and go to sleep, you poor scum. Well, it’s not that kind of humdrum daily routine for us professional writers, I can tell you. I, like so many innately creative people, prefer to work at night, so I tend to stay up later and later, go to bed later and later, and get up later and later. And that means that the next day I stay up even later, and then go to bed later, get up later, and so on. You follow me? I could go over that part again if you want. So anyway, I started staying up later and later until I was staying up all night. Then I started staying up all night and part of the morning. Then I was staying up all night and most of the morning, then all night and most of the day. In fact, these days I stay up so late that I don’t even go to bed until about 10:00 p.m. the next day. Then I sleep until 6:00 a.m. and get up and work during the day, only for me it’s the previous night.
But that’s just one of the many things that makes life so very, very different for the writer. Another thing is that, now that my name is a household word, I get a constant stream of invitations to a never-ending round of receptions, parties and dinners. Naturally, I am disdainful of any such tiresome, superficial social functions, and I never ever accept these invitations because I know that a person of my stature would be certain to have a simply dreadful time. Why, just two days ago I was at a cocktail party for the second anniversary of the opening of a local all-weather radio station, when a woman came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you could come. Let me take your coat.” Can you believe it? No fatuous questions about my work. No confusing me with some other famous (but, let’s face it, lesser) author. No self-effacing but downright cretinous admission that she always wanted to be a writer too. Probably what she wanted to say was, “I love your books. I’ve read all of them three times. In hardback. You’re the greatest voice of your generation. Possibly of the century. What the hell, the millennium. Oh, and I always wanted to be writer too, but of course I can’t.”
Well, in reply, I said — I mean I would have said if she had in fact said what she didn’t in fact say, but would have if she had in fact said it — “Allow me, dear woman, to quote the famous literary critic and Shakespeare scholar Oliver Wendell Holmes, who once said: ‘Tough bounce, bubeleh — where’s the booze?'”