Lorrie Moore’s clever story entitled “How to Become a Writer or, Have You Earned This Cliché?” follows the development of Francie, a young girl who wants to be a writer. The story follows a sequence of events that leads the protagonist into becoming a full-fledged writer.
The narration of the story is second person. The narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is having a conversation with him/her. The purpose of the story is to provide an “almost” how-to-manual on what one might have to go through in order to actually qualify as a “real” writer.
Francie, the narrator and protagonist, undergoes many changes along the way. From changing her major to struggling through criticism to seeing the lack of enthusiasm for her chosen profession---all of these things are faced by the main character.
The conflict in the story arises from the many disappointing reviews that she receives as she practices her art. Her high school teacher, who like many others, tells her that she has a flair but has no sense of plot.
Examine some of the disparaging remarks that she receives:
“Why should we care about this character?” “You have no sense of plot.” “Where is the story here?” “…a ludicrous notion of plot.”
Her readers are often unsympathetic toward her efforts to come up with the right approach for her writing.
When she begins college, Francie majors in child psychology. She fumbles her way into a creative writing class that re-ignites her ambition to become a writer.
Most of her writing is not accepted by her readers. Eventually, she quits going to class, quits her extra jobs, and focuses entirely on writing. From her dating to her frustrating life experiences--the author has employed all of them in her work. The author’s approach to this story is humorous, cynical, and sarcastic.
The conclusion that she offers to the reader is that writing like anything else is not easy. It requires work, patience, talent, and devotion. If a person is sincere about the reality of becoming a writer, be prepared for discouragement and frustration. It is a part of the process.
Francie’s humor is found in her reasons for doing things and her way of getting herself out of situations. In addition, her story lines are hilarious:
…a transformation of Melville to contemporary life. It will be about monomania and the fish-eat-fish world of life insurance in Rochester, New York. The first line will be “Call me Fishmeal.”
Her self-deprecation endears her to the readers who see the struggles that she goes through to find her voice in writing. In the actual story, the author never finds acceptance. It is this story that the reader reads that is the proof of her eventual triumph in her desired profession.
Another issue about writing that she emphasizes is to always look for ideas for stories and immediately write them down. No one expects a story to come from the men that a girls dates, but it can happen.
One thing that the narrator learns is open up the imagination and let it grow. She also realizes that there is skill involved in writing, but it must not take away the originality that each writer brings to his work. Probably the best lesson that Francie’s learns is to ignore derogatory criticism.