The Numb at the Lodge guide to writing guide
Lots and lots of lovely little thoughts
How to write an essay
Ok hi! So I was hanging out with some of my beautiful and talented friends the other day and we ended up talking about how none of us are writing personal essays any more. If you don’t remember the personal essay, there were like ~10 years in which the only way to get nonfiction published online was to talk about the worst day you’d ever had in your life, and I guess we kept on having worse and worse days all the time to make a living, which seemed viable at the time. But now all the online publications that used to publish personal essays have gone bust, and we’re left out here in the sunshine no longer sure what to do.
Or maybe it has something to do with the pandemic, because for a while instead of having experiences we were all just having lots of little thoughts. Which is much better! Personally I love it, thinking about things. I’ve been thinking about the relation between writing and responsibility. I’ve not been thinking anything in particular about it, I’ve just been thinking. I’ve been thinking about the lustrousness of saying I in literary nonfiction. I’ve been thinking about what makes the weird guys weird. It’s so lovely to be able to think, like floating down a gentle river on your back on a golden summer afternoon, without your thinking ever being dragged down by anything as dull and heavy as an argument or an interpretation.
I read the recent book everyone’s been talking about, and it made me think about the recent film everyone’s been talking about, and how much I loved both of them but also hated them. I’ve been thinking about how it feels to deeply love something but also hate everything specific about it, which happens to be exactly how I feel about all my beautiful and talented friends. And this got me thinking about Tár, which I’m still somehow thinking about midway through 2023. I’ve been thinking about the taste of blackcurrants and the complications of online dating. I’ve been thinking about Margery Kempe and the houseplants I love but not enough to keep them alive. I’ve been thinking about beheadings and sunbeams. I’ve been having lots of thoughts. Lots and lots of lovely little thoughts.
How to write mainstream literary fiction
Get an MFA.
Contemporary literary fiction is a very particular technique, and you can learn how to do it at any MFA programme. They will teach you how to produce prose that is neutral and plain and very readable, studded with half-sentences of nice description that make the reader do a little ah half-smile, but without ever being too florid. They will teach you how to make your characters more relatable. They will teach you how to sprinkle in just enough sensory detail that everything feels vividly real. You will learn to come up with exactly one clever, contrived turn of phrase every two pages, so the reader will notice that you’re a good writer without getting trapped in any brambly texture of words. To write material that is never tough or chewy or difficult, and always pleasurable to read. Words that slip down like a nice jelly, like chewing butter.
This sounds like I’m being dismissive. I’m not. It takes a lot of craft to get this right. Most contemporary literary fiction is like the Academic art pompier of the nineteenth century: there’s serious skill in there, endless hours studying the human figure and the way light moves across its surfaces until you can produce a version that’s perfect and smooth and clean, in the same way that the heroes of contemporary literary fiction can perfectly describe every slight emotive ripple as it passes across the surface of their smooth clean fucked-up psyches. There are no brushstrokes, and painting without brushstrokes takes skill too.
After your MFA you will publish a book. Every year, exactly one person who’s done an MFA sells an unseemly number of books and becomes incredibly rich and famous. There is absolutely no way of predicting who this will be, which is why all the other books still get published. For everyone else, there’s the consolation prize, which is that you will get to teach writing in an MFA programme. (Ever noticed that all the most violently unhinged people you know keep training to become therapists?) But there’s always a chance. It might be you.
How to write the kind of fiction that gets published by an ‘interesting’ small press
use lots of white space
& obsolete internet abbreviations like yr instead of your
⠀⠀⠀⠀ because u r a piece of technology too tight coiled wires pulsing information just beneath yr hot & hungry skin
& speak about god & yearning & festering flesh & the horns of the distant moon
⠀⠀⠀⠀& nostalgia for myspace or w/e
& read poetry off yr phone from yr collection entitled i have a terrarium in my brain wearing a long plastic trenchcoat & a bobble hat pulled up to the very top of yr head & never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever look directly at the audience
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ which is small but there is one it's there
How to write the radical, urgent fiction of online
God, when did art get taken over by all these fucking losers? Prissy little regime freaks mewling about their fake and gay feelings. You are not like them. You have nothing in common with the nice women who had happy childhoods and work at publishing houses. You are a creature of pure energy and will. Your biggest literary influences are Yukio Mishima, Antonin Artaud, and a guy called The Hamitic Theory Rapist who sends unhinged death threats to random black people (which you can only fully appreciate for the works of comic genius they are if you come to them having read Mishima and Artaud). You live in a kind of nest you made for yourself in the woods, built out of old issues of Hustler glued together with spit, and you will sit in there cackling as you watch the cities burn.
You are going to do things differently. You are going to write without contractions, which are unworthy of a serious writer and, you aver, symptomatic of the degeneration of Art and Beauty into lifeless demotic goo. In every thoughtlessly truncated word lies the same decrepitude by which as grand an appellation as ‘The Men’s Room’ no longer signifies some solemn book-lined chamber within which men of quality may discuss the great issues of their day, but has come to denote a mere hole for pissing in. It is incumbent upon you to arrest this aforesaid degeneracy by means of your impeccable literary vitalism, to wit, a story about the kind of person you don’t like, who masturbates to sissy porn and then kills himself. A mere few strokes of your pen, and your muscular masculine prose—real writing, sufficient to express the contours of real existence, laced with real memes—will instantaneously obliterate the sterile neologisms and fussy indecipherable ingroup-speak of the skinnyfat zogslop longhouse NPC bugman globohomo egregore. Pebblecuck Venetian-blindscel topazpilling, Khazarian podlicker planetary splungoven. Douftil grangleman, spoddleball vac heenie-feenie mugrancis brenge. Asshat. Cockwomble.
How to write the kind of thing that will instantly net you $1,000,000 and condemn your soul to Hell
You want to know the BIGGEST mistake you’re making as a writer?
What if I told you that it was the SAME MISTAKE you keep making in your love life?
In your WORK? In… well, just about EVERYTHING?
It’s the ONE REASON you’ve been such a FAILURE your entire life. It’s why you keep writing without making any MONEY. It’s why you SLEEP ALONE. If I could tell you the ONE secret that might just CHANGE YOUR WORLD… would you listen?
Buckle up, because you’re about to get a KNOWLEDGE BOMB that can OBLITERATE AN ENTIRE VILLAGE.
What you’ve been doing wrong is that you've been mistaking VISION for MISSION.
Let’s break that down.
When we in the leadership community talk about VISION, we mean an ECSTATIC EXPERIENCE OF THE DIVINE, often involving ALLEGORICAL FIGURES or brief GLIMPSES OF THE AFTERLIFE.
And in business strategy, a MISSION is a STATION SET UP IN THE NEW WORLD BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND ITS ORDERS UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE CROWNS OF ARAGON AND CASTILE.
What does that mean for YOU?
And how has not knowing the difference doomed you to PENURY and ANGUISH and YOUR DICK FALLING OFF?
Well, to find out you’ll have to subscribe!
How to write insightful political commentary
Take a long metal object—a Korean chopstick should work perfectly—and insert it up your nose. Keep pushing until you break through the cribriform plate and slide the chopstick directly into your brain. Wiggle it vigorously around.
How to write something that might not be bad
To work out how to write well, you first have to know why people write badly. And what I’m getting at with all of this is that all bad writing is a failure of style. Not in the sense that bad writers haven’t developed enough of a style: the problem is usually that they do it too well.