Choices OR How to Become a Writer
One of the things that constantly crops up when I am introduced to new people and they learn that I am a children’s author is that ‘I would love to write a book, if only I knew how’ or ‘Wow! I wish I could do that.’
(Be warned: lengthy post - either go grab a cuppa now and settle down for the long haul or scroll through for the keywords (highlighted in pink - not clickable) and the useful links at the end)
For the most part, that is all it is, a vague wish (often coupled with the misconception that authors are rolling in it – and, while there are those that may well be, for most of us it is what my lovely tax accountant likes to call a ‘hobby’ in my once a year ego deflation exercise).
Occasionally, though, I see that wistful look in their eyes, that deep down desire to be able to put words on paper. It may be accompanied by a sigh and the words ‘I always wanted to be a writer...’, or it may be a hopeful flame that goes out a moment or two later with the sad words, ‘I don’t know how you find the time’.
There are a couple of different things at play here (which the observant will already have picked up): the skill of writing; and the fitting of writing time in to what is the very busy schedule with which most of us are burdened these days.
a delightfully whimsical toy clock... why not?
If only time were this playful!
Writing is often seen as some sort of inborn gift and the preclude of those with plenty of leisure time on their hands.
Both of these will help, and there is rarely a day goes by when I wish that I had a bit more leisure time to write, but in truth the skill and the time can both be gained with a little bit of effort.
(Effort? Did I say effort? Whoops.
Okay, yes, there is a little bit of effort involved.)
And that is where the difference comes in, I guess. Are you willing to make the effort? For some, that is why writing a book remains a whimsical thought, the vaguely cherished ‘One day...’
For me, there is no choice. I have been driven by my own desire. I made the effort. And every day I continue to make the effort, pushed forward by the passion to create story.
Hey, and here’s the thing: a lot of what I write gets no further than my computer. Only the polished gems get sent out into the world with hope written all over their faces. Like a message in a bottle, floating on the waves. How many stories got washed up on barren shores before one was answered? Too many.
a random (and rather attractive) barren shore...
I couldn't find a picture of a message in a bottle quickly
All those forgotten messages, though? My apprenticeship. Learning to write. Finding my voice.
Are you prepared to take on that apprenticeship?
They say it takes ten thousand hours to become a ‘master’. Ten thousand hours of practising the piano. Ten thousand hours of learning the finer art of carpentry. Ten thousand hours of finding the right stroke of the brush to make the subject come to life on the canvas.
I did not count up the hours of learning I did before my first piece was published, but ten thousand feels about right.
I read with envy comments by one successful author (who shall remain nameless) when she said, ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about, it was easy to get published, I just wrote this story for fun and my sister suggested I send it off to a publisher...’ and, hey, presto, she had a very successful series published before she knew it... And, no, I’m not talking about JK. She had to suffer first, too!
There are some people out there who are that fortunate.
Most of us are not.
Learn. Be prepared to learn.
There are many ways to do this. First and foremost, read. Read lots. Read some more. Read what you enjoy, and read what you don’t enjoy (but not too much, life is too short). Work out what works.
because, you know, a cute picture of a dog... and a book...
Next, write. Write lots, whenever you can. Then read it and rewrite it, and make it better.
Learn how to make it better by joining writers' centres (that mostly can’t decide what to do with the apostrophe, so leave it out altogether* – go the one in NSW that has recently rebranded as Writing NSW to avoid the problem entirely) and going to courses.
*NB: I have just discovered that I am wrong about this... only the ACT Writers Centre seems to be lost in this dilemma... see the links at the end of the post.
Find a friendly critique group (and I mean friendly – avoid ones that are all about criticism and very little about being helpful).
Join SCBWI. We rock. Listen to podcasts and come along to events if you live nearby or can travel.
If you can’t travel, take an online course (AWC, Masterclass, Skillshare, various individual writers, eg. Scribbles with Jen Storer, and hopefully me once I get my act together) or join one of the SCBWI online critique groups (friendly reminder: the links are at the end today).
But write. And once you feel ready, take a chance. Enter a comp or two. Check out why here.
Fine. But what about finding time? Yes, I can hear you.
Oh, yes. That one is tricky, too.
Time is precious.
But it is your choice how you make the exchange. What will you use your time to pay for?
For me, it was giving up watching TV (miraculously easier once we moved to a place with no reception, but doable previously, nonetheless) to write, making a habit of getting out of bed before the sun is up and spending the early hours working on something* – be it a WIP, a blog post, morning pages, or my gratitude journal, an online course – and, um, the housework in my place is something of a sporadic event**.
*NB: DO NOT PANIC - if you are more of a night owl, you could stay up late instead! I just happen to be that awesome, er, annoying rarity, a morning person.... I know. Sorry.
**NB: Yes, the windows need cleaning and the spiders have taken over the rafters and have evolved into a civilisation all of their own, but the laundry and the dishes get done, and I will pick up when I get tired of tripping over stuff – but I was never a domestic goddess in the first place***. Oh, and my Other Half cooks, which is great because he is good at it and I am not. But I have to clean up after him. Thems the breaks.
***NB: Please note that this is NOT MANDATORY. If you are a domestic goddess (or god) it is okay. And can you please come and do something about my place..?
Facebook is my nemesis. Or is it my respite? Who knows?
I don’t really have a social life outside of family, except for writer events (which actually is not a hardship for me as a confirmed introvert).
And I will sit down by the fire and get lost in a good book (um, research...).
I work in a day job – one that demands my attention even after hours (I’m a teacher, nuff said). I have a family (that I love to spend time with). And I go for long introspective walks to try and keep active (although that probably doesn’t count because I often use the thinking time for working on my stories). These are non-negotiables. But that too, is my choice.
Your choice? What will it be?
sometimes it is hard to choose...
Some Links That Might Be Useful:
SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators)
(quite possibly the most fun and creative course EVER, complete with an amazing and supportive fb community)