by Leonard Bishop
Is your life dull, because you are a dullard? Are your days one drab dragging into another drab? Do you avoid standing against the gray wall in fear you will not be noticed? When invited to a party are you used only to fill space? Hold on–don’t despair–there’s still hope for you!
You don’t have to be an actual writer to gain the attention a published writer gets. All you need to do is say you are writing, and you are given regard. The kind of social stature you want to attain depends upon what “type” of writing you pretend to do. If you are asked, “What kind of work do you do?” And you reply, “I’m a writer.” The next question is, “Oh, what do you write?” Your social stature hinges on how you answer that question. If you remark, “I write letters to the editor,” you have just given yourself a social coronary. If you continue with, “Someone has to inform the public of the injustices that…” You have given someone a shovel to bury you with.
Running second to the lowly “letter to the editor” are greeting cards, industrial manuals, bank brochures hustling people to open accounts, or “meaningful essays.” Not only are essays ignored, but few are published and those that are, are rarely understood. Essays are lambs for slaughter.
“I write poetry” might cause a twitch of interest. If you identify the category of poetry you claim to write, make it exotic. “I write Gothic ballads,” or “Renaissance lays are my forte. Though on occasion I compose a Petrarchan conceit, or a Miltonic sonnet. I improvise on the use of trochaid, pyrrhic, or Alexandrian hexameter.” If anyone knows what you’re talking about, avoid such crazy people.
Revealing that you write short stories is more acceptable. But never carry any of your mythical work with you. There is always a vile person who might ask, “You have one with you? I’d like to read it.” Writing short stories gives you an aura the serious, yet still innocent “artist to be” stature.
It is in the “I am writing a novel” where you gain size and artistic charisma.
The first question you will be asked is, “What’s the novel about?” Edge back as though in the presence of the diseased and reply, “Do you tell anybody about what you do on your income tax return?” Or become tense, “I never discuss my novels. I might talk them away.”
These are the attitudes and identifying behaviorism’s to use when trying to be branded as a writer. If you write “non-fiction novels” carry a tape recorder. While chatting with someone, suddenly hold it up and say, “My, you have an interesting speech pattern. Do repeat that, please,” then loudly snap on the machine and squint intensely. You will either fluster the person into silence or bloat him into believing he is interesting–so you will be thought interesting. Do not be surprised if he asks, “Will you mention my name?” or “When it comes out, can I get a copy?”
The public is either a paradoxical or contradictory people. If you are a genuine struggling writer, they give you little respect. All manner of ridiculous and unfounded stigma accompanies the identity of “struggling writer.” You are an idler, a drinker, a lecher, an irresponsible dim-dip, an opium smoker, an incurable psychotic, a repugnant necrophile preparing to experiment with incest.
But at a party, you create uncertainty in other people. They are all brought up on myth and superstition. Life is illogical, disorderly, unpredictable. They cannot be absolutely certain you will always be a failure. “What if he makes a big one day?” they think.
People at a party or a gathering are obligated to be proper and conventional–but they find a touch of madness delightful, interesting. It’s all an act anyway, isn’t it? Nobody knows what anybody is really like–deep, deep down. Why let them believe you’re dull just because you might be dull? Make it up, put it on, have the laughs you never had before; do a little dance. Nobody really cares and everybody wants to enjoy and be enjoyed–and who knows, you might really be interesting–deep down.
Copyright Leonard Bishop
(first published Sunday, September 15, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)