My entire life revolves around the written word. It has been that way since childhood. My writing tools have evolved since then: crayon to pencil, typewriter to computer – but the inexplicable need I have to write has not wavered. How did this love affair take flight? I attribute much of it to reading. Books ignited the spark that would eventually lead me down a writing trajectory. Growing up I wrote incessantly – everything from stories to plays, song lyrics to poetry. Each day I pounded away at the keys of my computer hoping that something magical would transpire.
“You should be a writer,” I was told. Why didn’t I think of that? The idea of writing professionally never occurred to me. Where does one begin? Then it hit me – I should go to college. As an English major, I didn’t think twice about being thrust into literature courses. Then came time to submit my first paper. “I’ve got this,” I thought, until I received my paper back covered in red ink. GULP! Since then, I’ve learned a few tricks that work for me and may help you too, though everyone’s writing experience is different.
First rule of writing: Learn How to Write. While talent can’t be taught, it can be nurtured. Writing courses remain indispensable when honing your craft. I learned much from studying the red ink on my essays and by conversing with professors whose work included innumerable publications. My professors not only assisted me, but also encouraged me. Never underestimate the power of reinforcement and constructive criticism. Once you determine you want to write, accepting negativity will be part of the game. Embrace it.
Second rule of writing: Be a Critical Reader. Although I was already a voracious reader, it took one semester of college to deduce that I had been reading “incorrectly.” Writing requires excellent reading skills, and by this I do not refer to finishing a book and offering a synopsis. Reading means dissecting; it means mastering the art of mechanics. This process involves recognizing structure and form, grammar and syntax – and thus understanding how it applies to good writing. When you read correctly, you write correctly.
After graduating college, I immersed myself in the throes of writing and the prospect of getting published. I received rejections, but it did not deter me anymore than it did Louisa May Alcott when she was told that she’d never be a writer, to which she more or less said, “Want to bet!” Since writing at home offered too many distractions, I often needed a more suitable ambiance.
Third rule of writing: Visit Cafes. From Fitzgerald to Hemingway, writers have long been associated with cafes. Maybe it’s the endless cups of tea and coffee or the bran muffins and spinach salads – cafes somehow give birth to the creative process. Each morning I would venture into a café armed with my laptop. In my backpack, a copy of Patti Smith’s book M Train, a memoir in which she discusses her endless trips to a local café to write and the literary pilgrimages she often embarked on. The book became my writing Bible, as I longed to find the same divine inspiration within the confines of a coffee shop as Smith had.
I knew that my first publishing would likely be unpaid. Writing requires sacrifice, even if that means exchanging your work for exposure in lieu of money. I went to work on a short story about what else – a writer.
Fourth rule of writing: Beware the Naysayers. I had to contend with my share of antagonists who could neither comprehend nor accept why I wished to participate in something that offered no promises. “Writers never amount to anything,” I was told. My answer: “What about J.K. Rowling?” The witty response: “You’re no J.K. Rowling.” OUCH!
Almost every writer can attest to knowing someone whose interest in money outweighs their passion. Does this mean that writers do not care about food or shelter? That would be a hyperbole. But writers often have a calling, an aching within their souls that cannot be quieted by practicality. Tell yourself that you will be a writer no matter how long it takes or how many callouses you have to suffer to get there.
Fifth rule of writing: Finish Your Piece and Put It Away. It took me all of one month to finish writing my short story. When you finish a piece, put it out of sight. During the writing process you cannot edit your work objectively. But if you put your work away and return to it at a later date, you will have the mindset to read it as an editor. Simply put – write subjectively, edit objectively.
Sixth rule of writing: Have Patience. After making minor edits to my story, I emailed it to an online literary journal. My heart raced whenever I logged onto my email or heard the “You’ve Got Mail” message. The tedious waiting process continued for five months until I received word that my short story would be published. My patience had paid off, and the reward would be my words in print.
Seventh rule of writing: Follow Your Heart. Had I listened to negative forces I would not be a writer. This does not suggest, however, that a writer should act like Edgar Allan Poe and try to make a living solely with writing. It didn’t work for Poe, and it probably won’t work for you either. As writers we do what we have to in order to survive. But if I can offer any advice, let it be that the need to write must be enough to carry you through those hungry, creative days when self-doubt fills your mind and you wonder if what you’re doing will pay off. And even if you never become the next Stephen King or Margaret Atwood, write anyway. Write knowing that if you stop, you may never feel fulfilled.
-Tara Lynn Marta
What has helped you on your writing journey? Let us know in the comments!