I generally avoid all reference books on the subject of writing because they make me feel like a slouch. They say you must write every single day in order to hone your craft, never submit a piece of work until it is absolutely perfect, and you must find yourself an agent before you can hope to achieve any degree of success. As someone who doesn’t write everyday, rarely comes up with anything perfect, and does not have an agent, I usually walk away from these books convinced that I don’t have an infant’s chance in the Mississippi of becoming a successful writer. What made me pick up Gore’s book was the title. Bold and brazen, it made me curious to see if she could actually carry through on its promise of seeing my words in print and my name in lights.
A far cry form the many disciplinary texts on writing, the pages of How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead are filled with humor, compassion, empathy, and understanding. Grouped into five sections, each dealing with an essential aspect of writing, Gore lays out seventy-eight steps to becoming a literary star. She covers everything from how to deal with large publishing companies to how to keep writing when you’ve hit a wall.
The tone is what really sets this book apart from others on the subject. Gore’s voice isn’t the least bit authoritarian. She addresses the reader as an equal, cracking jokes and making fun of herself the way one might do around a trusted friend. This is particularly powerful in the first section of the book which deals with issues of motivation and confidence. Gore adopts the role of cheerleader rather than mentor, willingly telling her readers what they need to hear in addition to what they need to know. Writers need to know that they will face loads of rejection. They need to know how to market themselves to an agent, publishing house, and the general public. But, writers, particularly struggling ones, need to hear that they are genuinely talented, and their work down right genius. They need to hear that the people smart enough to publish their work will be doing themselves a favor. Gore wants to cultivate the sort of confidence and determination absolutely essential to literary success and she succeeds beautifully.
Gore also deviates from the norm by encouraging writers to utilize alternative forms of publication. If you can’t get an agent or a book deal, says Gore, then self-publish. Start a zine or a blog, or utilize print-on-demand services. So many publishing insiders turn up their noses at these methods. It’s nice to find an established writer who sees them for what they are, an effective way of getting your writing out to a wider audience. Similarly, she encourages writers to publish before they are ready, maintaining that every writer is embarrassed by their first publication and it is more important to get a mediocre piece of writing read than to sit at home tooling a piece to perfection before letting others read it.
I found How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead so motivating that after finishing it I wrote my first original essay in several years, and after some light revision, submitted it to a literary blog I admire. Of course, it was rejected, but that’s okay because, according to Ariel Gore, I am a literary genius and my rejection is their loss.
Every struggling writer I know will be getting this book for Christmas this year. And while I’m on the topic of gifts, why don’t you treat yourself to a copy? It’s worth every penny. And just think, the price of a paperback will look like chump change once you’ve received your first six figure advance. You can have a sneak peek at the first chapter on Ariel Gore’s official website.