How to Be (3)

Samantha Edmonds


To be a writer

Grow up, slowly and without noticing. Your mom is your best friend. Pick a school close to her. She will ask you to live at home. Shake your head, but cry when she drops you off on your first day. Call her the first night, in tears, and don’t hang up until she asks if you’d like for her to come up the next day to have lunch with you. You’re practically begging, pleading. Say yes, yes please.

Declare a creative writing major. Your parents are supportive, in contrast, it seems, to everyone else’s. Be grateful. Tell your mom your latest story ideas—a girl trapped in a basement, a long-lost sailor returning home to his true love. Send them to her in emails half-finished. In workshop, revise the same stories you’ve had for years, the ones you wrote in church, and change their titles but not much else. Put together a collection of all the incomplete stories you wrote in high school and give them to your mother for Christmas. She will give you the title suggestion for the would-be book—I Had a Nickel for a Dream that Costed a Dime. It will be a long time before you realize that ‘costed’ is not a word.

You are eighteen years old. Write stories about things that you cannot possibly know, or feel. Stories that deal with a pain you have never felt, betrayal you are not familiar with. Sexual experiences you have never had. Think that being a writer means having the craziest ideas. Focus on cool plots and characters that pop, not like people but like pictures, and don’t ever wonder what you’re really trying to say. Plan out the novels you will write when you are famous.

In workshop all your friends will say, I think I like this but what does it mean? Answer like you think a real writer would, or maybe as if you were a teacher: What do you think it means? Think this is what it’s like to learn.

It would be helpful at this point to actually write, rather than to just say you’d like to.

If you haven’t already, and want to try something (good lord, anything) else, go back to Section 2.

To fill a heart that still feels empty, go to Section 4.