Monday, January 13, 2014

On Being a Writer

"Writing", and being a "Writer", is often a topic of discussion. How does it work? How do you do it? How do you know?

I'm fairly confident at this point that I'm a writer. I tell people "Yes, I write. Short stories, books. Speculative fiction mostly, nothing too literary. No, no vampires. No, nothing published." I actually met a member of a local writing group yesterday, and our very brief conversation was also very fun. Maybe I'll get to join one sometime, what with my spandy new 9-5 schedule?

But anyway. I can lay out a few simple steps to Being a Writer. In my opinion, anyway, as things posted in this space are.

1. You have to write. Many many people are in love with the idea of writing. Sometimes they  make gestures at it, or did at one time. But if you're not writing, and have never written, it's hard to be considered a writer. It's a common recommendation to write every day, if only a little. A lot of people do writing exercises to "limber up", and then work on specific projects. Set goals. Take a drink. Play around, have fun. If you're writing, do it for yourself first. Write what you love, write what excites you. Nobody needs to see anything you're doing in these nascent stages. You are your audience, please yourself.

2. You have to read. Read what you've written. Read in your genre. Read about writing (very meta, I know). Read other writer's stuff. Imagine yourself a squeezed-out sponge, ready to absorb. Now absorb. Learn. Think about themes, motifs, characters, games. Things that work, things that might not. Things you hate to see when you're reading. Things you love to do when writing. This is your meditation, this is your knife sharpening, find your zen. Take a drink.

3. Edit. Read what you wrote and thing of how to make it better. Take a drink. Remove instances of the word "that", if they are superfluous. Check your references, adjust your symbolism, make sure your straight lines are in fact as straight as you'd like them to be. Measure your angles. Are character names consistent throughout? Do you know who is speaking when? If you removed something, is that consistent throughout?

4. Get your writing out there. Get other people to read. Get their comments, and don't fight with them about it even if you disagree strongly. This can be the scary part. A lot of people talk about the terror of the blank page; I think about the terror of strange eyes on my words. Everything is perfect until an outside mind destroys your house of cards. That, and what will they think of the story? What will they think of me? Take a drink. Revisit 3. Return to 4. Some people on Absolute Write do a thing called Write 1/Sub1, where they write a story, submit a story, etc. etc. Michael Seese submitted a story every day for a month, last year. This requires a lot of courage. This requires a thick skin, an armor of thorns. Criticism hurts. Rejection hurts. Both help.

5. Profit. The definition of this varies wildly. If your submission gets accepted, you get a publication credit. You may get paid actual money. Take a drink. You will have eyes on your work, strange eyes you've never met. Some people will love it. Some people will hate it. Some people will want more. You will grow as a writer. You will be encouraged to do more, do better. Return to 1. Take a drink. Begin again.


  1. Take a drink. Begin again. That about sums up where I'm at. :-) I really intended to start the next book over the Christmas break, but the cancer diagnosis sort of threw me off track. But I'm ready to get back at it now.

    1. I think throwing you off track is entirely valid! I'm glad to hear you're ready to get back to it, though. I've felt, when dealing with things (granted, I've never had a diagnosis), writing can really help.

  2. I like having strange eyes on me - sorry - on my work. I write for that thrill. or maybe I'm a massive contradiction because it also scares the hell out of me :D

    Nice little rundown of what it means to be a writer. I particularly like the first couple ... you have to actually write and you ahve to actually read, because everyone else and their grandmother is in love with the idea that they're a writer!

    1. I think we're all contradictions! Introverted extroverts, etc. I think the creative process is on one hand so very private, and on the other designed to be public. It boggles the mind.