Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The other day, someone of my acquaintance asked me a question about how they should go about getting started trying to write. Here was my basic response, with details changed to protect everyone’s identity.
The first thing a writer does is write, and it’s very easy to start. All you need is paper, and a pen or pencil. I use a computer word processor myself but that isn’t necessary. You start out writing about something that engages your emotions. You write what makes you angry, or afraid, or happy. You write about loves won and lost. You write memories that you have; you write about experiences you really, really want to have. And if what you write seems ugly, so be it. You still don’t give up. If it’s on the page, it can be fixed.
The second thing a writer does is read. Not only in the genre the writer wants to work in, but in all kinds of genres. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry. They all feed your head. Besides, if you don’t like to read, why on earth do you want to write? That’s like saying you want to be a master chef but you don’t really like food.
The third thing a writer does is treat writing with respect. That means actively working toward improving your skills. Reading books on writing and grammar, such as William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, is one example of treating the field with respect. Using a dictionary to make sure you get the nuances of words right is another. Becoming your own harshest critic is yet another. Quality control for a writer is in him or herself. You are inspector number 1.
Since writing is a lonely business, you might also want to seek out the company of other writers. Joining a writing group is a way of doing this. Writing groups often form around universities or libraries in big towns and cities. In small towns, you might need to take out an ad in the paper and start your own. There are also many, many writing groups online. I’ve been a member of both online and in person groups, and I’ve gotten a lot out of them.
There’s really nothing magical about the act of writing. It shouldn’t be a scary process, although it often is for people. It can be frustrating, but it can also be immensely rewarding, especially on an emotional level. Besides that, it’s a lot of fun.