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A Hack’s Letter to a Young Writer


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Hacks for Hacks: Sense of Humor Required

Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

As the years go by, I often think back to my early years as a writer. I had so much energy! So much passion! So many bad ideas! If I could send a letter back in time, I could tell myself when to avoid wrong turns and when to stay the course. I could tell myself to buy Bitcoin. Alas, I can’t go back in time. I can, however, impart the wisdom I’ve learned to the next generation of writers.

On Authenticity

Always be true to yourself. However, if you ever get the urge to be a big phony, remember that you are a writer and a creator, and therefore can create myriad personas and pen names. You’re not being inauthentic, you’re being true to those other versions of you, the ones who are richer and more interesting.

On Writing What You Love

Write what you love.

On Writing What You Hate

Write what you love long enough, it will gradually (and inexorably) fall into this category.

On Stress

Stress will be your constant companion as a writer. If you don’t have stress, you are probably not pushing yourself hard enough, which is actually not the worst idea. The world will be fine without your writing. Old writers like myself are so very tired, and we can’t compete with your youthful energy.

On Risk

I’m so proud of the risks you’re taking. And so fascinated that you thought this was good. Wow, this idea of yours is something you want to spend the next two years writing, huh? That’s just so very brave! I sure wish I had the courage to do something as awful as that!

On Criticism

People will criticize you. Some of it will be valid, some will not. The important thing is to identify which is which. You can safely ignore any criticism unless it comes from someone who: 

  1. wrote you a check
  2. you really trust
  3. is really hot.

On Sucking

Give yourself permission to write poorly. It’s not failure, it’s practice! Save your bad writing so that you can one day look back on how far you’ve come, and we envious nobodies can mock you for it when we want to take you down a peg or two.

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Photo by Alexander Savin

On Habits

Write every day. Or every day you can. The important thing to remember is that it is never enough, and that you should feel guilty for not writing more often. This guilt will eventually anthropomorphize into a gremlin-like creature only you can see. I named mine “Harold.”

On Reading

Read a lot, as voluminously as you can. You’ll see how other authors practice their craft, and you’ll learn fancy new words like voluminously. However much time you spend reading, though, it’s never enough, but the guilt you feel can be dissipated by watching TV.

On Inspiration

Sometimes we must write when uninspired. Writers famously turn to alcohol or caffeine to jumpstart their creativity, but the one true way is deadline-induced panic.

On Whether You Can Truly Call Yourself a Writer

Don’t get caught up on whether you’re successful or serious enough to call yourself a writer. If you write, you are a writer. If you say you are a writer, you’re a a writer. If you think you can get a date by telling someone you’re a writer, you’re a writer. Everyone is too busy to read your writing, nobody is going to fact-check you on this.

What advice would you give to a younger writer? Share your wisdom in the comments!

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About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris (he/him) left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.

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