by Lucy V
People email, tweet, PM and DM me all the time and ask **how** to become a writer. This has always seemed a strange thing to ask, as far as I’m concerned; I thought writers wrote. End of. So my reply?
Write something. Anything. Work out what you want to do with it. Then do it.
Of course, that’s the easy part. Actually doing it is the difficult bit. But good things never come to those who wait, as the saying goes. (Hang on. Or was it …? Whatevs, get going … NOW).
And it’s this that ties writers up in knots, really: the “doing”. Many writers have this “romantic” notion that a writer’s life is tumultuous and painful; that there’s endless sighing and prostrating oneself before one’s keyboard, before a nightly bouts of self loathing, whiskey and flagellation. (Well, whatever floats your boat). But it’s okay! WE’RE ARTISTS DAMMIT.
The reality is, writing shouldn’t be that hard.
Yes, you read that right.
Writing might be hard work, but that’s not the same as being hard. Fact is, if writing is THAT difficult for you, maybe you should do something else? You might be happier. And you’ll probably earn more money. Plus your kids will get to go on holiday somewhere other than a tent in rainy Wales with a mad sheep that tries to eat it while you say through gritted teeth, “It’s all material!!”
Life as a writer can be lonely and is full of rejection. Your peers may like you or they may think you suck; or perhaps you’ll fall somewhere in between. There’s no office, no staff outings, no real incentives or bonuses. There’s just you, toiling away, often patching over cracks in your house both literally and figuratively as people forget to pay you. And when they do pay you, it’s not enough to cover the interest on your overdraft as well anyway.
But you get to work for YOURSELF. At CREATIVE STUFF. That’s worth it, yeah? Aaah, it’s a great life. I wouldn’t do anything else. (Unless Chris Hemsworth wanted me as his own personal slave of course; that I would consider. As long as the pay was good.)
So this is how you become a writer: you decide to do it. And then you do it. My Hollywood homie Joe Eszterhas has this to say on the matter:
“Live. Love. Immerse yourself in the messy entanglements of REAL, not reel, life.”
I couldn’t agree with Joe more and not just because he gave me chewing gum at this year’s LondonSWF (it was tropical flavour, for anyone interested). Lots of writers believe they must work down the word mines, their shirts off, sweating and miserable to be a “writer”. But actually, I would say to be a writer, you don’t actually have to do THAT MUCH writing at all.
“WTF?!” You say … “Lucy V has finally lost her mind. It had to happen some day.” But bear with me. ‘Cos it actually does make sense, if you think about it.
Like Joe says, many writers ARE too concerned with what he calls “reel life”: whether that’s movies, television, games, internet … whatever. They’re so busy CONSUMING, they’re not LIVING. And guess which of the two creates better writers?
Fact is, too many writers believe they’re doing good work, when the reality is, they’re simply moving words about on a page. And because they don’t have “enough” lived experiences, they have no ability to differentiate between TRUTH and FICTION. Which means they recycle the same old mistakes, tropes and clichés, over and over again.
Your best writing does NOT come from actually writing. The writing bit is HONING YOUR CRAFT. That’s obvious good stuff; you can’t be a writer without writing. Duh.
But your BEST writing comes from THINKING.
Right. And from there, you need to do the following before ever setting so much as a finger on a keyboard:
Researching (such as reading; making notes; watching movies etc) …
… and TALKING!
Writing is a communication … How can it be anything else? Without THINKING and TALKING about your idea, your characters, your plot – what’s going to happen? You deny your writing OXYGEN. Quite literally. It will wither and die and you won’t even know it’s happened. You’ll be the mad mother tending the skeleton baby. Yikes.
So, if you want to be a writer? Get researching. Get talking. But most of all: GET LIVING.
BIO: Lucy V Hay is a script editor, novelist and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. Lucy is author of the book, WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS (Creative Essentials).