How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore

August 22, 2007 at 12:09 am (nonfiction, publishing, reference, writing)

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.

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're DeadA 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.

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5 Comments

  1. snackywombat said,

    Thanks for this review. I think writers tend to shy away from talking about these kind of books because there’s this ridiculous belief that with writing talent, you either have it or you don’t, without training, advice or practice. The best one I’ve read is The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop. I just picked up Pen on Fire–will let you know how it is!

  2. iread said,

    “I think writers tend to shy away from talking about these kind of books because there’s this ridiculous belief that with writing talent, you either have it or you don’t, without training, advice or practice.”

    Ain’t it the truth! I can recall taking American Literature I my senior year of college and being one of only a handful of upper classmen in a class full of first years. On the day we discussed Poe’s “The Raven” we got into a big discussion about revision. One of the first years said something that implied Poe must have written it perfectly as it appeared on the pages of our textbooks on his very first try. I remember commenting that there wasn’t a poet in all of the English canon who’d gotten their masterpiece right the first try, that one of the very first thing a budding writer is taught is the value and necessity of revision, and that even the greats had to slave over each word. The first years then proceeded to attack me en masse, saying things like “Well maybe YOU need to revise to sound good, but that doesn’t mean POE did.” And “You don’t know what Poe’s process was.” I remember shaking my head in awe and thinking “Wow, if that’s what these kids honestly think they’re in for a rude awakening once they get to those upper level english and writing courses.”

  3. drobbins said,

    Know that the terms “famous” and “writer” are nearly antonyms; if you are in it for fame, then prepare for disappointment. Especially if you actually care if your output is of a “literary” quality. It all depends on if you want your book to be in an academic realm or on Oprah. As far as writers “needing to hear” how good their work is, I have to disagree; what writers need to hear is criticisms and suggestions, and learn to not take those personally and instead use that to learn to write better. Trust me, after about 30 academic workshops, if you are serious about your work, you will get tired of hearing complements and instead crave someone to rip something apart. If you need an ego boost, show it to a parent or a friend too kind to be honest; if you want to practice getting better, learn to accept criticism. The “write every day” advice is, in fact, well overemphasized, and I am against such, as it tends to eliminate (or at least diminish) the necessity factor. It is good for discipline building early on, but beyond that, you end up writng for no real reason – you generate material only because you “have” to. As far as self-publishing, I would still be weary. Most pay-for-publication places (like publishamerica) tend to reinforce and create this bubble effect which can give the illusion that you are an “author” participating in a community of other “authors,” whose formal training and practice is rarely up to par. This is well and good unless you really do want to be a writer – as in, it is the job that pays bills. Steer away from self-publishing poetry, and in most cases fiction. The one exception – and the only genre that libraries will actually consider getting, and which in turn might get you some exposure – is non-fiction. Lastly, there isn’t “perfection” in a piece – you can revise for years and years and years; just practice making pieces end up feeling close to how feel it is supposed to be in your gut, as close to that internalized version of the piece in your mind. Just my friendly advice.

  4. shaik zakeer hussain said,

    I have read articles, i have pondered around grammar books which, i have never completed just to become a writer, i don’t think of becoming a famous writer, because i know i have many good stories to tell, fine piece of articles like yours gives confidence to people who write to become a writer. thank you.

  5. thegirlcanwrite said,

    I also wrote about the amazine Ariel and this incredible book in my blog, check it out:
    http://literaryaddict.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/how-to-adore-gore/

    She is truly inspirational!

    Lorette C. Luzajic

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