‘How To Be A Writer’ by Emma-Lee Winters


  1. Sit at the desk with pen, paper and your preferred drink; wine is best.

    You do this step first because you believe this is how every author should work. From the second you wanted to be a writer, you convinced yourself that you needed a writing desk and some form of alcoholic beverage—like that man you saw in that movie once, where he set out to write an entire play, spending all day sleeping and all night writing—because that is how big, famous authors make their best work. Of course, you don’t have to do it in the same order as the man in the movie
    , but you have yourself convinced that you must conform to crazy alcohol-infused archetypes of well-known authors to be marvellous. You also need a wad of paper—about two inches thick—and a pen or two to last you the night, so you’ll be able to write an entire first draft. You kid yourself out of the idea of cramped hands, neck and back. You convince yourself that to become better you just write about the same thing repeatedly, until it works. Until you are satisfied. You tell yourself that sleep is for the weak and a full bottle of wine will get you through at least this first stage of writer’s inspiration. Until you realise that the idea you have… is fruitless. It won’t get you the Nobel Prize in Literature, or The Man Booker Prize, or even admiration from your parents, because you already know they will say you are wasting your time and that you’re really just a hopeless drunk.

  2. Stare off into space and think for a moment. Sip your wine.

    Take another sip as you ruminate over how your parents are going to greet you the next time you go home for dinner. Keep thinking about it as you stare intensely at the wall, the ceiling, that one shoe you cannot find the friend to, that weirdly shaped mark just above your little toe on your left foot. Look at anything until you believe that you have the right, just like anyone else
    , to create a piece of artwork, no matter how shit it may come out. Maybe you even start writing about a boy whose parents continually tell him that writers never get anywhere in life, that their only accomplishment is deterioration by alcoholism, drug abuse or starvation. Then you change the story up a bit and turn the boy into a cold-hearted man who spurns every love interest until one day he falls in love with another man who is dying. But he can’t profess his love because he doesn’t want to be more of a failure to his parents, he doesn’t want to be a vulnerable man with nothing but shame and a soured attempt at a woeful career. Ending up with nothing, like his estranged uncle. So, he finds a wife. Within a year his marriage dissolves. Three months after they divorce his ex-wife remarries, and he kills her out of blind hatred. Then, before you can really think about what you’ve just written, you scrunch every piece of paper up into a ball and chuck them at the walls. Start all over again. This time fill up your glass of wine all the way to the brim and take a big gulp because you are hell bent on making this work. You will not prove to your parents that you should’ve taken that university offer and given up this ludicrous idea instead of taking three months off work and spending all your savings on rent JUST SO YOU COULD WRITE THIS DAMN BOOK.

  3. Now put pen to paper; start writing. If nothing comes to you keep staring at the wall.

    Wait… You already did that. But start writing anyway. Scribble down every last scrap of dialogue, description and utter passion onto that page until you at least have a starting point. It doesn’t matter if you run out of paper: you can steal some from your roommate that you hardly see anymore. Keep writing. Throw away every pen that runs out of ink, just drop them onto the floor. It doesn’t matter; you’re not going to leave your desk. All the pen casings can wait until inspiration has dwindled and you have nothing left to write, but that will not happen because you are now sipping drunkenly on your third glass of wine, and it’s cheap wine too, and you feel like an empire has fallen at your feet, and you are now their ruler. With just pen and paper you can make them bow to your every whim. Just don’t stop writing. Whatever you do, whatever happens, you cannot stop writing now. This is it; this is your chance. Wait… Now what? You’ve run out of inspiration… Really? Stare at something with a really blank expression on your drunk face, until you feel like you can break down walls with a single word again, or until you faint.

  4. Continue process until you live up to the (often incorrectly attributed to) Hemingway quote: ‘Write drunk; edit sober’.You have nearly exhausted your paper pile, and you’ve only written on one side of each page. Don’t bother about that; keep going. Yes, your hand is cramping, well, maybe you should have written this all on a slow, grating computer that is full of old porn videos your ex-boyfriend downloaded before he decided to bugger off with your loving baby kitten. That doesn’t matter right now. You are going to make yourself into the best damn writer you can be. And, once you’ve finished this book, you can edit it yourself. Who needs to hire an editor, and waste their time running back and forth between tedious fucking meetings? No. Hey, don’t start editing; why are you editing already? Stop it! There is no point going back and rewriting that bit of the book if you haven’t even thought about the ending. Keep writing. Write until your fingers bleed, and keep writing until you reach the end of your characters’ story. That is how it is. Remember the man in the movie? The one who sat all night writing and slept all day? Who enjoyed the pain that writing brought him and the pleasure he got in publishing his work? Soon, that will be you. Soon you will be publishing book, after book, after book. Your parents won’t care that you never went to university or if you go to university and study some shit-ass degree that means nothing on a resume because you will be rich. You will have made it. You will have shown them. You know you can because, when you put your mind to it, you are the ruler of your own damn kingdom. No one can stop you.

  5. If all else fails, become a florist who talks about a lost dream with every customer.
    You tried. You went through ninety-six bottles of wine and two bottles of vodka to get to where you are today. The manuscript is tucked away and mostly crumpled in your desk drawer. You did it. You may have been told your novel will never be published, but you wrote it anyway. You lived up to Hemingway’s quote. You wasted three months of your young, boisterous life, and now you’re here standing behind the counter of a small florist in London, wrapped in a hideous cardigan two sizes too big for you, with your hair knotted and tangled in a messy bun at the nape of your neck. Droopy eye-lids and cracked lips: you look terrible. You sound terrible too, with your monotonous voice and your whingy complaints. That’s okay because deep down you feel kind of accomplished. Four years later, with no degree and a meagre wage that warrants you rent the small room above the florist, you are going to make it your mission to tell anyone who walks into this overly-scented shop that they couldn’t get any lower than you. You pull out a packet of cigarettes and light one, while standing behind the counter watching customer after customer pick out their favourite blossoms. You wrap them as the fag hangs from your mouth, and ash floats down to the waxed paper with every puff you take.

Words by Emma-Lee Winters

Art by Rhianna Carr


Emma-Lee is a university student by day, a writer by night and a professional tea drinker. She aims to finish her degree, become an English teacher and continue to dip her toes into the fascinating pool of editing and publishing.

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram

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