I love complaining about it. I love reading about it. I love hearing about others do it but most of all, I love doing it myself. If you can’t tell, I’m talking about writing. It’s more than just a hobby for me – it’s a major part of my life and my identity. I practice if not every day then certainly most days and the fear of losing my work is so ingrained that even writing this now my hand automatically jumps to ‘ctrl + s’ after every sentence, even though that’s not the right shortcut for WordPress. I’m lost without a project to work on and I really can’t imagine not writing, which is why it always kind of surprises me when people tell me they’d like to be writer.
I don’t know about the dictionary definitions, but to me, a ‘writer’ and an ‘author’ aren’t quite the same things. I see a ‘writer’ as anyone who writes, no matter what is it, and an ‘author’ as someone with a published book of some form. So all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors. I mention it now because I’m not saying it’s people who want to be an author who surprise me – it’s a perfectly understandable goal – but it’s people who want to be a writer.
“I’d like to be able to write.”
“I’d like to write someday.”
“I’d like to take a class in the future.”
On the surface, this is perfectly innocuous, but it’s always bothered me a little and I’ve never known what to say. Obviously, I want to encourage as many people as possible to write because it’s the best and you can never have too many writer friends and so usually I just smile and say “yeah, go for it!” but I wanted to put down all the things I end up wishing I’d said later and share them because writing isn’t just as simple as “yeah, go for it!”
- Don’t say ‘like.’ If you’re serious about your desire to write, sound it. Saying you’d ‘like’ to write makes it sound like a casual whim, which it might be, but try changing the words. Try saying “I want to write,” because writers don’t just ‘quite like’ writing, they want and need to do it. Admitting you ‘want’ to do something is going to make you more likely to do it.
- Don’t stall. Unlike lots of artistic hobbies, writing doesn’t cost much. Even if you don’t have a word processor you’ve almost certainly got pen and paper and that’s really all you need, so cost is absolutely no excuse here. Don’t get sucked into thinking you need some big fancy writing software like Scrivener to begin. Start with what you have and see where you go from there. You really don’t need to take a course, unless you desperately want to. Also, writing doesn’t have to take a lot of time. If you’re learning a musical instrument you need to play a song all the way through, but with writing, you can take it a sentence at a time. Even if you’re just doing a sentence a day you’re writing and therefore a writer, even if progress will be slow, so time isn’t an excuse either. When I say “yeah, go for it,” I’m always wondering why they haven’t already.
- Don’t expect to be good. At least, not at first. Writing isn’t the sort of thing you can just pick up in a few weeks, but if you enjoy it and have a real passion for it, that won’t matter. We’ve all seem amateur’s artwork or heard someone who’s just picked up an instrument so when you begin another sort of artistic hobby it’s easy to understand that everyone starts at a low level, but unless you’re familiar with fanfiction you might not have read much amateur writing. It’s easy to feel bestselling authors simply picked up a pen one day and out came millions of sales, but nothing could be further from the truth. It takes years of hard work to get to that level, so just have fun learning to write and don’t compare yourself. Thinking you can just start with no experience and write perfectly is not only arrogant but disrespectful to the people who spend years honing their craft.
- Don’t think you know it all. Eleven-year-old me was similar to present-day me in that neither of us enjoys being told we’re wrong or what to do, but I’ll never forget when my friend said I should include a subplot in my book I was attempting to write. That probably sounds silly now, but at the time I was pretty cocky about the writing skills I had been cultivating for a grand total of six weeks and while I understood the concept once she explained, I’d never heard of the term. Not only did I decide sub-plots were the best part of anything and instantly throw in about three but I learnt even people who don’t really enjoy writing still have useful information. Now I’m older I know that I’ll never know everything about writing and quite rightly too. Striving to improve is an important part of writing.
This all might sound rather severe to someone just casually interested in learning and I don’t want to put anyone off. Writing is fun and freeing and you certainly don’t have to sit down with a stone face and commit yourself to following the writing path to enlightenment. Write however you want, as arrogantly and with all the skill of the amateur as you like if it makes you happy. I didn’t write this to tell newbies what to do – even after seven years since I first started I still consider myself a novice – but rather to challenge those who idly dream of starting and never quite get there. I want people to know what they’re getting into and know that it’s hard work and enormously rewarding and then I want them to stop putting it off and go do it, because everyone is capable of being a good writer with little (or a lot) of work and even if that’s not your goal, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. I love it.