I fancy myself a pretty good writer. I’ve always done it, like since I was old enough to hold a pen; and before that I told stories all the time. My first novel, “Mousey Goes to Texas,” was about a little mouse who took the train to San Antonio with her family (Spoiler Alert: it was about my own family’s recent trip there). We still have the Madeline notebook I wrote all my Mousey Chronicles in (it was one of my first journals).
As I got older I started being able to separate reality and fiction a little more, and my own experiences went down in a journal as memories rather than stories. This gave me more room to fill my notebooks with stories, poetry, etc. But for some reason, despite the fact that I spent my time doing little else, I never considered myself a writer. Honestly, I thought everyone was a good writer – I thought that English was the easiest subject for all my peers. It never occurred to me that it was a talent, a passion, or a lifestyle. Writing was just something I did. It wasn’t a potential career path; it was an outlet, a way of life, a lifeline for the times I was drowning in words.
When I arrived at GWU my freshman year I was a bright-eyed International Affairs major taking Arabic and Economics, destined, in my own fantastical thoughts, to be an ambassador one day. It was kismet that I happened to sign up for an Intro to Creative Writing course for my fine arts requirement because that class is what changed everything for me. Sitting there, writing short, okay okay – very long, stories reminded me of something that I had started to forget amongst the hustle and bustle of college life. Books were my passion, and writing was what I was happiest doing. To top that off it showed me that I could actually pursue writing as a career path in my life. I didn’t have to major in something I was less than enthralled about just because it was more lucrative on paper.
I left the International Affairs school my first week in, and I never looked back.
Because it took me so long to figure out my passion and start truly pursuing it I wanted to talk a little about what being a writer means, and ways that you can pursue a passion for writing even if you don’t want to major in it like I am. So, without further ado, my list of the top ten most important things to remember about being a “writer”…
- Writer’s Write. Yeah, you read that correctly. A writer is someone who writes. By defining it thusly, I’m already shutting down the thousands of people around the globe who often say things like, “I could be a writer; I could write a ______,” or those who introduce themselves as writers but have no finished (or sometimes even begun) work. If you want to be a writer, that’s great. But to be one, you have to take out that pen and paper (or, if you must 21st century kids, that laptop) and write. This cannot be stressed enough.
- Write Often; No, Really, Write All of the Time. Even when I can’t get to my computer or my pen and paper, I write. I type notes on my cell phone. I scribble on napkins at restaurants. Sometimes, much to the chagrin of my Dad growing up, I use my own flesh as a message board. When an idea/feeling/thought/observation strikes I don’t waste time or excuses – I write it down.
- Don’t Worry About Quantity or Quality. The qualifier for this is, “at first”. When you start writing, don’t get too caught up in how “good” or “marketable” a piece is, and certainly don’t set specific word requirements for yourself. I read once about an author, Richard Ridley, who sets his word goal to “one word a day“. And I think he’s got the right idea. Just get into the habit of writing every single day. That’s the important part.
- PRACTICE DOES NOT MAKE PERFECT. But it’s a good place to start. Practice is more important than anything else when you’re honing your craft. For instance, I don’t always feel inclined to work on a certain piece or project – I’ve always got several things going so that I’m never forcing myself to write something I don’t want to be writing. Some days I only journal. But I’m always practicing my craft, mostly because I love it. I cannot stress this enough – you will never be perfect, as a writer or as a person for that matter. I’m sure that going back through my posts here, you’ll find mistakes. I know this because every single time that I go back and read my own posts, I correct/change something. There’s a sentence I hate the sound of, an embarrassing misspelled word, or a grammatical error that would have my high school English teachers cringing in horror. Even when I read published work I find mistakes, and I’m talking about the big leagues – I’ve corrected grammar and other errors in New York Times Bestselling Literature. Things that someone didn’t catch before publication. Which brings me to my next point…
- Editing is 9/10ths of Writing. If you hate editing, you had better either get famous and hire a world-class editor ASAP or be perfect (for a preview into how that one will work out please see my above point). Because writers don’t just write. They edit. A lot. For every hour you spend writing I guarantee that if you’re really trying to craft something worth reading you’ll spend at least nine hours editing. And every time you read through something you will find a mistake, or change a word, or cut something. Every. Single. Time. No one is an exception to this rule. In this one thing all writers are created equal.
I once got very interested in Racial Tension in the U.S.
- Explore Your Interests. If you love economics – take economics classes; if you love hiking – join a hiking group; if you love to knit – find a local knitting circle and get your knit on. Following your interests and learning more about the things that you love will help you as a writer. A great quotation here is, “We write what we know.” You cannot write something you don’t know. Learn about everything that strikes your fancy, and pursue things that light a flame in you until you’ve learned so much that that spark is a blaze burning bright for all to see, and you can put that experience, that passion, that knowledge into what you write. Because it will make you a stronger writer and a more compelling storyteller.
- Pursue Art in All Her Many Mediums. I’ve often found that when I’m creatively blocked in my writing it helps for me to pick up something else – a book works, often enough; but sometimes I need something more. I need another creative outlet to express myself and get me from stuck to full speed ahead on whatever I’m working on. Painting, doodling, knitting, scrapbooking, drawing, photography, cooking, singing… these are just a few of the things I dabble in when I need a channel. What I work on varies, but I don’t think I’d be half the writer I am without these outlets. Writing is a craft, an art form. And all artists breathe art like air and create just to feel alive. So go out and create something new next time you’re having some
“writer’s block” – I guarantee that it’ll have your creativity juices flowing in no time.
- READ. Read everyday. Read everything. Read books in your genre; read books that have nothing to do with anything. If a book catches your eye even for a second, read it. Read scripts, poetry, novels, flash fiction, short stories, blogs (especially those with awesome titles like To Rome and Back Again), novellas, cookbooks, magazines, and newspapers in equal measure. Learn to appreciate it all, even if it “ain’t your cup o’ tea.” There is something to be learned from all written work, and if you want your work to be taken seriously and read then you owe it to everyone to give others the same courtesy.
- Get Rejected and Kill Your Darlings. I put these two very separate and very important items together because in my head they really go hand in hand. In life you’re going to be rejected, and the world of writing is not going to be any different. If you submit your work for things, if you put yourself out there, you will find that oftentimes you’re put down for your troubles. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer – it means that the person/award/committee/agent/publishing company didn’t understand your work, and it wasn’t a good fit. It means doing some editing (presuming they sent back their reasons and/or a critique of your piece) and going out into the world once more. When editing you should always try to kill as many of your darlings as you can. This is a favorite saying amongst writing professors, and it’s because we love our work. It’s our baby, and we think it’s perfect and wonderful just the way it is. But the cold hard fact (about babies as well as writing) is that your darling could use some work – it’s gotten too fat or lazy or full of itself, and it’s your job to set the record straight and help it come into its very best. Never forget that every writer has been rejected – in fact Stephen King keeps his rejection letters on his wall (and always has), so that he can stay grounded no matter how successful he becomes. So kill those darlings, rinse, and resubmit. And, most importantly,
- Never Give Up. The main thing I can’t stress enough is that if you’re writing then you’re a writer already. So congratulations fellow writer! I’m happy to welcome you (perhaps for the first time) into the ranks of persistent, tired, sometimes downtrodden, always striving writers that makes up a large percentage of our world’s literary community. Whatever you write, I’m happy that you’re writing it; and I hope you’re putting it out into the world for other writers, like me, to see. If you’ve been rejected I say, “good job! You put it out there, and hopefully learned something!” If you feel like you’ve been put down too many times I say, “Wait – don’t say that. There’s always a new opportunity.” And trust me, someone, somewhere doesn’t just want – they need – to read what you’ve written. If you ever start to give up just think about that one person, and how much your work is going to mean to them when they stumble upon it. And if that’s not enough remember that you should be writing for you – not for anyone else. Of course, if you’ve read this far I can rest assured that you love to write, so I’m not worried about you. I know you’re pursuing this because you love it; and there’s nothing more important than that. Words, even mine, cannot express how it feels to be doing something that you love more than anything else in the world.
My fellow Anthology editors and me at a public reading in Perugia, Italy.