Everything you wanted to know about being a writer (but were afraid to ask)

Everything you wanted to know about being a writer (but were afraid to ask)
Posted 10 December 2012 by Matt Haig

Welcome to my second-ever blog.


I thought I'd just hastily scribble down everything I know about being a writer, after a decade and eight books worth of relentless experience. This may give me nothing else to write about for my remaining time as Book Trust writer-in-residence but, hell, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it (next week).


If you are a writer you might disagree with every word of this. Maybe this is just my reality. In which case, disown me and pretend I'm using the royal 'we'. I decided on 37 points. Don't ask my why. I'm 37. Maybe that was it (writers are all self-obsessed, forgot to mention that). So, here it is, the writer stripped bare.


1.     We live on toast. And cereal. And caffeine. And wine. But mainly toast.


2.     By the time our book comes out, it feels like a childhood memory. But more distant.


3.     Our daily word-count was approximately three thousand words higher before the arrival of Facebook and Twitter.


4.     At parties someone will always say, 'So have you written anything I'd have heard of?' Or, 'How are the books going?' Both questions end in awkward silence.


5.     If we were number two in the bestseller charts, the only book we would ever be thinking about is the one selling more.


6.     We never know if the book we are writing is the right one until we have written it. And even then we are not sure.


7.     It is harder to make friends after you become a writer than it was before. But way easier to make enemies.


8.     People think you are automatically a bit weird. (Or is that just me?)


9.     We need editors 'like a fat kid needs cake' - to quote that sensitive literary soul, 50 Cent.


10. The best day is when we get to see our book cover. Unless we don' t like the book cover in which case it is the worst day.


11. 'Royalty statement' is Latin for disappointment.


12. We get stomach pains every time another writer wins something. (We have continual stomach pains).


13. We all want to be Hemingway, minus the suicide part.


14. We would probably all be writing poems, if people actually bought poems.


15. We spend a lot of our time going on five hour train journeys to events where eight people turn up (and only three of them buy the book).


16. We chose not to choose life. We chose something else.


17. We are generally quite bad at dancing.


18. In most cases, the person we don't like more than any other just happens to be another writer. But then, the person we admire most is one too.


19. We may have our name on the front of a book but we always feel slightly outside the publishing industry, looking in. Like Keats at that metaphorical sweet-shop.


20. If we were a neurotic wreck before we were published - and we were - we remain one afterwards. Our brain chemistry doesn't fundamentally change.


21. If we get good reviews, we want good sales. If we get good sales, we want good reviews.


22. We are happy for five whole minutes after a book is sent off. Then we realise all the mistakes we made.


23. We start off wanting to be published. We get published. Then we want a nice review. We get a nice review. Then we want an award. We get an award. Then we want a film deal. We get a film deal. Then we want a film to be made. And so on. For ever. (We are never happy).


24. If someone reads our work midway through the writing process we need them to faint in awe or it goes in the bin.


25. We are a little bit lonely.


26. Bad reviews are always taken personally. Always.


27. Writing a novel is like a relationship. During the early stages every other possibility looks incredibly attractive. But commitment pays off.


28. We rarely write in coffee shops.


29. Writing is heaven. Re-writing is hell.


30. We are rubbish at other jobs. And DIY. And most other things too.


31. We say the wrong things at parties.


32. The definition of discomfort is the moment after your mother reads your semi-autobiographical novel.


33. There is no praise more treasured than that of an author you worship.


34. The best book we have ever written is the one we are about to write.


35. The best ideas we have are the ones that arrive accidentally.


36. There is no email in the world nicer to receive than the one from a reader who has been moved by your work.


37. We know, in our heart of hearts, that we have the very best job in the world.


Agree with most.
But. Am told I'm a good dancer. Does this mean I can't write?
I'm also happy when my creative writing students (higher education) thank me for helping them.

Gill James
12 April 2013

An entertaining list. It's really all about angst.

2 January 2013

Matt, You forgot number 38 - the feeling you get when you read the synopsis on various sites and it doesn't even resemble the story you thought you had written!

14 December 2012

Matt: I think you would gain a lot more from the writing process if you were to self-publish. Then you could choose your own editor, your own cover, you wouldn't have to rely on royalties ... you would benefit from total sales. I'm doing it for my 4th book and am really looking forward to the results.

Doreen Pendgracs
14 December 2012

Brilliant. Spot on. Not sure I agree with No.30 but, then, I haven't been published. Lists such as these are very distracting but I console myself with the fact my daily word count is creeping up with every tap of the keyboard. Now I just need to focus the tapping on my book.
Thanks for the distraction Matt!

12 December 2012

Was very entertaining!

12 December 2012

I'm actually rather good at dancing, but the rest of this rings worryingly true (especially point 24. Anyone fancy taking a look at my work in progress?).

Charles Lambert
11 December 2012

what about if you are a very old first novel writer and its the disapproving always nosey kids you worry about?

hilary blake
11 December 2012

Oh, #22! Yes. This is the reason I rarely read a book of mine once it's printed.

This was terrific. Thank you.

11 December 2012

All of these observations are terribly familiar. They could apply to visual artists too. It's a lonely struggle, even when you're "successful" (whatever that means).I take comfort from knowing that I'm not the only one....

Norman Perryman
11 December 2012

So sweet! And encouraging. Keep it up!

10 December 2012

Brilliant! I have yet to discover the post-published bits, but can only imagine that they are as spot on as the rest...will re-visit the list at the end of January next year! By the way, I need my editor and also cake. Is this normal?

Hannah Evans
10 December 2012

You had me at no.1! I live on toast! I'm only an aspiring writer working on my first book, which is autobiographical ( I know cliche) but I relate to all your points! So I take it as a good sign! Thanks!

Gillian king
10 December 2012

Just one caveat. I can dance. Sort of. Okay, I think I can dance. My kids disagree.

C M Keller
10 December 2012

Oh, blimey, Matt. If I had a fiver for everyone who had called me "weird" or "eccentric" or "bonkers" over the years, I would definitely have at least £362.23 by now. Glad it's not just me.

Marnie Riches
10 December 2012

Love this, made me giggle and cringe in equal measure - and glad that I sent you an email in praise and awe of 'The Dead Fathers' Club' ...

Jackie Buxton
10 December 2012

Painfully accurate, witty, and intelligent. Am trying to pick a favourite one. Can't. Although I dance ok after one glass of wine. After three glasses of wine it's back to disaster. http://wp.me/2Virc

Evie Jordan
10 December 2012

I love No. 16. :)

Mel Murphy
10 December 2012

*me not "my" in intro

Brain Duel
10 December 2012

True. And awesome. And true. In that order.

Graham Edwards
10 December 2012

Maybe I'm strange, but I enjoy rewriting, partly because I'm very aware that the bits I've rewritten five times are much better than the bits I've only rewritten once.

You forgot - or maybe this is just me - "we love re-reading our own old stuff." Except if it's the work I only rewrote once, of course.

Oh, and I've won prizes. But others have won MORE prizes. Bastards.

Martyn Cornell
10 December 2012

Thanks guys. I am blushing, neurotically, and eating toast.

Matt Haig
10 December 2012

Thanks guys. I am blushing, neurotically, and eating toast.

Matt Haig
10 December 2012

Oh - Nos. 33 & 36 - wonderful glorious enticements to keep me going.
Loved this, Matt.

K.M. Lockwood
10 December 2012

Almost all are true - but I especially love the one about the long train journeys to events. Yup.

Dan Smith
10 December 2012

I love your list. #8 is my favorite.

"Do you do everything you write about?" That's the question I get the most (but probably b/c I write about sex.) I wrote a writers' bill of rights a few years back...

http://alisontyler.blogspot.com/2008/03/how-to-get-me-wet.html (NSFW for words, not pictures)

Alison Tyler
10 December 2012

I can dance. It turns out that you left out a very important thing about writers - we can, and will, take offence at anything said about writers, particularly when it's wrong.

Jane Lovering
10 December 2012

What can I say, Matt? You've nailed it. Every one of those 37 points struck a chord with me. Every. Single. One. Which is good, because for years, I've been thinking I was the only writer who felt like that about it...

Philip Caveney
10 December 2012

" 'So have you written anything I'd have heard of?'"

I suppose the answer is "Don't know. Have you read anything *I'd* have heard of?"

(Or alternatively 'Depends. How literate are you?')

Michael Bywater
10 December 2012

Brilliant and so very true.

Rebecca Emin
10 December 2012

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