Da Tou Ma’s “How to Write a Worstseller” (excerpt)

April 26, 2018 2018年4月26日

Text no. 1: How to Write a Worstseller


One summer day five years ago, I got a phone call from a city on the coast. The voice on the other end of the line, deep and measured and deliberate, congratulated me on being chosen to take part in a writers’ workshop, and instructed me to leave the very next day for the place it would be held, a small island not far from that coastal city. Room and board would be provided for over the entire two weeks, but I’d have to cover my own travel expenses. The voice hung up before I could reply.

At the time I was at home with my girlfriend in the middle of a fight, desperate to come up with a reply to the last thing she’d said. My first thought was that this was a scam. My second thought was a sudden jolt of inspiration: I found the perfect comeback for the fight. I set down the phone and was about to go on arguing, but my girlfriend turned and asked who’d called. I stopped short, put my comeback on hold, and repeated what I’d just heard. “You’re such an idiot, it’s obviously a scam,” she said.

She had exactly the same thought I did. But now that she’d said it, I couldn’t just agree. I could only counter with: “Not necessarily.”

“What do you mean, not necessarily?”

“Maybe it really is some kind of writing seminar.”

“Then why did they choose you?”

She had a point. Aside from a literary club at university that I briefly got talked into joining, I’d never had a thing to do with literature. Once, carried away by the passion of the club’s president, I drunkenly proclaimed that I too would “one day become a writer.” But I’d never written a single line, and after I got together with my girlfriend, who at the time was the club’s vice-president, I didn’t attend any more of their events. My girlfriend, too, soon quit, and went from aspiring writer to ordinary young bank employee, scrolling through online romance novels on her phone. She’s always been a bit ahead of me in terms of income, though thankfully only a bit. I suppose I did have one writing-related job: after graduation I worked for a text-message marketing company, mostly composing spam texts. In reality, I’d just cut and paste from the ad copy manual. Now I work at a real estate research firm, where my main responsibility is to draft proposals for clients, essentially putting garbage into PowerPoint form.

No, I couldn’t think of a reason I’d be chosen for a writing workshop. Unless it was a scam.

Or maybe—

“Or maybe I really do have some literary talent, it just hasn’t been discovered yet,” I ventured.

“You?” My girlfriend looked at me. “Ha!”

Often our fights would grind to a halt with that laugh of hers, not because I wanted them to grind to a halt, but because I just couldn’t muster a response. I’d sit there like a dud bomb, and she’d act as though nothing had happened. Through a sort of unspoken agreement, we’d both pretend the whole thing had blown over.

There’s nothing enviable about this. Anyone who’s been in a relationship for more than three years has these kinds of unspoken agreements, and my girlfriend and I had been together for six. I can’t say I hadn’t thought about marriage, of course, nor that she hadn’t thought about finding a new boyfriend. During our first three years we must have broken up 800 times, but in the last three years, we both concluded that breaking up wasn’t so different from getting married, and not mentioning the word “breakup” had become one of our unspoken rules. The other unspoken rules included not exposing each other’s lies, not warning each other we were about to make a mistake, not putting our lives on hold for each other, even for a second. Really, aside from a minor fight each week and a major fight each month, we weren’t doing so bad. And the prospect of staying together had its appeal: as time went by, our fights would gradually become less frequent, so that by the day we died, we’d have returned to the honeymoon phase when we could communicate without words. We’d have grown old together.

But this time, I had that comeback to use! Had it not been for that phone call interrupting us, I bet we’d still be hashing out that fight. Who was right and who was wrong had yet to be determined.

That’s why this time I ignored her laugh. “Yes, me. What’s so funny?”

She didn’t expect me to keep going. She gave me a look, then suddenly opened her mouth and reeled off: “The wind is heedless of the slender branch, no dew ignites the cinnamon leaf’s fragrance.”

I didn’t turn around. What did that mean?

Slowly, she asked, “What comes next?”

All at once I understood. That was something I wrote for her in college. After she read it she asked, much to my surprise, what the next two lines were. How should I know what the next two lines were? Those were the only ones I copied out of that volume of Li Shangyin’s selected verse! At the time we were head over heels in love, and naturally this awkward little episode had been quickly swept under the rug. I couldn’t believe she still remembered.

She saw I didn’t respond, and laughed again. “Ha!”

It was that second laugh that made me make up my mind.

The next morning, when I’d packed my bags and was getting ready to leave, my girlfriend, who had just gotten up, groggily asked where I was off to. “The workshop,” I coolly replied. Then I walked out the door and didn’t look back.


作品1号: 不畅销小说写作指南







是啊。这辈子除了在大学时招新被忽悠进了一段时间的文学社,我和“文学”二字从未发生过任何关系。除了配合社长的热情,喝醉后附议过“以后要成为一名作家”的理想外,没干过任何一件写作有关的事。当我和当时还是文学社副社长的女朋友好上之后,就再也没参加过社团的活动。女朋友也很快卸任副社长,从有志于成为一名女作家,变成了如今捧着手机读网络言情小说在银行上班的普通女青年。收入永远走在我前面一点点,还好只是一点点。非要说和“写”这个动作有关的事的话,大学毕业后我在一家短信公司工作,主要内容是撰写垃圾营销短信,实际就是抱着文案书拼贴。如今我在一家房地产研究院上班,主要内容是给各位甲方写方案,本质上是把废话以 PPT 的形式组织起来。
















How to Write a Worstseller
by Da Tou Ma
Hunan Literature and Art Publishing House, 2017

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English Translator: Allen Young

大头马 著
长沙: 湖南文艺出版社,2017



英语翻译: Allen Young