What it really takes to become a writer

Recently, as I was doing some research for my Demon Muse blog, I came across an essay by Joseph Epstein that begins with an audacious statement of what it really takes to become a writer. Although the overall point of the essay is to criticize a book I love (Alice Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain), after having mulled it over for a couple of weeks I must say the man’s point about the writer’s necessary attitudinal and psychological equipment continues to resonate:

I was recently asked what it takes to become a writer. Three things, I answered: first, one must cultivate incompetence at almost every other form of profitable work. This must be accompanied, second, by a haughty contempt for all the forms of work that one has established one cannot do. To these two must be joined, third, the nuttiness to believe that other people can be made to care about your opinions or views, and be charmed by the way you state them. Incompetence, contempt, lunacy — once you have these in place, you are set to go.

— Joseph Epstein, “Writing on the Brain,” COMMENTARY magazine, April 2004

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on June 3, 2011, in Writing & Creativity and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hah! I love it. So true.

  2. That is one the books on my “Most Intriguing” list, too. I think we initially read it about the same time, if I recall.

    Great quote, although perhaps it doesn’t apply to all types of writing, as the second item on the list would be horribly detrimental to a poet, I would think. Or maybe it would just depend on the poet. πŸ™‚

    Especially enjoyed the first requirement!

  3. Word, amen, and heavy sigh.

    Good to see you back playing in the ether again, Matt. You were missed.

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