WARNING – this is not a ‘how to’. It merely contains thoughts and observations from direct experience.
If you’re like me you have wanted to be a writer for all your life. You have let a lot of other things get in the way – like life, for example, but always the inclination to write has been there.
There was a time in the early 1980’s when I tried to run away from being a writer. I threw away all my accumulated drafts and journals – a journal is a diary by another name because no self respecting writer will admit to keeping a diary – and I dedicated my time and energies to doing something practical for once in my life. It came with the territory, I suppose. I was studying business administration at the time.
The reason I gave up (or at least deferred) my dream was actually a pretty good one. I give myself kudos for deciding that I needed more experience at living before I could really write about it in a meaningful way. It was absolute bullshit, but it is exactly the sort of crap that other people, those who don’t write, could understand. For my parents, family and cadre of friends who were worried about me before, my choosing not to write even showed a remarkable level of maturity that I had never before exhibited.
Up to that point in my life I thought I had a handle on my overall direction. I studied mass communication, particularly radio and TV production, broadcast journalism, public relations and advertising. Then I studied marketing with the intention of becoming a professional media consultant or advertising copywriter. hat seems to be the best way to focus my creativity in a potentially productive way. I even dallied ay bit into taking some literature and creative writing courses as electives. By the way, if you want to write better, avoid creative writing classes, especially those that would be authors teach. You will suffer through each and ever instance of your instructor’s rejections.
What I learned very quickly was that just deciding not to write anymore and suddenly becoming practical was not the real answer to lifelong success and happiness. You see, writers really do not have much of a choice about being who and what we are. We may delay the inevitable but eventually we will write.
Now, I’m not saying everyone who professes to be a writer is a writer or even that most of those who are making valiant attempts at writing should be writing. After all, who am I to judge what is and what is not art? Right? I fully believe that a number of us – whatever that number is – were born with the inclination to be creative. Whether we become painters, sculptors, architects, police sketch artists, rock stars or Pulitzer prize winning authors, there are some people who are born to be different. They are gifted in some socially acceptable way. Also, I believe there is a little artistic ability in almost everyone but in most cases it really is suppressed early on in life and by the time one becomes an adult it is negligible if apparent at all.
The simple truth is that if you are destined to be artistic you figure that out sometime between pre-school and reaching puberty. Making the crucial decision of what to study or pursue as one’s life’s ambition may or may not be related to an honest self-appraisal. After all, around the time you are expected to make such decisions you are a bundle or nerves powered by unstable hormones and uncontrollable emotions. You are more concerned about that cyclops zit in the middle of your forehead and whether it will heal up in time for the school dance on Friday night. Considering a life-long calling when you’re a teen is, at best premature. However, I believe every artist has a inkling of what is ahead and those who are wise try like hell to avoid it if, in fact, they want to take the easier course.
Being artistic is painful more often than it is rewarding. . You see, artistic types are born a little more sensitive than so-called normal people. In fact most artists would consider being called normal a personal affront. Normal is like being average. Who in the hell wants to be average? I know I never did.
Still, at some point someone somewhere is going to figure out that sometimes you are able to see the world in an interesting way. If you are inclined to write, they see it in the way you construct a sentence and the words you chose in that memo that was sent to everyone in the department. The mere fact that your sentences have subjects verbs and objects along with appropriately positioned adjectives, adverbs and various other parts of speech is a dead giveaway. If they are really observant it is patent that your paragraphs are structured as well. It will come as a revelation to everyone else around the office. Instantly, you are labeled ‘a writer’ and become the de facto go-to person for proof reading anything important before it is sent out. Don’t expect any extra pay, though. After all, we all know – or at least those of us who have accepted our lots in life as writers – that being a writer is generally not a lucrative enterprise. Your ability to write will haunt your ass until finally you submit to the reality of your birth and write something with the intention of publishing it.
Now, that you have a better understanding of the avoidance mechanism and the futility of not writing for a writer you may wonder how do you become a better writer? How can you be good enough at the craft to be published?
First and foremost, how well you write has no direct correlation to wether you will be published. There are countless examples in evidence. If you are a celebrity for any other reason than your skill at writing you can and usually will have a book published, sooner or later. You don’t have to write it. If you are a journalist with a major newspaper, magazine or appear on one of the news networks, at some point, you may be expected to write a book. It helps establish your credentials as a subject expert. It will sell well enough because of your notoriety. That’s why publishers will take on such projects.
If you write fiction and happen upon a storyline that attracts attention in the prevailing pop culture, your book may be published regardless of how much professional plastic surgery, a.k.a. editing, must be performed in advance of printing. And you will become a celebrity because of the popularity of your book, not the quality of the material you write. At that point it becomes irrelevant whether anything you write is good or not. For a while anything with your name on it will sell. You will have established a brand and as long as there is demand in the marketplace you will be successful.
For the rest of us schlubs, writers in quest of the elusive prize winning, bestselling novel, it actually is important to become a better than mediocre writer. You need to develop a voice in your fiction, hone your skills as a storyteller and, moreover, learn how to entertain a reader with a piece of literature that will hold attention from start to finish. If you want to write that kind of book, the page-turner that produces spontaneous insomnia, you have to start by becoming an avid reader of fiction in whatever genre you enjoy. You see, if you like reading a particular sort of story chances are that’s the one you will be most comfortable in writing.
The secret to becoming a better writer is no secret at all. There is no right or wrong way about doing it or arriving at the end of a long, arduous journey. There is no certain level of experience required, just the ability to express what your senses provide, set in words that any reader can appreciate. If you can make a reader see with your eyes, hear, feel, touch and taste through your wiring, you will have mastered your craft. Does that mean you’ll be successful? No, but it means you will succeed at your objective, writing better. You will acquire a following because readers enjoy the experience of sharing fictional escapades that spare them the excruciating tedium of modern existence that is watching reality TV, or worse, 24/7/365 news babble.
If you are truly an artist who writes, having someone read what you have labored over and not only appreciate it but also enjoy the journey is all you want or expect. When you arrive at that point, you will be an author. Nothing else will matter, at least until this months bills arrive in the mailbox.
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