Think about your legacy A lot of female writers have been “claimed” over the past few years, but God forbid that ever happens to me. Recovery is like having your corpse exhumed by an academic for forensic purposes. To avoid this, I plan to continue posting in perpetuity. I have already donated a novel to the Linenhall Library which will be released after my death on January 1, 2070 – save the date!
Don’t fall prey to those dark enemies of art that can distract you at every turn Today, it’s no longer the stroller in the hall that will stop you, but the phone in your pocket, the Google on the PC, the beeping text message or Twitter. To paraphrase Timothy Leary’s ’60s anthem, “Switch off, switch off, switch off”. Don’t waste your time tweeting because it’s not like a literary letter and no one will post your Collected Tweets Vols I and II. Twitter is more ephemeral than the breath of an ephemeral. Instead, live the literary dream and breathe writing: breathe it, bleed it, elevate it, even eat it. For example, if you come to my house tonight, I’ll serve Flan O’Brien to start, followed by Irish Stew-art Parker, topped with Donna Tartt and custard.
love to be unique These days, there seem to be more loves in literature than there are in theater. It’s fashionable for writers to talk about a community of writers, but we’re individuals forging our own careers. We are writers, not community workers. Literature is not a self-help group and the sine qua non of writing is our ability to be different.
Don’t lose your integrity Avoid inundating other writers with your monthly e-newsletter or gushing over other people’s work in the hopes they’ll gushing over yours. There’s nothing more squeaky than writers who have fifty peer writer mentions in their books when three would be enough. Sometimes an endorsement is longer than a job reference and the thank you page is longer than an Oscar-winning speech! Always remember that less is more.
Immortalize yourself Liven up your book launches with a little bad behavior. My favorite playwright, Joe Orton, once left his opening night early to have sex in a public restroom. Playwrights should also follow the age-old tradition of getting drunk, since theater originated from Dionysian festivals. Flann O’Brien once said, “The main thing to remember is how unimportant art is. It’s a very minority activity”, but unfortunately this is no longer true because writing is now a majority activity, so you have to dare to be outrageous in a crowded market. As a writer, my only responsibility is to be irresponsible. Any old writer can live a lively enough life to warrant a biography, but why not aspire to be the type of writer writers write fiction about, like Thomas Mann.
Don’t get sucked into a little promotion against your better judgment Of course, we have to do a reasonable amount of self-publicity, but sometimes our publishers expect us to travel the country selling books out of our suitcases like a traveling salesman. You’d think we were 1930s encyclopaedists or Bible peddlers. And what’s the point of having a book sale in a library? Libraries are about borrowing books, not buying them! Save your energies for writing.
Have the utmost confidence in your own talent As a new writer, you may have joined a writing group, but sharing your work is like riding a bike with stabilizers, and at an early stage you have to fend for yourself. I agree with William Faulkner who said, “The good artist believes no one is good enough to give him advice,” and that sentiment applies to criticism as well. Throughout your career, you’ll meet plenty of assholes who will tear down your writing, but know that no matter what, you’ll rise again like a penis from the donkeys (or a phoenix from the ashes).
Don’t accept the writing status quo It’s a bit ironic that writing should break down hierarchy and yet most writers support the literary hierarchy maintained by publishers, agents and the media. Even if other writers are more adored than you, maintain an unwavering belief in your own talent. Sometimes I feel like an independent musician in the middle of a crowd of princesses and princes of pop; we’re all into literary fiction, but it’s as if they belong to a completely different genre. The marketing budget spent on some writers is so big it could fund a united Ireland!
Use autobiography Contrary to popular belief, writing isn’t the hardest part of being a writer. The really hard part is forcing yourself to have experiences that you would otherwise run a mile to avoid. For example, I endured speed dating just so I could write a short story about it for the BBC, and it was like descending into the seventh circle of hell! But the pain was worth it because it allowed me to combine the best of fiction with the best of reality TV. It always amazes me how real life turns so seamlessly into fiction and it’s only in the final stages of editing that I realize most of what I’ve written is true and rush frantically to change names and details. As Wilde said, “Life imitates art”, so much so that I can barely distinguish between the two.
Don’t be obsessed with the sound of the words rather than the meaning Irish writers tend to be lovers of rhythm and language, but what matters most is what you say, not how you say it. George Orwell was unhappy with his own rushed writing in 1984, but it was a seminal work nonetheless. I never want to be word perfect; I want to be an imperfect word as I strive to express what has never been expressed before. As Virginie Despentes succinctly puts it: “The beautiful phrase does not interest me. It’s good for others, but I don’t care.
Now, that, for me, is really beautiful.
Rosemary Jenkinson’s collection of short stories, Marching Season, is published by Arlen House and distributed internationally by Syracuse Press