Between Ninja Writers and the MFA program I just graduated from, I spend a lot of time surrounded by writers and by people who want to be writers. There is a definitely distinction between the people who want to write and the people who are writers.
Writers actually write regularly. Weird, right? There is no way around the fact that work makes the difference. Work is what will distinguish you from all the people you who will someday ask you what you do and respond to I’m a writer with, I’ve always wanted to write a book.
Let me start by giving you my definition of a writer. It’s simple. A writer is a person who writes regularly. A published writer is published. A new writer is aspiring. A good writer is amazing. A bad writer is learning.
They are all writers, as long as they write regularly.
Do you see the trick there? If you want to be a writer, you have to actually write.
Really wanting to be a writer, thinking about it a lot, planning on it, reading about it, even paying a boatload of money to study writing— none of those things make you a writer.
You have to actually write, and you have to do it regularly. Preferably, every day. A writer is a person with a writing habit.
Now that you know my secret, here’s how to actually do it.
- Choose your tools. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital (a computer) or analog (a notebook and pen or pencil.) Or be a super hipster and go to Goodwill and pick up a used typewriter. It doesn’t matter. Choose something that inspires you and that you’ll enjoy using very regularly. Mix it up if you want. I write on a laptop computer and in this notebook with this pen.
- Pick your place (but don’t be too precious about it.) Having a spot that’s your writing spot is a great thing. It can be an office at home or somewhere else, if you’re lucky. A table at Starbucks or the library works. I spend a lot of time writing in bed with a backrest pillow and a lap desk. It’s the only place where I have any hope at all that a closed door will be respected. Choose your spot — but don’t be so set in your ways that you can’t write anywhere else.
- Remember who the boss is. Hint: it’s you. Writing is a job and the only way to get to where your writing is a paying job is to treat it like it already is. So you’re the boss of YOUR NAME HERE, LLC. And the business of YOUR NAME HERE, LLC is to write books or short stories or blog posts or freelance articles or whatever it is that you want to write. Give yourself a schedule — even if it’s just a few minutes a day. Write it in your planner. In ink. And give it the same respect you’d give any other job schedule. Show up like you might be fired if you don’t. Show up like your rent payment depends on it.
- Make a note. Here’s maybe my number one tip. One of the biggest reasons people want to be a writer, but don’t actually write is that they don’t know know what to write. So they spend their writing time thinking or researching or second guessing themselves, instead of actually writing anything. So after every writing session, while your story is still fresh in your mind, write a note to yourself about what you’re going to write the next time.
- When you’re writing, write. This is actually something I really worked on in 2018. If your writing time is limited, turn off every distraction — music, TV, the Internet, your phone — put your fingers on the keyboard, and just type. Set a time for ten minutes (start with five if ten is too much for you at first) and just write. Don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. Distraction free, I can write 350 to 500 words in ten minutes. Do that two or three times a day and you’ll write a novel every 90 days.
- Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. I hate to be bossy, but I strongly advice that you find a way to write every single day. Make a very small goal for yourself — ten minutes a day works really well for me — and follow through. Meet that goal everyday. Get a calendar and give yourself a gold star for every day that you meet your goal. Avoid gaps.
- Bonus. Next time someone asks you what you do, tell them you’re a writer. But only if you’re actually writing. Regularly.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.