Let it go; forgive and give life.
Essay

Becoming a Writer

 Becoming a writer is like becoming who you are meant to be.

It’s uniquely personal.

No two lives, and no two writer’s journeys are the same.

Here’s what my journey toward becoming a writer has looked like so far:

  1. Throughout my book-wormish childhood and adolescence, I kept picking up pen and paper, writing stories, poems, and diary entries. But I never thought about becoming a writer. I thought writers were like English gentry, born into families with wealth and connections. They went to Cambridge or Oxford or Harvard. And I definitely knew that I, little German Lutheran midwestern American girl born into obscurity, had as much chance of becoming a writer as I had of becoming Queen of England. That is to say I had zero chance.
  2. But high school and college teachers kept saying to me, “You’re a writer.” Present tense. You are. That’s when I figured out that you either are, or are not, a writer. It’s not who we know or what we’ve accomplished or whether our writing is good enough. It’s what we do. If we write stuff, and we keep on writing stuff, then we’re writers.
  3. It’s a good thing I figured out that I am a writer, before I met the people who said my stuff wasn’t good enough, or worse, vehemently hated my writing. Or perhaps they just hated me. That’s when I learned that you’re always going to run into people who belittle you, condemn you, and rain on your parade. The nay-sayers don’t matter. Neither do the people who praise you matter. Any of them could very well be wrong. What matters is that you love writing and you’re committed to learning to write better.
  4. I can’t explain how I instinctively knew that the writers who get published are the ones who persevere in continually trying to improve. I was probably born with an overly developed sense of duty. I figured that because I am a writer, it is therefore my duty to learn everything I can possibly learn about writing well.  
  5. So I became a student of writing. I took courses, attended workshops, read A WHOLE LOT of literature, majored in English (literature and creative writing), and went to writers’  conferences and seminars. And I joined literary associations: The Loft in Minneapolis; New Hampshire Writers’ Project in Manchester. I started in the 1980’s at the beginner level, learned skills, and then moved up to the intermediate level. I diligently did the assigned homework. I kept reading, writing, submitting and applying until I was accepted into advanced classes where I did more homework and along the way I got published in literary journals and magazines and I wrote a book and that got published. And I finished another book which will soon be published.
  6. And I just keep writing and writing.

Becoming a writer involves doing the homework.

You read and write. And you read and write.

If you dream of becoming a writer, and you’re looking for a concise, simple formula for success,  remember this:

Read and write.

Not that it’s an easy formula for success. But the formula could hardly be any easier to remember.

By the way, it helps if you absolutely love, love, love to read and write.

Are you a writer?

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44 thoughts on “Becoming a Writer”

      1. I discovered it through your blog Tracy (which I originally discovered when you had your Halloween party!) What sold it to me in the description is the combination of the writing life but also the aspect of moving to the woods and living with nature.

  1. From time to time, whenever the opportunity presents itself I like to tell people of my “no fail get rick quick” method. Here it is: Seek out the thing or things you find fulfilling. Work hard (I like the steps you outlined) to become ever better at those things. Practice your craft for 30 or 40 years or so. There–you will discover that you’ve been rich all along.
    As always, it’s been a pleasure reading your stuff 🙂
    Hmmm one of these days you will have to give me something to disagree with, though.

    1. 😀 — we do agree on quite a few things, Maurice.

      I do like what you’ve said about the discovery of how you’ve been rich all along (if you’re working at the thing you find inherently fulfilling). And as far as I’m concerned, everything worthwhile is worth working for.

  2. I like what Maurice says, Tracy. Your steps apply to any art or craft – I’m thinking of Ken’s cooking too… Devastated not to have seen you in NE.
    Spring has arrived here! Happiness! Huge hug!

  3. I enjoyed this post. A lot.

    I don’t know if writing a blog allow me to call myself a writer, I am inclined to the view that it doesn’t because a more honest description of what I do is simply – blogger. However I do know that I identify hugely with your phrase ‘What matters is that you love writing and you’re committed to learning to write better.’ as I am always looking for ways to tweak and improve my writing.

    1. You’ don’t have to call yourself a professional writer. But if you write, consistently, as a way of processing and communicating, you’re inherently a writer.

      Non-writers don’t write. Writers do.

  4. Brava, Tracy! I can hardly wait for my book to arrive! (I checked today at the post office, and still no luck. I leave for Kansas tomorrow but will check again before I go.)

    One of my favorite Anne LaMott stories is about a school picture. She says that even then she didn’t look like the others, and you could tell she was going to be either a serial killer or a writer. Hmm, choices, choices…;)

    Your high school and college teachers were right, but deep in your heart you already knew it, or least wanted it and suspected it. You are a writer.

    1. The book is in the mail… 😉

      but oh, the mail. It takes so long…

      Serial killer or writer? I hadn’t heard that before… but there is something strangely otherworldly about those of us who turn into writers.

      You’re right, I did know, in my heart. But I didn’t really know that it was possible for me, in my life.

      I truly hope you enjoy my book.

  5. Tracy … I do think fondly of the high school English teacher who admired my writing and expected great things of me. While that was gratifying, you’re right … first you must believe in yourself. Then … just write and keep on writing.

    For too long, I didn’t believe. Now, I have embraced that image – minus the perfunctory cardigan sweater, cigar and bleary-eyed devotion to a typewriter. (Oops! That’s Ernest Hemingway that I’m channeling.) 😉

    1. Judy, one of these days I hope we’re going to meet in real life. My husband never believed in his artistic ability; it took until after he was retired until he came to see his potential.

      One of the things I love about this present age, is that 60-something is actually fairly young. There is still so much possibility ahead….

      P.S. I advise you to ditch the cardigan, the cigars. They didn’t do EH any good; they won’t be good for you, either. 😉 But keep the Royola and take it to the Antiques Roadshow.

      1. Tracy … I’d love to meet you in real life. Kudos to your husband. I know I’m just warming up to my potential. 😉

        My Smith-Corona and Royal typewriters, unfortunately, are just a distant memory. 😉

    1. Thank you.

      I can’t wait for your book. I’ve been looking for it, expectantly and hopefully.

      Please do not under promote yourself. I’m counting on you to tell me, because I don’t care about, and pay no attention to, anything other than the people I personally trust. that means if you don’t tell me on your blog, that your book is out, I’ll miss the release.

      Please be a little bit of a self-promoter, for the sake of us who have been waiting for YOUR book.

  6. Tracy, you said it all. It really is this simple and profound and I thank you for sharing your writing journey and experiences. As you know, having shared with you before on this subject, it’s only very recently that I dared myself to whisper the words, ‘I am a writer’. This, however, only because I realised that writing, in all the ways you describe here, is something I’ve always done, my whole life but to think of being a published writer seemed to me an impossible dream. Sometimes I panic because I left it late, late-bloomer and all that, but I have to hold on and keep pressing on with my book and believe that I can do it. You inspire me to do just that and I can’t thank you enough.

    1. I’m glad to hear you’re pressing on, Sherri. You have a great story, you have natural talent, you have time…. combine that with perseverance and you WILL reach your goal.

      If there’s anything at all I can do to help, let me know!

      1. Ahh, bless you Tracy, I really appreciate your faith in me and I love that you are so kind to make such an offer and I will certainly let you know! I am also very keen to read your book and I will buy a copy as soon as I can, you can count on it 🙂

  7. Great post Tracy – and a working reminder to us all that perseverance is key as well as a certain amount of self belief and the right attitude! I like Maurice’s notion of working at it makes us rich – I agree. I’m loving all the writing projects I’m involved in at the moment – they don’t include a novel just yet* but I’m happy and therefore rich.
    *I don’t even know if it ever will, but I wouldn’t dismiss it either.
    The other thing about writing is that it makes us read more and for me, that is always a treat!

    1. I’m convinced that novel writing is not for everyone. These days, nonfiction outsells fiction something like 10:1. I wouldn’t rush to get into novel writing. Essay writing / Creative Nonfiction — there’s a whole lot more opportunity/market for that; and it is a highly respected literary genre.

      The only reason I’m writing a novel now is that I feel my subject calls me to write it as fiction. I never set out to be a novelist. I set out to be a poet, and then a memoirist…. (which proves that we never know where we’re going to end up, when we begin the creative journey).

      1. And that’s what keeps us going, I suspect – the not quite knowing where we’ll end up – or even what we’ll end up with. I’m enjoying short story writing at the moment and gaining some helpful feedback from a couple of writerly friends. Some things I start definitely don’t finish as I had originally intended – it’s quite exiting!

        1. Yes, that’s what I love about writing–the discovery. I’m glad to hear you’re excited. It’s so fun and rewarding, as long as a person doesn’t get caught up in thinking it’s all about sales and good reviews.

          For me, for all these years, it’s really been about the relationships that writing builds. I’ve found the grooviest people through writing, a companionship built on words.

  8. If it wasn’t so cold here in Charlotte, I would be sitting on my front porch, waiting for your book to arrive. I can’t wait to read it! I’m keeping my eyes peeled throught the window. 🙂
    “And I just keep writing and writing.” Love this line, Tracy. 🙂

  9. I love your encouraging posts, on the importance of writing. Sometimes these days I don’t spend so much time here because I’m writing. And enjoying. Not blocked or stuck any more. Your posts help me grasp that positivity.

    I didn’t know you had a book! I have just bought a Kindle copy.

    1. Wonderful!

      We’re just starting to promote the book–haven’t done the official “hey, my book is out” thing yet. Right now it’s only available on Amazon. This summer it will be in bookstores in New England, and hopefully, if that goes well, then in bookstores nationally.

      Thanks for getting a copy. I hope you enjoy reading it.

  10. That’s the ugly truth, i.e., my opinion. I think writers like all artists are born with the “gift”, a gift that either you have or you don’t. However, being gifted and talented is not enough. You must educate yourself and work very hard to reach your full potential even if that means going through some tough times. Life is a wonderful combination of success and failure but if someone is talented and works hard, he/she will make it, no matter what!

    1. Agreed. And after years of watching potential talent, small and large, I’ve come to believe that, while it does take a certain amount of natural talent, a gift as you say, whether the gift is large or small doesn’t matter as much as whether or not the person applies hard work and perseverance.

      I’ve seen incredibly gifted/talented writers do nothing and go nowhere, because they lack discipline. And I’ve seen those with mediocre talent, work, work, work — and learn, learn, learn and reach beyond their potential.

  11. Love how encouraging you are and my favorite part is when you advise to ignore the nay-sayers and the praiser, because they could both be wrong. How true! Writers are writers simply because they don’t have a choice:it’s a distinct calling.

    1. Well–I’m honored! Thank you. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

      (You fell out of my reader–why does that happen. I’m trying to come up with a procedure (method of operation) that doesn’t rely on my reader…)

      So far I’ve just got a list on paper, which seems to be even easier than bookmarks, as my browser remembers places I’ve been when I type in the first few letters of the URL

      1. I’m reading now and love it. You have great voice!

        I use paper and pencil, too. They’re easier to navigate…I just heard my children roll their eyes.

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