Sunday, January 26, 2014

How To Become A Writer

I meant to post this as this past week's Friday FAQ, but I kept messing around with it and realized it was more than one post.

Because I have written and had a few books published without being a full-time writer, I get asked the question a fair amount - 'So, how do I get a book published?' Which, I hope is code for 'How do I become a writer?'

I suppose there are a lot of ways to do it. If I were twenty-two and unmarried with no kids, I would move to the beach for a year and write, write, write.

I'm none of the above so I have had to write (five books written or co-written so far, two ghost-written, and two projects in play at the moment) while holding down multiple other jobs. So, I'm not a good source of advice for the person who wants to chuck it all and write the Great American Novel. Or even the Sort-of-OK American Novel.

But I might be able to help if you want to write while doing something else to pay the rent and chasing kids around and Not. Having. Time. To. Write.

I'll do this in stages, but I'll start with three things today.

1. If you don't have time to write, you don't really want to write.
So, if time is your issue, I'm not going to be of much help. If you're not willing to get up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later or watch less TV or miss a ball game or two, you just aren't going to be willing to go through the writing process which is, at times, agonizing. So do something else and prosper!

I think we'd all annoy each other less if we stipulated that we each have the exact same amount of hours in a day, we all have the option of skipping sleep if we have to, and that we make time for precisely those things we want to make time for. I'm no busier than you and you are no busier than me; we just have different priorities.

2. Read.
Read a lot, I mean an awful lot, before you even think about writing a word. You can't write well without reading widely.Read all kinds of stuff, including and especially the kind of stuff you don't want to write. Read fiction, non-fiction, classics, biographies, science fiction, history, theology, current events, book reviews, cookbooks. Read all the time, in whatever medium you can.   Read a little bit of stuff you just don't like, mostly to figure out what you do like. Then when you find the kinds of books that make your heart beat a little faster and your eyes tear up occasionally read them a lot.

3. Write.
Even if it's bad, and it will be bad at first. Just write. Even if it's one single solitary page a day. Probably better at first to write no more then 2-3 pages a day. Then rewrite them. Then burn them. OK, don't burn them. Keep them, because one day you will be so excited and grateful to see how far you've come.

Here's a secret I have figured out from reading other writers write about how to write.

When you first start writing you will be a bad version of your favorite writers.

Once you realize this you will be tempted to start a big bonfire with all of your typed pages and never write again. Don't do either because this is a necessary part of the writing process. It's a good and necessary part.

Pretty much everything I wrote for a long time was a bad version of Frederick Buechner.

Plenty of young writers of a certain type of spiritual commitment are writing bad Donald Miller.

Lots of bad Jonathan Franzen out there.

Fair amount of bad Annie Dillard and entirely too much bad Anne Lamott.

Increasing amounts of bad Shauna Niequist.

Tons of bad David Foster Wallace which is unfortunate, because he could be bad enough on his own.

Probably some bad 'Fifty Shades of Grey' stuff out there...(but I don't want to read that and if you are doing that, you should stop right now).

Here's what happens, though. Over time and through reading and writing bad versions of your favorite writers you start to develop your own voice. Suddenly you don't sound like a bad (fill in the name of your favorite writer), you sound like a mediocre version of you.

And this is very good because now you have a place from which to start. And you could not have short-changed one bit of the process that led you to this point.

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