I Want to Be a Writer!

The story goes that back in the day Winston Churchill gave this commencement speech. In its entirety:



This is apocryphal, by the way, but it’s still expresses a true sentiment.

At social gatherings people can be interested to hear I’ve published books. They sometimes say something like,  “I have the greatest idea for a book! When I have a little time I’m going to write it and once  it’s published everyone will be talking about it and it’ll make a great movie too.”

Honestly, I don’t get this confidence… people know that you’re not going to play a Beethoven  sonata on your third piano lesson, or paint a masterpiece after a few months of art lessons. So,  why do they expect to just sit down at a keyboard for six months if they’ve never done it before and bang out a  bestseller that will make a million dollars? Stories of lightning-bolt authors notwithstanding, it doesn’t usually happen that way.

It takes work to develop your craft. I am a strong subscriber to Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis in  Outliers, that you must invest 10,000 hours to master your field. The good news  is, you can become quite good even before those 10,000 hours, and hopefully be able to publish or  otherwise reap rewards for your hard work before then.

The best advice I can give to someone with the dream:

1. Invest daily time into writing. (Actually, six days a week — it’s important to have a  floating day for which you don’t feel guilty if you miss). Minimally do three or so days per  week. Use a word goal, not a time goal. For beginners I like to set a goal of 300 words per day  or 2000 words per week. Keep pushing that goal up as you become better. KEEP A DAILY AND WEEKLY  LOG IN WHICH YOU WRITE DOWN YOUR PROGRESS!

2. Give yourself permission to be really bad. Don’t let anyone see your words — don’t even let  yourself see them if you don’t want to look. A fabulous technique for getting words down is  FREE-WRITING when you simply type as quickly as you can — spelling, punctuation, and diction  matter not. Just count it for your word quota and celebrate. Write write write write write. If  you find it’s tough to type so much, consider getting a speech program like Dragon Speak.

3. What should you write about in the first place? Whatever you want. If you don’t have a clue,  set a timer for ten minutes and make a list of 20 bad ideas about something you could write  about. Before you start at the top of the page write: 20 BAD IDEAS. Have a competition with  yourself to make these the worst ideas you’ve ever considered. By giving yourself permission  (even the pseudo-expectation) that these things will be terrible, you may actually find a grain  or two of gold within the dreck.

4. What sort of project? Blogs and short pieces are good practice, but always keep an eye on your  long-term goals. If you want to write a novel, then keep moving in that direction: short stories  are good, but keep adding ideas that will take the story longer to finish.

5. Be mindful to record  ideas as they come to you — carry a little notebook or use an app like Evernote. Don’t assume  you’ll remember them since these little buggers are notoriously slippery.

6. Read how-to’s about writing. Scan the web for a plethora of free essays on blogs and writing  tips on Reddit. Find Writer’s Digest magazine and books — check out goodreads, the library, and  the bookstore. And for your kindle — you DO have a kindle, don’t you? — Amazon has a continuous  rotating menu of free ebooks that are quite good.

7. Just read and watch movies — anything you enjoy. If you want, analyze why the story works or doesn’t work.

8. Find other writers. Work with a friend to encourage each other. Join a writing group. Go to  writing conferences. If you are OK with Christian values, you may want to join ACFW.com which is  an incredible loop of 2000+ writers, agents and editors. They offer personalized advice on the  loop, free online courses, and writing contests with valuable feedback. Cost is $65 first year  and $50 annual renewal. GET A SEPARATE EMAIL ACCOUNT if you join since you will be snowed under  with correspondence.

9. When you’re ready, get feedback on your work. BE VERY CAREFUL THOUGH — critiquers can be  cruel, wrong, or otherwise not helpful. If you are just starting out you may do better NOT to get  feedback yet. If you do go ahead, don’t let the critiquer convince you that you will never be a  writer. Listen carefully and consider what the person is trying to say. DON’T let other people  see your work until you’ve been writing awhile.


Ultimately my best advice is to simply stick with it. It takes a long time to learn to write, and  you have to drive yourself because NO ONE ELSE is going to get why you’re doing it. Some people  will make unhelpful comments — “Nora Roberts published a book every six months; what’s wrong  with you…” Just believe in yourself. I always tell my kids that, no matter how beginner or  untalented you are at something, if you practice you will ALWAYS improve. Writing is a long road,  but every road must be traveled one baby-step at a time. If it’s what you want to do, there is no  time like the present to get started.