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.