The Practice of Being a Writer

Being a writer is a little different than being an author. The latter implies that you get paid for what you produce, while the former suggests that you will occasionally pick up your pen and put ink to the page. I have no idea what it is to be an author, although I’ve often thought that I’ll walk along that path for a while at some point in my future. But, I do consider myself to be a writer.

All authors are writers; we love the practice of storytelling and the physical feel of being creative with words. That’s one of the reasons why this blog has been reformatted as many times as it has… for me, it’s kinda like working on the cover to your latest novel or story. And, although I don’t find too many occasions to devote more than ten minutes to the actual art form, the creative spirit still runs through my veins.

A friend of mine at work asked me what books or experiences that I have had that gave me the confidence to declare myself to be a writer. The request gave me some pause, because it had been a long time since I had read anything along those lines. But, I recalled a few titles and a few experiences that might help to get someone started along that path.

1. A book: On Writing, by Stephen King

Hile, wordslinger. Tell the story, and tell it true. I read this book when it was hot off the presses, and like most of his other works, it quickly found a home on my bookshelf shrine to my favorite author. I really felt a deep connection with some of the analogies that he presented when considering the practice of writing. The message delivered is at times overly simplified… but it is a great approach, and a good starting point.

2. Take a creative writing class

There is really no substitute for the energy created by a group of people who are all trying to do the same thing: tell a story. If you are writing for a grade or writing to bring something to a group it can sometimes sap energy the end product. But the structure of the class or the group can force you to write through the block or express yourself in words and themes that you previously found inaccessible. Writers can sometimes be their own worst critics. but if you are OK with a little bit of critical thinking about the words on the page, it can do wonders for establishing your own narrative voice in whatever medium you have chosen.

3. Buy a style guide, just in case.

The book most recommended in this regard is Elements of Style by Strunk and White, but there are others available. Actually sitting down and reading these kind of books is actually a worse punishment than watching paint dry, but they are invaluable to have on your shelf. You instantly feel smarter when you reference something out of the book for the first time. (For example, does the comma go inside or outside of the quotation marks when you are writing a dialogue?) And, as writer, it’s important to understand what the actual rules of style are before you choose to break them.

 4. Another book: Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg

Very Zen. I remember reading this¬† book a while back and enjoying it. It talks more about what it feels like to be a writer, and intermixes steps to get in the to the correct “mindset” of developing a story with practical advice about how to physically get the words on the page.

5. Read enough to have a favorite. Don’t be afraid to “borrow.”

These two small things go hand in hand. Writers who write also read. And most of us have our favorites for one thing or another. Get to know those works that really grab a hold of your attention. The words that you can’t quite manage to put down once they gripped your imagination are the ones in which you want to bathe as often as possible. When you are fully immersed, ask yourself how that author or that character would see the subject which you are writing about. Then, do what they do to start. You’ll learn to use your own voice later when it is stronger.

I’ll open this up to whomever has other advice. In particular, if you have other books you have read that helped you along the way, leave a comment below with the title or author?