How to Be a Successful Writer in 2020

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It’s a question I’m asked during book talks, while signing books after said talks, on panels, in emails, through DMs, at happy hours, and even once in between games at LA Fitness. I try to be as transparent as possible, but the honest answer (“I can tell you what worked for me, but there’s no universal template.) can be deflating for someone searching for insight from an author.


So today, since we have so much time, I created a list that compiles years of research, best practices, trade tricks, lessons and personal observations. Perhaps this isn’t what helped me be a successful writer, but if you follow these five tips to the letter, they should help you.

1. Have rich parents

There’s no single possession more valuable to an aspiring writer than a mom and/or a dad swimming in cash. This will allow you to get into the best private schools and universities, which then gives you an inside track on internships, fellowships, lucrative positions and premium coke dealers. Also, being around other wealthy motherfuckers will teach you the linguistic affectations that make people assume “Oh, this person must be a writer” even if you’re literally just typing. And then, while you spend the first eight years of your adult life snorting couscous, they’ll be able to pay your rent until you land that first big deal.

If you can’t have rich parents, at least try really hard to have upper-middle-class parents. (And, if you’re black, having at least one white parent is highly recommended.)

2. Marry someone who is rich

Optimally, you’d have rich parents and you’d marry rich. But if having rich parents was too tall a hurdle, this is the next best thing.

If this helps, imagine that your parents and your partner are running a relay race, and you’re the baton! YOU DO NOT WANT TO GET DROPPED INTO WORKING CLASS!

3. Be white

Important. Not necessary, but still important. Kinda like cashews. Or Takeoff from Migos.


4. If you can’t be white, ensconce yourself in whiteness

The great thing about whiteness is that there are so many ways to communicate a proximity to it. You can have exclusively white partners and mostly white friends. You can write to white people, or in a way that articulates a thirst for white praise. You can only cite white references in your work, and only consider work to be worthy if it’s published on the whitest platforms. You can even literally communicate this proximity by exoticizing even the most mundane aspects of your racial identity, and/or acting like you’re an “only.” (The “only” black person who eats beets and listens to Tame Impala, for instance.)


5. Surround yourself with successful writers

If none of these things have worked for you, you could always try to just start hanging out with writers who happen to be successful. Will this help your writing? Maybe! But that’s not what matters. What does matter is that people will see you and will assume you must also be a successful writer, too. Like, imagine if you were 6'6 and just started clubbing every weekend with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. People would naturally assume you’re in the NBA too. Same thing.


You could even start dressing and talking like a writer, with funky glasses and hair and tattoos and sentences where you say things like “the ways in which” when you could’ve just said “how.” Once this osmosis is complete, boom! Here comes that deal.

I hope this helps!

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)