People are always telling aspiring writers that they need to sit down and write. Write every day. I say that, too. Every week, I conclude this blog with “Now go write.” But you might be wondering “Write what?” Some days I wonder that, too.
If you have a paying writing gig, either as a job or a freelance assignment, you know what you need to write. All you need to do is get off Facebook and do it. But if all you know is that you ought to be writing SOMETHING, what should you write? Where do you start? When I’m between projects, I turn to my piles of prompts and the ideas I scratched out in moments of inspiration, but sometimes none of those seem right. To be honest, sometimes I play the piano, buy groceries or work on a puzzle instead. But more often, I sit down with my journal and just start writing whatever’s on my mind. Usually it leads me into my next writing project. Yesterday, for example, the date, May 8, reminded me that I made my First Communion in the Catholic Church on May 8 many years ago. That led to seven pages of memoir about what it was like at church in those pre-Vatican II days, so different from how it is now.
Many writers I admire preach the benefits of journaling, writing “morning pages” or doing free-writing exercises to get the writing juices flowing. Just get the pen (or the fingers on the keys) moving and don’t worry about whether what you’re writing is any good or has any chance of being published. You can turn to books like Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir for lots of ideas to get you started. Julia Cameron also preaches free-writing in her book The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life.The idea is that writing is like a sport or playing a musical instrument. You need to warm up. I agree. Lots of times when I feel completely uninspired, all I need to do is start writing and the inspiration comes.
Other writers will say this is a waste of time. If you’re going to do writing exercises, why not write something that advances your work in progress? All I can say is do whatever works for you.
Which brings us back to that work in progress. What is it? What kind of writing do you want to do?
Some readers here are firmly established in one genre or another. They write novels or poetry or essays or articles. Others are still trying to figure out where they belong. There’s nothing wrong with dabbling in lots of different kinds of writing, but eventually you’ll find one genre fits you better than all the others. Think about what you love to read. If all your dreams came true, would you find your byline on a feature in the New York Times, on the cover of a novel, on the spine of volume of poetry, or on top of the most popular blog ever? Do you just want to capture your stories for your family and friends? Or, are you looking to make lots and lots of money writing and don’t really care if you get a byline? Are you attracted to technical writing, corporate PR or advertising? Would you like to write movies? Plays? Porn?
Forget about money or fame. What kind of writing feels most natural? What kind of writing gets you so involved that you lose track of time? What would you be most proud of having written?
Today’s assignment is to write about what kind of writer you want to be and then write about what you need to do to become that kind of writer. Do you need to take classes, download programs, read books, apply for jobs, or join a writing group? What have other writers done to get where they are? Write yourself a plan. Then, next time you sit down to write, put that plan into action. If you have decided to write a novel, start writing it. If you want to write a movie, write the opening scene. If you want to be a technical or corporate writer, write your resume and start sending it out. Make a plan, write out the steps, and then take those steps one at a time.
I welcome your questions and comments.
Now go write. 🙂
A friend who recently retired (hi, Nancy) met with me at Starbucks the other day to talk about how to become a writer. Oh, she has written things before, mostly related to her teaching or government work. She even took one of my classes at the community college years ago and saved all her notes. But now she wants to BE a writer.
This is not unusual, especially as we boomers work our way into retirement. The question is how to get started on this new endeavor at an age when most people lucky enough to have jobs to retire from are kicking back in their RVs, playing golf or pursuing other hobbies.
Maybe you’re just getting started as a writer, too. At any age, it can be daunting. There are so many different kinds of writing and so many different outlets. Books, newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, YouTube, OMG! This might need to be one more than one post, even a series.
I think anyone who wants to start writing needs to ask some important questions. For example:
Do I need to make money from my writing?
Is this going to be work, art, or just a hobby? If you’re counting on writing to pay the bills, you’ll need to consider what kinds of writing make money (nonfiction articles and how-to books) and what kinds don’t (poetry, memoirs by non-celebrities, columns about your cats). Either way, don’t expect instant income. It takes time to write and sell your work and get paid for it. If you have enough income from pensions, other work, or a spouse with a paycheck, you can write anything you want and not worry about the money. If you need the money, you’ll spend at least as much time marketing as you will writing, and it’s going to be months, if not a year, before you make more than lunch money.
What do you want to write?
Please don’t say “everything.” I know some of us like to dabble in nonfiction, fiction, poetry and maybe even a screenplay. Me too, but what calls you the loudest? What would you feel bad about NOT writing? If you were diagnosed with a fatal illness and only had the time and energy to write one thing, what would it be? Or, try this, say your name and follow it with a genre of writing, such as Sue Fagalde Lick, novelist, or John Smith, poet. How does that feel? Which one feels right?
What do you know a lot about?
Writing about something you are already an expert on will definitely give your new writing career a boost. Maybe you already have tons of information, contacts, ideas, and even some publishing credits that can lead to new writing in whatever genre you want to write. Were you a fisherman in Alaska? Did you serve meals at a school cafeteria? Were you a doctor? A lawyer? A pastor? You’ve already got stories and knowledge you can parlay into books, articles, fiction or poetry.
On a blank piece of paper, start a list of what you know. Go beyond formal education and jobs. You know about lots of things from life, things like parenting, maintaining a home, managing finances, dealing with illness, raising dogs, cats, llamas, children, travel, etc. Make a list. Do you see some things you could write about?
To be continued: I’m going to have to finish this discussion next week, but the most important thing I told my friend is that she has to write. If you want to be a writer, don’t just talk about it. Start writing. Whether you use a pen or computer doesn’t matter. Just start putting down words. You can’t write everything at once, so write one thing.
Today, why not write a page on what kind of writer you want to be?
Now go write.