Five Expert Tips For Sucking At Writing



Write in a café.

There’ll usually be someone saying something incredibly weird and/or offensive. Once you tune in, you won’t be able to concentrate anymore, but you’ll be cool with it because it’s all fodder for the novel.

So far, I’ve overheard the following conversations:

  •  A man, staring soulfully into the eyes of his companion, telling her she has a “luminous energy.” That his one regret is that he hasn’t spent enough time with her. That he wants to kiss her, then and there. That his wife probably wouldn’t approve.
  • A man discussing the remodel of his home, bemoaning the cruel fact that “toilets these days just aren’t constructed for the modern American asshole.” I’m preeeeettty certain he meant it in an anatomical rather than metaphorical sense, as he went into great detail (I will spare you).
  • A blind date during which the first question was “What kind of rifle do you own?” followed by discussion of the vast medical conspiracy behind flu shots and the following conversation:
    Him: What’s your last name?
    Her: Turner.
    Him: Are you related to Ted Turner?
    Her: …..?



Read widely and well.

This will make you a better writer. It will also make you a better procrastinator.

You will endlessly compare yourself to another writer who is not you and whom you will never be. Ignore that the writer cannot be you and you cannot be that writer because that would defy all known laws of the universe and everything would implode. Wish you were Geraldine Brooks anyway, universe implosion be damned.

Bonus: If you read a wide variety of authors, you’ll return to your writing sounding like one of those old See ‘n Say toys that comes back with a different voice each time you pull the string. Paragraph 1, you’ll sound like Donna Tartt. Paragraph 2, Donald Trump.

Showing three fingers isolated on white


Go to conferences.

You will get to spend a lot of money and sometimes it will be worth it but sometimes it will just be a chance to go out of town and drink a lot of coffee and wine instead of staying home and drinking a lot of coffee and wine.

On the plus side, the other conference attendees are likely to be cool and interesting. They’ll also appreciate the bookish-seeming shoes you’ve been dying to wear (like, I don’t know, maybe these which I bought for my birthday and that I love so much I want to marry them):




Do your research.

Before you’ve finished your first draft, go to QueryTracker. Research all of the agents who represent your work. Fall in love with one or two of them—I mean, just know in your heart of hearts that she/he is THE ONLY AGENT who could possibly really understand you and your work. Imagine the laughter and hijinks as you get together for drinks in New York to discuss the details of your publishing contract. Get so excited that you finish your half-assed manuscript and don’t really bother with editing or beta readers (because you’re certain that the #MSWL Your Dream Agent (YDA) tweeted out last week was just like what you’d written and A SIGN FROM THE UNIVERSE). When YDA rejects your query/manuscript (or worse, never gets back to you), assume that it’s not because you jumped the gun and sent out your work before it was ready but because you are the worst writer who’s ever dared put pen to paper (or, I don’t know, finger to keyboard?). Your ideas suck. Your words suck. You suck.

(The above has definitely not happened to me. More than once. Or twice.)



Keep being a horrible writer.

Because writers are doing what they’ve felt called to do. Because there’s something about writing that taps into a soul-deep core of human need for stories, for connection and meaning. Because when we don’t write the world seems a little flatter, a little grayer, a little less shimmery.

Write on, friends.


  1. David says:

    Uhhh…I attend the same coffee shop as you, I got the idea for the See-‘n’Say approach from 1984 (and you misplaced the apostrophe),you took my comments about luminous energy and toilets COMPLETELY out context, and she MIGHT have been related to Ted Turner, which would have been a better career move than that stupid agent I slept with…

    1. Out of Time says:

      Just gonna leave this here, David. There are a lot of things you can accuse me of, but misuse of apostrophes ain’t one of ’em:

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