“How do I become a writer?”
“Any tips for being a good writter?”
“Anybody else suffer from writer’s block?”
I see posts like this fairly often (including the spelling mistakes). In my experience, when I mention to people that I write they usually perk up with a little bit of interest. Let’s face it, there’s a reason so many of us want to “write the great American novel”, and I think it’s because so many of us have stories to tell. Take George Costanza’s famous “nothing pitch” to NBC executives from Seinfeld:
“What did you do today?“
“I got up and came to work.“
“There’s a show! That’s a show.“
We all have ideas. We have thoughts, dreams, experiences…all sorts of rich material that could resonate, entertain and/or challenge readers in the form of the written word. Now, some may have more natural talent than others just as some people may be better at painting or baseball than others. The key to writing, as I’ve found, is to do it. Start. Do it for yourself. Do it for the right reasons.
No, your writing won’t appeal to everyone. No, you won’t receive all glowing reviews. No, you won’t necessarily become a bestseller and quit your day job. If those are your goals be prepared to fall short immediately and profoundly.
Yes, you have the freedom to write about whatever you want. Yes, you will learn by trial and error. Yes, you will get better with practice. If those are your goals be prepared to learn a great deal about yourself, the craft of storytelling, and whether writing is right for you.
I always sort of wanted to write, but wasn’t sure where to start. I wrote when I was a kid and enjoyed it. I submitted some early nonfiction work during college which usually was met with silence, but occasionally a polite “thanks, I think there is some potential here, but we’re looking for something else.” Eventually I came across an open invitation to write about haunted places and ghosts. I wasn’t a writer, but I had an interest and good deal of knowledge on the subject, and thought it was worth it to send in a proposal. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. I took a chance and wrote an outline, a sample chapter, photos, and an initial marketing plan.
A couple of months later – out of the blue – I received my new author kit including a contract, target word count, and deadline of roughly a year to bring my first book to life. That was it.
Now what?! I had to commit to building on those early ideas. Refine the concept. Dig deeper, plan, and execute something that was literally all in my head. The thoughts and ideas ran around in my mind at all hours. I wrote ideas on scraps of paper, emailed myself links, and read voraciously. I edited. I added. I cut. I added back. I tweaked. I read the manuscript out loud to myself to adjust wording and pacing. I wondered. I doubted. I stayed up late. I got up early. I learned that I accomplished more actual writing (at least for that book) between 10am and 1pm on weekends. I annoyed my wife by sharing my ramblings over dinner, in the car, and laying awake at night.
Now, fast-forward nearly a decade. I’ve had two nonfiction books published and I’ve self-published several short fiction stories digitally. Life changed a lot during that time. My interests evolved. My free time diminished. I became a dad. My career continued along. I got older.
Let’s bring this full-circle. I didn’t go to college to become a writer. I went to become a graphic designer, then an anthropologist who ultimately landed in the world of digital marketing. The point is that my goal was to write. Period. My goal was to get ideas and stories out of my head. Some people smirk when I tell them I’ve written about ghosts and UFOs, and that’s OK. They’d really be surprised at the direction of some of my short stories! Those same people also usually think the mere fact I’ve done it is great in and of itself. It is. It’s something that I enjoy, and it’s cathartic, exciting, challenging, rewarding all-in-one.
I’ve sat at book signings where I sold-out all my copies on-hand. I’ve sat at book signings where the only person I spoke to was the store manager when I set up and again when I left. I’ve had people thank me for writing about things in a way that made them feel better about their own unusual experiences. I’ve had people tell me they weren’t interested in my book, covertly read a few chapters around the corner, then come back and buy it from me. I had a no-nonsense elderly lady tell me that she doesn’t believe in ghosts, under no circumstances, stop back by ten minutes later and tell me at length about that one time as a child she saw her dead grandfather’s ghost playing cards alone at the kitchen table in the wee hours of the morning decades ago. She’s not sure about that to this day, but she still won’t say she believes in ghosts.
I’ve received some really nice comments and reviews on some of my work. I’ve seen stories I really put a lot of effort into seemingly go unnoticed for years. I’ve read bad reviews that made me question humanity. I still write. I still do it for myself and, hopefully, others’ enjoyment.
I did it, and so can you.