How do you become a writer? How do you stay motivated? How do you get published? Is the act of writing enough reward in itself. This is the first in a series of posts where I explore all these questions.
Part One – Call Yourself a Writer
Most writers don’t get rich. Some make enough to live on, but many don’t. So I doubt anyone does it just for the money. However, I do believe all writers write because they love doing it. It’s a passion, it’s an essential part of their wellbeing and it’s a basic need like eating and breathing. A writer would most likely say ‘I write, therefore I am.’
But whether you write for love or money, or both, how do you get to the point where you can call yourself a writer?
The first step to being able to call yourself a writer – and some would say the only step – is to actually write something. Obvious – yes – but a lot of people who would like to be writers are deterred from starting because of unrealistic expectations. You don’t have to produce a bestselling novel right away. You don’t ever have to produce a bestseller. You don’t have to produce anything for others to read. All you have to do is create something – in writing – and then keep on doing it.
Forget rules and expectations and write what you’re driven to write. It can be fiction, poetry, non-fiction. It can be long. It can be short. The important thing is to get those writing muscles flexing. Scribble, free-write, do a five-minute story or a hundred word opinion piece, do a haiku. Whatever – JUST DO IT.
Find your voice, find your preferred form and genre, and above all – FIND TIME.
Procrastination is a well known writers’ ailment, but you’re not eligible to suffer from it until you have actually started writing. So having made the decision to commit to your writing, you must then decide how much time you can give to it and when that will be. Then put your writing slots into your diary and KEEP THOSE APPOINTMENTS. It’s important not to over-commit. Be realistic – fifteen minutes on four days is better than nothing – anything is better than nothing. But do be prepared to prioritise your writing when making the appointments. It’s too easy to say, ‘I’d love to write but I don’t have the time.’ You’re kidding yourself if you do. What you’re actually saying is you don’t want to write – that it’s not a priority. Give up an evening’s television. Give up a long-lie at the weekend. Give up time on Facebook. Give up something that isn’t as important to you as writing.
Once you’re at your desk, SWITCH OFF YOUR INNER CRITIC AND PERSEVERE. It’s all too easy to let the negative thoughts creep in. ‘You’re rubbish at this.’ Who do you think you are?’ Call yourself a writer?’ You’re at the start of a long apprenticeship – one that probably never ends. Yes, natural talent is a plus for a writer – just as it is for a musician or artist – but there is a whole set of SKILLS TO LEARN – and you will need lots of practice to develop them.
You might want to attend WRITING CLASSES. This could be anything from a local authority evening class, to a week-long residential course, to a university degree. There are also several excellent MAGAZINES for writers and they are full of advice, tips and useful information.
Writing can be a lonely business so it’s good to BECOME PART OF A WRITING COMMUNITY. And if formal classes aren’t your thing then local writing clubs can be a great source of knowledge and support. There also many online writing communities – some which offer peer-to-peer critiquing – and some which simply offer mutual support and advice.
READ LOTS and READ WIDELY. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll pick up once you get started and your mind is alert to possibilities. Read genres you wouldn’t normally read, read stuff from the genre you’re writing. Read old stuff, new stuff, experimental stuff.
If INSPIRATION is hard to come by, there are books, websites and the aforementioned magazines all stuffed with prompts and suggestions. One very simple one is to take a book off the shelf, pick a page number at random. Take the first complete sentence from the top of that page and make that into a story starter.
Keep a PORTFOLIO of your work – electronically or on paper. Try out different genres and find out where your writing heart lies. But whether you decide on a novel, a short story collection, a pamphlet of poetry, a set of articles or a collection of essays, stay MOTIVATED. If you’re taking writing classes you’ll get assignments to spur you on. Another way to motivate yourself is to enter COMPETITIONS – that way you get a readymade deadline.
And it’s a simple as that! Once you’re done some of the above – and intend to continue doing it regularly – you may call yourself a writer.
But what comes next now you’re calling yourself a writer. Do you want READERS? If you don’t that’s fine – then you truly are writing only for the love of it. But if you want to publish – what’s next?
How to reach your readers is the next topic in this mini-series – so come back next week – when I’ll outline ways to get published and offer some general advice on the process.
Some useful stuff-
There’s loads to choose from. But here I list only things that I’ve read/ used/ experienced personally.
Books on writing:
‘WRITING DOWN THE BONES’ by Natalie Goldberg – full of useful exercises
‘BECOMING A WRITER’ by Dorothea Brande – an ‘old’ publication but a classic and still relevant.
‘ON WRITING’ by Stephen King – honest practical advice from a master storyteller.
ARVON FOUNDATION residential courses – I attended one at Moniack Mhor led by Ali Smith – fabulous.
Magazines for writers:
MSLEXIA – written for women writers but lots of the advice is applicable to menfolk. http://www.mslexia.co.uk/index.php
WORDS WITH JAM – I’m a contributor – so of course it’s excellent. http://wordswithjam.co.uk/
Online Writing Communities:
On TWITTER there is the wonderful #amwriting community founded by Johanna Harness.
YOU WRITE ON http://www.youwriteon.com/ This is a long-established peer-to-peer review site for beginner writers – well worth a visit and a try out.
Online Sources of inspiration:
DAILY PROMPTS at http://www.plinky.com / and at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/daily-prompts /