How to Become a Writer
Fairly frequently, I get a phone call or email from someone asking me this question: How do I become a writer? I’m always a little taken aback. Are they asking for permission to write? Do they think there is some special key for admittance to the writer’s club? A secret handshake?
Even more mysterious, once I get into a conversation with the questioner, they usually tell me they’ve been writing poems, stories, or nonfiction for awhile. Then they say, “But I’m not really a writer.”
“Oh yes you are!” I say.
And then I tell them, if you want to write, then write. Don’t wait for anyone’s blessing or endorsement. Just do it. But if you want to develop and grow as a writer, here are three things you can do:
1) Make Writing Your Habit
- Honor your desire to write by writing.
- Exercise your writing muscle regularly. The more you write, the easier it will be to write, and the better you’ll get.
- Know that you will never find time to write. You can only make time to write.
- Don’t feel you have to start at the beginning or know how it’s going to end. Start writing where you feel the energy to write.
- Carry a notebook with you at all times and jot down observations, bits of dialogue, or whatever attracts your senses. Writers pay attention and notice things. Practice paying attention.
- Know that writing can be messy. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. You always clean it up later.
- Know that learning to write is a life-long practice. Writing is easy. Writing well is challenging.
- Quiet your inner critic. Most writers have self-doubts. Don’t wait for the doubts to go away. Write on in spite of them.
2) Read, Read, and Read Some More
- Read inside and outside of your genre.
- Read poetry (even if you don’t write it). It will inspire you to play with language.
- Read for the pure joy of it, and read like a writer.
- You cannot be a writer without also being a reader. You can learn from classes and books about the craft, but there’s no substitute for seeing for yourself how a writer does it.
3) Seek Skills & Support
- Be around people who support your desire to write. Make friends with writers, artists, and other creative people. (But remember that writing is not a social activity.)
- Join and actively participate in professional associations such as the Florida Writers Association or regional chapters of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, or Mystery Writers of America.
- Learn about writing from experienced teachers and writers. Attend writing workshops and conferences. Read books on craft.
- Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Submit your writing to peer and professional critique. Enter contests and submit your work for publication.
- Dream big, but be smart. Educate yourself about how the publishing industry works and beware of scams.
- Support your fellow writers. Attend readings and signings and buy books!
But when it comes right down to it, in order to be a writer, you don’t necessarily need the classes or the writing groups or the writing friends or even publication. All you really have to do is write—and read. As Stephen King wrote in On Writing: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Mary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and writing coach with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. She does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing. Her posts appear on this blog the first Monday of every month.