How to become a writer

The simplest and most direct was to become a writer is to write. There is no magic in this, no secret handshake, you just need to be able to write, to tell stories that capture an audiences imagination. Writing is unlike almost any other profession in that there are no tests to pass, no licenses to gain.

To be a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a veterinarian you have to take tests (to say nothing of plenty of schooling). To be a teacher, requires being certified in some form or another. To be an engineer or architect all require some form of testing and licensing. The same is true if you want to be a pilot.

But it takes only two things to be a writer: practice and persistence. In that sense, becoming a writer is a lot more like becoming a professional baseball player than, say, a doctor, lawyer, pilot or architect.

How does one practice being a writer? You write. For me, I write stories, but for you it might be articles, essays, novels, poetry. I practice by writing a story and seeing if that story works. How do I see if the story works? I send it off to place that publishes the type of stories I write and see what kind of response I get. I know it works if, eventually, I sell the story. I say “eventually” because not every story works for every editor and just because it doesn’t work for one editor doesn’t mean it won’t work for another. So if the story comes back, I practice licking a stamp and sending it out again.

Well, not quite. Occasionally a story will come back with helpful feedback from the editor. In this case, I consider the feedback carefully. I try to learn from it. I may even make changes to the story before I sent it out again. But I do send it out again. And again. Until it sells.

Meanwhile, I keep practicing. I write more stories, applying what I’ve learned and hopefully, improving a bit each time. Often I will try something in a new story that I’ve had difficulty with before, attempting to overcome the difficulty head-on. For instance, I had a lot of trouble writing shorter stories, say, less than 5,000 words. So I last year I attempted writing several stories at this length. And guess what? I managed to sell one of them!

Like baseball, writing can require coaching. It can also require working out with your teammates. Both of these are worthwhile endeavors since too often writing is a lonely business. What is the coaching equivalent for a writer? Find a workshop or join a writers group. The sense of community is invaluable and you will eventually find people with more skill and experience than you possess to give you pointers. Make friends with other writers. They become your teammates, cheering you on. They’ll read your stories and critique them and you will do the same for them. This is the writer’s equivalent of tossing around a baseball.

But the key is practice, practice, practice. Keep writing whatever it is that you right. Do so especially on those days when you feel you are just not making any progress. Don’t give up. This is where persistance comes in. As a writer, you may not have to take any tests or obtain any licenses, but you must be persistent. You must be able to learn to love rejection slips.

All of this boils down to a simple shampoo bottle set of instructions: Write. Submit. Repeat.

The wonderful thing about being a writer is that unlike almost any other profession, the day you decide you want to be a writer, you essentially are a writer. Maybe not a published writer yet, but you can call yourself a writer. And if you practice and you are persistent, you’ll get there.


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