how to be a writer in 15 steps

I don’t really like to call myself a writer, because it still sounds kind of boastful to me for some reason. I haven’t yet tried to make a career out of the fruits of my labors, and I don’t know that much about what it takes to “make it” as a writer, so I have a hard time seeing myself as worthy of an actual title. But, as someone who finds solace in the power of the written word and uses it as her primary creative outlet, I’m learning to embrace the term. The creative process, however? I have yet to really embrace that as a writer. Ironically though, I had no trouble enumerating my personal writing process. So here it is, in all its distracted, self-indulgent, Generation Y glory. In order to complete a piece of writing that I actually feel proud of, these are the things I must do:

1. Brainstorm a list of topics I want to write about in a ragged old notebook I found at the bottom of my desk drawer. Even add little checkboxes next to each item, so that I can be organized and check them off the list one by one as I finish writing about them.

2. Make a pretentious playlist on Spotify that I can listen to while I write and simultaneously broadcast to my Facebook friends that I am cool and artsy because I listen to an eclectic mix of Paul Simon, Bon Iver, and Tracy Chapman.

3. Make myself a cup of coffee and drink half of it before deciding that the real inspiration I need is to get a cup of $4 French roast from my favorite coffeeshop that is a 20 minute drive away.

4. Pack up my laptop, ragged old notebook of ideas, and a handful of random gel pens from middle school and get ready to go to the coffeeshop, but in the process decide that what I really need to be productive is a new notebook and writing supplies because what kind of serious writer writes down all her ideas using a sparkly pink pen in a notebook with a Lord of the Rings collage on the front?

5. Spend $117 at Target on a new notebook, some fancy rollerball pens that will break or be lost a week later, three dresses from the clearance section that I was too lazy to try on but have a 60% chance of fitting my boobs correctly, a new pair of heels that I will wear once before I realize the reason I don’t wear heels is because they hurt and I walk like a drunk baby camel in them, some lipstick that Emma Stone told me I should buy, and some trail mix.

6. Get to the coffeeshop, order one beverage that I plan on refilling for several hours, scour the place for the perfect spot to sit, and finally settle in at a little table that is near both an outlet for my laptop charger and the bathroom, which I will visit several times due to the amount of caffeine I will consume while I’m here.

7. Open my word processor and web browser at the same time. Check my email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts so that I can focus without them distracting me later. Come across a recipe for a cake you can make in a mug, a picture of Ryan Gosling in glasses that I somehow have not seen before, and an adorable video of a hedgehog yawning that I must send to my coworkers. Spend 15 minutes composing a perfectly witty Facebook status. Check in on Foursquare so all my friends will know I’m at this specific coffeeshop, then put my phone on silent because my Justin Timberlake ringtone would definitely get some glares in this hipster-filled café.

8. Write a couple sentences, then get distracted by a guy walking by who looks like the boy I had a crush on during sophomore year of college. Look up said former crush on Facebook, click through all of his recent pictures to find that he shaved off his beard and his hair looks good short, then notice he’s in a relationship. Subsequently Facebook-stalk every boy I have ever loved to discover most of them are engaged. Start thinking about how I will die alone, then hold back my tears and order that chocolate muffin I decided against earlier, but only after checking the time to see if it is too early in the day to order a glass of wine without the barista judging me. (It is.)

9. Check the viewer statistics on my blog and wonder why I haven’t gotten many hits in the past two weeks, then realize I haven’t published any new posts in that time period. Write furiously about nothing at all and get mad at myself because everything I am writing sucks and I am no closer to publishing a new post than I was half an hour ago.

10. Send some awkward selfies to my best friends via Snapchat. Get mad when they don’t respond within five minutes. Glare at the guy sitting two tables away who totally caught me taking selfies.

11. Realize that I have to pee so badly my bladder feels like it’s going to explode. Run to the restroom, then kick myself for wearing a romper because I picked literally the most involved article of clothing when it comes to going to the bathroom. Practically rip off the buttons on my romper in my frantic, rushed effort to pee.

12. Write a little bit more, check Facebook 72 more times, find out about a sale on ModCloth, buy a retro dress that’s on sale for $45 (and some hair clips so that I can get free shipping on my order of $50 or more), and finish my fourth cup of coffee. Finally give up and drive home, with only a couple disjointed paragraphs to show for my trip.

13. Get home and change into sweatpants and an oversized tshirt I got for free a few years ago. Probably take off my bra, too, let’s be real. I’m home, you can’t judge me for that. Then kill time by watching three episodes of a TV show on Netflix and drinking 18 glasses of water to make up for all the caffeine I forced down my throat throughout the day. Pretend to clean my room, while really just moving around all the stuff on my floor into a different arrangement. Have a mini dance party to that Taylor Swift song I pretend to hate but secretly love.

14. Finally get struck by inspiration at 11:24pm, while I’m brushing my teeth, about to go to bed. Rush to my laptop and begin writing with the fervor of a small child chasing a chipmunk in the backyard. Stay up too late, slumped over my computer in bed, writing a blog entry/essay/short story that I’m actually proud of. Press “post” or “print” or “send” on said bit of writing. Sleep soundly, reveling in the power of the creative process and dreaming of eventually becoming a famous writer who has a fancy office (filled with fancy notebooks and pens) in which to get distracted and frustrated while writing . . . but who still escapes to the coffeeshop every now and then.

15. Repeat steps 1-14.

profile of a desperate single woman who lives in the woods with teenagers

I’ve never been a “dater.” I’ve always called myself a hopeless romantic, a lover of love, a believer in the power of relationships, but when it comes to actually going out on dates, meeting people, and just casually browsing this vast world for the person who “completes me” (so-to-speak), the very thought makes me want to hide beneath the huge pile of laundry in the corner of my bedroom.

I would rather sit at home alone on the weekend, watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix and eating Nutella with a spoon, than go out on a date with someone I barely know. As a notorious overthinker, the anxiety that plagues me from the moment the date is planned until its final seconds is something I just don’t want to deal with. There’s too much prep work involved, especially considering the slim chances that this person will actually end up being the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. There’s the research phase, trying to learn as much as possible about this person without knowing so much that you have nothing to talk to them about. Then there’s the panic that follows the research, when you discover the person is either too good for you or potentially not good enough. Then, since I’m a girl who buys into socially constructed gender stereotypes once she has caught the attention of any man ever, I need lots of time to plan out an outfit, decide the outfit makes me look like I’m trying too hard, plan another outfit, try on six more and text pictures to my friends to get their input on whether my cleavage is “tasteful” or not, decide on a makeup scheme that makes me look subtle and somewhat natural, shave my legs, pluck my eyebrows, and starve myself, not because I want to lose weight before my date, but because I have so much anxiety bubbling in my stomach that I physically can’t force anything down my throat. And all of these stressful activities occur before I’ve actually gone on the date. The date is a whole different beast. A constant stream of self-analysis is running through my head, and it’s so distracting that I’m probably not even noticing how cool and nice this guy could actually be. He could open doors for me, compliment my dress, and listen attentively as I blather on and on about my weird job, and I would still be focused on the fact that the shoes I picked are too high or worrying about whether ordering a salad for dinner will make me seem like a shallow, insecure idiot. Dates suck, ok? They just do. I want to skip ahead to when I’m comfortable enough with someone that I can wear jeans and a v-neck, and we’ll go to a pizza place and split the bill. I want the comfort and familiarity of a relationship without going through the hard work of meeting someone and learning all about them. I’m too lazy to date.

Recently, one of my friends suggested that we try online dating this school year. First, I laughed at her because I thought she was kidding. Then, when I realized she was dead serious, I immediately shot the idea down. What could I possibly have to gain from online dating? What men are going to want to date me when my home is in a boarding school residence hall? Why would I put myself through the hell of dating anxiety when I probably won’t be living here a year from now? Even worse, what if I do meet someone I’m legitimately interested in and then I have to move across the country in June? I came up with every excuse in the book to explain why online dating would be a nightmare for me. But my friend simply countered that with, “It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it could be fun!”

Then I realized I was being a complete asshole about it. Online dating is what people do now. Without taking into consideration my main fear of going on a date with an axe murderer (which is very real because I’ve watched enough Dexter to know that you can’t trust anybody anymore), it seems like a relatively low-risk way to meet somebody new. Sure, I don’t flirt well and I don’t date because it makes me want to throw up. I apparently just sit and wait for my knight in shining armor (or Jim Halpert in a white button-down, rather) to come find me and sweep me off my feet, which I’ve finally realized is completely ridiculous and the opposite of everything my feminist mother taught me as a young girl. I was raised to disapprove of the Disney princesses who sang melancholy songs and waited for a prince to save them. I was told real women find their own way in life and love, and they don’t need men to be their saviors. Well, I guess that’s a concept I need to reacquaint myself with.

Whether I will actually attempt online dating remains to be seen, because I still get that pukey feeling in my stomach whenever I think about going out with someone I’ve never met in person, and I am also really afraid of filling out an online dating profile. How much do you reveal about yourself on those things, anyway? I don’t want to end up being a huge disappointment to a guy who reads my watered down biography online and assumes I’m super cool, but I also don’t want to “undersell” myself like a high school kid with low self-esteem. They should teach you this kind of stuff in school. Five paragraph essays? Those are useless once you have your diploma. How to find the area of a trapezoid? COME ON. I now feel cheated by the public school system because for some reason I remember how to conjugate most Latin verbs but I don’t know how to catch myself a fella on OkCupid. If I were to fill out a profile right this moment, it would probably read something like this:

I am 24 year-old who works in residence life at an arts boarding school. When I’m not mentoring/mothering/wrangling the teenagers who live in my building, I enjoy binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, hiding out at coffeeshops, and making playlists on Spotify. I studied vocal music and education as an undergrad student, but eventually gave up that dream and now aspire to join an even less fruitful arts discipline by becoming a writer. I have restarted the second book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire three times and haven’t gotten past page 70 yet, but I watched all three seasons of Game of Thrones in less than a week. I own an ice cube tray shaped like little penguins. I post on Twitter and Instagram far too often. I am mediocre at playing the guitar and piano, but probably above average at the ukulele. I watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended edition, duh) at least twice a year and yes, I dressed up for the midnight premiere of the first Hobbit film. I enjoy colored felt-tip pens and three-hole-punching documents. I can run 4 miles without stopping but I am slower than molasses. My favorite Bob Dylan album is Highway 61 Revisited and I am very glad he decided to include the acoustic version of “Desolation Row” as the final track.

Would you date me after reading that? It’s ridiculous, I know. But I guess the bottom line is, if I ever do try to meet my soulmate online, they’d better be okay with all of the things listed above, even if I don’t go into this much detail in my actual profile.

…I should also probably get somebody to write my profile for me.