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Book Review: "How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead" by Ariel Gore

Updated on June 22, 2011

The book that started this blog.

Ariel Gore is probably best known (among those who have heard of her) as the creator of a self-published zine called "The Hip Mama Survival Guide." Zines, for those who don't know, are half-sized magazine or comic books made by photocopying pages sideways onto standard 8.5x11" copy paper and then folding it in half to make a book. Yes, it's a bit more complicated than just that one sentence but hold a sheet of paper sideways and fold it like a book, then fold another one and put that inside the first and you'll get the idea.

This book got me off of my ass and back on my feet creatively speaking, and I really should make a point of contacting Ms. Gore and thanking her. I have not done so yet, but if I do I will post something about it here and try to get her permission to post her response (if I get one). The overall effect of reading this book was of having a big, bad drill instructor stand over me screaming "Stop sitting around like a pansy and F@#CKING write something!!!" Ariel Gore is nothing like a big, mean drill instructor but her matter-of-fact style and no-nonsense accounts of her own experiences are invaluable. Nothing pushes through the haze of unemployment and writer's block like reading about a twenty-something welfare mom juggling her child, past-due bills, relationships, and still putting words on paper as many days a week as she could.

One of the best lessons she teaches is that much of the conventional wisdom on being a writer works too well as an excuse not to write in the first place. The first and best example is a quote from Virginia Woolf that all one needs to be a writer is money and room of your own. As Ms. Gore helpfully points out: while you're waiting to achieve both of those things you could be writing, and what you really need is a pen and paper (or typewriter, or word processor, etc.). In other words, if you want to call yourself a writer, then damn well write! Send it out, and then WRITE SOMETHING ELSE! If nobody wants to publish it then publish yourself!

Nothing in this book is a cure-all or a step-by-step roadmap to easy answers or perfection in the craft of writing. Any book that claims any of those among its contents is lying to you, which is fine because I think that most books about writing are written by other writers just looking for a paycheck and are read mostly by people who will never actually write, but want to pretend that they're going to someday. This is the same as me reading workout books and talking about following their programs and never actually doing it, so I can't judge. An athlete I'm not, and I can live with that but I cannot and will not live with not being a writer.

So here I am and here this is and I hope those of you reading will hang in there and keep following. E-mail a link to your friends, post a link on your social network profile, tweet this if you please. I am working on several projects at the same time, but this one is unique in that it sees that light of day instantaneously after I type it. I don't even slow down to proof read or spell check most of the time. Why? Because this is an experiment in bare-handed wrangling of the chaos bucking like a bronco right behind my eyeballs and that's how I like it. Given the option, I might even post this with all phonetic spelling, written in giant block letters in green crayon.


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