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.