Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How to Be a Writer in 10 Easy Steps

Gertrude Stein wrote, “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.” It makes perfect sense if you're a writer. Right?

Lots of people want to be a writer but have no idea how to do it. I'm going to give you ten easy steps to turn you into a writer. Please understand that being a writer and being published are two different animals. You may never have a word of your writing published, but that doesn't mean you aren't a writer.

So... how do you start? Simple. By writing. And how do you continue? That's simple too. By writing.

Actually, I wish it was that easy. Many writers, moi included, struggle with the beginning, middle and/or end of the process. Something will light a fire under us and we get all excited about becoming a writer. Then something happens to pour a little water on that fire and our enthusiasm wanes. We let ourselves become discouraged.

But we love to write, so even though we may quit for a day, a week or more, we'll soon be back in the chair, hands on the keyboard or with pen and paper in hand. And we swear that this time we'll finish the damn book.

If we do, that's great. If not, we beat ourselves up and start lisitng "Failure" as our occupation. This cycle repeats until just sitting at the keyboard is difficult. It's a classic Catch-22 situation: writing makes us miserable and not writing makes us feel out of sync with who we are.

Let's try to break the cycle with these ten easy steps.

  1. Call yourself a writer. Tell everyone who asks "What do you do?" that you are a writer. Put it on your business cards. Put a "Writer at Work" sign on your door. Affirm it daily and begin to believe you are what you claim.
  2. Create a place where you can create. If you can manage a whole room to yourself, that's wonderful. But that's not always possible. How about a corner of a room? Screen it off and make it your own. The kitchen table? Create an atmosphere for writing with something that changes it from the table to your creative palace. It may be an aromatherapy candle or a budvase with a single flower. You might use a special placemat that creates an energetic feel to that portion of the table. But now that space belongs to you, the writer.
  3. Gather your writing tools. A carpenter needs hammers and saws and nails. An auto mechanic needs wrenches. A writer has tools of his or her trade. They vary from writer to writer. Most writers will need a computer at some point, even if you do your first draft longhand. Try to get your own computer, not one you have to fight over each night with your husband and/or children. Computer prices are dropping daily. The PC my husband and I owned back in the early 80's cost us almost $3000 and had only 64K of memory with two 5 1/2 inch floppy drives. When we replaced one drive with a hard drive where you could actually load the software, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. If you write longhand, get yourself the best pen you can afford. Find one that feels just right in your hand. Make sure you have plenty of paper, notebooks, a journal for ideas, books on craft, a dictionary and thesaurus. You'll need a printer too once you begin submitting your work to publishers.
  4. Associate with like-minded individuals. People who are not creative don't understand the creative mind. They have no clue about the voices in your head and the stories that beg to be told. But if you join a writers' group, no one will give you funny looks when you talk about these things. My RWA chapter meeting each month is when I get refueled and where I receive encouragement and support. If you're serious about publication, you probably want to attend some workshops and conferences. Communicate with others who write. There are numerous online groups where you can discuss everything from craft to brainstorming ideas.
  5. Read. Read. Read. And then read some more, especially in the genre you write. You can learn as much about writing from a well-written book as anything else. And you might even want to send the author a fan letter (the nice kind, not the stalking, instill-fear-in-the-hearts-of-man type) and let him or her know how much you enjoyed the book and how much you learned. You never know when they'll answer back and a friendship will develop.
  6. Make a writing schedule and write every day. "I don't have time," you say? Do you watch television? Do you hit the mall three times a week to peruse the sale racks? Are you a regular at the Friday night ballgame? Surf the internet regularly? Then you have time to write. What you lack is discipline and that's something no one can give you but yourself. Make a decision to carve out a realistic amount of time every day and write. Of course, crap happens, and sometimes taking time out to watch a beautiful sunset may end up being more helpful than spending thirty minutes writing drivel. But overall, practice makes perfect and writing is no different. What if inspiration hasn't struck when you sit down to write? Write anyway. Success is only 20% inspiration; the remaining 80% is perspiration. Write garbage if you have to. Remember what Nora Roberts said "The most important thing in writing is to have written. I can always fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank one."
  7. Believe. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, pastor of Marble Collegiate Church and founder of Guideposts magazine wrote "Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy." But isn't that being egotistical? Nope! It's affirming to your brain that you can do it. After all, if you don't believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?
  8. Submit something somewhere. This is where the rubber meets the road. Someone once likened it to stripping naked and standing on a busy street corner. Sending your work off puts it out there for all to see and that's a scary feeling. My very first submission was to the annual Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. I'd always enjoyed her writing and as a young married woman had dreamed of one day being the next Erma. It didn't cost anything to enter and I didn't win, but the experience was quite rewarding even though I got no feedback. All I knew was that they'd received my submission. But I'd done it -- I'd stood naked on that street corner. A month or so later I applied to be a community columnist for my local newspaper. I had to submit several sample columns plus ideas for additional columns. I didn't get that position. But I tried and the experience of putting together the submission packet and planning columns was another notch in my keyboard. A year or so later, I entered a contest sponsored by an RWA chapter. I had to pay to enter this. I'd moved from the street corner to Broadway. :grin: And I got feedback too, which leads me to point #9.
  9. Develop thick skin. If you're going to enter a contest, work with a critique partner or submit to a publisher, you must be prepared for the inevitable rejection or criticism. It's part of the territory. Take the feedback and/or rejection and learn from it. Put what you learned into practice either revising the work or in creating a new one. And don't internalize the criticism. It's about your writing, not about you. The writer who takes negative feedback personally runs the risk of quitting. Be willing to take the heat and deal with it in a positive manner. You and your writing will benefit in the long run.
  10. Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day. War and Peace wasn't written in a week. Writing careers don't happen overnight. Hang in there. An unknown author wrote, "The greatest oak was once a little nut who held its ground. " Be that mighty oak.

I struggle with every one of these ten steps. But this nut isn't about to give up my ground. I tackle each one a step at a time.

What do you struggle with? And how have you overcome it?


Problem Child said...

What do I struggle with? Ahem, see yesterday's post...

Time Management.


J.B. Thompson said...

Wow. Really, wow, wow, wow. What an inspiring post, PM!

If you don't mind, I'm going to put a link to this on my blog today. Everyone I know needs to read this and be encouraged and motivated by it.

Like PC, I struggle with time management - but I do make an effort to write something every day, even if it's just a blog post ...

Great advice. I've even printed it and am pinning it to the bulletin board over the desk in my study - see, I'm complying with #2.


Smarty Pants said...

Great list, although I wouldn't call any of those steps "easy." The concept may be simple, but the application is sometimes very complicated.

I have to say that making the time to write is a big problem for me, but I'm working at it. I've also just carved out my own space with my own computer in the guest room so I can have some peace without DB hovering over me waiting to get on Ebay.

Now developing that thick skin... I'm working on that still.


Instigator said...

Um, I work at a project management/time management company and I still struggle with this. Even knowing what you SHOULD be doing doesn't always mean that you WILL.

Great list PM!


Kathy said...

I would have to say Time Management is a hard one for me, too. Dealing with the guilt that other things should be getting done whilst I sit typing words to page, that's another toughy.

As well as believing that I'm a writer when my a few of my kids try to tell me 'It's just a hobby.' Argh!


Sheryl M said...

Thank you for those pointers. As a mother of four daughters, time is always in short supply. But my darling hubby wants me to stay home with the kids, so I should be able to make the time to write. Now where did my discipline go?!? I have found this blog thru Rhonda's rants..which I love, being from Huntsville myself ;) I even printed all the help pages from eHalequin too..Just need to put my self to work. Thanks again!

Playground Monitor said...

Thanks, JB. Wow and inspiring huh? :grin: I certainly don't mind if you link to the post.

SP, the word "easy" was supposed to come across as sarcastic, because it certainly isn't easy. It might be simple, but not easy.

And welcome Sheryl! Glad to see another Huntsvillian on board.

Sheryl M said...

I now live near the historic town of Charleston, Sc...however I will always be a Bama girl at heart. I love the fact that I can relate to the visuals you create in your writing. Thanks again!!

Angel said...

Awesome post, PM! I feel very inspired. I think I'll print a couple of those quotes to hang around where I can see them.

I think one reason we all struggle with time management is that sneaky little voice that tries to convince us that writing isn't as important as all the other chores jumping up and down for attention. I struggle with making my writing a priority when I have a house to clean, children to raise, and a business to run.

But I can't compare the person I am now to the person I was before I wrote. I've gained confidence, purpose, that little something that's just mine, and grown into my own strength through this journey. So it is worth every minute of juggling, even though I drop a lot of balls.


Instigator said...

Okay, Instigator's got her naughty hat on. Dropping balls. You should know better than to do that around me, Angel. ;-D


Playground Monitor said...

Oh wow, Charleson! It's a beautiful city thought I haven't been there since about 1999. Lots of history and beautiful old homes.