Freddie deBoer: Discouragement for Young Writers

In what may be one of the most cynical but tell-it-like-it-is posts I’ve ever read, Freddie deBoer offers some “Discouragement for Young Writers”. It’s a must-read, in my opinion. First, a cautionary note:

A third of this is tongue in cheek. You’ll have to decide which third yourself.

I’m not a writer; I’m just someone who reads and writes a lot. So you may take all of this in a “credit only to the man in the arena” sense, and I wouldn’t blame you. But I’ll tell you: there are advantages. Not being a writer is a wonderful salve for your writing. I sometimes read things that writers have written and say to myself, if only s/he wasn’t a writer, s/he’d be going places.

I don’t think this is the one third that’s meant tongue in cheek:

You probably can’t make it as a writer. That’s the very first thing you should understand. Start every day by looking into the mirror and saying: I’ll never write that novel. I’ll never write that novel. I’ll never write that novel. Hopefully after you’ve gotten it through your skull you can get to work on something that will put money in your pocket. (Spoiler: it won’t be a lot. Within a rounding error of $0 is a nice, conservative assumption.) You might, if you aren’t too hung up on writing that novel, write a novel. There’s a small chance someone will buy it, once you’ve written the one that isn’t the one that you think about writing that gets in the way of your work. There’s even a remote possibility it’ll be good. Even really good. But probably not.

But this most likely is:

Buzz is nothing. Getting your name out there is nothing. All of the positive mentions and trackbacks and Facebook hits from that piece you did for somebody’s vanity project website are nothing.

The best thing to do, sometimes, is to ignore the vapid advice. Spot on:

It’s a fact of life that writers, who always aspire to speak with specificity and go in fear of abstraction, tend to give the most vague, useless advice on writing. “Use concrete language! Write about what you know! Listen to criticism!” Thanks, coach. They mean well. They really do. But “be specific in your writing” has as much content as “make a profit in your business” or “score more points in your football game.” Useless. All useless.

This part is definitely tongue in cheek. Some people do care.

Nobody gives a shit that you used to cut yourself. Nobody gives a shit that your parents divorced. Nobody gives a shit that you have cancer. Nobody cares.

But this is a good sound-off. I do think writing is worth trying (I’ve tried and failed):

So do it for awhile and if you don’t make it find something else that’s good enough. Then you can get all nostalgic about when you tried it out. I’m a romantic at heart, and it’s a beautiful thing to attempt.

Again, a must-read. Especially if you need a dash of reality to go with all that enthusiasm you’ve been inhaling.


(hat tip: @fmanjoo)

3 thoughts on “Freddie deBoer: Discouragement for Young Writers

  1. This is just plain discouraging junk. This writer failed, so we will all fail. Don’t bother even trying, son, because you’ll make no money and never be good enough, and if you are good enough, no one cares. hummmmmm…….. sounds like mediocre profiling. I, for one, don’t buy it.

    • Diane,

      I don’t think this is junk at all. I do agree that the tone is discouraging. But near the end of the post, the author notes “So do it for awhile and if you don’t make it find something else that’s good enough.”

      Anyway, I do occasionally profile contrarian viewpoints on this blog, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them.

      • I concede – you’re correct. I shouldn’t have called it junk. It discouraged me so I reacted in a negative way. Thank you for correcting me. You are more right than I.

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