An acquaintance recently asked me how to go about writing. “I’m thinking about writing a book,” she says. “What should I do?”
“What kind of book do you want to write?” I ask.
“I’m not sure.”
“There are some books you should read,” I suggest. “Stephen King’s On Writing is my favorite and there’s another one by Carolyn See about living a literary life.”
The wannabe writer jots the information down. “I can’t get the books tonight,” she replies wistfully. “I have to study for a history exam.”
Later I realize that what I should have said is, “The best way to be a writer is to sit down and write.” Really, there is no other way. There are no short-cuts, no magic potions. If you want to be a writer you have to sit down and write every day. For me, mornings are best. I grab a notebook and a steaming mug of coffee and have at it. I don’t hit pay dirt every time, perhaps not even half of the time. But I always write for a few hours and hopefully get to the place where I forget everything else and I’m in a zone much like a runner’s high.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending more time wondering how to write than just doing it. No matter what genre you are interested in, writing requires perseverance and discipline. Carolyn See says to write 1,000 words a day, or four pages. When I’m in my stride I can do five to seven pages in one sitting.
Try not to get caught up in finding the perfect place to write either. I write in my kitchen, on the back deck, and in my garage sometimes. You don’t have to go to a coffee shop or a library. Doing so requires getting out of your pajamas anyway.
I do recommend writing at the same time every day if possible, and dedicating a good two to three hours to it. If you can’t meet that commitment you’ll never be a writer.
You have to want it as bad as Michael Jordan wanted to be a basketball star. As a child he wasn’t the best in his neighborhood and he wasn’t the tallest child, but he got out there every day and practiced with the big kids until he surpassed them in skill.
It’s this same kind of gritty determination that will make a successful writer.
A Few Writing Tips:
Carry a small notebook or tape recorder to capture ideas that come up in the grocery store, at the soccer fields, or while you are driving.
Keep a folder for newspaper and magazine articles that pique your interest. You never know, that travel piece you read on Katmandu may inspire the setting for your next novel.
Join a writer’s group or get a writing buddy to swap manuscript critiques with. Writing is a lonely vocation and you will need the support of other writers.
Read, read, and read some more. Read not just for pleasure, but as a writer, studying the techniques of those you admire.
Get involved in another art form. It’ll keep the creative juices flowing and give you something to write about.