so you want to be a writer

Every month, members of teamTEENauthor write a blog post for teens on a specific topic. November’s topic is So You Want to Be a Writer. For links to more posts on this topic, scroll to the bottom.

From "Whisper of the Heart," Studio Ghibli

I hear it all the time when I meet teens at events or tell people that I write: “I’m trying to be a writer.” There are some variations: “I’m an aspiring writer.” “I want to write.” And so on. I used to say these things too, so I know where they’re coming from; until you’ve sold a story, you hardly feel qualified to consider yourself a “real” writer–maybe not even until you’ve sold two stories, in case the first one was a fluke. Before I went to the Clarion West Writers Workshop, thereby receiving some form of validation of my ability, I thought of myself as a wannabe. I was embarrassed to tell published writers that I wrote, as if it was insulting to put my feeble efforts on the same level as their work, work I admired. After all, at the readings I attended in New York City, chances were most of the other people in the room were also trying to get published.

But it turns out that all of those fears of being seen as a poseur, or of other writers looking at my humble goals with contempt, were unfounded. (At least, I think they were.) The writing community is very welcoming and supportive of new writers. We all had to start somewhere. And it’s actually very easy to become a writer, if you really want it. I’m going to tell you how. Just follow these simple steps:

1. Write.

There, you’re done! Congratulations, you are a writer.

It might seem like I’m being facetious, but I’m totally sincere. All you have to do to become a writer is write. Talking about writing, thinking about writing, promising yourself that one day you’re going to write something will not make it happen for you. Sitting down with a laptop, a notebook, or a typewriter if you’re into that and putting words on the page is all it takes to call yourself a writer. Forget about the “aspiring” part–you’re doing it. Yoda was right: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Don’t try to write, just write.

I get it: If you don’t try, it means you won’t fail, but it also means that no one will ever read your work and you won’t ever improve your skills. Stop making excuses and write, whether it’s a 500-word vignette, a short story, a sketch for a novel, a ten-volume epic fantasy, or a blog post. It all counts as writing. Savvy?

What most people probably mean when they say they want to write is that they want to be published, maybe they even want to be paid for their writing. You might even want to quit that day job and commit yourself solely to your art. But underlying all those desires is a much more basic goal, for me anyway: I want to be read. Some people say that they have to write, that they couldn’t stop if they tried, but I actually do have other things I could be doing with my time. I have shelves full of books, video games, and DVDs doing their best to distract me. However, I do feel driven to write, to tell stories, but only because I want to share them with other people. Because I want to entertain, make people think, leave some mark on the world, and have an impact on young readers the way books did for me as a kid. And yeah, this is probably the only thing I’m really good at, where I can say something that no one else can. So that’s something.

There are some other steps involved to being a writer, or if you’re being picky, to being an “author”:

1. Write.
2. Profit.

Sorry, little joke there. Here’s the real list of the top ten things you should do to become a writer:

1. Write.
2. Write some more.
3. No, really. Write a lot.
4. Done writing? Revise.
5. Revise some more.
6. Submit your work.
7. Learn to take criticism and rejection.
8. Submit your work.
9. Keep writing.
10. Be persistent.

Here’s the secret… Pay attention, I’m giving you the secret of writing! Even published writers, “authors” if you will,  are trying to get published. Weird, right? I have two novels out, but I’m revising a new book that is totally different from the duology, and I have no idea if it will sell. So when you get down to it, I’m still an aspiring writer hoping that people will be able to read my work one day.

Just like you.

Read more writing advice from teamTEENauthor participants:

Julie Cross

Pip Harry

Janci Patterson

Mindee Arnett

Suzanne Lazear

Elizabeth Amisu

Erica O’Rourke

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