How To Be A Writer

Pen and Ink by Heather s
Pen and Ink by Heather courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

  1. Write.
  2. Write.
  3. Write some more.

Okay, you get the picture…

  1. Do something writing related every day.

Really it’s the only way. Have a routine. If you can carve out a few precious minutes each day what you achieve will amaze you. I read that it takes a couple of weeks to establish a new habit so stick with it.

I try to write 5,000 words per week (not counting blog posts!). I know that target is doable alongside my other commitments. Don’t set your targets too high, however. If you constantly miss them you’ll wind up feeling depressed which will be counter-productive.

Organised Chaos
Organised Chaos by Kate Ter Haar courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

But your writing related activity needn’t only contribute towards the word count for your work in progress. In addition to that it could be catching up on a webinar on an aspect of the writing business you need guidance on. It could be researching a topic you need for your book. It could be choosing editors or cover designers if you are self-published.

If you are engaged in the business of writing and serious about what you are doing and have the commitment and the strength of will to keep going for longer than a few weeks you are a writer. Being a writer is not about having a deal or not having a deal. It is not about traditional publishing or self-publishing. It is about the commitment. You either write or you don’t. Simple as that.

This was the story of huricane
This was the story of hurricane by Ulisse Albiati courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

  1. Experiment with writing styles and genres until you find the one that suits you best.

You’ll be familiar with the need to ‘find your voice’. Unlike loose change and the TV remote control you can’t find your voice down the back of the sofa. If only it were that simple. It took me a long while to find mine. Years, in fact. It took so long that I despaired. I started to believe it would be easier to find a unicorn…in a top hat…on New Year’s Eve…in Trafalgar Square than ever locate my mythical voice. And then one day, out of the blue, it turned up. There it was in my new work in progress winking back at me from the computer screen. What had changed? Well, that’s something for another blog post but suffice it to say when at last it did arrive, writing in that style felt so natural that I wondered why it had taken me so long!

D’oh by jawriter78 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Some people are lucky enough to hit their stride early on and that’s great. But if you haven’t experienced that hand-in-glove feeling yet don’t despair. Just keep working and one day you’ll find a unicorn in a top hat winking back at you from your computer screen and all will be well with the world.

Until that happens, flash fiction is a great way to try out new styles to see if they suit.

  1. Make contact with other writers.

I blogged a few weeks ago about the importance of Writers’ Groups If you can find a writers’ group local to you ask if you can join. Facebook and Twitter are two more great ways to link up with other writers.

Writers hear voices in their heads. It’s a well known fact. It’s something good writers encourage. We let our characters out to play while we’re walking the kids to school or washing the car or preparing a meal. It’s all a dress rehearsal ready for when we are back in front of the keyboard and ready to let our imaginations off the leash. For writers this is perfectly normal behaviour. For most other people it is not.

Other writers get that. They don’t instinctively move away from you on learning the above. They move CLOSER. Other writers totally get the euphoric highs and maddening lows in a way non writer family and friends just can’t appreciate. Writing is a lonely business. Writers need other writers. It’s all very well to suffer for your art but don’t be noble about it. Reach out to other writers who can sympathise, encourage, discuss or celebrate with you. Writing is a tough road. You don’t have to walk it on your own every single day.

Lonely Road 24.3.16
Walking Down a Lonely Road by Jason courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

  1. Ask for constructive criticism from fellow writers and well-read friends. Listen to what they have to say and learn from it.

This is essential. If you exist in a bubble without input from others you cannot grow unless (a) you are incredibly enlightened or (b) talented. The rest of us need feedback from others to understand where we are with our writing generally and our work in progress in particular.

Just remember, don’t ask the question if you’re not ready to deal with the answer. You want honesty but honesty can sometimes hurt which leads us to my last point.

  1. Grow a thick skin.

Criticism hurts. Not all of it will be constructive. Your blood will boil. Your head will spin like a character out of a horror movie and while you are cutting up the veg for dinner you will be plotting ever more wild methods of revenge on whoever you feel has done you wrong. Work it out, suck it up and move on. Never give in to the desire to confront someone. You’ll regret it in the morning.

The same goes for rejection. No one likes to be rejected. For writers it’s a hazard of the trade and sometimes the rejections have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Who said life was fair?

I always think in this actors have the upper hand. At least when they go for an audition they might already know the physical characteristics of the character they are trying out for. If the director is looking for someone to play an athlete anyone who doesn’t measure up to that physical ideal is setting themselves up for rejection. Why did they bother? They didn’t stand a chance!

Odd One Out2
Odd One Out by Philip Male courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

With writers, it’s not that easy. If you’re going down the traditionally published route you can research publishing houses and imprints and find one that suits your style but from then on you are in the dark. Writing trends come and go. Your book might be great but that particular editor really wants to find a happy Scandinavian detective and your book doesn’t have one. Of course it could have one after a swift re-write if they only told you what they are looking for but it doesn’t work like that. However good your book is it will be rejected on personal choice a lot of the time. It’s not you it’s them.

I know because it happened to me. An editor looked at one of my manuscripts once. The hero was called David. In her notes about why she was rejecting the book it soon became clear she didn’t like ‘Dave’ as she called him. She didn’t like him one little bit. In fact, she took against pretty much everything ‘Dave’ said, did or stood for. Her dislike of ‘Dave’ radiated out of every word. The other characters barely got a look in. Others editors had looked at the manuscript and whilst also rejecting it for a myriad reasons, poor old ‘Dave’ had not been one of them. As my hero was called David and nobody shortened his name anywhere in the book I concluded the editor had obviously had a very bad experience with someone called Dave and my book had touched a raw nerve. In her eyes Dave was most certainly not hero material. That was a deal I was never going to get through no fault of my own because two years before I had chosen my hero’s name and, I surmise, someone of the same name in real life had broken that editor’s heart. There is nothing you can do but shrug and move on.

If you are a writer, you will write. Nothing and no one will stop you. And whilst it can be painful and terrifying, isolating and heart breaking, it can also be uplifting, invigorating, entertaining and joyous. If you were born to write, you will. Serious writers don’t choose to be writers. Writing chooses us.

This post follows on from last week’s post about How [NOT] To Be A Writer. You can check that our here

Today’s blog is the latest in my Flower Seller Thursday collection of writing related blogs leading up to publication day of my first novel The Flower Seller on Thursday 2nd June 2016 #FlowerSellerThursday

The Flower Seller Kindle edition is now available to pre-order from Amazon via my website 

The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes




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