Advice For Young Writers: Stop.

Friday, February 05

By Ash Haslett Cuff


Have you received perfunctory praise from your high school English teacher which has deluded you into thinking you should be writing? Do you feel the need to inflict your drivel on whoever you can send the link to your poorly maintained internet blog to? In short, do you consider yourself a writer? 

If so, stop right there. Take a good long look at yourself in the mirror. Push your glasses up your nose, ignore your acne, and tell yourself: I am a writer. My words are my gift to the universe and those who read them have been blessed with my brilliance.

Feel good about yourself? Great. Let’s change that. 

My dear, departed grandmother used to say to me when I told her I wanted to write: ‘Don’t be a writer. Everyone’s writing books these days, we don’t need anymore goddamn writers, do something useful with your time.’ When I was younger and more naive I used to laugh and think ‘classic Gaga, aren’t her nonagenarian ways quirky and funny? I will continue to write, you know why? Because I am talented and the world needs to hear what I have to say.’

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realised my grandmother was correct: Everywhere I turn there are goddamn writers. They’re penning ‘poetry’ (a term I’d argue is used too liberally), articles, novels, opinion pieces, vignettes, short stories, songs, scripts, screenplays. They’re churning out content like Catholic families churn out children. We have enough content out there, please, for the love of God, stop writing. We know you’re sad, we know you think you’re clever, we know you grew up reading Harry Potter and so you think that entitles you to some sort of literary clout even though all you’ve read since the age of twelve is crummy Young Adult books with words like ‘Bone’ or Smoke’ in the title. Okay, so you’re so obnoxious/boring/incompetently socially awkward that you compensate for your lack of real life friends by pretending you prefer the fictional. This doesn’t mean you get to brand yourself a writer and wreak the contents of your Moleskine on the rest of us, have some compassion for God’s sake! 

For too long has writing been the sanctuary of unattractive, socially inept, self diagnosed depressives who think their personal misery gives them the excuse to put their writing out in the public domain. Have some self respect and I don’t know, Get Laid.

Obviously that’s a joke, they couldn’t get laid if they tried. And they won’t try because they’re as terrified of intimacy as they are of their own bodies.

Now please don’t think I’m being hypocritical. I’ve been known to call myself a ‘writer’ at one point or another and all of the above is pretty much true about me (apart from the bit about YA: I think the fact that I’ve read one Virgine Despentes entitles me to some kind of literary elitism when in reality we all know I consider Stephen King to be one of my favourite authors and so really should just shut up and sit down. The fact remains…) So rest assured, I am as filled with as much self loathing as I am with contempt for every other neurotic adolescent who is currently wielding a pen. The New Yorker will never give us a first glance, let alone a second, so we can either kill ourselves and get it over with or else just stop writing and start doing something more useful with our time like, I don’t know, memorising the US Presidents in order of height. 

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