So You Want to Be a Writer?

Photo credit: @optikalblitz on Flickr
An open letter to new and aspiring writers:

First and foremost, the "aspiring writer" does not exist—there is the writer and the not-writer, but you cannot aspire to be a writer any more than you can aspire to be a reader (do you read or not?) or an artist (do you create art? Yes? Then you’re an artist). If you want to be a writer, the first thing you must do is eliminate "aspiring" from your vocabulary. You either write or you don't. Decide.

But first make absolutely sure that you want to be a writer—there can't be any doubts in your mind, you must know that you want to write like you know that you need to breathe to live. The words "maybe" "might" "perhaps" and "possibly" are not acceptable terms. You must know this with your heart, mind and soul.

Once you have decided that you are, indeed, a writer, you must, of course, begin to write. Chances are if you're reading this, you've already done so, but if you haven't you must begin immediately. Write as much as you can—write awful, melodramatic poetry and ridiculous, clich├ęd short stories and novels that go on for 100,000 words with little character development, a bald, moustache-twirling villain and an ending that features your protagonist waking up and realizing it was all just a very strange dream. Share it with your family who will tell you it's fantastic. Forget about editing and write query letters to top agents around the country, then receive your first and second and third and fourth form rejection letter.

Throughout this time, you should be reading. Read everything—trashy novels and books from the children's section and long, classic novels that make you want to tear your eyes out. Read the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, non-fiction and novels, poetry and plays. If you don't have time to read, then you most certainly don't have time to learn how to write. Accept this and start reading widely, even if it means reading just a couple minutes at a time.

Eventually, you will probably realize that your first novel is terrible. This is good—it means you're learning. Don't let it discourage you—put your first novel away and start the second. And third.

If you want to get serious about writing, you must learn to edit. You'll have to make painful decisions—decision like tossing the first 50,000 words of your first draft or eliminating characters entirely or adding another 40,000 words to your novel long after you thought you'd be finished.

Read about writing as much as you can—blog posts, non-fiction, advice from agents and published writers—this is your bread and butter, the food that will mold you into the writer you want to become. Read it, apply it to your work then write some more.

Repeat.

Don't read about those writers who published their very first novel and became New York Times bestsellers. Don't let jealousy paralyze you when you see others around you get book deals, or when your best friends become successful and pat you on the back as you continue to slog through this disease called writing.

Accept that your friends and family will not understand your passion. Don't let this stop you.

Over time you will get tired. You'll be working a non-writing job or going to school or raising a family or all of the above and there will be bills to pay and long hours at work and family members who will smile politely when you talk about your writing and ask when you're going to get published.

Know that it will likely be many years before you see any of your writing in print.

Know that your debut novel will probably not be your first book. Or your second. Or your third.

Know that even when you do get published, chances are you'll probably still need that other job.

Know that there are much easier ways to make a living.

Are you sure you want to be a writer? Are you absolutely sure? Because the road of the writer is not an easy one—it's long and often lonely and frustrating. It's exhausting and not unlike repeatedly smashing your head into a wall.

Above all else: you must love to write.

If you're sure—if you know you love writing—then know this: as long as you don't give up, you will one day succeed. It might take two years or six or ten or twenty. It might be your fourth novel that gets published or your sixth or your thirteenth. But if you're sure this is the road you want to take and you devote your spare time to improving your craft and falling in love with your stories over and over again, one day you'll make it.

Being a writer isn't always easy or fulfilling or fun. But if you're sure that's who you are, don't let go of your dream—never let it escape you.

Because it's up to you to make your dream come true.

So now, tell me: are you a writer or aren't you? 

40 comments:

Suzanne Lucero said...

Eight months ago, my old high school (a girl's school with an active alumnae association) called to ask if I'd like to be included in a comprehensive directory listing former students' current addresses, occupations, etc. I agreed and with wildly beating heart called myself a writer, the first time I've ever done so. I felt like a fraud because I've only had one short story published, but in that moment I boldly claimed my future. Feels good. Now all I have to do is live up to it.

Ava Jae said...

It is my firm belief that if you write and share the love of writing--regardless of whether or not/how much you've been published--then you're a writer. :)

Barbara Storey said...

Thank you.  I needed this. REALLY needed this.

Ava Jae said...

You're so welcome! I'm glad to hear it helped. :)

Farhan Syed said...

"Don't read about those writers who published
their very first novel and became New York Times bestsellers."  Except for this statement I admire everything what you've said here. Awesome post Ms. Jae. It was very enthusiastically written.

Keep it up.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you! The main reason I said that was because it becomes difficult for some writers to see the exception to the rule (the writers who publish their very first novels and do incredible well), especially if they aren't able to find the same success, which oftentimes is the case. Nevertheless, I know not everyone is like that (and most of us will probably continue to read about the exceptions, anyway). :)

Farhan Syed said...

Ya I understand your point but I think there is no harm in reading about such writers by keeping in mind that they are exceptions.


By the way, forgive me but honestly speaking when I first visited your blog (through your first guest post on ProBlogger) I thought yours is just another ordinary type of writing blog. I visited it some more times again and thought the same. But this article struck a chord with me and I'll make sure to be a more frequent visitor to this blog.

This post was awesome.

Ava Jae said...

No need to apologize! I appreciate your honesty and I'm certainly glad you stopped by again and that this post resonated with you. :) 

I agree that as long as you keep in mind that said writers are the exception to the rule, there isn't any harm, but I've found that remembering that can be easier said than done for some people and reading about the exceptions repeatedly can sometimes be disheartening, especially for new writers who are just starting to face rejection. However! That's certainly not the case for everyone.

SAM said...

I love this. I am a writer, aspiring to be a published author. You are so right on with your points too. I would like to link to your post for the writer's workshop on Bloggy Moms I lead. Would that be okay?

Ava Jae said...

I like the way you worded that-- "a writer, aspiring to be a published author." I'm in the same place. :) 

Of course you can link to my post! I'm thrilled you liked it enough to share it! Thank you! ^_^ 

David P. King said...

Brilliant post! I wish I read something like this fifteen years ago. Then I would have taken the task more seriously. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you! It's something I wish someone had told me when I first started out, but it was a realization I had to come to on my own, I suppose. :)

Vicki Orians said...

Thank you for this post! I am a writer, and for me, this post was nothing but encouragement. Some day, I will get published! Anything that's worth having is worth fighting for. :)

Ava Jae said...

Definitely agree with the last thing you said there. I'd even go as far to say that fighting for it is what makes us appreciate it all the more. 

And you're welcome! ^_^ 

Melissa Pearl said...

SUCH a brilliant post!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. I am, and will always be, a writer. Glad to know I'm not alone in all my angst. This post just makes me want to celebrate.
You're awesome. Thanks :)

Ava Jae said...

You're so very welcome! I'm thrilled to see that the post resonated with a lot of people. I think all writers share a bit of angst--it comes with the territory. :) 

Angie Richmond said...

A complete no-nonsense post and I loved every word. Thanks for reminding me that patience is a virtue.

Ava Jae said...

Of course, Angie. Glad to hear the post hit home. :)

rapture22 said...

My name is James Garcia Jr. My friends call me Jimmy. And I am a writer.
Wow! Ava. You so nailed that post!! Nothing that you wrote is wrong. It is 100 percent truth. And now that I have read it, I am going to pour myself a long drink because I am so depressed. *laughs*
In all seriousness, writers need to know what they are getting themselves into. Thank the Lord that there are so many wonderful writers out there in the world who can help, can understand and will help you up when you fall or feel like giving up. They will also jump up and down like a crazy person when you announce that you've made it.

-Jimmy

Ava Jae said...

Don't forget throwing virtual confetti and announcing to all of the Twitterdom about your milestone when you've made it. :D I have to say, the online support group among writers is really fantastic. 

Seriously though, I'm really happy (and somewhat relieved) to see how many people resonated with the post. I was a little hesitant posting it, but interestingly enough I've found the posts I was a little nervous about publishing were the ones that people really connected with. 

Susi said...

I don't want to be a writer, nor do I think I am a writer. But I love reading your posts and this one is great. I think, I have to share this with some people!!! :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much, Susi! ^_^

Ara Grigorian said...

I write. Therefore I am. 

I love your posts, my friend. 

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Ara! Your continuous support, as always, is appreciated. :) 

Missy Kirtley said...

I'm a writer who doesn't get to write as much as she wants to. <3  I love all of your posts!

Tiffany Garner said...

love, love, love this!! 
And I love, love, love writing <3

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Missy! ^_^

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Tiffany! I, of course, also adore writing. :D

Susan Sipal said...

Ok, this quote was going through my head before I read your post, then having read it, I knew your muse was speaking to mine.

"It takes hard work and talent to put you where luck can find you." :-)

Tina Moss said...

"Are you sure you want to be a writer? Are you absolutely
sure? Because the road of the writer is not an easy one—it's long and often
lonely and frustrating. It's exhausting and not unlike repeatedly smashing your
head into a wall.



Above all else: you must love to write."

It was worth repeating. Love this!

Elizabeth Lang said...

Amen! I've lost count of the number of 'writers' who think that all they have to do is get their masterpiece published or 'out there' and people will magically discover their genius without any further effort. Or the ones who think that publishers just jump at the chance to spend their limited budgets on no-name authors.

Ava Jae said...

Wow! That's uncanny, Susan. I like that quote and I think that's pretty amazing that you had it in your head before you read my post. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Tina! ^_^

Ava Jae said...

Unfortunately, those are the kinds of things that many writers have to learn through experience. Until reality brings them down a few notches, new writers are often guilty of many overly-optimistic ideals. It happens. 

Laurapauling said...

Sigh, yes I am. I remember thinking the first draft of my first novel was ready to go.  Ignorance is not always bliss.

Ava Jae said...

Ha ha, very true. Ignorance isn't always as bliss as it seems. 

Alice M. said...

Reminds me of Tom in that Lars von Trier flick "Dogville". One of the most insidious, despicable people in film - it's illustrative of his character that he knows he's the greatest writer ever born despite not having written a word.

"Tom was a writer… at any rate by his own lights. Oh, his output as
committed to paper was so far limited to the words "great" and "small",
followed by a question mark, but nevertheless meticulously archived in
one of his many bureau drawers... In order to postpone the time at which
he would have to put pen to paper in earnest, Tom had now come up with a
series of meetings on moral rearmament with which he felt obliged to
benefit the town."

Ava Jae said...

I've never seen "Dogville," so I can't say I've had the (dis?)pleasure of watching Tom on screen...but from your description and that little paragraph, "despicable" seems like a good word to describe him. Hmm. 

Jaron Frost said...

Maybe not.

Ava Jae said...

Fair enough.

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