If you decide to be a writer, you are going to want to tell people. It is an impressive career choice and you’ll likely want to bring it up when impressing any high-school crushes you once over-stressed the importance of minute body language with. They will say to you I am a (boring thing), and you will say I am a writer, and they will think dark sunglasses and hand-rolled cigarettes and classy drinks and beat-up sports cars, and you will make beautiful dark love and then in the morning you will sit on the end of their bed with your back to them and say something cool and deep. Then you will leave with your jacket draped over your bare back.
If you want to make this event a possibility you will have to learn how to talk about your writing, and not just any writing. Nobody wants to hear about your short stories, or your blog posts. They will ask you about your novel and you will say um and then turn red as you describe it and then re-think the entire thing on the cab ride home, sober and blue-balled.
They do not teach you about this in your uni course. They do not teach you what damage your own words can do. How can you describe a novel in a sentence when you have just spent over 50,000 words describing it on paper?
The best thing to do is shut up and talk about sports or television, but sometimes this is just not an option. For those times here is a crash course in talking about the only game in your town.
Describing Your Novel 101
You are making polite small talk with someone you do not know. Maybe they are an annoyingly cheerful cab driver, or a cashier from the petrol station that you frequent a lot, or that guy at the party who just told you he can tap into the minds of versions of himself from parallel universes. You will mention you are a writer and they will talk about the novel they are writing and you will smile because this is an opportunity to satisfy the mean streak in you and do a little self-esteem building.
For this you will need all those big words you heard the actually talented people in your course using. Start throwing around writing techniques like nobody’s business. You want to try and make it look like you are on a different level to this upstart, because if this guy can write as well as you then what the hell are you doing with your life? You will probably feel like a dick afterwards but writing is fuelled on what little self-esteem you can grasp from the universe’s cold, greedy claws.
You are at a party. You think you are looking particularly fly tonight, you are pumped up on Dutch courage from too many craft ales and beer bladder has not kicked in yet. You are talking to a lady who has just told you she really wants to be a spy even though you are pretty sure she has no idea what a spy actually does. You mention you are writing a novel and then curse yourself because now you have to have ‘the conversation’.
You have to be careful here. You cannot describe your novel in any way that makes sense. You may be writing a science-fiction/comedy about a drunken freelance knight from a medieval world that gets work as a space mercenary, but you are just going to have to use your creative ability to get through this. Suddenly you are writing a novel about destiny and the nature of reality. Do not tell them any details; you have to keep your novel vague and exciting-sounding and like something they might want to read in their book club.
You are given space to talk to people in the writing industry, a chance to describe yourself and your work and try and impress people. You spend it talking about your insecurities and throwing insults around at the very culture you are trying to enter. Now you only have a couple of lines to plead for your dream.
My novel is a space adventure story about drinking and fighting and friendship. I know it doesn’t sound like much but the characters are really likeable and the story is fun and I have put a lot of effort into it. If a novel is like a baby then I am proud of this baby even though it swears probably too much and is not a good role model for teenagers.
Sam Maguire is a writer from Circumstances, Ipswich. He has enough brain problems to keep making funny jokes and enough dark tragic secrets to keep him drinking, smoking and looking tortured. He is the first writer to be featured in our Struggling Writers Residencies and also hosts the Stilts Book Club.