I’m a writer, which, in short, means I treat writing like a job. Perhaps some of you out there don’t understand this concept or look at it in awe.
To me, writing is a job I never applied for.
It’s something that’s always been a part of my everyday life. Although I never succeeded at being a writer until my mid-to-late twenties, it took making a conscious decision to constantly put writing at the center or forefront of my day-to-day for me to start seeing traction in my writing efforts.
Until that moment, I was a floundering, starving artist who penned a page here or there that I thought was absolutely brilliant. Worse yet, other people thought so, too.
Friends, editors, and even some publishers told me how talented I was, and published my writing, but I knew that I wasn’t actually a writer — I was someone who was writing.
Many writers, or people who have a passion for writing, have a hard time seeing how to find the time to do the actual writing bit of writing. When I first started out, I was like that.
I wrote when I felt like it or when the moon struck me right. Years and years, I spent in this state of thinking I was doing something or moving somewhere in my career, when really, I was circling the drain on my own potential.
Commit to the Boring Stuff
We’ve all heard it before or probably even said it at one time or another: “I just can’t find the time.” To people on the outside, it may appear magical how writers who do “find” the time to create do what they do. For those on the inside, we know it’s far from magic.
What it comes down to is dedication and commitment. Not to the creative energies or the muses, you must commit to the day-to-day, the boring stuff, dedicating yourself to the high art of creation.
Your commitment and dedication must be so rock solid that on the worse, most boring of days when you’re strapped to a desk doing line edits or reworking a draft for the twentieth time, it does not waver or falter.
At some point, if you want to become a writer or any type of skilled creator, you have to make the hard choices that create the time for you to work. That means taking away some things you may enjoy, like playing games, sleeping in, going out, or lazing around on the couch.
All those things eat up time and, in some cases, even kill creativity. Dump those non-committal things, and focus on your work. My peers are fond of the saying:
“Butt in chair. Fingers on keys.”
Commit to your work. Commit to yourself. Commit to the time it will inevitably take to reach your publishing dreams.
When researching into famous authors who made their living off their craft because they were so damn good at it — all, not some, or a few, but all of them — sacrificed their leisure time and sleep to devote another moment to their craft.
Write Like Your Life Is On Fire
There’s a lot of advice and articles out there for writers about what to consider before you take the dive into writing, but honestly, none of that advice matters.
The most important thing to remember at the beginning is to write with the aim of getting better. That means finding great passages of description or characterization and rewriting or learning their tricks by any means necessary.
Write as much as you can, even if it’s just playing around with sentences. One of my favorite writing activities when I first started out was taking a line or passage from a favorite bit of writing and breaking it down into new passages that held the same oomph.
This taught me how the greats (and my favorites) did what they did. Beginning writers fall into the trap and mindset that simply writing will make them better. Writing will only make you write.
Focused and deliberate writing is the only way to make yourself better through writing.
This takes accessing your skills, strengths, and weaknesses in order to level up your craft through practice, prompts, and repetition.
Of course, read and read widely; consume whatever type of literature you can get your hands on. But during that reading, also be writing. Write about what you’ve read. Analyze the text. Question it. Expand upon it.
Don’t worry, though, none of that writing is for anyone but you and your future self.
If this type of focused writing scares you — good. Writing is scary. It will take you to scary places if you trust it to guide you. But you must be brave, dear writer, because not everything that is scary is bad for you.
Write so your body gets trained to put words down and your mind learns how to designate time to put those words down.
This period takes a different amount of time for different people. Some spend years in this phase of reading and writing and reading and writing and reading and writing. It’s an easy stage to also find yourself trapped in, and to think that this is the only stage or step to being a writer.
It’s not. Far from it.
Learn to Take a Punch
At a certain point, you have to leave the practice mat and hit the course running. That might be a mixed metaphor, but my point is, all of that writing and reading is only practice for the main hurdles of writing.
The shaping of a story into an evocative, powerful narrative is where being a writer takes over and leaves being a hobbyist in the dust.
Once you’re ready to start telling stories of your own, all that writing prep and literature consumption will show up in the way you choose to put your piece together. While not “really” writing, you’ll have Mr. Miyagi’d yourself into a lean, mean writing machine — while also developing your voice.
That elusive thing every editor and agent is looking for.
You’ll notice after this stage of reading, learning, and writing, that the words will flow from you as if they’ve just been waiting for you to give them permission to take form. Now, don’t be alarmed. They probably won’t be that great, but they’ll be better, and what you fudge in the first draft, you can take out in the wash of the second.
The best thing to do at this point is to continue writing. In fact, when in doubt, continue writing. Once you’re done with your pieces, read over them, edit, and critique them as though they were someone else’s words that you came across.
Be as objective and detached as possible. It’ll be easier to take the harsh criticism that is undoubtedly in your future.
Once you’ve written, edited, and molded your piece into the best shape you can, you’ll end up looking at it as a masterpiece.
Unfortunately, you’ll be dead wrong.
At this stage, you’re going to need to show your work to other people. Steer clear of close friends, family, and spouses. Sometimes even the smallest critique can cut like daggers when said by someone you care about.
The importance of ripping off the band-aid of outside critiques is simply to prepare you for the competitive and discouraging world of submitting for publication. I know so many writers who were committed to writing and being a writer, but once they got that first rejection, they hung up their ink and walked away.
Harsh Truth #666 of Writing: It doesn’t matter if you put your all into a work; sometimes, it’s just not a good fit for a publication.
All that commitment and dedication is great, but if you can’t take a critique or rejection, you’ll be out of this writing game before you know it.
Not every writer will respond well to these steps. Some writers will want to dive right into the last step and start submitting the first stories they write without any real edits or critiques from others.
Who knows, maybe those people will succeed. Maybe all the fame and glory will go to the unprepared.
Doubtful, but maybe.
Others will say that it takes more than these steps. They’ll be right. It takes so much work, time, and practice to get to the point of being a successful creator. These are simply the stages that worked for me and others.
If you’re looking for a group to teach you the writing ropes, check out my international writing group aimed at crafting better writers through direct instruction, craft exercises, professional insider tips, and more.