Friday, July 22, 2011

So You Want to be a Writer

Over the years, many people, especially my students in my Creative Writing classes, ask me the age-old question, “How do I become a writer?” Writers aren’t born, they’re made—by the writers, themselves.

Since writers work with words, they have to love them. And the key to loving words is reading. It’s surprising just how many writers, when asked, don’t read very much. What they don’t realize is that by reading as much as possible, especially the kind of writing they wish to do, they absorb words and phrases that later on may appear in their own writing. Writers learn by example.

Unfortunately, students aren’t taught that in school. Instead, they’re led to believe that all they have to do is sit down at a computer and the words will just flow out into their fingers as they type. The human brain needs to be fed information just like a computer. That information may come as facts, experiences, or observations. All give the budding writer the resources to create.

The second thing to consider as a writer is what to write—fiction or non-fiction. Some people only consider fiction writers true writers because they’re the only kind of writers they hear about. They read Web pages, magazines, and perhaps a newspaper–if they can find one—every day but don’t consider where the articles come from.  Each type of writing has its merits. Some writers work in both areas.

What about education? Believe it or not, a writer doesn’t need to study “writing” to write. In fact, that may be a deterrent. Outside of school, writers write in a conversational style which is as far from academic or school writing–reports, term papers, and theses—as they can get. What a writer needs is information and that comes from a variety of courses. The more a writer knows, the better prepared he or she will be to write.

A lot of people say to be a good writer you have to have talent. Talent is such an elusive thing. A talented writer is one who can get organized and write faster—a person who is brimming with ideas. But with perseverance anyone can become a writer. The key is not so much talent as having something to say and the ability to say it well.

Every writer dreams of the big successes of famous authors. But only a very few make it to this level. And it’s not because they aren’t good writers. In this business, it’s often who you know, not what you know or write. Believe it or not, luck often plays a big part in a writer’s success. Being at the right place at the right time may land a writer a juicy article or book. And knowing more about a subject than the next writer definitely helps, even in writing novels.

Taking all of the above into consideration, the most important thing a writer needs is discipline. Good writers don’t just write when the spirit strikes them. As long as they have a good topic and something to say, they can write any time. They communicate with their readers. They make those readers feel as if they’re writing only to them.

There are no secrets to becoming a writer. It just takes lots and lots of hard work to make the grade.

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