How did you become a writer? How do I become a writer? How do I become a better writer?
Over the course of my 10+ years as a freelance writer, I’ve heard all these questions and a dozen variations on them. As soon as someone finds out that I spend my time sitting in cafes, sipping cappuccino, tortoise-rimmed glasses on, pouring myself into articles and stories, laughing aloud at the brilliant and witty prose I just created, they immediately want to know how they too can live such an illustrious life.
Usually when people ask me how to replicate this romantic vision for a writer, I blink blankly at them. Not to be dismissive, but instead to try to cycle their request for information through my brain. There’s two important things to understand about this scenario:
So my blank blinky stupor has to do less with you and more with me.
How did I become a writer? How did I get to be a better writer than when I started? How the hell is this my life?
Most writers I know (and damn, do I know a lot of writers) face the same confused introspection when asked about their writing skills. That’s because they are usually jerks who are insecure about their talent and don’t want to share their secrets.
Most writers get all blank and blinky because the secret they don’t want to share is: They don’t know how they became a writer…let alone one that is good enough to be paid for writing.
They start doling out random pieces of advice, cause who wants to actively pursue being a jerk?
The most common and irritatingly condescending advice?
If you want to be a writer … then just write
Immediate reaction? You are totally a jerk who is insecure about their talent and doesn’t want to share your secret. Whatever. Lame. Go get hit by a bus. Jerk.
Writers aren’t doling out that advice because they are trying to be jerks, though.
They are doling out that advice because they don’t have anything more constructive offer.
Of course talented writers have secrets that have gotten them where they are. BUT THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THOSE TIPS AND TRICKS ARE.
Writers get to be talented writers cause they write. Most talented writers write a lot. Stories don’t get written magically at night by Neil Gaiman’s elves. (How freaking great would that be though?!)
How did Stephen King get to be the most prolific writer in history? He writes 2,000 word per day.
But here’s the thing.
Stephen King does a LOT more than just sit and write 2,000 words per day.
Just write writing advice is bullshit if you want to actually help them.
It’s like telling someone that they can become a brain surgeon if they just start surgeoning. I think we can all agree that no one wants an untrained and unskilled person running around practicing surgery. Pretty sure that will end like every single Saw movie.
I said it before: Writers have no real idea how they became a writer cause there wasn’t really a process. There wasn’t a way for them to refine their skills. They got to be better writers cause they wrote. And they figured out the rest along the way.
What if they took the time to stop and think about what they were doing? What they had done? What they do every day.
No one is just going to tell you their secret and make you a better writer. You’ve got to get the secrets then work on implementing them yourself.
Elisa Doucette is a writer and editor who works with professional writers, entrepreneurs, and brands that want to make their own words even better. She is the Founder of Craft Your Content, and oversees Client Strategy and Writing Coaching. Her own writing has been featured in places like Forbes, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yahoo! Small Business, and The Huffington Post, among others. She also hosts the Writers' Rough Drafts podcast here on CYC. When she isn't writing, editing, or reading words, she can usually be found at a local pub quiz, deep in a sun salutation, or binging TV shows for concept ideas and laughs.