Stand back! Keep back! Grow the font size on your screen to enormous and keep your eyeballs six feet from my text. Turn on your screen reader and set your device across the room at high volumes. I have Covid-19 and am writing this deep in the middle of my infectious stage, which I think means that these words are permanently covered in germs. But the sneers must go on.
We covered how to make the most of whatever illness you have before, so I can’t fall back on that now as an easy topic of expertise with my ongoing, never-ending firsthand experience — an easy topic of lamentation to vent out pitifully for your reading pleasure. So I must write about the next thing I know right now because, in my weakened state, I can only drum up the energy to passively watch documentaries on Youtube. And for some reason, the only documentaries of interest to me for the past four days have been biographies about writers as presented by one channel called “Write Like” (and one on Margaret Mitchell from GPB before I realized that Write Like was the medicine I needed).
These biographies are mostly uploaded from other sources and seem to have been made a while ago. Most of them have the feel of informational videos shown in high schools in the 1980s-1990s, and are fairly straightforward and dry. A few of them are just interviews from the 1950s. A couple of them were bootlegged biographical entertainment as seen on mildly-educational cable TV stations back when they made an effort sometimes to be mildly-educational. Some of them have reenactors pretending to be Jane Austen, talking to us, the viewer, which I am not a big fan of. Some of them have some sort of Irish accent narrator talking about Jack Kerouac with a mouth full of accent marbles so thick that it took me three times to recognize he was saying “ignorant.” Probably the importance of narrator voices is a topic for a full article rant of its own on another day when I can endure my own rage, but when this guy said “keen wit” it sounded to me like he said “ken wet” except through marbles and that’s all I could think about for a while.
Through the haze of my fever sweats and delirium, despite sometimes sleeping through a lot of someone’s life, I learned how to Live Like, if not Write Like exactly. A little misleading name, Write Like. They never really explained how to imitate any of these authors and poets that I saw, except through modeling your life after them. I assume this means that the resulting pain and beauty of your existence will open up the rivers of inspiration and ability, and you, too, can be a shooting star of talent and skill, driven by your written art, and admired by one and all.
After studying the often tragic lives of Willa Cather, Margaret Mitchell, Edna St Vincent Millay, George Eliot, JM Barrie, Edgar Allan Poe, W Somerset Maugham, Oscar Wilde, Jack Kerouac, EM Forster, Victor Hugo, Jane Austen, James Baldwin, Jean Cocteau, Elizabeth Bishop, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Louis Stevenson, WB Yeats, Raymond Chandler, WC Williams, Marianne Moore, HG Wells, Ezra Pound, Daphne du Maurier, Marcel Proust, Lewis Carroll, Nancy Cunard, Franz Kafka, George Bernard Shaw, George Orwell, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, TS Eliot, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, I feel that I have been armed with the knowledge of how to be a capital P Poet or capital A Author Of Universally Renowned Literary Classics. But I enjoy being charitable, so let me let you in on the secret to success that my hours of study have harvested.
I guess first I should mention that there are two kinds of lauded and esteemed writers: the Messes and the Privileged Few. The privileged ones grew up in literary families who enjoyed generations of smart person glory. The wealthy smartos raised their children to be brilliant and confident. They could afford top of the line education. They studied technique and perfected it in much the same way a duckling takes to water and glides along with a sublime satisfaction with life. Chances are good that if you have this upbringing, you are already a successful career-author and could stand to loan me a few bucks. This article is for the rest of us.
Pick a few (or all) of these hot pointer tips and embrace your artistic life of glory and prestige, soon to follow.
Have A Weird Childhood
I know that this is the luck of the draw, but it seems that having a weird upbringing that centers on degradation and poverty is a good start to your tormented life that will require an outlet that could turn out to be lucrative. Especially try to have a problematic father figure who is either entirely absent, or you wish he was. It is possible to accumulate life regrets for your foundation if your dad is merely a repeat failure of finance and business, but otherwise means well (except for the hereditary alcoholism). Caution: try to choose the path of writer or artist and not get thrown down the path of serial killer.
Suffer Horrendous Years of Anguish
Once you become the age your society has decided is “an adult,” it is time for you to toil in dangerous or tedious drudge work of the kind that does nothing to end the cycles of poverty. Allow the heavy notions of “dead end labor” to weigh down your spirit until it breaks free in a flailing panic. You can also decide to take the route of earnestly and fervently writing and submitting your works to publishers who will not recognize your genius. For years, you can keep yourself warm by wrapping yourself up in your rejection letters. Other options for bringing anguish upon yourself include seeking unrequited love, cultivating illness (especially typhus or tuberculosis), enduring ghastly accidents, and witnessing the deaths of loved ones — preferably in quick succession. Your heart will scream and your soul will grab the writing pen.
Be Outside of Society’s Mores
Some of us make being a firebrand look easy. It requires a certain level of disdain for other people, and a towering level of belief in your own brain because you have all the answers and know how to live a life lifefully. Gather acolytes or cast them away. Create a personality cult or just a fan base. Even if you secretly experience moments of self doubt, you must keep them secret. You need the image and the attitude and the inspiration, so fake it until you make it, honey. Be an iconoclast. Speak out against Wrongs as you see them. If you are still coming up empty for this one, just look at popular things and denounce them. You can offer alternatives later. The first step in your Bohemian splendor is to look the part, and feed off of the judgments of the normal. Let it nourish your interesting personality.
Mental Illness, Probably
Speaking of that personality, another element based on luck is how many mental illnesses you can harbor. There are plenty you could be born with or develop over the years! May you be blessed with the kind of personality disorder that grants you a need for attention and a fearlessness in the face of disapproval. But narcissism by itself leaves one seeming a little bland, if you ask me. Horrifying depths of depression and the tight embrace of nihilism will probably serve you well. Let yourself unravel and, if you survive, use the experience for more A R T.
Substance addictions are said to be a form of mental illness, but they deserve their own section. A crippling dependence on booze took the minds of so many of the classic writers I learned about. They weren’t fun at parties! They’d go on months-long benders and die of a liver made of stone by the age of forty-one. Opium and morphine also loomed large in the lives of some of these creatives. Speed, sleeping pills, injectables, sniffables, all of the above, in no certain order, day in, day out, for decades and decades… How did any of them write anything? How much more might they have written if they didn’t feel the need to numb the pain of their amazing, enviable lives?
And then of course after the peak of your final success you will likely spiral into a pathetic end where you are only a glimmer of your former brilliance, if any remains at all. Again and again you will attempt to make a comeback but instead everyone will deem you a Has Been. Your cutting-edge talent will look old-fashioned and antiquated. Young people will snicker at you. It will hurt everyone to even look at you, and you will probably die at a younger age than should be, while looking so much older than your years. You will experience the suffocating lows of being forgotten until many, many years after your death, when historians will notice that you used to be fascinating.
But all that is a stage that has nothing to do with your writing. That is the stage that follows the culmination of your dreams. That is the consequence of aiming high!