April 10, 2012 9:28 am EDT
One day, maybe soon, you’ll wake up, open the curtains, feel the new day shining on your face, and you’ll have a realization. It may not feel like much in that brief instant, but later, as you sip your coffee (or tea or orange juice), another thought will occur to you. You’ll say, “I’m a real writer.”
You won’t know just when it happened; it will have been the result of many lessons, much sweat, occasional tears.
Here’s how you will have gotten there.
It started a long time ago. How long ago doesn’t matter. Maybe you were seven when you wrote something that felt good. You enjoyed both the process and the product. And Ms. Smith, your second grade English teacher with the long brown hair and wire-framed glasses, liked it, too. She gave you a gold star. And your mom put the paper with the gold star, your paper, on the door of your family’s mint green refrigerator, held by a magnet in the shape of Wisconsin.
Or maybe you never thought you could be a writer until you were well into your thirties. Or forties or fifties. You did what most people do. You fell into a career and it stuck to you. Or you stayed home and took care of the kids. Or both.
It doesn’t matter. The past brought you here. Whether by fate or chance or choice or God’s hand, it doesn’t matter. That’s gone. That’s over. That’s past. You’re reading this because it’s time for you to read this. It’s time for you to write. Not just a journal entry or a poem or a short story. It’s time for you to write a book. So decide. Choose. Decide you’ll take some instruction. Decide you’ll do whatever it takes. Decide you’ll be willing to work, to learn, and to change.
That’s the first step. Decide. Choose.
You might think your next step is to write, but it’s not. Your second step is to open your eyes. Become a people watcher. Don’t watch the news. That’s not real. The 6:00 news is the extreme. Writing in the extreme only works at the extremities. It works for children’s books where good and evil are known and expected quantities. And it works for pornography. And maybe poetry. But not good poetry. Good writing is a reflection of real life. You need to include the sights and sounds of smells of life. You need to have your characters cook eggs. Over-easy. A little runny. And decide after turning the second egg that she really didn’t want eggs after all. And she’ll burn the toast, wheat toast, because Dr. Young told her to watch her cholesterol and eat more fiber. And she’ll eat the burnt dry toast. She’ll eat the burnt toast because her husband Joey hasn’t been bringing home as much money lately. She’ll suspect it’s because he’s cheating on her. She’ll tell herself she deserves better, eggs less runny, toast not burnt, but she won’t believe it. Here is where real life occurs. And here is where you must write. But before you can write it, you must see it. So go outside today. Or visit a friend. Be cordial and friendly and part of the world. But watch. Look. And most important, see.
You’ll often question yourself. You’ll doubt whether the toil is worth it -- that toil that no one else will understand. “How hard could it be?” his expression will ask. He’ll never know. He’ll never get it. He only sees that you’re sitting in a comfortable chair, doing something you supposedly love to do. You bought a new Macbook Pro laptop. And a book of empty pages, Oriental orchids on the cover. Or maybe they’re water lilies. You don’t know. You know only that the empty book felt right in your hand, like the Paper Mate pen, medium blue. These things give you small comfort in the small hours before the sun rises. They don’t make writing easier, at least not much easier, but they are your tools, your small rewards, and they bring you small comfort. He’s not a writer; he’ll never understand. But, you are. And you know the third step instinctively. You know that if you are going to be a writer that you have to write. The blank pages are both beauty and pain. The blank pages invite you to the place where you can again, if you don’t get too terribly distracted, meet your haunting muse, the place where you can write.
And the rest of it? It’s all pretty easy after you’ve taken those first three steps: choose to write, observe the world to find stories and details, and simply (but not easily... no, never easily...) write. The other stuff matters, but the other stuff is all easy after you’ve got the first three handled, and maybe a fourth, believe. Here’s the short list: hang out with other writers, take writing classes, use adverbs sparingly, find (and use) a good editor, develop the discipline to write regularly, every day if possible, and read, both your work and others’. Finally, don’t keep a thesaurus or unabridged dictionary on your writing desk. You don’t need to impress your readers, you need to befriend them.
Simple? Yes. Easy? No, but you can do it. And you will. If you are willing to fight not only the fire-breathing dragons but also the quiet distractions and nagging items on your to do list. Choose to be a writer. Learn. Grow. Find the strength, wherever you have to. Believe in yourself. Were you not a real writer you would not feel the pull only we writers know. You would never have been introduced to that frightful and tenacious muse that calls to you in the small hours. But you do feel the pull, and you know the muse. Watch the world, find the story, the characters, the details -- both the mundane and amazing -- and write your book. Write the book you must write.