I was at a party with holiday overtones over the weekend. The hostess introduced me to another writer. We had an enjoyable discussion about writing, particularly the craft of writing. A recurring theme in our discussion was why some writers move beyond mere procrastination and actually get down to writing.
There continues to be a romanticism attached to “the writing life.” Some of this is the equivalent of what is attributed to Joyce Maynard in Salinger, about the late literary icon, and his hatred about the “artiness in writing and writerliness…tweedy types sucking on cigars on their book jackets or exquisitely sensitive-looking women in black turtlenecks.”
While Salinger became as famous for his obsessiveness and privacy as he was for his literary output, he apparently kept up more closely with the literati than we thought he did at the time, and had “little but contempt for what he sees…” of that world. Writers more famous for the pose they strike, than their writing.
Writing requires work, and sometimes slogging along in near obscurity for some period. Yet, any craft requiring creativity (and ability) must be honed.
Maybe the cigars (and pipes) and black turtlenecks of Salinger’s day that drew his ire have been replaced by incessant tweeting, Facebook trolling, and more about branding than output and quality.
Want to be a writer—how about doing some actual writing?
Here are some of my tips for those willing to put in the work, and cultivate their craft.
This seems like a given, right? If you’re a writer, you’ll be writing every day, or nearly every day. Surprisingly, for those fixated on the fame part, this doesn’t seem to have occurred to them. Also, there are a host of writers out there without much in the way of output.
It’s a given that all of us start with that very first title. What are you going to do for a second act? What’s next after that? Don’t be a one-trick pony.
Start a blog–
Blogging may not be for everyone, but I can’t imagine being a writer and not having one. A blog grants you a writing platform and carte blanche to say and write what you want. It’s not as tightly curated as writing for publication, which is the point of blogging, really. It’s a place to write about things germane to you and your interests, and from time to time—even about your craft.
When I finally bit the bullet and committed to being a writer in 2002-2003, starting a blog was one of the best decisions I made long before I had a clue about what being a writer meant.
Of course, if you have a blog, think about getting up a fresh post once in awhile.
This follows along with the first two suggestions. I have decided that my frequency for blogging is twice weekly. I treat this publication schedule with the same diligence that I do delivering an article on deadline to editors paying me for my writing. What that means is on Tuesday and Friday, it’s not uncommon for me to wake up an hour earlier, or to stay up later the night before, to make sure I have fresh content for this blog.
If you can’t hit self-imposed deadlines like these, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to meet your assignments once you’ve found publications willing to pay you for your writing.
Read regularly and widely–
Read great writing. Whether you prefer fiction or nonfiction, commit to reading a book or two every month. Subscribe to publications with a literary bent. I have a New Yorker subscription. I also am a fan of The Baffler, which satisfies my own interest in cultural criticism, I get to read writers skilled in the art of muckraking, something I’m interested in doing more of.
Don’t have the time to read? Then forget about taking your writing to the next level, whatever that level is for you.
I have a goal to read 30-40 books a year. I’ve kept this up now for the past 10 years. This year I’ll read more than 60 titles. Check the list.
Television is overrated and won’t help you become a better writer. Neither will excessive time on social media.
Interested in developing some of these habits, especially the writing regularly part? I’ll be offering my popular narrative nonfiction class again for Lewiston Adult Education in February, just in time to cure your cabin fever. It works for fiction writers, too, as we’re focused on story and writing each week. Think of it as a buddy system for writers.