SARAH DUNN WAS WELL ON HER way to following the typical slacker track of embracing a life lacking in both ambition and accomplishments. She had a degree in English (magna cum laude) from the University of Pennsylvania, but worked as a waitress. She shared a cheap apartment in Philadelphia and spent too much time drinking too much coffee with her slack-happy jobless friends. Her dad even chipped in to pay her dental bills. Then Dunn threw it all away to do something grown-up: she became a serious author.

Well, not that serious. Dunn, 25, wrote The Official Slacker Handbook (Warner), a survival guide for those "who choose to have time instead of money" that dispenses tips like how to get free food in the mail and how to pick up "art school chicks," along with useful lists like "13 Things Parents Will Still Pay For" (collect calls, detox). By even bothering to compile this primer, Dunn has become an interloper at the Last Drop Coffee House, a slacker haunt where she hung out taking notes for six months. "I'm only about 40 percent slacker anyway," she admits. "I don't even have any body piercings."

Dunn just couldn't pull off doing that much of nothing. The daughter of a lawyer and a librarian who divorced when Dunn was 5, she grew up in Phoenix. When her mother remarried, she and her older sister gained two brothers. "I had three loving parents," she remembers. "It was very Brady Bunch and almost sickeningly happy." At Penn she wrote a humor column for the student newspaper; after graduating in 1991, she began writing for a local alternative press, the City Paper. Last year, Dunn dug out a paperback guide called How to Write a Book Proposal and did just that. Six days after writing to publishers, she had her first book deal—for $50,000. "I'm a writer because I was terrified of waitressing my whole life," says Dunn. "I still have nightmares, like the world will stop turning if someone doesn't get their breadsticks."

No need to worry. Her next project is "a dark, comic novel," says Dunn, who is single but nursing a crush on a "totally inappropriate slacker guy." The kind of guy, like many of her pals, who won't buy her book. "Mostly," she says, "they'll loiter in the bookstore and flip through it for free."