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Sunday, December 21, 2008

How To Be a Writer

...Or do you have what it takes?

I've talked about some aspects of this before, but I think it all bears repeating. Young writers constantly ask other people whether they have what it takes to be a writer. Often times they ask based on writing alone and when you think about it that's not the best approach. While it is important that you be a good writer, or even a fair writer, it's not the only thing you need to be concerned about. Being, or trying to be, a writer isn't easy, even if you're published. It's a rough road full of disappointment and rejection. It can be an emotional ride too.
With that in mind, here is a list of things that you need to do if you want to be a writer:
  • Practice
    You can't go from being an okay baseball player to a great player if you don't practice. Same with writing. Don't kill yourself, but you should write when you can.
  • Read
    Whether it be books on the craft, your favorite authors, or whatever, reading will teach you new things. For example, I learned ways to use the dash and the semicolon in fiction from authors who did it well.
  • Grow Thick Skin
    Learn how to take rejection. This is life. Whether it be an editor, a friend, some random person on the Interwebs, or someone in your writing group, you will get rejected and criticised. It's okay, though. If a story gets rejected, don't fret! Submit it elsewhere! Don't get ticked off at the editor. That's never a good idea.
    • Grow a Spine
      Don't be afraid of what people will think about you and your writing. Being afraid of criticism means you lock up all your writing and never let anyone see it. If you're okay with doing that, then no problem, but if you want your writing to be read by other people, well, then you have to put your writing out there!
  • Develop a Web Presence
    Some vote against this because it sucks time away from writing, but I recommend you try to get involved with potential readers now rather than later. You can make new friends, learn a lot about the craft and promotion, etc. It's up to you if you want to do this through a blog or just being a part of a social network or group.
  • The Will
    You can't just like to write. You have to have the desire to be published and the desire to do whatever it takes to get there (and when you get there, to do whatever it takes to make sure you can keep doing that--all within reason, of course). Plenty of people fail at this because they don't have the will to learn, to write, to do anything that is required of you to be a writer. This applies to any form of writing.
  • Be Gracious
    This is one that took me a while to learn. If someone is kind enough to look at your work and offer a critique, be sure to thank them! Don't spend your time arguing and disagreeing. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing on some things; not all of the changes another person suggests will be useful. But it doesn't help if you're going to be disrespectful of ungrateful. Remember, they put a lot of work into their critique for you (or, at least, they were supposed to).
  • Accept Failure
    Embrace it! Tack your rejections to your wall or laugh about them. It's important! You can't expect to win from the start and you can't let it get you down. Turn the emails or rejection letters into paper airplanes and toss them around the house or, if you're not the sentimental type, collect them together and have a bonfire!
If that isn't a good starter list, then I don't know what is! Any suggestions for things that should be included?

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  1. Add to your list the conscious awareness that every moment is subject matter for your writing--take the opportunity to observe while sitting at long traffic lights, standing in line at the supermarket, taking a walk when the words get stuck. Even reptiles on alien planets have to go to some equivalent of a marketplace and they have to get there, and maybe even have to scan their own bloodworms.
    Look for parallels you can use.

  2. That's a very good suggestion. I agree! Spacial and temporal awareness are definitely a plus.

  3. This sort of tangents with being gracious: Be Humble.

    Being gracious means being thankful for others' critiques. Being humble means acknowledging the fact that you are too close to your work, and even an untrained set of eyes will see things you can't see.

    If your cousin says a part is boring, it doesn't matter that he doesn't have the literary training to recognize your fantastic symbolism and imagery. If he thinks it's boring, chances are many other people will too.

  4. You know, I probably should have added "be humble" to the list. Thanks for mentioning it!

    You also have to remember that the people who read your work are not necessarily going to be on the same page as you. Something that seems entertaining to you won't necessarily be as entertaining to someone else. We all have different tastes.

    Agreed through and through!

  5. Seems a solid list to me. If only there was a way to make newbie writers out there read it. I could've used this kind of stuff when I first started writing.

  6. Well, the best way to get more newbs to read it is to make sure it becomes the most popular list ever, which means social bookmarking the hell out of it and linking to it :P. But that's also me being a selfish jerk...