What does it take to be a writer?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Some of us are writers, and some say we are writers because we think it's cool and want to be associated with something cool. I read that many WWII soldiers lied about being in Patton’s army although they weren’t. They wanted to be associated with his reputation, rather than reality.

There is nothing wrong with being a writer wannabe. I think it's the highest compliment a person can pay a writer (I wannabe just like you). And it's a lofty goal, so I am not here to disparage those who say they are writers but don't write. Maybe it's just be a matter of time. Maybe someone isn't quite ready, and is preparing mentally for the challenge ahead. That's actually a positive way to spend time while waiting to be a writer.

For those of you who write regularly, or are waiting to write, I want to clarify some of the steps to being a writer that you may not have considered, and weren't taught in school. Here are five strategies that may help you become a writer.

1) Define your goal, and defend your goal. Be specific about your goal, and defend your time, your ideas, your workspace, your self-image as a writer, and especially your words. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't let others critique your work, but make sure anyone who offers suggestions about your writing is someone you respect as a reader and a writer.

2) Break down the writing into manageable steps. This can mean a million different things to a million different writers. Find the one that works best for you: A few sentences a day, a few paragraphs per day, a chapter a day, or an hour a day. It's up to you to define how much writing and/or time you need to be a writer.

3) Meditate, journal, or go through therapy to determine if you think you can accomplish this goal and handle the change. Self-efficacy is the belief that you can do it. Becoming a writer is about change, and change can be scary. Are you committed to setting aside time every day to write? Are you committed to marketing? You don’t have to be a great public speaker, but are you comfortable talking to people? All of these activities call for change, and some of us are not up to the challenge.
Again, there's a cure. Take it slowly, try one change per month, or year. There's no time limit. Reduce anxiety by talking to others who have already made that change, which helps you see that it can be done, and visualize yourself doing the same.

4) We've all heard great storytellers. There are several teachers in the adjunct office at my school who keep everyone on the edge of his or her seat with story after story. And someone will inevitably say, "You should write a book."
Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. I was helping someone with this problem a few years ago, and he kept looking up from the page and talking to me. He felt more comfortable speaking than he did writing.
“Don’t talk to me,” I said. “Write it down.”
This very smart and talented man had a huge block when it came to putting words on the page. And there are many other smart and talented people out there who will continue to talk and not write. If this is you, here’s one suggestion: In your iPhone, click on the utilities tab on one of the main screens, and select voice memos. The next time you are in a room full of people telling one fabulous story after another, record yourself. You can transcribe it later. This puts your words into a fixed form. From there, you can edit, or change them completely. But to be a writer, you write, at least eventually.

5) Even successful writers have doubts, but those of us who toil away under the cloak of anonymity ask ourselves, Who am I that others should listen to me? I am nobody. Yeah, and so was Emily Dickinson. But I have nothing to say. I challenge you to look at your writing differently. Don’t look at it as something sacred that must be perfect so that the moment it comes into existence a choir of angels comes down to Earth to sing its praises.

Writing is a lesson to share. If there is no discovery for the writer, there is no discovery for the reader (I don't know who said that first, but it wasn't me). And here's the secret to be a writer: All you have to do is put your curiosity on the page. What if _______ happened? Write it out to see where it goes. Learn from the discovery and then share. If you write how-to write essays like I do, then also share what you did right, and what you did wrong. For me, the wrong stuff is plentiful, and I've had the honor and privilege to share that information with others here, and I thank you for that opportunity.

What do you think it takes to be a writer?

Mary Horner is a writer who struggles with trying to write every day.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--I think it takes a thick skin. (You have to be able to take criticism without it bowling you over.) I think it takes persistence. (You have to keep working at it.) I think it takes a cocky core. (You have to believe--deep down inside--that you have some talent.)

Your colleague who could tell stories but had a block when it came to typing? There is a speech-to-text feature with Google (and probably other programs/apps/features with different formats). I've had students use it when they have trouble typing. Is it perfect? No, but it at least gets most of what they say right.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Curiousity. You have to wonder what will happen next. In the next sentence or on the next page. And this curiosity has to be strong enough to pull you into the story.


Nicole Pyles said...

Great post! To me, and for me, encouraging my self-discipline and finishing more of what I start helps me embrace myself as a writer.

Mary Horner said...

I responded on a different computer and my responses are not showing up here, so I'll try again! Sioux, it does take thick skin, and fortunately, skin can grow thicker over time. Thanks for sharing the Google speech-to-text option information, I haven't used it but should. Sue, I don't think enough has been written about curiosity, so thanks for reminding us that the writer and the reader has to be curious. Nicole, self-discipline is important, because if you are like me, you have many things in your computer that need to be finished! But we keep plugging away because we are writers!

Renee Roberson said...

I agree with what you all said above. Writing takes thick skin, curiosity, self-discipline, and for me, the audacity to submit my work. I began submitting service articles/human interest pieces fairly quickly, but it too me much longer to get confident enough to submit to writing contests or to agents. If I could go back and do something differently in my path, it would be to get over that fear earlier on in the process.

Mary Horner said...

Thanks, Renee! If I could do it over I would also change where I submitted, and submit more! But I'm working harder to accomplish my submission goals. It's not great, but better, and at least that is the right direction!

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