How to Become a Famous Writer
(with a nod to Sellar and Yeatman’s “1066 and All That”)
1 Dedicate your piece to someone famous. (Seamus Heaney, Margaret Attwood, P.D.James.) They are hardly likely to object, or ever to read it. Any other, lesser writer would be suitable – it implies that you move in such circles.
2 Use a quotation at the head of any poem or story. The more untraceable and unusual the quote, the better. For an even more recherché effect, make it up. It will then be unfindable on Google and people will assume you are extremely well-read.
3 A variation of the above. Dedicate your writing piece to any member of your family or several friends. (Think “Enigma Variations here.) It makes you look both caring and popular. If you are desperate to be published, write about a dead parent or child or even your dead goldfish. Only an editor with a heart of stone would reject such a work.
4 Write something controversial or offensive. Then contact the magazine/ paper/ programme to protest against your own work (under an assumed name, of course.) Get a friend to then write in as well. Cause a flurry of letters, emails and phonecalls. Then enter onstage, as it were, as the bemused writer who can’t understand what all the fuss is about. This could also be called “backing into the limelight.” (Use this ploy warily; it can backfire.)
5 Plant snippets of foreign language here and there: mutatis mutandis, faute de mieux, schadenfreude – Latin, French and German were always the best . (Warning! No-one understands ancient Greek any more.) With the broadening of trade and travel, Russian and Japanese would be worth considering, and anything Indian or Chinese if you can manage it.
6 Use unusual words from other areas – cookery, with crème brûlée, tisane; science – rheology, nosography; botany –gromwell, rowen. Pick at random from a large dictionary and scatter about liberally.
7 They reject your work? You send something back immediately, by the next post. Mild bludgeoning is the only method that works. From one of the masters of this genre of submission-as-attack : “I make certain there is always something of my work on his/her desk.”
8 Check up where various copyrights have their borders. The same is even more true for magazines. American copyright is separate from UK copyright. Make the same bit of writing work hard for its living. A print magazine in Australia will not cover the same constituency as one in Blackburn, Lancashire. I have seen the same poem four times in various magazines worldwide. But beware! Top poetry magazines, like Poetry Review, The Rialto, The Shop, Acumen circulate worldwide.
9 Try the quality literary magazines first and if they reject, send the piece on to the middle-sector next. Leave the lesser outlets until last – a perfect trickle-down method. This means you will not have your good stuff published where no-one will notice, in a magazine with only twenty subscribers. (Or do it the other way round, in ascending order; it works almost as well – you end up in the middle.)
10 Continuing from items 8 and 9, leave internet publishing until last because it is immediately internationally shown, so you are cornered with nowhere else to go (except into paper print, ironically.)
11 Think statistics and proportions. Everyone else is sending in poems? Send short stories. Everyone else is sending in short stories? Send in articles! Everyone else is sending in articles? Send in reviews or novel extracts.
12 Should you enter competitions or send writing off in the ordinary way to magazines? If you do not win, a competition will have cost about a fiver per item and leave you with a homeless piece of writing which has yet to be placed. (You will be sending it on to magazines, surely? Don’t leave it languishing.) A competition is like a sheepdip – a crowd of entries have to go through in one day. The more steady, slower drip-feed of entries to a workaday magazine is less dramatic but might lead to acceptances and the gradual build-up of reputation. Or perhaps the £1000 prizes are too much of a temptation? Spin a coin!
13 Can’t get round to finishing the novel? Cut it up into 2000-word chunks and send them out (see notes 10 and 11) to magazines that accept excerpts. You may become famous for a totally unfinished/partly written novel. Bits from several novels can be circulating the globe at once. It helps to give you gravitas.
14 Stay where you are. Stay in the same village (this would be the best strategy), town, city or at least country for your entire life. Be that local writer. Even if you hate the place, write about it often. Think John Clare/Northampton, Beatrix Potter/Lakeland. This establishes a network of people who can be interviewed and who want to promote you – your schoolmates, local radio station, tourist board, newspaper, arts festival. Your publicity will accumulate like barnacles or lichen, without much effort on your part. You will know where the contacts live and they will know you. It gets even better when you are dead.
15 Keep everything, every bit of paper, even rejections. Remember, you are going to be famous. That archive can then go somewhere. John McGahern was paid an annuity by an American University and Dylan Thomas’s papers are at Utah University. Some universities or libraries pay money for your discards and first drafts and old notebooks. Michael McLaverty’s papers arrived at the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, in binliners.
16 Don’t tell anyone how you do it. Pretend it is all gut-wrenchingly, heartrendingly difficult. Do not mention any found poems, inspirations from old Mills and Boons, newspaper articles, overheard conversations, friends’ anecdotes or out-of-print secondhand books. Never mention use of a dictionary, thesaurus or spell-checker or any book on grammar. As far as readers or editors are concerned, your entire opus is hewn – with great effort – from your imagination, with no exterior help. This is the necessary romantic notion of the writer and gives you licence to be moody, spendthrift, drunk or just plain nasty.
17 Continuing from the above, don’t be too nice. Nice people are seen as stupid whereas intelligent people always appear serious and deep. (Laugh in private.) If in doubt, just keep silent. People will assume you are thinking.
18 Don’t tell others your contacts. Fend off all competitors. Keep your address list private. This adds to your mystique as no-one can trace how you are rising, as if you are achieving everything by personal effort alone.
19 Look around musty secondhand bookshops or car-boot sales. Find a classic that no-one can read in the original and give it a makeover, like the Mabinogian, Piers Plowman, Troilus and Criseyde, Burnt Njal. Apart from those studying Icelandic literature, Anglo-Saxon or Middle English no-one will be able to contradict you. Think of Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – look how they have helped the careers of Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage. Give the impression that you alone can help the huddled masses to understand the over-complex original. Never, ever mention the original authors. Like reviewing, it’s easy; the work has already been done for you; you just have to re-jig it a bit and put into contemporary language. (Judicious use of slang and colloquialism will bring plaudits for your originality.) This approach is highly recommended for the middle-aged writer; it is botox for poets. It is even more wonderful if the item is part of a school syllabus or on a university course as royalties will flood in. It will take several years before someone else’s version dislodges you from the requisition lists.
20 Similarly, find a neglected or forgotten writer and become an expert on their work. It is far easier if the writer is dead and out of print, as you will not be upstaged by any unexpected new writing. Being foreign (or slightly so) helps.( Do not choose Celan; he has been done to death.). Among the semi-forgotten are Mina Loy, Stella Gibbons, Vachel Lindsay, Nathaniel West. Previous centuries give more possibilities –Dorothy Wordsworth, Francois Villon, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, Charles Lamb. If all else fails, become an authority on the writings of Anonymous through the ages
21 Begin now! Buy a packet of A4 typing/printing paper, C5 envelopes and booklets or even sheets of stamps, as not everything is by email. Have a special calendar with deadlines, all competitions in date order. Write the address on an envelope and put the stamp on; write the cheque. You are trapped – a couple of times of wasting an envelope, stamp and cheque will cure any procrastination.
22 Of course it is assumed that you are on Facebook, Twitter, already have a website and a blog; that you support a good cause like the homeless or organic vegetables; that you protest against everything, (it gives identity), that you are on YouTube, on audio,on bookmarks, and that that you are ready to travel anywhere at short notice. An expensive briefcase works wonders for your image, as does a good photograph. Now you know.