Over the past five years, I’ve written more than 10 books and worked with close to a hundred writers to help them take steps toward their writing goals.
These days, I meet people all the time who asking themselves questions like, “am I a real writer?” and “what does it really mean to be a writer? and “is this even worth it?”.
This is what I tell them.
1. Don’t discount your validity as a writer because you don’t have a bunch of training.
The best writers I’ve known and worked with in my career are not the most highly trained. Not even close. In fact, sometimes the highly “trained” authors have an even harder time getting their authentic voice to come through on the page. They’re focused too much on poetic language and perfect grammar.
Like the guy who recites his entire resume to you on the first date. Trying too hard.
Not so attractive.
No, the best writers I’ve known in my life—the ones who are leaving a long-lasting imprint the souls of the people who are reading—are the writers who are willing to say things nobody else is willing to say, who are willing to play with words, play with ideas, to practice, to let their minds wander and guess and ask big questions.
Those are the best writers I’ve known.
So the fact that you don’t have some prestigious degree from some prestigious university doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer. Let that old idea go. There is only one prerequisite for being a writer: to write.
So what are you waiting for?
2. Forget being so disciplined with your writing.
Stop trying so hard to carve out an hour of uninterrupted time seven days a week in a peaceful setting to sit down to your computer and write something profound. Eventually, if you decide to make writing a profession, you may have to do this. But for now, think of your little inner artist like a timid child.
You’ll have to coax her to come out and play.
When you wake up in the morning and you had a weird dream the night before, grab a pen and just write it down.
Two sentences. Five words. Three minutes. Just play.
Don’t take it all so seriously.
When you’re driving and some random idea comes to you and you’re not sure how or if it will ever fit with anything else you’ve written, grab your phone and voice record it. Don’t worry about making it cohesive or making it fit. Just write it down.
Write down that weird mixture of words that comes upon you while you’re in the shower, or that thing your kid says that strikes you as quite profound for a 4-year-old. Write it all down. Write in tiny fits and bursts, and then, when you feel a surge of motivation to write something longer, capitalize on that.
Forget scheduling long swaths of time to write—for now. Try to nurture and cultivate your desire to write. Tell yourself it’s worth it. Flirt with it a little bit. Woo yourself to write. See if that’s more effective than beating your little writing self into disciplined writing-schedule submission.
3. Read as much as you write.
It always strikes me as odd when I meet people who would love to write books but say they don’t read books.
If you want to be a writer, you should be consuming books the way a runner consumes carbs. Seriously. This is your fuel, your lifeline, the food your mind will feed on to create your own work. Think of a baby—how many thousands of hours of language input come before he or she can ever have a coherent output.
This is you. You need so much input. Be excessive about this. Carry a book with you everywhere. Read all the time.
When I meet a writer who is “blocked” the first thing I tell them is to read more. Go to movies. Take a walk. Go do something luxurious or restful or fascinating. As Julia Cameron calls it, fill the well. When you send the bucket down and it comes up empty, the solution is not complicated.
The bucket is empty because the well is empty. Reading fills the well.
Ultimately, whether you become a “serious” writer or just do it casually, I hope you’ll keep writing. Research shows those who write regularly are more likely to have happy relationships, thriving careers and even to be physically healthy.
Hope that helps. Happy writing!