Have I earned this title?



Based on Lorrie Moore's 'How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche?' in her book Self Help

First, admit writing wasn’t your first choice. Wish to be a teacher. A teacher/film director. Film director/actor. Give up. You don’t like any of them and you’re not as good as the others in your class. Early abandonment is necessary to soften the blow later on.

Design a park or sixty. You’ll have a folder dedicated to parks of all sizes, all the same. You don’t care. You move on to Pokemon. Fail miserably. Your mum will tell you they’re amazing but you know otherwise. You’ve seen the ones she’s drawn. You’re no good. You stick to reading books instead. You’re good at that.

You’re always reading. You get so lost in books that you don’t realise you’re the only one in the house. Go outside to find your parents only to lock yourself out. It is the first time you have ever truly felt fear. ‘Maybe next time don’t pick up a book’ they’ll say. You’ll nod but you won’t mean it. You can’t stay away. Keep reading. You’ll believe so deeply that Harry Potter is real that you’ll spend the next five years making timetables for your classes at Hogwarts. You’ve read the books so many times that you can’t be tricked out on a question. Treasure it. The knowledge will soon fade.

You’ll read a book about Pokemon and a light will come on inside your head. Write the idea down. Write it down again. Start it one, two, twelve times. It’s not as good as you thought. Don’t touch it for ten years but think about it all the time. The main character will haunt you while you’re singing in the shower. Maybe one day his story will get told. But it is not today.

You start writing other stories down. You write about the dresses you’d wear to red-carpet events. You tell these stories to your sister at night-time and she join in. She at least appreciates your creative descriptions. You continue the story for the next few weeks. It’s always the same. You’ll get bored and move on to other things but the stories are there. You write people’s conversations instead. You learn a lot about people that way.

Move house. Move schools. Move house again. Each one leaves an imprint on your mind and a different story of their history starts to form in your minds. Don’t think about them until you write about a house. You never write about a house. Decide that you want to do art. You don’t have to write to do art.

When Christmas comes you will be introduced to a new author. His name is Terry Pratchett. You ignore the books you’re given for a few months when you’ll read one because you have nothing to do. It is the best decision you feel you have ever made. It’s as though you’ve found the missing piece of yourself. It’s even better when you find out years later that he writes in the same way you do.

You decide you want to be a writer. Too many ideas have come to you to ignore. Your friends will tell you that it’s all they ever thought you would do. ‘You’re so good at writing, what’s taken you so long?’ Your dad will tell you to keep writing them and to show him. You never do, but he sees bits on Facebook. ‘You need to tell me what’s happened. Why is he about to die?’ You tell him you’ll write the rest of it but it still won’t be complete four years down the line. He hasn’t asked about it since, but you know that he wants you to show him. He tells you to write every day. He is your Mushu.

The first time you feel confident enough to show anyone your work you show them the poems you’ve worked on over the last few months. Your friend will point out all the innuendos you didn’t know you had in them. You snatch them back and say that that’s not what they’re about. You’ll blush and it’ll make her think you’re lying, but you’ve never thought about writing about sex. The thought of it still puzzles you. Your older friends just grunt. No more belief that you can write. Maybe you’re not as good as you thought.

You keep writing when you can’t find a story that you crave. Odd bits here and there, but stories nonetheless. Stop. Don’t write for two years. Your ex-boyfriend messed your head up and you can’t think. The words no longer flow. It’s like you’re trying to carve them in stone and it’s too hard.

Apply for uni and get in. You’ll feel as though you’re slowly returning to normal. You’ll write more of the story you started years ago and you’ll keep going, even if you don’t work on the same story every day. Uni will be the best kick-up-the-ass for you.

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