• Emily Lackey
  • On Becoming A Writer (Or At Least Trying To Become One)
On Becoming A Writer (Or At Least Trying To Become One)
Contributor
Written by
Emily Lackey
March 2011
Contributor
Written by
Emily Lackey
March 2011
This is what I don't understand. How does one become a writer? And when do you become a writer? Is it upon publication? Is it upon completion of a larger work? Is it upon declaring yourself one?

Certainly there is the popular path of earning your MFA, hobnobbing with a bunch of bigwigs, going to as many readings as you can, working for the school's literary magazine, starting your own literary magazine, etc.

But what if you don't get your MFA? What if you're sitting in your gray-walled home office, staring at a computer screen, above which hang two white-framed photographs of the sea "for inspiration," with nothing but seventeen unfinished stories/novels/memoirs?

The Canadian said to me, "It's like any job. You can't call yourself an electrician and walk into a house with a set of tools." Fair enough. Makes sense. But if I want to become an electrician, there are resources for me to become one. I don't know... like... electrician school? Whatever! I'm not an electrician! I don't want to be one. I don't know what one does to become an electrician, but I'm sure there is some standard path for people who want to become electricians, and I bet I could determine that path with a simple google search.

If you google search how to become a writer, you'll get a lot of nothing good. You'll get a lot of "if you want to become a writer, then write!" or "write for eight hours a day" or "write in the mornings" or "write at night" or "observe the world around you!"

You'll get bullshit like this from Wikihow:
  1. Consider all of the options. Not everyone can create a blockbuster novel. Anyone with passion might be able to earn a living from writing. Copywriting is probably the highest paid skill on the Internet. Article writing is in great demand for providing content for websites. Creative writers are in demand to bid for projects every day. So the first step in how to become a writer is to research all of the options.
  2. Plan using logic and desire. Write the way you want, but decide whether or not you want to rely on the income from your writing. Not having a regular job will allow you to focus on your writing, but it's very unlikely that you'll be able to depend on it for at least a few years.
  3. Think about what you want to write, instead of what you want to get from writing. You won't get anywhere if all you're after is money.
  4. Be prepared to work odd hours -- you'll need to write whenever ideas strike, even if it's the middle of the night. Completely immerse yourself in the world you create.
  5. Find what works for you and stick with it. Even if you get dozens of rejection slips, if you feel comfortable working the way you do, you'll eventually have success.
  6. Know that writer’s block is a real thing. Too much writing, and concentrating too deeply, can cause you to not be able to write a word. Your focus and concentration leave, and you can just sit and stare at the page or the computer or typewriter, and not have a thing come to mind to write.
  7. Take a break to refresh your mind. Take a drive, or a walk, go to a movie, or just read a book. You may need a day, or a week to be able to once again concentrate. Be patient, your writers block will leave in due time. If that doesn't work, try the toilet, or in French, ca'mode. Toilet or Ca'mode means to refresh the body, which helps the mind as a writer.
  8. Use dreams to assist with ideas. Dreams are a big help. Have a notebook near you and if you remember a dream write it down. Some people can only remember some of their dream but when you write it down the rest will come back to you.

Listen, I know how to write, for crying out loud. That's not what I'm asking. I'm asking how the hell one becomes a writer.

This is what I want to know, and if you're "a writer" or even someone "who writes," I'd love to know your answers:

1. How do you write? Do you write a story until it is complete and edited and ready to be sent off for publication? Or do you write when the mood strikes you? Do you have ten or twenty loose ends stuffed into different places on your hard drive waiting to be finished? Or do you have shiny, perfect, complete pieces neatly arranged in a file marked "Finished Pieces"?

2. How do you edit? Do you edit linearly, from first page to last? Do you edit something as soon as you've written it, or do you let it sit for a while, writing other things, before coming back to it?

3. What do you do when a story goes stale? Do you put it aside until it feels fresh or approachable again, or do you push through, keep writing, make it work until it's finished and deal with it later? (See above question re: editing.)

These questions are what I'm struggling with lately. I'm frustrated by simple advice like, "write for six hours a day." SIX HOURS?! What do you write for SIX HOURS a day? I type fast. I can write 1,000 words in under an hour. Are you saying write 6,000 words a day? Or are you saying spend six hours writing and revising, in which case, how much time do you spend writing, and how much time do you spend revising? And are you revising what you wrote that day or are you revising other things? Don't you get a little scrambled when you're working on so many things at once? I feel like my attention is constantly being demanded from my other stories when I'm trying to focus on one, like, what about that story that I've been wanting to write for a year and what about that novel that I never finished in November and what about this weird 30-pager I have that takes place in Appalachia and what about that stuff that I wrote for my thesis that I still still want to revise?

This is my mind.

Maybe this is my version of writer's block. Instead of nothing, instead of a void, there is too much of everything: too many words, too many stories, too many directions to follow.

Maybe I need a break. Or a bottle of wine.

 

(You can read more at my blog: www.awordfor.blogspot.com)

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Comments
  • Emily Lackey

    Thanks, Kerry! You are such an inspiration to me. You were one of the first people that I knew to declare proudly that you are a Writer and, more importantly, you are Writing A Novel. I think that was the first time that I thought, "Oh... you can... do that?" Seeing your determination and dedication really opened up an entire world of what writing could be in my life. Being a writer doesn't come from external validation, but from myself, and I will be forever grateful to you for that.

    Can we PLEASE have coffee next time I'm home?

    xo.

  • Kerina Pharr

    Great post, Emily! I've struggle with this quesiton myself on a regular basis. I have a bout of impostor syndrome every time I tell someone I'm a writer.

     

    But for me, the first step towards being a writer, was calling myself one. Before last year, when people asked me what I did, I would list my job title and give a basic description, but if I ever got the chance to explain what I really wanted to do, I would say, "be a writer."

     

    At some point I had to cross that metaphorical bridge and BECOME a writer. For me, this was making a dedication to my art, investing time, trying out that old mantra of writing every day, and also, telling EVERYONE who crossed my path that I was writing a book. Writing used to be a dream I kept tucked away in a box labeled "Things to get around to some day," on a shelf somewhere in my mind. Telling people that I was actively trying to write a novel and make myself into a "writer" was like making a promise out loud to myself.

  • Hallie Sawyer

    What I have found out is that there is not just one way to write. You will find tons of different methods. Some people suggest outlining first. Some say to just start writing and see where your characters lead you. Find out how you write best, outlining or by the seat of your pants. I think picking out some writing craft books are your best ally right now. But don't read too much or you will get even more overwhelmed. Writing is a lot like riding a bike. You have to keep practicing, getting your balance, steering, pedaling; it all has to take practice. Studying a book about riding a bike gives you an idea of what to do but until you actually try it, it doesn't make much sense. The more you get on that bike, the better rider you become.

    Practice makes...:) Look forward to hearing about your progress.

  • Emily Lackey

    Thanks for the link and resource ideas, Hallie! I appreciate it!

     

    www.awordfor.blogspot.com

  • Hallie Sawyer

    Hi there! I felt the same way you did. I was inspired by a book to start writing, did some research, then just opened my laptop and started typing. "Just write" is exactly what you should do. Don't edit right away, just let the words flow. However, if you feel the story heading in a direction that doesn't connect with your beginning, fix the beginning or whatever needs fixing, then go on again. There are so many sites out there that can help you! Check out http://www.writerunboxed.com at all of their advice posts as well as their blogroll. So many great resources! I think six hours a day is a bit much. Most people shoot for 1000-2000 words a day.

    The internet is chockfull of writing advice blogs to help you and don't forget your local library. I have found some wonderful advice books there as well. 

    Hope this helps!