Life as a Wannabe Writer Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Life as a Wannabe Writer

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A magic pen that writes all by itself

When, in years to come, the all-time most desirable jobs in the universe are recorded, the bottom of the list will look something like this:

9996 - Land mine tester
9997 - Chernobyl PR Executive
9998 - Bruce Willis's Dry Cleaner
9999 - Student Teacher

Just below that, you will find, written in blood, the words 'Unpublished Novelist'. This tragic affliction is particularly common, and is caused by the belief that at the top of the aforementioned list, are the words 'Published Novelist'.

Why Wannabe Writer?

There are many causes for this condition. Maybe you find the prospect of spending your time sitting around writing stories and getting paid for it attractive, maybe it's out of a deep desire to prove something, maybe you have a deep and meaningful message to share with the world, or maybe the teacher gave you a smiley face for the story you wrote as a kid and you never quite got over it. Don't worry, it may just be a passing phase that you will recover from and go on to do something sensible, like plumbing. However, if the condition persists, it can result in starvation, social leprosy and bitter cynicism.

Coping with the Condition

Sadly, society does little to support victims of this condition; just try going to a careers interview and saying that you want to be an author. The look the Careers Officer gives might just cause you to drop dead on the spot, providing they don't die laughing first. Don't be discouraged, let's face it if these guys knew how to get worthwhile jobs they wouldn't be careers officers anyway. Even among other writers you will be shunned. The Writer's Guild will only accept that rare elitist breed, the Published Author and refuse to admit you on the grounds that you will be published eventually.

One way to cope is to go out and buy lots of books with titles like How to Write and Publish a Novel written by people who do short stories for Women's Own and need the extra cash. Although many shops disapprove of the following practice, it is sensible to go into the bookshop wearing a balaclava, as the sheer embarrassment of being seen with these books is hard to come to terms with. Alternatively, you could buy the books from an online bookstore, although this should only be attempted if you live alone, if your flatmate/husband/wife/live-in lover/parents find these you'll never live it down.

Accepting 'Constructive Criticism'

Okay, so you've read your How to... books, you've written a novel, and you need someone's opinion on the first draft. The following people should be avoided at all costs:

  • Your boy/girlfriend
  • Your parents
  • Your teacher
  • Your bestest bestest friend in the whole wide world
  • That bloke in the pub who reckons that poetry is 'only written by poofters'

The first four will invariably return saying, 'It's good, no really, it is...' while the last one will probably get stuck on the long words. Fellow Wannabe Writers are always useful in this respect, since they understand your plight and are generally impartial. You will usually find a herd of them at your local writers' group - check your local library, there'll be an advert. However, there are still risks, either they'll return it saying 'It's good, no really, it is...' or even worse, they'll show you their manuscript, which will turn out to be a pile of dog poo, and you'll be forced to return it smiling and saying 'It's good, no really, it is...'

The best person to provide you with constructive criticism is a fairly good friend who is convinced that you have all the writing talent of an armless troglodyte and doesn't pretend otherwise. If they read your work, you can count on them to give you the required criticism, but when they say they like something you'll have no doubt that they're honest.

An important skill to develop is to become fairly hard-hearted towards your work, it is now inevitable people will insult it, spill coffee on it and mistake it for toilet paper. You must be unaffected by this, you must allow your baby to be trashed by all who look at it, even after the five thousandth rewrite.

Sending It Off

However, if you continue to rewrite your work forever you will soon find being a Wannabe Writer becoming a terminal condition. Eventually, like a mother to her child, you must set your manuscript free. Or at least the first three chapters, with a cover letter, synopsis and SAE (stamped of self-addressed envelope). Now, although writing the novel was hard, trying to get the cover letter and synopsis right is a million times harder. So, how do you write a winning cover letter?

If this Researcher knew that this would be about life as a published writer wouldn't it?

The one tip is to send it off to an agent rather than a publisher, agents tend to be more sympathetic, just, and publishers tend to place a lot more faith in an agent's word than yours.

After a while you will begin to get the replies. Most of the time these will be along the lines of:

Dear Mister WannaB

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to view your novel 'Life as a Desperate Skint and Lonely Wannabe Writer'. It has been read with great interest, but sadly we do not feel we can represent you. Do not be disheartened by this. We receive 35 billion manuscripts a day and we have to be very selective and just because we've sent you the standard computerised rejection letter doesn't mean we saw no merit in your work.

Good luck in your future endeavours.

Yours sincerely

Anne Agent

(Signed by the secretary of Anne Agent)

Don't despair, all is not lost. Standard rejection letters have many uses. These include:

  • Cheap wallpaper
  • Something to line your budgie cage with
  • Papers to scatter all over your desk so that you can make clear to everyone how important you are.
  • Um, was cheap wallpaper mentioned?

In the Mean Time...

While you are passing your precious manuscript between agents, there are plenty of places where the writer can indulge in their favourite hobby without all the frustration of publishers and agents. They cost nothing, but you don't get paid either, so keep sending off that manuscript. Here is just a short list:

PbEM (Play by email) Simming

There are plenty of these scattered around the web, most of them are Star Trek themed but there are still exceptions. PbEM simming basically involves each 'simmer' taking on a character either decided by the person running the sim or created by you. The GM (Game Master not Genetically Modified) will decide on a plot, and the simmers will each email 'posts' to the rest of the simmers; these are small sections of the story that will take the plot in new directions. This is a good place to hone your writer's skills, but there isn't much pressure because you don't actually have to be that good, and no-one has any problems with a bit of plagiarism, err, inspiration.

Community Arts

If you look around you will find some sort of Community Arts Centre, which nine times out of ten is populated by like-minded 'aspiring' writers. This is very much a collaborative process, so this isn't an option for the loners among us, but it does give you a chance to dabble in different art forms, from theatre to the production of poetry anthologies to producing 'multimedia' (animations on a CD).


If you have got this far and still don't know what h2g2 is it should be pointed out that observation is an important quality in a writer. What you should know is that h2g2 is a perfect resource for writers; both published and wannabe. Because of the wide range of entries in the Guide, it is very easy to find an 'expert' on your chosen subject of research, and writing your own entries is a great way of keeping in practice, doubly so because your work is published automatically on the web for all to see. The guide is an excellent place to get feedback, both from people casually reading your entries, and from the Editors.

H2G2 also has its very own Writer's Group where you can meet like-minded loose... err writers.

And, of course, if you still need that extra ego-boost after receiving your gazillionth rejection letter, you can try submitting your articles to the Edited Guide. Of course, if that gets rejected, well maybe you can find that teacher who gave you the smiley face?

Keep Up Hope!

Writing is a hard business to get into, and the golden goose of becoming published may seem impossible to reach, but never give up hope. Getting into the business is less about your writing skills as your bloody-mindedness, and no matter how bad you might think you are, if you look hard enough you'll find a published writer who's worse. Even if you're 97, lying on your deathbed and still receiving the standard rejection letter, there is still hope. Years after your death somebody could be clearing out your old house, and as they take all the junk out from under your wardrobe a wad of papers could fall off the top and land on their heads. They could pick up the fallen manuscript, and idly flick through it before thinking 'Hey! This is dead good...'

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