How to Be a Real Writer or Where’s My Membership Card?

by Carole Lee

Years ago, I had a romantic view of real writers. Alas, my life as a writer is nothing like the one I imagined. I meet deadlines to buy groceries. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. So, where is the mysterious life of the real writer I fancied so much? A little birdie told me it exists somewhere, and I’m determined to find it.

Real writers travel to far-off countries, nod knowingly toward fellow intellectuals and sample exotic cuisine. They sit in faded leather chairs beside roaring fireplaces. They puff on pipes while sipping cognac and discuss conceptual topics while practicing foreign languages. That, friends and neighbors, is the life. Well, maybe not the pipes, but you get the idea.

I have never tasted cognac. I have never been outside the United States. Spending a week at America’s Best Value Inn of Farmington, NM doesn’t qualify me as well-traveled, even if they did offer a continental breakfast. My leather chair is pink. Pink! And it reclines in three different positions (sometimes). There is definitely something amiss. Did I miss Real Writer Orientation? Did I leave a bad mailing address? Maybe my welcome packet went to the wrong house. I spied the mailman delivering a Rosetta Stone package across the street a few days ago, and I am not amused. My neighbor thought he was slick, but I saw him stuff that pipe into his pocket. I know what he’s up to.

We’ve all seen the classic image. A black turtleneck with a pair of odd-looking spectacles is the epitome of Writer. A glass of red wine and an overflowing ashtray on the table don’t hurt, and neither does listening to obscure music that only a few can appreciate. And there’s always a quiet, stealthy cat.

My look consists of a flannel nightgown or a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt. Maybe that’s part of the problem; I don’t have the official uniform. Legend says ensembles are issued at the annual Secret Society of Real Writers meetings. Invitations are sent by carrier ravens, each one reciting Poe as it disappears into the night after depositing the engraved paper on a lucky recipient’s windowsill. I have yet to receive one. The only deposits on my windowsills are from pigeons. Dirty birds.

Maybe changing out of my nightgown would help my chances. Sadly, the tortured, brilliant writer regalia is not available on clearance at Walmart (and their alcoholic beverage selection peaks at Boone’s Farm Tickle-Pink). The fact that I even have a best sweatshirt pretty much wrecks my chance of finding a gilded invitation on my windowsill for the next meeting of the highbrow elite.

In my quest for that elusive Secret Society membership card, I am earning battle scars. I’m not sure how much weight those carry toward acceptance, but maybe they will help pad my resume. At least they show dedication to the cause. Damages include dark circles, eye strain, coffee stains on my best flannel nightgown (I have one of those too), and a calloused pinkie from hitting the delete key repeatedly. My eye doctor explained that I need reading glasses. He took three paces backward before saying, “It’s happening younger and younger these days.” I didn’t believe him, but it was a nice effort to preserve my pride and his shin bones. Maybe I’ll get a pair of impressive glasses out of the deal, so it’s not all bad. I wonder if great spectacles make a yellow sweatshirt look introspective and brilliant like those elusive, would-be contemporaries. I probably ought to apply for a passport just in case.

Writing at a computer has not only taken my eyesight; it has also abolished my ability to write with a pen. Failed motor skills: Another battle scar, and one I can prove by signing the RSVP if / when my invitation comes. Incidentally, I am the only person I know who rarely needs spellcheck, but also makes serial typos with a pen and paper. I recently depleted an entire book of checks just to make the car payment. At least I remembered how to write the word VOID by the time I was finished. I wonder how VOID sounds in Italian. Impressive, I’ll bet. Even more impressive if I happened to be holding a snifter of cognac.

Try as I may, I can’t seem to get the whole package together. My glasses are ordinary and my fireplace is a kerosene heater. I listen to Metallica and my dogs would eat any feline critter unfortunate enough to live here. I’m certain there are guidelines and bylaws to follow for becoming a real writer. Since I remain convinced that my neighbor pilfered my orientation materials, I’ll have to wing it. If you see me peering in his window, please don’t call the police. I’m only trying to peek at the manual. There’s always hope for next year.


  1. What a hoot! And if you find the manual, let the rest of us know what's in it. Our dream balloons have flown away, too.

    I think there is only one rule, though: you have to write.

  2. That neighbor of mine has apparently bought a smoking jacket now. If he starts meeting me at the mailbox speaking Italian, he's in for it! LOL!

  3. I'm sure my Spongebob Squarepants PJs put me right out of the writer club! But the biggest secret of real writers is one you've already nailed, girl! Butt in chair. You've been sitting on the manual this whole time. ;)


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