So You Want to Become a Writer

A collection of unsolicited advice from someone who sometimes gets paid to write 

Tip #1: Start with your eyebrows. 

You were never truly bullied in high school. The words that came closest, however, were always about your brows: thick, shapeless, reminiscent of a dead centipede, ugly.

Not that you actually heard many taunts about them, but when you are fourteen and impatient for your Hollywood-esque makeover montage, you tend to latch on to slight insults and vow that, someday, you will become prom queen and valedictorian and (eventually) a published writer for the New York Times and, by then, your eyebrows will no longer matter, because you are rich and famous and can afford to get them waxed or whatever, honestly, you're not really sure how to make them pretty, but they will be, they'll see, they'll all see.

Vindication, when it arrives, will be in the form of Cara Delevingne.

After she first walked the runway for Burberry in 2011, suddenly, everyone wanted thick eyebrows.

And although shapeless, dead-centipede eyebrows were still not fashionable, at least all you had to do was get your brows threaded; no hour-long makeup routine necessary. (Unlike the ones on the girls who used to joke about yours.)

More importantly, by the time you turn twenty-one, you will be getting paid to write about eyebrows, eyebrows, and more eyebrows, because now, there is an enormous market for pencils, gels, pomades, stencils, tattoos, and even massages—

—all of which is a long-winded way of saying:

When you want to become a writer, you need to be willing to write about eyebrows. And not necessarily for the New York Times.

Tip #2: Ignore all your friends. 

For one thing, you need to focus. Both on your day job and on your never-expanding list of essay ideas.

People are distractions, after all, and they will only do dumb things like ask you to hang out so they can check up on you, because you haven't answered a single Goddamned message in, like, a year, is everything okay?

Of course, eventually, inevitably, you begin to miss them, so you'd like to see them again, but then what will you say? What excuse can you make up for being away for a year?

"I'm-sorry-I was maybe-not-not-depressed-I'm-not-sure-because-I-can't-afford-a-therapist?"


"I'm sorry?"

Just 'I'm sorry'?


There is nothing you can say.

Which is unfortunate, as writers are notorious for always having something to say, if only to have something to say. So, if you want to become a writer, always have something to say.

And if you don't, don't say anything at all.

Tip #3: Read. 

Somewhere in your email inbox is an old syllabus from an old creative writing class. It sits there, waiting, waiting, waiting.

When a day finally comes when you have enough willpower to Do Something with Your Life, pull it up and find all the books your old professor once recommended.

And then read them until they feel like old friends: Dinty, Lee, and The Philips¹. Read them not just so you can drop their names casually in conversation (ahem), but because they're pretty good substitutes for that class you never finished.

But don't think about that.

Don't think about how you dropped the one class with the one prof who appreciated your writing style.

Or the other prof who was thrilled when you swore you were going to be a journalist.

Or the other prof who was beginning to finally notice you and who just so happened to be a literary giant so, wow, of all the classes you had to fuck up, did it have to be that one? Really now.

But, you know, don't think about that or them or your degree or graduation or whatever, who cares, you make money anyway, after all, do you want another spell where you are unable to Do Something with Your Life? You don't want that.

Besides, The Philips are waiting. You're a writer, remember? Read The Philips. Don't keep them waiting.

¹ Dinty K. Moore, Lee Gutkind, Philip Roth, Philip Lopate, and Philip Gerard—pillars of the creative nonfiction cathedral

Tip #4: Find someone who will hire you.

Be grateful for the internet because: (1) You don't have to commute to anywhere to look for work. (2) You don't have to commute to anywhere to work.

In fact, wooing a potential client is as easy as sending an email, joining a video conference on Skype, and confirming that, yes, absolutely, you can write 1,000 words for not even 10% what they would pay an American writer, sure.

This, unfortunately, is a fact you can't help but know, as a former client once had you write about how cheap Filipino workers are and why Americans should definitely outsource their business operations to this poor, little developing country. (Key word: former client).

So, when describing your work to other people, you try to inject as much dignity as you can:

I'm a freelance SEO writer. SEO manager, actually, because I do more than write. Yeah, I have a couple of clients right now. Yes, they're both US businesses. Uh, yeah, they pay pretty well, yeah.

(And they do pay pretty well, all things considered. You work four hours a day for well-above-minimum-wage, and you never commute, and you never do anything, so you should have, like, lots of money, but you never do, Jesus Christ, what the fuck do you even do with your money, how can you not know where it goes?)

Sometimes, at night, you trawl the internet for another client or two, and you balk at the salaries they offer.

$2 an hour. $5 for 1,000 words.

Or, more often, you scroll through Facebook, and you read the horror stories about commuting across EDSA (if people can even find a bus to board) and articles about politicians who never do anything about it and will never do anything about it.

And, always, you are struck with how good you have it. You have a home and a job and a dog and a family and everything else you could possibly need, so why the hell are you still so unhappy? Why are you still so sad?

And so you start another article about eyebrows and you ignore a couple more messages and you read another book because what fucking else are you going to do.

You do not know what to do.

You'll only receive email when they publish something new.

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