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How to Become a Writer by Lorrie Moore

How to Become a Writer Summary & Study Guide

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How to Become a Writer Summary & Study Guide Description

The following version of this story was used to create this study guide: Moore, Lorrie. “How to Become a Writer.” Self-Help. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. Pages 119 – 126.

The story is written in the second-person imperative mode and follows a young woman named Francie. At the beginning of the story, Francie is in high school and has given up on various lofty ambitions from her earlier years. She has taken an interest in writing poems, but her highly practical mother, seeing no point in writing or literature, shows Francie no support. Francie’s brother is serving in the Vietnam War, and her parents’ marriage is growing unstable due to potential infidelities committed by Francie’s father. Francie begins writing fiction, and although her high school English teacher praises her prose, he remarks that she does not seem to have any sense of plot. Francie babysits to make money, and she likes to tell the children stories about adults dying in ridiculous and unlikely ways.

Francie enrolls in college as a child psychology major. After mistakenly being enrolled in a creative writing course, she decides to keep the class in her schedule. She writes stories about adult couples being killed or injured in bizarre and unlikely ways. Her professor praises her prose style, but her classmates and her professor both state that she does not have a firm grasp of any type of plot progression. Nonetheless, Francie continues to enroll in writing seminars in following semesters, and she begins to focus more on writing than on classes for her major. She does not know why she feels so compelled to write, but she often finds the process exhilarating, even though her classmates consistently dislike her stories. While Francie is in college, her brother loses half of a leg in combat and is discharged from the military. Also, Franie’s parents divorce, and Francie loses her virginity. Francie tries to draw inspiration from all of these events, but she finds that she can only do so regarding her parents’ divorce; she wrtes another story about an adult couple suffering a ludicrous death.

Francie eventually switches her major to be more focused on writing and literature. One day, her mother visits her at college and gives her a book entitled How to become a Business Executive. Francie insists that writing is what she enjoys most, but her mother still does not seem to fully accept this idea. At the end of college, Francie applies to law school, but she then decides that she does not want to go to law school. She begins to take writing class and to work in various unfulfilling jobs. She works on writing a novel in her spare time. She eventually quits her jobs and classes to have some time to herself. She feels somewhat directionless and discouraged, although she still desires to pursue writing.

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how to become a writer short story summary



Little Red Hood

Down the yellow brick road.

Words & Flowers

“How to Become a Writer” by Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore’s story “How to Become a Writer” is the story of Francie and her forays into the world of writing. The story is told as a guide to becoming a writer. “How to Become a Writer” depicts the story of Francie who becomes a writer, almost on accident. It starts off with Francie’s first attempts at writing poetry in which she is brushed off by her mother. We then follow her to a school writing class where she is told she has no idea about plot. Francie then switches gears, deciding to try her luck with children as she is told that she is good with them. It is children she goes to college to study only to end up in a writing class by accident; it is in this class that she is once again told that she has no idea what a plot is. After her first writing class, she follows a passive course toward becoming a writer, despite overt pressure from her mother, who would rather she become a child psychologist or a business executive. However due to the fact that the majority of classes Francie has taken are writing related she decides it is best if she becomes a writing major.  Francie graduates from college and takes on writing as a full-time endeavor.   She spends most of her time writing things she does not finish, and has never looked back.

Lorrie Moore’s story “How to Become a Writer” depicts Francie and her various attempts to become a writer albeit in a mostly passive manner – she is originally trying to become a child psychologist and ends up in her first writing class by accident.

“As a child psychology major, you have some electives.  You've always liked birds.  Sign up  for something called, "The Ornithological Field Trip."….When you arrive at Room 134 on the first day of class, everyone is sitting around a seminar table talking about metaphors.  You've heard of these.  After a short, excruciating while, raise your hand and say diffidently, "Excuse me, isn't this Birdwatching One-oh-one?” (127)

It is through inventive perspective, syntax, and irony that Lorrie Moore’s story “How to Become a Writer” satirizes yet presents the steps of becoming a writer.

For the majority of the story it appears that Francie is the main character; however depending on how one looks at the point of view the story, it is possible that Francie is merely a puppet used to express the narrator’s wishes – or that Francie is an anecdotal character created for the narrator’s tale to be told to us.

The story “How to Become a Writer” is a script used to tell either us, the reader, or Francie how to become a writer. This advice – which is given to us in an almost mocking manner at the expense of Francie – can be taken with a grain of salt as though Francie does all these things, she isn’t doing them with the intents of becoming a writer. “ Look down at your schedule.  Wonder how the hell you ended up here….The lines at the reistrar this week are huge.  Perhaps your creative writing isn't all that bad.  Perhaps it is fate. ” (127)

“How to Become a Writer” uses perspective in a very unique manner. The story is told in what appears to be third person but is actually a first person narrative with the speaker speaking in the second person. Its use of first person speaking in second person gives it the feel of a voice over – albeit a very satirical one – from a self help video. Using this perspective the main character serves as not only the lead but also as an example to what will occur when one follows the step the voice tells us to follow.

The satirical quality’s of Moore’s story are visible from the first line forward,

“First, try to be something, anything, else.  A movie star/astronaut.  A movie star  missionary.  A movie star/kindergarten teacher.  President of the World.  Fail miserably.  It is best if you fail at an early age -- say, fourteen.   Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at fifteen you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire.” (126)

While Moore herself may want you to become a writer the tone in which she writes is purely that of mocking. It is due to the fact that the perspective is first person speaking in third that it comes across even more mocking than it would have been in simple third person or even first person. If one would look at Moore’s “How to Become a Writer” as a short story told in simple third person rather than first it would lose most if not all of its satirical qualities and be more pitying than funny.

              The irony of this story comes from the fact that the main character – Francie – isn’t actively attempting to be a writer. She only really ends up being in writing classes because she likes writing not because she wishes to make a life out of it: “''I'll bet becoming a writer was always a fantasy of yours, wasn't it?'' Your lips dry to salt. Say that of all the fantasies possible in the world, you can't imagine being a writer even making the top twenty.” (129). By the time she realizes that most of the classes she’s taken while in college are writing-related it seems to be the best idea simply to switch majors because that’s what she spends more of her time doing. This of course does not mean she is good at writing as throughout the story she is repeatedly told that she has no concept of plot by not only her teachers: " Some of your images are quite nice, but you have no sense of plot."  (__) '' Much of your writing is smooth and energetic. You have, however, a ludicrous notion of plot. '' (___) but also by her classmates, “ There are six more paragraphs. You read the whole thing out loud in class. No one likes it. They say your sense of plot is outrageous and incompetent. ”

The voice in which Moore uses as the narrator comes across as the voice of experience or more specifically as a person who has followed these same steps and has failed.

You decide not to go to law school after all, and, instead, you spend a good, big chunk of your adult life telling people how you decided not to go to law school after all. Somehow you end up writing again. Perhaps you go to graduate school. Perhaps you work odd jobs and take writing courses at night. Perhaps you are working and writing down all the clever remarks and intimate personal confessions you hear during the day. (129)

The satirical qualities of the story are mocking for the most part but not in a cruel manner but rather as an amused watcher of Francie. It is due to both the perspective in which the story is told as well as the tone that one can become unsure as to what is actually the story. Is it the story that we are reading about Francie’s forays into the writing world with a sarcastic narrator or is Francie an anecdotal character created by the narrator to tell us the reader what one needs to do to become a writer?

            It is Moore ’s use of satire, syntax, irony and most especially perspective   that makes “How to Become a Writer” the brilliant work of fiction that it is. Moore takes was could become a dry and dull idea – a writers continued failings – and turns it into a witty and interesting story. Where if written in any other manner would have made Francie seem pathetic and mockable instead of the amusing, determined girl she was.

Moore, Lorrie. “How to Become a Writer.”  Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 4th 

compact ed. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. 76-81.   


Short Fiction Daily

September 12, 2017, analysis of 'how to become a writer' by lorrie moore, 6 comments:.

Interesting analysis. However, are there any indications that Francine is Lorrie Moore in her youth?

Rowan I'm guessing

Decent story with the idea go after your dreams. A little too much girl drama tho for a male reader to handle.

We had to do this in English at Brigham Young University


How To Become A Writer Summary

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How to Become a Writer

by Lorrie Moore

Last Updated on November 13, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 733


Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer” is a short story that was published in her first collection, Self-Help , in 1985. The piece, which is written in the second person, is one of several in the collection that use a tongue-in-cheek how-to title format in tension with fictional content; others include “How to Be an Other Woman,” “How,” and “How to Talk to Your Mother.”

Plot Summary

As the story begins (and in contrast with its title), the protagonist—a writer named Francie—addresses her initial attempts to be “something, anything, else” than a writer:

A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World.

Francie goes on to indicate that her early sense of failure is important to her initial interest in writing. She writes a haiku sequence and shows her mother. Her mother says nothing and looks up with her “face blank as a donut” before asking Francie to empty the dishwasher. In Mr. Killian’s high school English class, after several failed attempts to write different forms of poetry, Francie writes a short story instead. After turning in a story as her final project, Mr. Killian tells Francie that she has no sense of plot—a criticism that will come up repeatedly in the narrative.

Francie takes some part-time jobs as a babysitter and does well with the children. As a result of the compliments she receives from the children’s parents, she decides to enroll in college as a child psychology major.

After entering college, Francie takes several electives in addition to her child psychology classes. She signs up for a class called “The Ornithological Field Trip” but, due to a computer error with her schedule, attends a creative writing class the first day instead and decides to stay there:

Perhaps you should stick with this mistake. Perhaps your creative writing isn’t all that bad. Perhaps it is fate.

Francie’s stories for class receive mixed feedback; while her teacher calls her writing “smooth and energetic,” he comments that she has “a ludicrous notion of plot.” Her classmates echo her teacher’s comment about plot, saying that it is “outrageous and incompetent,” and ask if she is “crazy.” These criticisms are similar to what Francie heard in high school, but they don’t deter her now from writing as a whole. Instead, she begins to focus on comedies and starts dating a man whose jokes she secretly writes down to use in her work.

Francie continues to take creative writing courses, and she ultimately drops her child psychology major. She feels “slouched and demoralized”—seemingly in both life and art—but Francie continues writing: despite the pain it causes, it is also her sole source of ecstasy.

The only happiness you have is writing something new, in the middle of the night, armpits damp, heart pounding, something no one has yet seen. You have only those brief, fragile, untested moments of exhilaration when you know: you are a genius.

Of course, Francie’s feeling of “genius” does not persist into creative writing workshops, but she still “understand[s] what [she] must do”: keep writing, even if it is often painful and difficult.

Francie’s creative writing professors have various views on writing. Whereas one asks that everything be altered from reality “like recombinant DNA,” the next is interested in writing that stems directly from life. This gives Francie a kind of permission to address memories like the loss of her virginity and her parents’ divorce—but some events are still too difficult for Francie to approach, such as her brother’s wounding in Vietnam.

About the last you write nothing. There are no words for this. Your typewriter hums. You can find no words.

At college parties, people ask Francie about writing; her roommate jokes that Francie mainly writes about “her dumb boyfriend,” but Francie demurs, though she can’t pinpoint a single topic that she does prefer to write about. Instead, she talks about her interest in “the music of language,” in “syllables” themselves.

Though she seems to consider taking a break from writing and even applies to law school, Francie ultimately decides not to attend. Instead, she goes to graduate school for writing, works odd jobs, and eventually finishes a manuscript. When a date asks Francie if writers “often become discouraged,” she answers,

sometimes they do and sometimes they do.

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On Becoming a Writer: A Review of Moore’s How to be a Writer


One reason that I am reluctant to write fiction is due to the seeming requirement to narrate stories in either first- or third person point of view. You have to understand that I am not good in telling stories. Neither have I enjoyed doing it. Instead, I prefer engaging people in conversations. So, Moore’s How to be a Writer enlightened me on an alternative that I can take if I like to tell stories. Above all, this essay is truly an insightful and mentally-stimulating prose that walked me through both the challenges and joys of becoming a writer. The writing may be concise and odd, but it is surely inventive. It captures the uncertainties that most writing major might be experiencing. As I reflect on the essay, I grew more convinced that it has presented provocative thoughts that challenge my views on becoming a writer.

Regarding the point of view utilized in the essay, I think that it is not a typical essay since it utilized a second person point of view. According to, a second person point of view is that which narrates the story to another character using the pronoun “you”. This is unusual since most stories are effectively delivered in first- or third person point of view. Usually, stories presented using these POVs allow the characters to interact with each other .

Because of the perspective used in the essay, I find it a little bit confusing at first since I initially thought that the author is addressing me. Perhaps, the rationale behind using such technique is to make the readers feel and understand what it exactly feels to be someone who wants to write. It also increases the level of intimacy between the author and me as I became attached with the story plot. In other words, “you” is used as the mode of narration in order to make “you” (me) understand what it exactly feels to live a life of a writer and encountering troubles along the way.

While the author narrates the different challenges and antics of being a writer, it seemed that I can empathize with the sentiments of Francie. Though her character was portrayed as someone who is carefree and unsympathetic, I know exactly how disappointed she was whenever people discriminate her for being a writer or for writing the way she does.

As this writing is supposed to make a critical review on the essay, I chose to relate some of my personal experiences and outlooks to Francie’s experiences as she graced her way towards becoming a writer. Personally, I can identify with the character of Francie because like her, I am also in the stage of my life where I am exploring possibilities and gearing towards an undefined phase of my life.

Ironic Writer

In general, the defining strategy of this essay is irony. The essay starts with a contradictory instruction that ironically answers the question posed in the title. It said that for one to be a writer, you have to “try to be something, anything else”. Therefore, what appears here is that when Moore appropriates “how-to” into fiction, it became “how-not-to”. It appeared to be an instructional essay at first, but none of its suggestions is likely to turn a person into a writer. At this, Moore became successful in presenting irony at different fronts. Though such irony seemed exaggerated at times, it is important to note that the sarcasm in the plot and conflict provided spice and flavor to the essay.

Perhaps the author wanted to establish here the tenet that it is impossible to come up with a “how-to” essay on helping people how to be a writer. Personally, I believe that writing is not a form of craft that you can practice in order to acquire any necessary skills.

The irony is more decisive in the fact that Francie became a writer without actively pursuing to be one. Taking the words of Kelly (2009), Moore is known for creating tones of “droll irony” where the more painful the experience was, the likelier that she will make it as a subject of joke (p.2). Moore’s writing technique establishes her expertise in knowing the rules of writing because she has the guts to break them.

Accidental Writer

It transpired that for Francie, becoming a writer is just a complete accident. When people told her that she is good with children, she decided to take a child psychology degree. Babysitting became an avenue where she merged what people praised her for (looking after kids) and what she felt her heart loves doing; that is, telling stories. However, she ended up accidently in a writing class.

Despite people telling her that she does not have the guts to make a good plot, she opted to pursue an education that will make her a writer in the future. And, indeed, she has become a writer.

While the essay highlights Francie’s becoming a writer as an accident, it is noteworthy to mention, however, that the essay also stressed the idea that it is not enough that one is just born to be a writer. You writing gift will remain a predisposition unless you do something about it. In the semi-autobiographical character of Francie, it is revealed that she has an “urge, a delusion to be a writer.” Although her ways to become a writer were overtly passive, what is important here is her conscientious effort to realize her heart’s desire to be a writer.

Rebellious Writer

Another thing that is worth mentioning is the author’s manipulation of the essay’s plot. Despite its lack of narrative presentation, the story was successful in dramatizing a conflict. How to Become a Writer deviates from the conventions of plot construction by presenting a dismembered and episodic accounts of Francie’s life leading her to become a writer that she is now.

It is important to note that Francie is being blamed for having weaknesses in establishing sound story plot. Francie was prone of constructing absurd plots that has been her fault since she was with Mr. Killian and later with her college teacher.

As I reflect on Francie’s problem with plot construction and the essay’s absurd story line, I am convinced that the essay’s attempt to break conventions suggests how Francie’s writing actually works – that which concentrates in conflict and characterizations. From that, I realized that writing is a fluid discipline that is difficult to be encapsulated in a single construct. No one can be liable enough to tell us how to become a writer. Being awarded of prestigious literary recognitions does not mean that one can dictate what it takes to be good in writing. Aspiring writers can do whatever they want and be comfortable doing it. Becoming someone else is far worse than not doing it at all.

After all, producing good or bad writing could be left as a chimera unless you allow other people to look at your work and judge them against whatever standards they held for themselves. This is what I like specifically about Francie. She is capable of eschewing herself from the opinions of other people as she writes. Sitting along with other writing majors, I can imagine the alienation of Francie especially that her classmates look as if they write in consideration of what other people have to say. Francie kept on hearing questions like:

“ But does it work?”Why should we care about this character?” “Have you earned this cliché?”

Then again, this is not to say that we can simply write anything that we want while disregarding conventions and standards. Of course, to be a writer, you have to have a good command of the language you’re using and at least be knowledgeable of certain writing techniques. But contextualizing things, what I am trying to point out is that our desire to write should outweigh any concerns we might have on the judgments of others given that writing is just about ourselves.

Writing is not about getting published and generating an income out of your words. I always believe that when we start talking about these things, we are no longer talking about writing. Albeit there is nothing wrong with making a living from becoming a writer.

Miserable Writer

Like Francie, I also experience rejection from people every time I tell them my desire to be a writer someday. Like her mother who put a “face blank as a doughnut” when she showed her a haiku, most people seemed unconvinced on the opportunities waiting for those who aspire to write.

I suppose that it is normal to get challenged by alienation and self-doubt when you are aspiring to be a writer. This is especially true in a society that presumes writing as a job that will keep you from stuffing your pockets. There are times that I became skeptical myself on pursuing a writing career since I know exactly that even though I pump thousands of words to fill a good-sized book, generating an income that can suffice a comfortable living is still not guaranteed.

As the essay suggests, the chances of becoming a writer is as likely as becoming a president or an astronaut. In either endeavor, everyone is susceptible to “fail miserably.” Later in her life, she felt miserable about being a writer; yet, people looked up to her and thought that writing must be her fantasy ever since. Then Francie would look at herself and be swayed that she has barely become a writer herself.

What strikes me most in this part is the idea that Francie succeeded in other people’s perspective without actually minding what they have to say. True enough, Moore indirectly conceal the process of writing through the anecdote of Francie – miserable, unhappy.

Becoming a Writer

When Francie was getting to have the feel of being a writer, she started asking questions about the purpose and origin of writing. Interesting though, these questions were juxtaposed to (similarly) unimaginable questions like the existence of God and the reasons for war. Perhaps, Moore wanted to establish here the idea that asking the purpose of writing is a problematic question to address and can be viewed against different background.

Browsing the internet, I came across a good deal of articles telling us why we shouldn’t be a writer. But likeFrancie, I felt that becoming a writer in the future is something that I will not regret. I know that there are many things that I still have to learn on writing in order to realize that dream, but I am amenable to the challenges that may come across my way.

Unlike Francie though, I seemed to have taken a better path when I chose a degree program in college that may instigate my writing career. Yet, I completely understand that it does not mean that I can be a writer like her. Neither will I be a better writer compared to her. What I know so far is that I love to write and I will continue writing to satisfy myself.


Kelly, A. (2009). Understanding Lorrie Moore . South Carolina Press: Columbia, South Carolina.

Wiehardt, G. (n.d.). “Second person point of view”. Retrieved from last 21 June 2012.

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[Reading Room] How To Become A Writer by Lorrie Moore

I approached this story with some trepidation, as I’m always wary of writers writing stories about writers. Or, in this case about aspiring writers.

But this was salted with enough wry humor to draw me in. Take the first lines:

First, try to be something else, anything else. A movie-star/astronaut. A movie-star/missionary. A movie-star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserable. It’s best if you fail at an early age…

The author saves the character from an annoyingly sardonic tone by baldly relating what the teenaged writer can expect after slaving over her first story.

Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back at you with a face blank as a donut. She’ll say: “How about emptying the dishwasher?” Look away. Shove forks in the fork drawer. Accidentally break a freebie gas station glass. This is the required pain and suffering. This is only for starters.

As I read, the main character (Francine) began to emerge as someone distinct from the actual author, though we’ve all probably shared some of her experiences.

It’s not a traditional, narrative short story. How To Become A Writer is narrated almost like an advice column: a set of interludes, sharing how one particular writer reached this point in her development.

I really started rooting for her when she continues to write during college (which we learn about in this hypothetical list of things that ‘might’ happen while ‘you’ become a writer). In every workshop, the other writers consistently point out how bad she is at the same aspect of story craft. She persists. And that makes me hope she finds some success. An original voice, after all, is often misunderstood.

I was a bit startled by the abrupt ending, even though the pace had been slowing down.  I turned the page and discovered the next story had started, turned back and read the ending again. It was a lovely line. I just wasn’t exactly ready for it to be the end of the story. Which might be a good thing, after all.

I’d certainly read this again.

You can read this story in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories , edited by Joyce Carol Oates or online here .

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