How to Become a Writer

writer

It all starts with a different perspective, an understanding that you are, in some way, the Other.

Maybe it starts when your mother, then the thrall of your two-year-old whims, reads the same five books to you every day for three months on end. Pre-school is a better option, the psychiatrist says. How soon can he get in?

Maybe it starts in kindergarten when you raise your hand and tell the teacher you’re disgusted with being forced to read baby books that contain just one word per page. Red, green, doggy, kitty, who gives a shit? When are we going to read real books? you demand to know.

To which your wonderful, inspiring teacher replies, You can’t read real books.

So you pull the biggest book you can find off the shelf and prove her wrong.

Maybe it starts in the library where your teachers now allow you to go for hours of class time because you keep testing one or two points under “gifted”, but they still don’t know what to do with you. Greek Mythology looks interesting. There are naked people, after all, and heroes with swords. So you read every scrap of paper in that place, transported, as Bradbury would say, to other worlds, to parallel universes.

By the third grade, you weep for Hera, for whom you’re carrying a bit of a torch because Zeus never treated her the way you imagine Arthur must have treated Guinevere.

By your third decade, you weep to think of the library replaced by a glowing square wherein all the words in the world are intact, but Bradbury’s portal to the stars has been severed forever.

Maybe it starts when reading all those Lloyd Alexander books inspires you to write your first real short story. And hopefully it doesn’t end when you enter it in the 6th grade academic faire, and the judges call your parents to accuse them of foul play. There’s just no way your son wrote this on his own, they say. But your parents back you, stand firm. So the contest judges give you an honorable mention and award the Language Arts prize to a trio of girls who wrote and illustrated a baby book. Red, green, doggy, kitty…

Maybe this is where you pick up your loathsome habit of constantly correcting incompetent teachers, professors, political figures… After all, the world would be Narnia with a side of Idun’s apples if someone would just listen to you, right?

Maybe, as you develop further, it all lays dormant within you. There are other outlets. The sports teams you join solely to impress your father. The video games that tug at your imagination in ways that stories once did. Your early musings on girls, who can’t possibly be comprised of flesh and blood (and make-up and accessories!), but must by literary definition be fair, otherwordly, magical.

Not romance, but Romanticism. Not glamor, Faerie Glamour.

Life happens. Still, perhaps the need to write is rekindled by the realization of your continued idolization of characters that could never be, and your steadfast beliefs in wondrous things that never were.

Somehow it is—it must be—rekindled.

Maybe it’s fanfiction that gets the gears grinding again. Maybe it’s bad breakup poetry that would make your English teacher weep for all the wrong reasons. Maybe it’s NaNoWriMo.

Maybe it’s a blog.

What it is doesn’t matter so much as what you do with it, for here the path splits. Either you write in isolation for a time, with no audience in mind, merely to hear the sound of your own voice, or you write to try and impress. Your choice. There’s no right path or wrong path now, no high road or low road. You’re going to be here awhile because Robert Frost sold you an odious lie—writers can’t just choose the road less traveled by.

Crossroads-in-the-woods2

Without a voice, no writer can be heard. Without an audience, no writer can be heard. The writer must therefore take both paths, see every milestone through, and hopefully learn something of metaphor along the way.

For some, there will come a time of purple prose, spurred on by examining too closely the writing styles of your chosen pantheon of pen-wielding paragons. (You want to be a writer, so I assume you’re reading something worthy of examination.) For others, there will come a time of unmetered verse, spurred on by focusing too deeply on the expression of your proven pantheon of poets.

You will doubt yourself a writer when you examine your works of three months past and feel only shame.

Maybe this is where you go to college and study English while dealing with the general perception that you’re studying a language that you speak because you have failed famously at every other endeavor in your life.

Or maybe this is where you try to quit. It’s easier to make a living at almost anything else, you realize. And such beastly competition about it. Maybe you’re not a writer at all, but a man of action.

Maybe this is where reality rattles you.

But you won’t quit. Writing is something you do. It isn’t your choice. You’re an Other, remember? You have perspective. And besides, your opinionated nature is driving your spouse crazy and turning your children into perfect cynics. Here, a notebook! they say. Now go away!

This might be the part where your mind, which has to analyze anything, everything, nothing, will ponder how a relationship can be strengthened by space. You’re not going to figure it out, though. No one ever has. This frustrates you, so you begin doing the only thing in your power—writing. Writing!

You are the master of your own illusionary world.

Somehow, out of this bowed, blank screen; out of these dull, black letters, a voice will emerge. It will resonate. You will know it for your own. You will sound your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Someone might even hear it.

And that issue you were writing about? You realize that when you apply it to an audience, when you stop writing in a vacuum, it becomes an idea.

How to become an author, you ask? That’s a different topic. Rostand wrote that love is a lottery. When it comes to loving one’s words, I agree with him entirely.

And when it comes to taking that next step, Rostand would doubtless agree with this, my new favorite image of all time:

pen-sword

 

21 Comments

Filed under Education, Family, Fantasy, My Writing, Publishing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing

21 responses to “How to Become a Writer

  1. Oh, I understand this so completely. In my first year of school I once put my hand up and told the teacher I was bored. That got me quite the rollicking, I can tell you. And later on I’d be getting ticked off for seaking out to read ahead in the reading scheme books we had – because they had flying horses in and I wanted to know what *happened*.

    Sometimes, though, what happens is you get a crappy older childhood and adolescence which forces you to put in your ten thousand hours simply to escape from your everyday life; and you end up in your thirties with a strong voice, but always seeking a reason to speak. I’m working on remembering on how to write just because it’s such fun.

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    • I think you’ve hit on something important. Writing should be fun. Without that sense of entertaining yourself, it’s damn near impossible to entertain others. I think this is why people who fly through school writing academically struggle with fiction.

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  2. TAE

    So one becomes a writer by writing?
    I wonder if one becomes an author by writing something to the end…

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  3. For the first half of this I was sure, somehow, you’d been watching me since I was born and making notes. Spooky.

    I used to correct my teachers…and take strange pleasure with the bitterness on their face when they handed me my “A”.

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  4. Reblogged this on CJCLeach and commented:
    This deserves reblog after reblog….fantastic piece. Suck in the wisdom and move on, the richer for it.

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  5. Awesome! I think the line between writer and author really starts to coalesce with the first time you read something that you borderline despise and you consciously realize: hey, *that* got published and *I* can do better than that. That’s where it begins, that first acknowledgement of confidence, no matter how fleeting and fickle it may be as you actually start to chase down that golden ring.

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    • I have that feeling every day, Michael. Every single day. It’s called Twilight.

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      • Even worse: Fifty Shades of Grey. An entire trilogy that began life as Twilight fanfic, and now there’s pallets of them stacked in the ‘book’ aisle of every Wal-Mart across the country, competing for valuable retail space with Amish-themed romances. I still can’t begin to process that without delicate wisps of smoke wafting up from my ears. It’s either shrink-wrapped S & M, or a big ol’ pile of bodice rip . . . er, adjusters. (Now I want to hug Amazon.)

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      • Consider the retail location. Most Wal-Mart shoppers read at about the sixth grade level because most Americans, sadly, read at the sixth grade level. Given that they could be watching reality TV instead of reading smut, let us at least be thankful that the written word is involved.

        Knowing what little I know about you from your blog, that isn’t your audience anyway.

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  6. vam

    Reblogged this on verum intus, fulsi vacuus and commented:
    There is truth in it, even if not the whole thing !

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  7. Thank you. I needed this.

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  8. Thank you, I needed this.

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  9. petit4chocolatier

    Well written.

    I hope you don’t mind if I reblog your link on my reblog page?

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  10. I didn’t have a nice childhood. I was unhappy with my life so I was writing about things that I would have liked to happen to me. I was inventing a different reality on paper, whenever I was exhausted with my own reality. It felt pathetic back then, I was ashamed of it but now I realize this saved me from becoming a very screwed up adult. I have been writing since I was 6. I have started showing it to people 2 years ago, when I was 30. When you are a writer, you write because you have to. It is an urge, a necessity.

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