The Things I’ve Learned as a Writer
I have been writing professionally my whole life. I started out as a cub reporter for a local newspaper at the age of 18, went into media relations at 25 and brought my first book out at 36.You would think by now that I would be super confident in my ability to write. At times, I am, but many times I am not.
At the age of 50 and despite writing millions of words over my lifetime, I still sometimes get intimidated and think my writing is crap. I don’t think I’ll ever truly get over that and I believe it’s part and parcel of being a writer. However, there are things I have learned over the years that I wish the younger me had learned sooner and I’d like to tell you about these today.
Firstly, everyone thinks they can write and do a better job than many actual writers can. I do not know where this over confidence comes from, but it has been there throughout my career. It was blatant when I worked in Public Relations. There were always those, people who worked in other departments in non-writing roles, who thought they could write better than we could because in their minds writing was easy. They truly believed anyone could do it. They did not value the talents of the writers and actually voiced this publicly in meetings. Apart from being rude, it was ludicrous. Just like them we had trained for our jobs. All of us had been writing for many years; some were ex journalists like me and others had Marketing degrees. If you come across this, ignore them. They don’t know what they are talking about.
Anyway, back to my original point about everyone believing they can write. What I am going to tell you now is not a secret. However, going by the many articles I’ve read about how you can get rich quick by writing you would think everyone could do it. That secret is: not everyone can write. There are people for whom writing is not their thing. That’s fine. It’s just a fact of life. They will have talents elsewhere. So, if you are failing at writing, it could just be that it’s not for you.
Moving on. There is another phenomenon that occurs when you tell people you are a writer. This has happened to me many times. Once someone knows about it they will tell you they have always wanted to write, they have a great idea for a book, but just don’t have the time. Poppycock. If you want to write a novel, go ahead and do it.
Which takes me to my next point. This is one of the most important ones: make time to write. Schedule it in to your day and stick to it. If you don’t do this, you won’t write. Life will get in the way, someone will call to see if you’re available for a night out or there will be some big television series you want to watch and before you know it, it’s bedtime and the writing day has been lost.
You will only become a successful writer by putting the hours in. You need to hone your craft and you can only do that by writing. You may find that what you write at first is not great. All of us writers have terrible first books stashed away on a memory stick somewhere and I’d hate to read my first newspaper article. I’ve only improved by working at it over time and by writing every day.
My third point is a little controversial in the writing community, but I truly believe this is the only way to do it. Number three is you must plan your storyline or your article. Yes, there are successful writers out there who don’t do this, who are pantsers who open their laptop and six months later have a great book. These people are few and far between. My advice to writers and wannabe writers, including non-fiction and article writers, is to plan your writing. It does mean you take a little longer to get started, but it’s so much easier to write your piece after that. You know where you are going with the story and how it ends. All you’ve got to do now is show up and write.
Fourth, have faith in your ability to write and just do it. If you really, really want to be a writer. If it’s in you right down to your core, you will write. Start now, today. Practise writing every single day. Read everything and anything, even poor writing, because that is the way you learn about what makes a good story or article and what does not. Read books and articles about writing, there are some great ones out there including Save the Cat, Stephen King, The Writing Gals and Craig Martell’s writing books.
I was once asked by someone for some advice for her son who wanted to be a writer. I asked this lady if her son did any writing. She said no. My next question was about his reading habits and she told me he didn’t read. I then said to her that if he didn’t write and he didn’t read there was no way this boy could ever become a writer. He would never learn the trade if he didn’t immerse himself in it. She seemed saddened by what I said but could see the truth in it. Let’s face it, you can’t show up on a hospital ward in a white coat and claim to be a doctor if you haven’t done the training. So, why would you think you can be a writer without practising and learning about the craft?
Finally, don’t listen the to naysayers who poo-poo your desire to write. Ignore their sneers and laughter. They’ll be laughing on the other side of their faces when you become successful. My own family did not take my writings ambitions seriously until my children’s novel, DarkIsle, was taken up by a publisher. They never put down my ambition to be a writer, but they never actively read anything I’d written until that point. That’s okay because they are reading my stuff now.
So there you go, I have shared some wisdom on what I’ve learned about writing. Good luck. Writing is a hard business to crack, but with persistence and hard work you can do it.