Friday, 30 August 2013

How to be a Writer

For some time, I've been thinking about doing a "writing tips" post. Sadly, I don't actually have any writing tips, other than "avoid adverbs," advice I've clearly failed to follow in this opening paragraph (count 'em!)

Oh, and some guy I met in a bar once told me never to use the word."that".

So that's the end of that...aargh!

However, although I don't feel confident sharing tips about the writing process itself, I do feel I know a little bit about being a writer.

So here are my "how to be a writer" tips:

1) Write. Thinking about being a writer won't make you one. Dreaming of being a writer won't make you one. Talking about being a writer (even when very drunk) won't make you one. Blogging or tweeting won't work either. Only writing will make you a writer.

2) Be patient. Be patient with yourself--you won't be a writer in a few months, or even a few years. And unless you are very, very very lucky, you'll need to be patient with the publishing process. It may take a long time to find an agent or a publisher for your work. In fact, every aspect of being a writer requires patience--from waiting for feedback, to getting a response to a query or submission. Even the time between signing a book deal and seeing your book in print takes ages. So whatever you're waiting for (and there's always something!) use your time well.

3) Persevere. I once read that patience is the active form of patience, and I like that definition. It means never stopping, never giving up, moving forward even though you have no idea if you will ever reach your destination..

4) Be nice to yourself. I was going to say "be confident" but that's not always possible. Most artistic types lack faith in their abilities. But you can be nice to yourself by taking your work seriously, and by fighting the urge to self-critique when that's really the job of others. I say this as someone who once almost talked an editor out of publishing one of my short stories (yes, it's true), and whose acting teacher once said, "Jane, instead of telling us how crap your scene is going to be, why don't you just do the scene and let us tell you how crap it was."

5) Be nice to others, especially other writers. To be a writer, you really do need the support of colleagues who are in the same game, regardless of where you or they are on the "writing journey." I've never met any writers who've been unkind or unsupportive to me, and I don't expect to meet any. But, just in case any of you are thinking about becoming a condescending jerk or an arrogant git, I must advise against it.

6) Grow a thick skin. One of the benefits of being a writer is that, unlike actors or other performers, you get to fail in the privacy of your own home. The sting of rejection is felt at home, too, and nobody has to hear your pathetic sobs other than family members or close friends.

 However, this doesn't change the fact that rejection hurts, and that other distressing setbacks and disappointments can (and will)  occur in the life of a writer. So, leather up your hide and/or buy some strong armour. You will need it.

7) Rejoice in the many positives, whether that's breaking out the bubbly after getting a book deal, or eating some delicious cake after reaching a word count. Taking pleasure at the success of other writers also helps, even if through gritted teeth!

8) Learn to smile and/or chuckle amiably when people say, "So, are you going to be the next JK Rowling?"  

And finally...

9) Never, ever ask another writer about their current work in progress. It will always be the same as what you're working on, only much, much better.


  1. And never compromise your professional integrity whatever or whoever slings at you. Writing is about truth and nothing less will do.

  2. That's right, Miriam! I meant this a bit tongue in cheek, a bit serious... But your very serious point is so welcome (and true!)

  3. It might be useful to have a lucrative other occupation too ... or to marry someone with a lucrative occupation. When people say follow the money it doesn't usually lead to a career in writing.

  4. Should have added "marry rich" or "don't give up the day job" or even "learn to live without basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, etc." Wasn't really thinking of the professional side,more the creative side.

  5. Jane, you're article is fine the way it is! Stop worrying!! It's great because it gets people talking and thinking of other points. You have just the right mix of serious and lighthearted.

    I just shared your post with my crew in Cork and some of the the points you listed were EXACTLY what we were talking about yesterday at our meetup at the library.

    1. I saw this post through Colleen's facebook page, and I'm inspired to do some illustrations to accompany the points if thats OK with you ( I'm also on the uphill slope that is writing ! thanks for sharing !)

  6. Love it! Will print them out and sellotape to my monitor ...

  7. Thanks for your kind comments, everyone. I really appreciate them. Glad they'll be of use to your group, Colleen. And yes, Riverpost, please illustrated. I'd love to see your pics when finished!