There’s this part in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit where Sister Mary Clarence (aka Whoopi Goldberg) explains to one of her troubled students: “If you wake up in the morning, and you can’t think of anything else but singing, then you should be a singer, girl.” I remember asking myself upon first watching this movie circa its release in 2003, What’s the first thing I think of in the morning? In all honestly, I have trouble thinking in the morning, full stop. I usually set about my morning routine (shower, coffee, breakfast) in a zombie-like trance, before finding myself at work and thinking How exactly did I get here? But amongst all that, and randomly throughout almost every day, what I think about most is writing. When something funny happens, I want to write about it. When I overhear an interesting conversation, I want to write about it. When I meet someone new, I want to write about it. Then I hear Whoopi’s words of wisdom in the back of my mind: “You should be a writer, girl.” and I think You got it Whoopi – a writer I will be!
But here’s the harsh reality: I don’t actually know how to be a writer. I mean, I know how to write, and sometimes I write things that people enjoy reading (at least I hope I do), but I don’t know what makes a writer. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, which for some unbeknown reason remains a trusted source of information, “a writer is someone who has written something”. Well duh. According to this highly complex definition, I am already a writer. As is the person who wrote “Wanna fuck? Call me!” on the back of the toilet door at work.
If I officially became a writer at the age of 5 when I first learnt to write my name, despite the ‘y’ of ‘Emily’ being upside down, what am I stressing about? Here’s what: I don’t want to be a ‘writer’ like everyone else, no offence. I want to be a real writer – like Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Jack Kerouac. I want my travel writing to sit alongside Bill Bryson’s on household bookshelves. I want my books to be published in fifty languages, maybe more, like the works of Gabriel García Márquez. I want my writing to be read, adored and shared, all the world over. I want to be talked about. I want to be remembered as a writer long after I’m gone. I just want to be goddam famous, is that too much to ask?
With my growing desperation to become a writer, I turned to some of my literary idols for advice. These are actual quotes:
“The first draft of everything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham
“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Write drunk, edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway
“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” – David Ogilvy
“Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.” – Lev Grossman
In my lifelong pursuit to become a writer, and in the name of Ernest Hemingway, I must drink more. I must write more, and I must think less. I must stop using semicolons (to be honest, I don’t even know how to use them properly; I was never taught). I must take myself less seriously which may be an impossible feat as I could not possibly take myself any less seriously than I already do for I do not take myself seriously at all. I must stop writing sentences like that for they do not make sense to anyone but me. I must never use the word ‘demassification’ for I do not know what it means and thus run the risk of looking like a complete idiot. I must probably come up with another way of saying “I must”.
So, are there any writers out there who can help me? The wordsmith behind “Wanna fuck? Call me” perhaps?