Becoming a writer doesn’t happen overnight. It’s also hard to define exactly when one has become a writer. Once you’ve written your first article? Novella? Manuscript? Only once you’ve been published? When you get paid enough to support yourself through writing?
I’ve been writing for over twenty years and have written four full-length thrillers. I didn’t plan my journey as a writer, it evolved as I went along. But if you asked me now, how do you become a writer, these would be my top ten tips;
Write – Sounds obvious, but writer’s write. They enjoy writing, re-writing, and editing. And though 'enjoy' may be a strong word at times, writers have a passion for the written word and find the process of writing, or at least finishing what they’re writing, rewarding. It doesn’t matter what you write but get the words out and down on paper, on the screen, on a cocktail napkin, whatever. Just write.
Read – Read a lot and read widely. When I began my journey as a writer working on my first novel, Lethal Suggestions, I read every book I could get my hands on how to write a book. There are lots out there. I also read a lot of fiction and non-fiction. Reading fiction is a great way to learn what works in a story. Reading non-fiction is a wonderful way to learn about other disciplines that might not be related to your own writing but may inspire an idea or entire storyline. The more widely read you are the more connections you’ll make in your writing.
Craft Work - Study other published writers, after all, success leaves clues. I like to pick up novels and read every chapter’s first and last sentence. Sometimes I’ll analyse how long a writer’s sentences are, how they describe the weather, or how they develop a character through exposition. Recently I’ve been bingeing on Masterclass.com and watched successful authors like Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Aaron Sorkin, and David Baldacci explain their own writing journeys and instruct how to write. It’s riveting watching and the collected wisdom can expedite any neophyte writer’s writing journey.
Get Out – Explore and experience the world around you, from coffee shops in your neighbourhood to bazaars in Kuwait. Not only will your writing be richer, your life will be richer. As I write thrillers set in the world of wine, I visit as many wine regions and wineries as I can when I travel and sign up for wine dinners, wine tastings, and other industry events to soak up as much as I can to learn more. All is grist for the mill.
Write What You Know – Now that you’ve been out, it will be easier to write what you know. Become a subject matter expert in the field you want to write about. Immersion of self will result in an immersive writing experience and a world your readers will feel immersed in. The nuances of experience can only shine brightly in your writing if you know what you’re talking about. When you're not writing, expand your knowledge, take courses, subscribe to newsletters, and expose yourself to the subject matter of your choice as much as possible. Find your passion and writing will be a joy.
Develop a Process – Successful writers carve out set time in their days to write. Be flexible in your schedule and figure out when you’re most creative and when you should be re-writing. Optimise your productivity. I’m most creative and write best early in the morning so I spend most of my writing time there. Once I have the ideas written and the first draft completed, I can tackle the editing and re-writing at any time of the day. That said, do condition yourself to write anywhere and anytime. If you tell yourself you can only write or be inspired sitting at your desk at 8pm with everything in order and a cup of tea at your side, you may not get much writing done.
Plot on the Go – Inspiration can come at any time so it’s a good idea to jot down ideas, phrases, dialogue, and character descriptions as they come to you. Writing is a full time gig. While you may have set aside writing time at a set time each day, your subconscious won’t obediently adhere to your schedule and will be continuously churning away on your story. It’s critical that you listen to it when it deposits ideas into the forefront of your mind and that you capture these ideas.
Be Grateful for Feedback – Not everyone is going to like your writing. When you put your writing out there, you have to be open to getting feedback. It won’t all be positive but it will all be instructive. Repeat what works when your writing receives praise, and critically examine negative feedback. Could there be truth in the criticism? If multiple readers are telling you the same thing, some self-reflection is in order.
Leave Your Comfort Zone - Writers are notoriously an introverted lot. I’m no exception. Ideas come from interactions with others. The story idea for my next novel came from a combination of talking to a winemaker from Burgundy about the preservation of classical music and my own experience in trading equities.
Build Your Tribe – Surround yourself with positive and supportive people. Reach out to other authors. Once you put yourself out there as a writer, you’ll be surprised at how many of your colleagues and friends start talking to you about their own writing aspirations. Support them in their journey and you will rewarded in kind.
They say everyone has a novel in them but not everyone has the tenacity to write that novel. There’s a common misconception out there that artist's have to suffer. I don’t believe writers have to suffer. It’s not easy but you shouldn’t suffer. If you’re suffering, you’re doing it wrong.