This extra-long blog post is brought to you by three Heinekens and an insatiable, irrepressable sense of bitter competition.
Everyone has a memoir, or intends to write a memoir, or has a title picked out for their memoir that they know they’ll never actually write.
When I was twelve years old, I started writing my own memoir. The first chapter was titled “A Star is Born.” Most girls are plagued with pre-pubescent insecurities and eating disorders, and there I was, writing my memoirs with self-serving chapter titles like “A Star is Born.”
After perusing the “Biography” section at Barnes & Noble, I am disgusted by how many people have made a fantastic living, writing about themselves. Whenever I read a memoir that makes the mundane incredibly funny and interesting via observational humor (ala Jerry Seinfeld or Ellen DeGeneres), I get angry, and then immediately start writing.
If they can do it, why can’t I?
Of course I can do it. But, come on, writing is HARD. Not to sound like a whiny, self-important writer-type, but writing really is hard, in the sense that writing a book, a real book comprised of hundreds of pages, is an incredibly daunting task. I can’t even watch a television without my laptop nearby, allowing me the ability to check my email for the thousandth time or engage in a pointless game of online Scrabble, so how the hell can I be expected to have the attention span it requires to write an entire book?
I have dozens of books that I’ve started and abandoned. I can’t write fiction because everything sounds too forced and ridiculous. I fall into the amateur’s mistake: over-description. My main character isn’t just wearing a sweater. She’s wearing a sweater, the color of an eggplant that she ate two winters ago, back when times were much, much simpler.
That pratfall, coupled with the fact that I am completely and totally only interested in things in which I am an integral part of the plot or story, make it virtually impossible for me to write anything that is not a memoir.
I’ll also start writing a book and then after I’ve gotten a page or two in, I’ll start congratulating myself on a job well done. God, you’re good. Does anyone else know how good you are? Man, everyone is stupid except for you.
Then I’ll imagine all of the accolades I’ll receive: the interviews on The Today Show, the New York Times bestseller list, the coveted position on Oprah’s Book Club. Then reality will set in and I’ll realize three things: 1.) You’ve only written two fucking pages, asshole. 2.) You are really, really drunk. 3.) Don’t you know that nothing you’ll ever write will be on Oprah’s Book Club list? You haven’t struggled with anything. You haven’t overcome any great adversity. You’ve always gotten everything you’ve ever wanted.
And that’s the problem.
Of course, I’ve had problems in my life, but nothing so significant that I can dedicate a whole book to.
Nine times out of ten, my problems amount to a.) I’m so stressed out because I have so many great opportunities laid before me by influential people who recognize and want to cultivate my potential b.) My parents call me three times a day because they love and support me completely and all they want to do is hear about my day and I AM SO ANNOYED BY THAT.
So, what does that charmed existence leave me to write about? The memoirs I like the most are drug memoirs. I’ve never done drugs in my life. Well, except for that one time I smoked pot accidentally on my birthday. You see, these drug people are more clever than you’d think. There I was, completely shitfaced, and a friend was smoking what looked like a cigarette. Apparently, it was marijuana packed into a pipe that was supposed to look exactly like a cigarette. I wanted a drag and what I got was drugs.
And so, my sole flirtation with drugs amounted to a paragraph, not a book.
In the same vein of prematurely congratulating myself for a fantastic job on a book I haven’t written yet, I also write as though everyone I’ve ever met is going to read it. In fact, while I’m writing it, I imagine that people I know are reading it. This not only hinders the writing process, it’s highly unrealistic.
My first book, an insignificant attempt at being a serious writer, was written over three weeks when I was eighteen years old. It was published by a small publisher who was under investigation by the government for shady business practices. Regardless, the book was in my hands, and available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s websites. And yet, not one of my friends have read it.
“Why do I need to read your book?” they said, after it was published. “I can just talk to you. It’s not like you’re shy about telling us exactly what you think about every fucking thing.”
This, of course, is true. But at least buy the stupid book, you assholes. It’s like $14.95. We go out every weekend and spend $50 on beer and Irish nachos, but you can’t fork over $14.95 to buy your friend’s book? You’re all dead to me. ALL OF YOU.
It’s also really hard to write a book when you have very little self-doubt. This is why I have trouble doing freelance writing. As far as I’m concerned, everything I write is brilliant. It’s like the ink in my pen is made up of incredibly articulate angels from above. And still, the editor has the power to change every word I write, and I have no say over it whatsoever. Imagine what this feels like to a total control freak, to, for all intents and purposes, have no control over what you’ve written.
You turn in your final draft to your editor and they respond back, telling you it’s great, and regaling you with smiley face emoticons, and then you pick up the issue of the magazine a few months down the line and your work is unrecognizable.
So, basically, whenever I read a few chapters of a good, witty, funny, thought-provoking memoir, I immediately slam the book shut and start writing. Is it because I really want to write, or is it because I live for competition and I can’t deal when someone does something I’m good at better than I can?
Okay, not better.
But they’ve got a book deal, don’t they?
I interned at a major publishing house and after six months of sitting in on weekly editorial meetings, it became clear to me that anyone can get a book deal. Seriously, anyone. Kind of like anyone can become a vice presidential nominee, or anyone can get arrested if they try hard enough. You just have to knuckle down and commit to doing it. Oh, and you also have to have a marketable idea.
After the popularity of David Sedaris’s droll, witty essays, and James Frey’s controversial tell-all drug rehab story, memoirs became a publisher’s ticket to the best seller list. Because hey, people love to read about other people’s misery or humorous observations. Either or, really. Combine the two? BLOCKBUSTER.
It’s kind of evil, but the best way to sell an idea is figure out what people want and create from there. People don’t want 600-page tomes set in Elizabethan England anymore. They want accessible, first-person narratives about the ludicriousness of everyday life, or self-help books selling the idea that they can do something better, if only they follow these eight simple steps.
But what do I want to say? And even if I say what I want to, isn’t it incredibly arrogant to assume that anyone other than myself or my parents will want to read it? There are authors who’ve made careers for themselves by churning out memoir after memoir.
Hey, douchebag, you think your life is so fucking interesting that you can write six books about it? Yeah, well, I’ve got a title for your seventh memoir; it’s called NO ONE FUCKING CARES.
I’m so abrasive about the subject because I’m totally jealous. I would like nothing better than to spend my whole life writing pithy anecdotes about my stupid little life and have scores of people gobble them up like I constantly have something brilliant and worthwhile to say.
But first, I need to figure out something brilliant and worthwhile to say.
Two Things that are Brilliant and Worthwhile to Say:
Can I get a book deal now? THANKS.
- Why do people clap at the end of the movies at movie theatres? The actors aren’t here. The director’s not here. For fuck’s sake, the Best Boy or the Key Grip aren’t even here. Whatever they are. Who are you applauding for? The projectionist? The fifteen-year-old kid with the flashlight who came in the room for a whole five seconds and then went back to flirting with the popcorn girl at the concession stand? STOP CLAPPING. Get up from your seat, put on your jacket, and clear the aisle. Some people have a long subway ride home.
- I am so sick and fucking tired of spending my life waiting in line for the bathroom at events, shows, concerts, restaurants, bars, etc. If you counted up collectively how long I’ve waited in line for the bathroom in my entire life, it would certainly add up to at least 24 hours of waiting time. A whole day of my life that I’ll never get back. It takes me about 30 seconds to pee, ladies, and you know what? It should take you about 30 seconds too. I come out of the bathroom stall in the ladies room and people look at me in astonishment. Like I’m some sort of genetic freak. It’s not 1860. We don’t have corsets and bloomers to deal with here. What is the freaking hold up? Seriously, if bitches don’t start hurrying up, they’re going to start getting some elbows to the face. I’ve got places to go and drinks to drink.
Labels: Bitter Bitching, writing about writing