Thursday, August 30, 2012

How To Be A Writer.1

There are two things in the world that I know about, and one of them is writing. So here’s how to be a writer:


I hope you were paying attention so I don’t have to repeat that.

If you’ve noticed, part of the fun of being a writer is that it’s so accessible. As in, half the population at any given time is either engaged in calling themselves a writer or they have a book in them that they know would be fab if they could just get it out.

The thing about writing is that the writing itself is the easy part. You sit down and you type out words. If you’re old-fashioned, you write down words on paper. The words form sentences. The sentences form paragraphs. The paragraphs can form an essay, a chapter, a story. It sounds simple enough, which is perhaps why there are so many writers in the world.

As I said in the beginning, there are two things that I am good at, and one of those is writing. The other is bookkeeping, which is also accessible, because everyone can add and subtract. Therefore, my particular skill set shouldn’t be in heavy demand, should it? I’m getting by though, so don’t worry.

Say you’re a writer. What’s the most important thing to know about writing?

1. Words don’t happen by themselves.

2. Waiting for inspiration is a good idea.

You can only pick one of the above, and if you picked number 2, good luck.

When I was, oh, I don’t know, 7? 8? I handed my mom a newspaper I’d put together. Except for mixing up a couple of names of high profile individuals, it was pretty good. I mean, for someone my age. My mom looked at it, oohed and aahed, pointed out my mistake, and I think that was one of the last times anyone in my family commented on my writing. It was a useless skill, something that writers did, but not someone like me. I kept writing, always knowing I was a writer, but also knowing I wasn’t good enough to do anything with it.

I’ve tried to give up writing so many times, and yet I can’t.

I want to not care. I want to be happy not writing. I want to not have all this stuff in my head that keeps asking to be let out. I want to be able to walk into a bookstore and not think that I should have more books written by now. I would like to be good at something else.

But that hasn’t worked for me. I give it up, and then I go back. Over and over again. It’s like an addiction, but since it’s not particularly harmful and keeps me off the streets at night, it’s not a cause for concern.

Except for the fact that I do care.

Here’s something about writing: It’s true that some of us have the writing thing in us from the beginning. It’s always been with us, something we carry around even if we’re busy making a living, or teaching, or ignoring it. But it’s also true that it can be taught. Either way, the only way to get better at is to keep writing, and to keep writing as often as you can.

Write until you think you can’t write anymore, and then write some more.

Write until the words on the page don’t make any more sense, and then add some more words. (This is why rewriting and editors are so important.)

If you want to get good at writing, you write.

It’s also true that there are many best-selling authors who are not writers. They’re celebrities, or famous, they have a name, and all they needed to get published was to say, “Hey, I want to write a book.” Or a publisher saw the chance for some quick cash and approached a celebrity and said, “Hey, can we put your name on something written by someone else?” And the celebrity says, “Sure, why not?”

Celebrities get this sort of thing all the time, so I hear, and who turns down free money? The reading public is fickle, and the reading public likes to read about celebrities.

You, however, are not a celebrity. I am not a celebrity. Most of the people I know are not celebrities. (Wait. Maybe none of the people I know are celebrities.) If we want to see our name on a book we have to either 1) do it ourselves, or 2) work really hard to get someone else to do it. That’s just how it works. If you’re willing to work at it, you’ve got a chance.

Sometimes all we need is a chance. And sometimes we need a million of them.

Lesson 1: Read Stephen King’s On Writing. Find On Writing here. It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but if you want to learn how to be a writer, it’s a good place to start. It’s even a good place to check out mid-stream.

Or check in. Please, no checking out.

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