So You Want To Be A Writer

Things you can do to start getting your write on.

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Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Have you ever read an article here and thought to yourself “I could never do that”? Do you have a great idea for a book but don’t think you could do it? I’m here to tell you that you can!

Infomercial pitch aside, I’m a believer that anyone can write. Not everyone can write professionally, and not everyone can make money at it, but at a bare minimum, anyone can put ideas into words and make a document.

Thanks to the magical power of The Internet™, anybody can publish any old thing on a blog or Amazon. It doesn’t mean people will read it, but it also doesn’t mean you won’t land a book deal. Look at 50 Shades of Grey.

So, you’ve been bitten by the writing bug, and you want to start writing stuff. Maybe you’re writing a novel. Maybe you’re writing articles. Maybe your passion is mid-century plumbing manual reproductions. Whatever it is, you need to get your process going.

What follows are some tips that I use in my professional career as a writer. They have served me well for the decade that I have been writing professionally, and I hope you can find some use for them.

Are you more comfortable writing in a coffee shop? In bed? On the couch? With music or no? Morning? Day? Night? Laptop? Tablet? Vintage typewriter? Fountain pen?

Figure out where, when, and how you like to write. There is no place or way to write that is universally inspiring. I know people who thrive in an office but hate coffee shops. I’ve spent a huge chunk of my career writing to music, but I had a boss who likes to write in silence.

Whatever space you choose to write in, make it yours. If you have a designated space, like an office or spot in your home, set it up to optimize your productiveness. If you like to have everything neatly organized, do that. If you need a rotating cast of POP! Vinyl figurines, do that. If you write in a coffee shop and need to wear your cat-ear headphones to concentrate, do that.

It doesn’t have to be every day, necessarily, but regularly. I keep standard office hours during the week and write when I feel on the weekend, including sometimes not writing at all. Your hours can be whatever you want them to be, from before dawn to late at night.

Keeping a schedule helps you be more productive. I have a noisy muse, which can be helpful with coming up with ideas for articles, but not everyone does. Being ready to write at the same time helps that muse find you a bit easier.

Be careful of what space you pick, though, because you will start getting creative in that space by reflex. I have an office at work, and I have a designated spot at home where I do most of my writing. Being in those spots increases my creativity. Unfortunately, if that spot is your bed, you may find yourself missing sleep because you keep getting killer ideas before bedtime and have to get them out.

The key to writing is to actually write. If you have an idea, go for it. If you’ve got a list of ideas, pick one or two and start from there.

If you haven’t been trained in writing, it will be bad at first. Keep it up. Don’t expect instant results, just keep practicing. Practice makes you better — perfection is a myth. Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good enough.”

Figure out a system and style that works for you. Maybe you outline your pieces (like I did with this one). Maybe you just write stream-of-consciousness (like I do for most of my articles). Maybe you prefer factual technical writing. Maybe you’re good at iambic pentameter.

Do whatever you’re good at, and then do whatever makes you happy. If you are good enough at one aspect to make money, pursue it, but don’t let it stop you from doing other things as well. I write grants for a living and write articles here. The former pays the bills; the latter fuels my soul.

This seems obvious, but keeping ideas in an easily-accessible place will help you keep your writing going. I like Google Docs because I can access it from my phone and update it on multiple devices, and it backs up to the cloud. You may like to keep a physical notebook. Form doesn’t matter here.

Once you get rolling, you will have more ideas than you know what to do with, and they don’t all work out, so don’t be discouraged if they don’t all come to something. My “ideas” folder is regularly 6–15 items long, and that’s with regular publishing. I’ve got ideas that have been languishing in that folder for months. I’ve also had articles that went from initial idea to published piece in under an hour.

Nobody can be expected to know every single grammar rule. When I took a college editing course, the comma section by itself was half the punctuation chapter. I have a bad habit of abusing commas since there are so many rules, so I use an editor.

Whether you have a person review your work or use a spell-checker, using an editor will improve your writing. I use Grammarly for my articles since that’s a one-man show, but my professional work is proofread by at least one or two people before it goes out.

You can’t be expecting to produce fully-formed and polished pieces on the first go, even if you’ve been doing it for years. You will make mistakes, and you will look back at your early work and be embarrassed by those mistakes. Edit your stuff.

A huge part of writing is learning from your mistakes and other people’s examples and refining your work. There are a variety of ways to do this:

  • Read other people’s stuff. Mimicking a style is a good way to develop your voice. My favorite authors growing up were Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchet, and I borrow aspects of both of their tones for my writing.
  • Have people read and comment. This may mean subjecting your friends to your writing. Listen to their criticism. Don’t brush it off. Pay an editor if you have to (and can). Download Grammarly (or a similar tool) regardless.
  • See where your editor (live or digital) corrects you the most, and strive to improve that. Recognizing common mistakes is the first step to fixing them.
  • Figure out your strengths and weaknesses. Build on your strengths and improve your weaknesses. They may always be weaknesses, but you can make them less weak.

Writing is one of the most accessible forms of creation. Even a basic grasp of the language can enable you to create marvelous works. Green Eggs and Ham is a literary classic, and it contains exactly 50 unique words, most of them one syllable.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll be an award-winning author or journalist, but I hope that these tips for getting started with writing are helpful. Go forth and write!

Written by

Living with and talking about mental illness in an open, honest way to help break down stigma. I was one of those suicidal kids you read about. He/him/his.

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