John Hodgman’s Advice for Writers: The Competition is Insane, and Persistence Trumps Talent

If you only know John Hodg­man as the earnest­ly inept “P.C.” of those “I’m a Mac” Apple tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials, you may won­der why you’d go to him for writ­ing advice. Or maybe you’ve read his books The Areas of My Exper­tise, More Infor­ma­tion Than You Require, and That is All. But just because a man can pen three satir­i­cal vol­umes of made-up knowl­edge does­n’t mean he can teach you how to prop­er­ly cast your own ideas into print. No, to do that, Hodg­man draws on his shad­owy past as a lit­er­ary agent, “a bold sev­en-year attempt to con­vince myself I did­n’t want to be a writer.” Remem­ber­ing that stint spent read­ing through piles upon piles of sub­mis­sions, “the most elab­o­rate pro­cras­ti­na­tion tech­nique that I came up with to avoid writ­ing,” he con­firms what we all sus­pect: a great many peo­ple want to write for a liv­ing, “but luck­i­ly, very few of them are sane.” And among that same minor­i­ty, the “medi­um- to low-tal­ent­ed but per­sis­tent” suc­ceed where the “mere­ly super-tal­ent­ed” don’t.

Here we have an adap­ta­tion of a the­o­ry I’ve often heard, liv­ing as I do in Los Ange­les, applied to film and tele­vi­sion: while mil­lions of hope­fuls turn up every year try­ing to make it in The Indus­try, most of them are idiots. Hodg­man deliv­ers his ver­sion of these sage words with a newish look, miles away from the delib­er­ate­ly stodgy, poor­ly-tai­lored appear­ance with which he pitched the dubi­ous virtues of the P.C. Behind his ascot, round­ed mus­tache, and orange-tint­ed avi­a­tor glass­es, he looks like noth­ing so much as a faint­ly dis­rep­utable Hol­ly­wood mogul of the sev­en­ties. But the sub­tle out­landish­ness of his self-pre­sen­ta­tion belies the sense of his advice. What­ev­er your lev­el of tal­ent, put your­self in the run­ning with “the peo­ple who keep sub­mit­ting and keep doing and keep mak­ing.” And make sure that, while writ­ing what you know, you also know what you know.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Hodg­man Presents a Sur­vival Guide for the Com­ing Apoc­a­lypse

John Hodgman@Google

John Hodg­man Riffs on Magi­cians and Their Craft at Mak­er Faire

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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