Think you need just a little more preparation to be the writer you want to be?
I work with young writers. They are fresh and new and often, already discouraged, usually because they are hyper-focused on everything they lack. Most have already begun and abandoned several characters or stories. They say:
“I need to take a few more classes.”
“I just need a little more time, and I’ll be ready.”
“After I get Geometry figured out, then I will write.”
Nope. None of those things will make you ready.
So what do we do?
How to Start Writing
Finish one story. Share it with someone (in addition to your mom) and listen to the feedback. Then start another and finish it to the end. Keep going.
The one simple truth that will get you writing is this:
You can’t read craft books to become a writer.
You can’t sit through a magic number of courses to be a writer.
You won’t feel like a writer when you reach whatever milestone you think will make you ready.
You become a writer by writing. Now, today.
Amateurs become professionals by starting and finishing work.
What Are You Focusing On?
My students frown at me, thinking I don’t understand, but we all walk this path over and over in our writing lives. Am I focused on what I lack? Or moving forward with the resources I have, eager to learn and grow and practice what I can today? We have to keep finishing and sharing our work to grow.
“But Weems,” they whine, “I don’t have enough __(words, experience, ideas, time, focus, chocolate)__.”
So what? Write anyway. Do it scared. Do it tired. Do it when it’s hard.
No time? Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye in the midst of a life transition as a working single mom by getting up at four a.m. and finishing her writing.
Too young? Truman Capote got his first three short story publication acceptance letters on the same day. He was just seventeen years old.
Too old? Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing until she was forty-four, and she wouldn’t publish Little House in the Big Woods for another twenty years.
How did they do it?
They began with what they had. They finished their work. We can do it the same way. Sure, we will benefit from craft books and courses, editors and critique groups, but only if we engage them while we are writing consistently.
Now Is Your Chance to Write
It’s mid-January, and most of us probably set goals to write more this year. Whether you are on a roll or missed a day (or fourteen), you are as ready now as you’ll ever (or never) be. What are you waiting for? What do you believe is holding you back? Name it and actively overcome it by writing today.
What’s holding you back from writing today? Let us know in the comments.
For today’s practice, we’re going to leverage those feelings that are keeping you from writing and use them to fuel your writing instead. This practice comes to you in three steps:
First, in a word or short phrase, state what you believe is keeping you from writing today. Is it fear? Procrastination? Perfectionism? Lack of time? Laziness? Distraction? Zombie-hunters? (Just seeing if you’re paying attention.)
Consider this: all of these are obstacles that create conflict for characters. Once you write down your own obstacle, take five minutes to create a character who wants something important.
Now, throw your obstacle in between the character and what he or she wants. Take ten minutes to write a scene where the character has to tackle the obstacle head on, even if he or she fails.
When you’re done, share your practice below in the comments and encourage one another.
A tip for teachers:
Populating a blank page with words is a daunting task for students. Use this same practice task as a group writing. Create a character using a two-word description and a name (Ex: shy robocop Marla), a goal (Ex: to be a real girl), and an obstacle (Ex: distraction). I usually write it out as a sentence to keep us focused: Shy robocop Marla wants to be a real girl, but her crippling distractions at work keep her from her dream.
Then write the story together as a class. It’s likely going to be a mess, which is the best thing ever. Fight to finish, especially when everyone hates how it is going. Modeling the process of getting down a fast draft is invaluable, and students rarely get a chance to see it done out loud. Then they can repeat the process for themselves. (Plus, you’ll have a draft that you can use as a group example for revision. Win, win!)