Nine Ways to Become a More Boring Writer

There is so much advice on being a good writer that it’s impossible for anyone to follow it all.  Indeed, judging by our collective literary output, we could be commended for our ability to ignore it altogether.

So I’ve decided to lower the standards and help you become, like me, a boring writer who only publishes things that will be forgotten as soon as they reach the end of their publishing cycle–ten minutes for a tweet, three days for a blog post, a week for an essay, and right around three months for a book.

If a book with a unique concept or message makes the New York Times bestseller list, copy it.  Here’s one you should try:  “A Year of  [x].”  It doesn’t matter so much what you fill that [x] in with.  If it’s bizarre enough, you’ll doubtlessly find a publisher interested in performance art masquerading as insight.  Or if you’re a megachurch pastor, this is your time to jump on the “radical” bandwagon.  It doesn’t matter the same basic book has been written a half-dozen times already, more or less.  That’s just proof that the market is still ripe for it.

Read everything your peers write.  There is no better way to sound exactly like everyone else around you than by immersing yourself in their words.  Forget about the fact that you have  conversations with normal people every day, and convince yourself that to be a relevant writer you must be as familiar as possible with what they are writing about.

Spend all your free time consuming “pop culture.”  The logic works the same as the above:  forget about the fact that you’re already immersed in the culture around you, and that saying anything that might sound strange to it demands above all critical distance from it.  You need your words to be relevant, and liberally sprinkling pop culture references throughout will do the trick nicely while ensuring that your words will be forgotten as soon as the show/movie/song is.

Read the people you want to imitate, not the people they learned from.  If you love C.S. Lewis, the best way to ensure that you’ll never come close to writing as well as he did is by focusing exclusively on C.S. Lewis (or his peers).  If you go behind Lewis to George MacDonald, or behind him toward the medievals, you will find yourself learning as Lewis learned and in a better position to do similar things to what he did.

Publish right away.  Did you hear the book is the new business card?  It’s clunky, sure, and people have these new devices called “Kindles” that make it instantly retro (and hence, awesome).  But you’ve got to have one, and now, so you might as well get cracking.  Forget the notion that writing really is revising and that books and essays and, yes, even blog posts need maturing the way good cheeses do.  Your book will help us overcome the critical shortage of words that is imperiling our ability to make it through our world.

Spend all your time on social networks.  It’s always important to know exactly what everyone is talking about so you can make sure you say the exact same thing.

Never miss your chance to chime in on a controversy.  Controversies are God’s gift to mediocre writers; the audience’s attention comes pre-packaged for us, which means we have to do a lot less to keep people reading.  And the pageviews will trick you into thinking that chiming in “made a difference” and maybe, maybe even a little, “changed the world.”  Indulge yourself at every opportunity; your publisher will thank you later.

Be a contrarian.  I said I was a boring writer above.  Did you not believe me?

Always strive to be first.  Remember that it’s partly the nature of the fundamental goods of this world to emerge slowly, and that the wisdom of understanding is plodding.  And we can’t have that if we are to be properly boring.  Be as hasty as possible, particularly in moments of tragedy, where the power and substance of the events is least commensurate with the form of responses that instantish media like twitter and blogs demand.  Don’t wait for words to emerge that might be powerful enough to fit the moment; run with your first instinct, because that’s probably going to get the most attention anyway.

 

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  • Keith Miller

    While I recognize myself in far too many of these maxims, I think you’ve nailed it here. Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Trust me: I was preaching this to myself as much as anyone else. : )

  • rstarke

    So, because I’ve made a conscious choice to not write a book or a blog right now, read fewer and comment even less – I’m exciting?? :)

    Irony – I think this is one of the best short pieces you’ve written in a while. :)

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Rachael, I will note that (unfortunately) the failure to do the above does not guarantee awesomeness. But then, you don’t need it to anyway–you have that abounding already.

      And I will note it’s one of the *only* short pieces, or pieces of any sort, that I’ve written in a while! : )

      Matt

  • http://sayable.net/ Lore Ferguson

    Awesome.

  • Luma Simms

    Well done!

  • http://derekgriz.com/ Derek Griz

    This is excellent, Matthew! Spot on! Thank you.

  • tjhoiland

    “Controversies are God’s gift to mediocre writers…” Yes!

  • Michael_Rittenhouse

    Oh, I should not have read this.

    Are you just trying to keep the competition down? ;-)

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Hah. Yes, I could see how it might look that way. But no, definitely not. More like trying to help the competition out! : )

  • http://cameronebrooks.com/ Cameron E. Brooks

    Very helpful. Glad to know I’m not alone in feeling these pressures while also being skeptical of them. I haven’t posted on my blog for months, partly b/c of mothering duties and an upcoming move, but *primarily* because I’m still letting the focus of my blog settle and clarify itself in my mind.

    And I couldn’t agree more about reading authors who influenced the authors we love. It’s a lofty and time-consuming goal, but extremely important.

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Cameron, you’re right that it’s time consuming to read “up” like that. However, I’ve found that it deepens both my understanding and appreciation of the authors that I love. It’s like a literary family tree! : )

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

    #10 Write a post slamming all the writers who have taken the “easy” way out to show how totally above it you are.

    :-)

    • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

      Oh, and I know this is hard to believe, but my own “year of…” project was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Perhaps it only seemed like “performance art masquerading as insight” to you, but it wasn’t easy or boring.

      • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

        Well, regarding #10, if that’s how you want to read it, feel free. However, I am confident I have done at least six of these nine and have seen my own abilities undermined because of them. I did say doing these would make people like me, did I not?

        As to your project….that’s great! Count me among the tiny minority of people who think your book would have been *even better* and more interesting *as writing* had you not adopted that approach.

  • Scout Finch

    The first one is kind of hilarious, coming from a guy who writes “Mere Orthodoxy.” Just saying ;)

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      No, exactly! That’s why I think I’m implicated in nearly all of them!

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  • http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B006M68MNI Maurice Smith

    For a boring writer, you’re not bad! Keep swinging for the fences. You’re bound to hit something sooner or later. ;-) After reading you’re post, I’m half ready to give up writing and find something I’m good at, like juggling juggling chain saws while quoting the 23rd Psalm . . . blindfolded. Keep up the good work of “thinning the herd” of mediocre writers . . . . like most of us!

  • run262

    While I do not possess the gift of writing, I am an avid reader.I found your points to be hilarious and oh, so true.