Q & A: How Do I Become a Writer?

Excellent question!  I think many people who aren’t actively involved in the arts are a bit intimidated when they start.  Really, the best way to be a good writer is to be a good reader. And by “good” I mean voracious. Consume books. Devour books. And when you’re not doing that, write.

Second – don’t worry. People will say you can’t do it. You’ll receive that judgey little smirk when you announce you’re writing a novel, followed by the withering down-their-nose stare when they ask how often you’ve been published. Screw ‘em. You aren’t writing for them. I worried myself straight out of a career that way. Don’t be me.

Third – listen to those who have gone before you, but don’t dwell on them. Neil Gaiman offers some nifty advice here (check out the very first thing he says and take it to heart):

FAQs | Advice to Authors

FWIW, my favorite “how to” book is written by Stephen King.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Wikipedia

Reading that made me feel like I was sitting down with my favorite Uncle. You know, the one who tells all the really cool stories your parents don’t want you to hear. At the same time his advice is clear, direct, and entirely useful.

Along with ditching the worry, don’t stress about getting it right. When I write I turn off both my spell check and my grammar program. If I edit as I write I’ll never finish a page. Don’t worry about “voice”. Don’t worry about “tense”. Don’t worry about format. All that comes later. Until you have something down on paper all you have is an idea.

Come on! The world needs your novel, or whatever the heck it is you’re writing. Speaking of which, one of my favorite motivations is National Novel Writing Month (aka Nanowrimo).

National Novel Writing Month

It happens every November but don’t fret. Even if you’re past the date (or too early, it really depends on your point-of-view) you’ll still find an active community of writers there. It’s great for encouragement.

One last thing. Writer’s block. It hits us all. Perhaps that’s why you were asking in the first place. If you’re still wondering how to write, what to write, when to write… do this. Snag your favorite pen, tablet, journal or word processor. Write this sentence:

“I can’t write.”

Write it out again.

“I can’t write. I can’t write.”

Try a few more. Seriously.

“I can’t write. I can’t write. I can’t write! And there’s this crazy American chick who just told me to write this stupid phrase when I really wanted to flirt with this amazing British actor. But here I am writing this stupid phrase anyway. So there, are you HAPPY NOW? Crazy American chick? I can’t write I can’t write I can’t write! I. Can’t WRITE!!!”

Congratulations. You just wrote. Not only that, you have the basis of a character! He’s talking to you. Listen to him. Write him down. In the end that’s really who you’re writing for. Your characters need a voice. Now, this one has one. Go get ‘em!


How to write: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writers do not write because they want to. Writers write because they must. There is an idea leaping from every pore. It must be expressed! The need is so great that they often shut out the rest of the world to see the creative process to its end. If my fingers all broke tomorrow, my eyebrows would somehow figure out how to type.

So what do you do if, for no apparent reason, that tidal wave of creativity suddenly… dries up?

Writers are engaged in a very fundamental act of communication. And yet I find it is very difficult to explain Writer’s Block to someone who either isn’t a writer, or to the rare creative soul who has never experienced it. One day you are standing astride the deck of your mighty ship, easily navigating the tsunami of creative expression. The next morning you wake up…


Not pretty.

There’s a lot of advice about what to do when writer’s block hits.   Many writers feel that it’s often a simple matter of burn out.   If you walk away from the project for a time you’ll return refreshed and (hopefully) with fresh insight.  And a lot of times they’re right.  It’s likely you’ll burn out even on the most beloved project.  A little distance is good for you both.

But really, that’s not writer’s block.  That’s “If I have to pound another key today someone’s gonna die.”  Writer’s block is looking at the screen and wondering where it all went.  And why won’t it come back?  Wanting to write, but unable to form the words.


Assuming you’re not in a drug induced creative straightjacket (see my other blog Jubilarian for more details about that), I’ve found one way to break the block.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but so far it’s worked for me every time.

So there you are, staring at the screen, and nothing’s coming.  Nothing, nothing, nothing.  Damn.  Pull out your keyboard and type this:

“I’m looking at this stupid screen and nothing’s coming.  I mean NOTHING.  NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING!!  Yesterday I was typing 100 wpm and today I can’t think of a thing to say.  I can’t believe it!  ARG!!!!!  NOTHING!! You’d think…”


Check it out.  You’re writing.

Keep going.  Don’t worry about your project.  Don’t think about what you’re typing.  Just get it out.  Shut down your inner editor with a little stream-of-consciousness ranting.  Nine times out of ten, that’ll break the creative logjam and let you blow off a bit of steam in the process.  When you’re done hit “delete”, then go write.  You’ll be ok.