The Real Writers’ Handbook by Tom Alexander | Magazine | Interviews | Non-Fiction
Real Writers' Handbook

By Tom Alexander

Do you want to be a Real Writer?

I don’t know when I decided I wanted to be a Real Writer. I’ve always written, right from when I was a little kid. Whenever I had time to myself, I would create stories and plays and comics and weird little essays. I wrote all the time, but never thought about why I did it. If someone asked, I would probably say I enjoyed it, but even then I’m not sure how true that was. The reality was that it was some kind of compulsion. After a few years of writing stories and making little books for myself and my friends, the idea came to me that I should stop messing around and do it properly. You know, like a Real Writer.

I used to write on any old bit of paper I could find, with whatever writing implement was closest. That had to change. Real Writers used specialist pens and the finest notepads, so I had to find the perfect combination for my words. I used to type things up using a beat-up laptop and a free office suite, but that wouldn’t do for a Real Writer so I researched specialist writing software and bought an expensive Macbook Pro that took two years to pay off. Keeping ideas in my head was surely the mark of an amateur, so I set about finding the perfect research tools that would allow me to collate notes like a Real Writer. I believed that Real Writers drank copious amounts of coffee, so set about guzzling the stuff over the objections of my sleep patterns and lower colon (the trauma to which, I believed, further marked me out as a Real Writer). I just needed to get all these details sorted out and then I would be able to show to the world how amazing I really was.

There was just one problem.

I wasn’t actually writing that much. Furthermore, what I was producing wasn’t that good. It was puzzling to me, because I had tested every single word processor available for the Mac, been through Moleskine, Leuchtermm, Rhodia and Clairefontaine notebooks and tested countless gel ink, rollerball, fountain and ballpoint pens. I wore a shabbily stylish suit jacket and was well recognised by the staff at my local coffee shop. It slowly dawned on me that I had spent so much time ‘being a writer’ that I had neglected to actually, you know… write.

Something had to change. I realised that I had to get these stupid notions out of my head. In order to do so, I went back to what worked well for me as a kid – I wrote them down. Listing all these ideas I had about being a writer, I could see how laughable they were. It was then that I started outlining what would later become The Real Writers’ Handbook. It felt a bit icky to be writing about writing, but I told myself that this wasn’t a book about writing, but a book about not writing. I wasn’t going to tell anyone how to craft a beautiful metaphor or the best ways to approach an agent because, in truth, I didn’t really know how to do those things myself. Instead, I was going to shine a light on my own ridiculousness in the hopes that others might recognise some aspect of it in themselves. As I was working through these ideas, I came to see that the answer to all these distractions was always the same:

It doesn’t matter. Just write.

Worried that you’re not from the right kind of background to be a Real Writer? It doesn’t matter.  Just write. Afraid that wearing trainers doesn’t mean you’re serious about your craft? It doesn’t matter. Just write. Can’t finish your novel because you don’t know who you’re going to dedicate it to? It doesn’t matter. Just write.

So that became the central thesis of the short book and the answer to every single question I posited. I’m not saying it’s a life-changing revelation, but it’s one that I need to hear over and over again. The questions in the book are meant to be illustrative of a certain kind of madness, a wood-for-the-trees myopia which affects all writers from time to time. I hope that hearing the same answer over and over again will prove useful to someone.

It’s useful to me. The Real Writers’ Handbook is quite a silly little book, but even though I wrote it, I make use of it. I might have diagnosed my disease, but I’m not cured of it. Two weeks ago, I was convinced that I needed a particular piece of software to write a story, not because it had any particular functions but because it used a rather nice font. I spent $20 on that, because I wanted to feel like a Real Writer. Then my own words came back to me.

It doesn’t matter. Just write.

I uninstalled the software, accepted that I had wasted the money and went back to work.

(c) Tom Alexander

About The Real Writers’ Handbook:

Real Writers' Handbook

There’s nothing writers like more than excuses. Whether it’s not having the right pen, lacking the correct software or not being born into the right family, there’s always a reason to think you must be doing it wrong. And if you’re doing it wrong, someone else must be doing it right. You know, the REAL WRITERS.

REAL WRITERS are the ones who have all the right tools, know all the right people and never worry about whether they’re working on the right thing. They’re punctual, professional and perfect.

What’s more, they don’t exist.

The Real Writers’ Handbook goes through forty-odd excuses the author himself has used as to why he can’t write, before utterly debunking them with the one thing we all need to hear when we get sidetracked:

It doesn’t matter – just write.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Tom Alexander is a writer and bookworker from London. He is the author of The Real Writers’ Handbook, Forms, My Secret Dog and Sometimes I Feel Sad, as well as numerous experimental artist’s books. Find more of his work at

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