Writing Tips From the Lost Peruke


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by PM Kellermann

Writers are taught to write about what they know. I know writing. So from time to time, I write about writing. Then again, from time to time, I write about time. But you know, sometimes I haven’t got the time to know what it is I’m writing. Never allow a lack of knowledge stand in the way of a good article. Though ignorance is no excuse, what you don’t know can’t hurt you…or so they say. That said, the following article was written to be used as an addendum to traditional writing texts that stress such extraneous precepts as style, research, coherency, and punctuality. It was first published in June 1989 (TLP Volume I, Number IX)

Earlier this year, I filed my federal tax return. This has become an annual ritual in my life. However, 1988 had one minor deviation from the previous years: I earned no income. I knew the IRS would regard this claim with suspicion; I needed further proof to reinforce my stake to poverty. At the end of the form, it asked: “Occupation?”

“Writer,” I wrote, “writer.”

I think I’m a writer, therefore I am a writer. I even have readers. Isn’t that a scary thought? Does this make me an expert on writing? Sure. Take a look at the so-called experts in Washington. Do they know any more about their fields of expertise than I know about mine? How the hell do I know? Knowing is not my field of expertise. 

But for some inexplicable reason, people always ask for my advice. Some truly believe this facade. They think I know what I’m talking about. Who are these people? What do they want? Why do they choose to feed on my paranoid delusions?

Even so, those in the field of free advice receipt, who view me as a writer, often ask me questions. Being true to my heritage, I choose to answer these questions with further questions. This only serves to confuse the gratuitous interrogators—which suits me fine. Confusion is my stock and trade. Perhaps I should list “confusionist” as my occupation on next year’s income tax return. Perhaps not.  

So what does all this have to do with writing? Almost nothing. However, it is essential to fill your pages with words. How does one do this? By writing. In response to your many queries, I hereby present the following writing tips. All I am saying is give (this) piece a chance.

  1. Coffee: Drink lots of coffee. Caffeine creates an anxiety that translates into urgency on the page. 

  2. Smoke cigarettes: Puffing serves to slow the writer down just long enough to gather one’s thoughts. Actually, I started smoking cigarettes when I was still writing on a typewriter. I discovered that whiteout dries in the exact amount of time it takes to light a cigarette. Exhaling the smoke onto the page facilitates the drying process. When I entered the electronic age, I brought this filthy habit with me. Self-perception and image are vital ingredients to being a successful writer… or so I am told.

  3. Clean clothes: Remember, whenever you write, you are presenting yourself to the reading public. It is of the utmost importance that you feel good about yourself. You cannot feel good about yourself if you are wearing dirty clothing. Body odor and miscellaneous stenches only tend to distract the writing process.

  4. Take numerous showers (or baths if you prefer): I take a minimum of two showers a day. Generally, I take three or four. It is imperative that each day begins clean, especially the hair. The human body has a tendency to gather grime while unconscious. Start your day with a shower. I find that a steady stream of steaming hot water serves to clear my mind. If my mind becomes cluttered during the day, I stop, strip, and shower. Darwin might explain this as an instinctual need to return to our amphibious state, but what does he know? 

  5. If you write in the nude, beware of black vinyl chairs. 

  6. Write at the time of day that best suits your needs: I prefer to write in the morning. I consider the writing process to be an extension of the REM stage of sleep. 

  7. Keep several dictionaries handy: My main dictionary is The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, and I ordinarily keep it on my lap while I write, but I have another five within arm’s reach—including the ever-popular Webster’s New Collegiate—and four more just a short walk away. The Oxford English Dictionary is incredible; I keep it next to my coffee cup. Unfortunately, the OED weighs about fourteen thousand pounds and you need a magnifying glass to read it. I use OED primarily when I need the definitive answer on a connotative question and to flatten pages after I have pasted something up. The American Heritage Dictionary is highly recommended for American heretics. 

  8. Always have more than one thesaurus at hand: It is a dire necessity to have the entire spectrum of synonyms at your bestowal. I have found the shelf above my desk serves wonderfully as a site for thesauri.

  9. Never write during a thunder storm: If you work on a computer, there is always the possibility that your power may suddenly go off and you will lose everything you have written. Why take chances? Go sit by your window and behold the wonders of nature. Better yet, take off all your clothes, run outside, and roll around in a puddle.  

  10. Buy an answering machine: Inevitably, the telephone will ring whenever you are in a serious state of concentration. More often than not, it will be someone trying to sell you something. Screening your calls engenders an ersatz illusion of power. Your outgoing message should be sufficiently blunt as to make callers feel guilty for bothering you.

  11. Become discouraged: Some of your best writing may result from desperation. 

  12. Power napping can be a very useful tool: If you write on a computer or word processor, it is crucial to rest your eyes every few hours. The radiation emanating from the screen may invade your brain and entice such non-productive notions as the desire for social contact. Avoid temptation. Retreat to the REM stage, take a shower, and start all over again. Important: Never power nap in bed; you may digress into a snooze. The living room floor or an uncomfortable couch are preferable options. 

  13. DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!