Must-Haves for the Writer: Part Two. 06.15.2012

Must-Haves for the Writer:

Part Two


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis


“The poor, starving artist” is such a cliché. As writers, let’s not run ourselves into bankruptcy if we can help it. We need not be rich, only financially stable while our manuscripts get written and our book rights get sold (because let’s admit it, royalties aren’t going to cover rent unless your name starts with an “M” and ends with “Atwood”).

Writers may be good with words: we mind our p’s and q’s. We should, however, also pay heed to the stock market. Get a great investment broker who can trade like a bull and make your coins magically turn into cash flow. Not ballsy enough for trades? There’s always a RRSP or a GIC hanging around. Better that, than a begging bowl and a trip to your parents’ house who told you to apply for law or medicine instead.



Most teenagers hang their chosen teen idol poster on their bedroom walls and secretly imagine meeting and marrying—oh, I don’t know—Johnny Depp from 21 Jump Street.

Sure, sure. I have nothing against Johnny. (He’s atrociously gorgeous even though he does everything in his power to conceal it in order to be taken more seriously. The irony is, he’s a good enough actor who need not worry about his looks!)

But, for writers, our worship takes a different form. It’s more subtle, yet potentially more passionate than the gushing teens who camp their tents outside the latest concert hall.

A writer’s worship invests thousands of dollars in print books, e-readers, book readings, wine and cheese parties, and well, we eventually become an almost permanent fixture  in local book stores.

And, if you’re like me, you’ll confess to keeping a book of favourite quotes,  extra copies of books with highlights and notes, or a photograph of your favourite authors as inspiration. Sorry. Correction: obsessed adoration.

I don’t personally stalk my favourite authors, which to me would be a severely disrespectful and mad step over their boundaries—I do something much worse—I create an emotional altar to which their photograph is either framed or push-pinned on my bulletin board where I work.

May the photo of your favourite author bare its serious stare into your writing soul. And may you write better for it. If not, it might be because you’re too busy swooning at photos, at which I must recommend some serious counselling.

Jhumpa Lahiri, writing goddess of “Namesake,” “Unaccustomed Earth,” and “Interpreter of Maladies.”



A favourite quote from a book or an author is and should be a motivational snippet. Refer to them when you start to seriously consider shredding your manuscript and foregoing a career in writing to become a full-time acrobat for the Cirque de Soleil.

Yes, as admirable as that vocation is, I doubt your years of sitting in a chair or under a tree writing poems and stories has amply prepared you  for the muscle and flexibility required to walk a tightrope or tumble through hoops to avoid the mouth of an awaiting tiger.

Best to re-read a favourite quote, turn off the shredder, and re-work that paragraph—or in some cases—chapter.

Here’s one of my favourite quotes:

“Novels are not about expressing yourself, they’re about something beautiful, funny, clever, and organic. Self-expression? Go and ring a bell in the yard if you want to express yourself.”

– Zadie Smith, author of WHITE TEETH

Wonderful, but not me.



Yes, imitation is said to be the highest form of flattery—just not in the literary world. For writers, we call it plagiarism. And it’s illegal!

We’re all afforded the same words. Just check the dictionary for proof!

It’s just that some people have an innate gift in knowing how to best place these words in order to create a beautifully written story. And well…some don’t. No need to be sore about it. No need to take someone else’s work into your own hands.

Just make sure you know your copyright laws and abide by them—and ensure others do, too.

Remember, you can’t play, if you can’t play nice.



The white space on the page can be daunting to the writer. Sometimes it’s inspirational: a fresh start, a new story.

Other times it taunts the writer to delusions of failure and low self-esteem. And the writer can be paralyzed in a phobic state, that, if untreated, could evolve into  White Page Anxiety Disorder.

Counselling is available if more than one book deadline is missed on a consecutive basis. Also, if the writer reveals symptoms of the disease by screaming profanities at anything white, namely a white pet, white walls, or the clouds in the sky.

A suitable form of therapy before you’re able to book an appointment if you suspect you have this disorder is to play Scrabble, doodle, or read. Also, to avoid anything white for a while. Including rice (which, in my case, would be very, very difficult…)



Contrary to popular belief, Writer’s Block is not a street where cool writers live or hang out.  Nor is it a big block of paper. No. It’s far more serious. It’s the impediment that could relinquish a book deal and destroy a blooming career. It’s the illusive station that traps the writer in a showdown and standstill between eloquence and page build-up to a phobia of the blinking cursor anomaly.

Join a group. Get support. Admit your problem and check in weekly to “tell” your story, if you find you can’t at least successfully “write” it down.



Introspection is an important part of the writer’s sensibility. It affords us the stamina required to sit for numerous hours and turn inward towards our imaginative plots and deep, sensitive characters.

If you’re too much of an extrovert, you’re in the wrong line of business. If so, might I suggest shadowing Lady Gaga instead?



I’m not really a “people” person. I know, I know. We’re supposed to say we are especially during those dreaded job interviews. But, I’m more of a book person than a social butterfly.

I’m the pretty wallflower at the party who conveniently stands right next to the buffet table, eyeing the sushi platter, and looking for another glass of red wine. I love sushi. I also love red wine. And, well, I am most happy in the privacy of my own home with the company of a good book.

I don’t, however, love being among tons and tons of people in one shared space — specifically, my space. Sure,  I’m a kind and considerate person and I have a few good friends. But I’m no thriving politician.

An aversion to people in general is a tell-tale sign of the writing tendency. An excellent example of this was J.D. Salinger’s choice to live in recluse for the rest of his literary career.



The lightest and happiest of tales…well, how do I say this?…They don’t usually reach a ranking on a bestseller list or even the longlist of prestigious book awards. They, at most, get adapted into cute animated series that are aired on Saturday mornings on the Children’s Network or are translated into Manga.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Manga. I even love Saturday morning cartoons.  But, my one pound of raw angst keeps me grounded with a deep source of drama and demise to draw from for the complexity of my stories.

The other portion of dread reserved for the writer is the fear that he or she will never successfully publish. That’s when the dash of hope and optimism must come in play. Just repeat this mantra:

“If Snooki can publish a book, so can I, dammit. So can I…”



When the smog of the city has bogged you down and the noise of your toddlers stifle your creativity, best to take a deep breath, jump into your car, and drive up north to your cottage in the wilderness.

If you don’t have one, rent one. If you can’t rent one, whisk yourself away to a writer’s retreat!

Turn off the tele, unplug the phone, get back to nature, and between bird-watching, wolf-howling, and skinny dipping, get back to that story of yours.

Type, type, type! It’s the only thing you should hear aside from the crickets outside your window.



Writers are emotional creatures. We care about the craft. We birth our stories as laboriously as we do our own children. Our books are literally like our babies. So, when someone who doesn’t write, but only reviews books, and criticizes our brain-children in harsh, disrespectful tones, the Mommy or Daddy Claws can and DO come out. ROAR!

And the altercations can be brutal. Scratch marks. Blood. Tears. A lawsuit. More  blood.

To prevent such an impassioned form of violence, it’s a must-have for writers to grow their skin to at least five inches thick.

BOING! Did you see that? The poor review remarks just bounced off like kiddies on a trampoline! Et, voila! No hurt feelings. No senseless hours crying private tears in hope that the reviewer will die a long, torturous death—one namely involving gallons of water, pliers, and a shady character named Vladmir, trained in the art of interrogation.

Whew!…What…What did you say? Your skin’s too thin for constructive criticism? Back yourself up with a bullet-proof vest. Make it two. One for yourself…and one for the reviewer…just in case.


To read the post on Must-Haves for the Writer: Part One, you can visit here.


Join me at The Bibliotaphe’s Closet again for Part Three of the Must-Haves for the Writer.

What’s your biggest fear as a writer?


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