It’s a common question: “How do I become a writer?”
The quick and easy response is “Write.” Just write. Keep writing until you get bloody good at it, and then write some more.
But the best answer, really, depends on what kind of writer you want to become. What’s your definition of “a writer?”
Minus the specifics, all writers have to do pretty much the same things, especially when they first start out. So if you’re a beginner—and even if you’re not—get started or rev things up with these 10 tips.
1. Read a lot.
This is the #1 rule for all writers, but it’s especially true for non-native English writers. If you don’t read, you can’t write. The two are inseparable.
When you’re exposed to good writing on a regular basis, you learn the language of writing. You absorb ideas for expressing yourself, you feed your creativity, and you see the possibilities.
Plus, the act of reading imprints language on your brain. Many writers have excellent grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills even if they can’t explain the rules. It’s especially helpful if you pay close attention to your challenge areas, like prepositions or subject-verb agreement.
What should you read? It’s all up for grabs: novels, poems, short stories, blogs, newspapers, online news sources, non-fiction books, song lyrics, signs, and cereal boxes. In other words, read everything. This freelance writer learned to write just by reading newspapers diligently.
And if you don’t love reading, why would you want to write? Think about that.
2. Write a lot.
Writing regularly runs neck and neck with reading in the importance department. But don’t plod along writing the same old thing the same old way. That’s like training to be an Olympic gymnast or figure skater and never learning more than one kind of jump or spin.
As you write, take time to learn something new and improve your skills. Start with this fab list: Craft And Technique Tips For All Writing Genres
3. Decide what to write
What interests you? Whether you envision yourself as the writer of a best-selling novel or as a successful freelance writer, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Want to start a blog? Try a search with keywords like “blog niches” and peruse the results. Here’s a good list of topic ideas: 50 Successful Blogs in Every Topic Imaginable
If you’re not sure of your writing interests, be a generalist for practice and write whatever comes to mind. Describe the day’s events and pour out your joys and frustrations. Write vivid descriptions of people you know, strangers you see, landscapes, your home town—write about anything that captures your attention and imagination.
You could even try writing helpful articles even if you’re not ready for publishing. Ask supportive friends to give constructive feedback. Or try writing exercises like these:
4.Create a writing outlet
Like painters need sketchbooks and canvas, writers need a place to write their words. Start a blog, buy a journal, download a journal or diary app, or set up a writing practice folder on your desktop PC or mobile device. Use your favorite word processing app, and save each document (you might want to date them) so you can be proud of your progress later on.
And why not start a blog? It doesn’t have to be fancy or even public. It could be something simple that you share with friends and family.
5. Make writing a habit.
Even if you don’t have an obligation to write—no blog post or assignment deadline, no novel in progress—write anyway.
Set aside a certain time every day and stick with it. The goal is to be regular and make writing your priority. You want to be a writer? Then write. Writing is what makes you a writer just like running makes you a runner.
And don’t be afraid to make entries short sometimes. Even if you only write for 15 solid minutes each day, that still counts as regular practice.
What to write? Jot down your thoughts and ideas, headlines for articles, or ideas for creative writing. You might have some strong opinions about social issues or political figures. Why not write a few paragraphs on the most annoying US presidential candidate? Or your favorite? Check out Tip #3 for more ideas.
6. Tackle specific writing problems.
If you’re not sure how to improve your writing, ask a friend or someone you trust. Or take a good look at writing you know is good. How does yours compare? What’s missing?
7. Expand your knowledge and general skills.
What’s your fascination? What turns you on or lights your fire? Become an expert by reading everything you can find.
Want to write historical romances? Study your favorite period of history and read the novels written at that time. Good information isn’t hard to find. Try searching with (for example) “victorian age history” and “victorian literature.”
How about becoming a famous blogger? Learn how. Follow the pros, like Darren Rowse over at Problogger. Or check out Quicksprout’s How to Start a Blog in 12 Easy Steps. Lars Lofgren gives you everything you need to know, from choosing a category to building an audience and monetizing.
And if personal essays are more your thing, read them. Learn how to write them. Want to write a novel? Pick through the endless amount of information available online, read, rinse, and repeat. Start here, and be sure to check out the wealth of information on the NaNoWriMo site. NaNoWriMo takes place in November, but the organization offers other free programs, like Camp NaNoWriMo.
8. Take on challenges.
Compete with a friend on daily word counts. Exchange short stories or articles with friends for editing. Try your hand at poetry. Decipher complicated song lyrics and try to figure out what they mean (do some research). Watch a film and read the book it’s based on to compare (reading reviews will help get you started). Try One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Write non-stop for an hour. Try flash fiction or writing with photo prompts. Enter contests. Write 1000 words and include 10 words you don’t normally use (consult a thesaurus). Take that same 1000-word piece and cut it down to 800 words. Use your imagination!
9. Hang out with other writers.
Look. If most of your friends aren’t much more than drinking pals or coffee klatchers who gossip, talk about TV shows, or bitch about the unfairness of life, what does that say about you? Don’t you think they’re influencing you?
Here’s the truth of the matter: If you don’t have friends or family members who share your goals, who lift you up, and who support you or cheer your efforts, you’re on a lonely road as a writer.
But how do you find other writers? Plenty of options exist online, for starters. Try searching with keywords like “online writing communities.” Here are my results; yours will differ.
10. Understand that writing is work.
Writing isn’t always fun, and there’s nothing glamorous about it.
Whether you’re a fiction or non-fiction writer, you might spend hours, days, and even months doing research. You’ll write countless query letters, deal with criticism, face rejection, wrestle with tech issues, or struggle with accounting and taxes.
Novelists regularly agonize over revisions that take months or even years. Freelance writers struggle to keep money in the bank or the kids fed. Poets rarely earn a living through their verses; they do some other kind of writing as well or have a day job.
In an ideal world, you’d have a supportive family, loving friends, good health, nerves of steel, and a never-ending desire to learn. A bottomless bank account helps, too, or a spouse or partner who pays the bills. And time! How about 48 hours in a day instead of 24?
The ideal world, unfortunately, is rarely a reality, so you’ll have to make the best of what you’ve got. And that’s plenty, so get started!
What tips can you add? Don’t be shy. Speak your mind in the comments.