How Do You Know You’re A Writer–Your Frame of Mind
The difference between being a writer, and playing at it, is that if you are a writer you can’t imagine a life without writing. You’re likely to have already written stuff–for yourself, if no one else.
True writing may not earn money–Dostoevsky is an example of a person who dedicated himself to art, and lived in poverty. On the other hand, plenty of ‘celebrity authored’ novels are best-sellers (for their 15 minutes, and then thankfully forgotten). You can’t worry about that. If you’re a writer, a serious writer (regardless of genre, regardless of form), it’s the main thing in life to write.
If you had a teacher who singled you out for writing, if you had friends who asked you to write stories for them, that tells you something about your potential. But–it doesn’t mean that if you didn’t have this experience, that you can’t write. Kevin Williamson, who authored the screenplay for Scream and created Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries, The Following and Stalker, grew up poor in North Carolina. One of his teachers told him emphatically he couldn’t write. And yet here he is–incredibly successful.
So you have the drive, have the passion, then you know you’re a writer. And then, if you want to write, you need to do it. No more excuses, no vague plans to start in the future. You can prepare, you can research, you can brainstorm. If a person says they wish they could write a book, but have reasons why not and have never done so, have never taken a step to do so, are probably not true writers. (This doesn’t mean they can’t write or aren’t good writers, but they don’t have the passion). They more likely want the cache or acclaim that comes with a book (if one is lucky).
If you want to be a writer you need to get it out of your head and on the paper or the computer. You have to go Nike–just do it. Trust me, the time will not make itself. That doesn’t happen. As life goes on you’ll have less time to work with, not more. Make the time now.
That means a likely sacrifice. That goes for any form of art. Serious painters and other visual mediums work with their art constantly. Serious musicians practice constantly. They practice, they work, they think about what they do, they learn more about what they do, they live what they do. I recently finished reading a book about Fleetwood Mac, about the making of Rumors. What struck me was the description of musicianship, and the dedication of the producer (and author of the book) Ken Caillat.
Lindsey Buckingham practiced and played until his fingers bled. Whatever else about him, he’s a dedicated musician and artist. He worked that guitar and his songs until they were perfect. Caillat had the same dedication as a producer–listening for the right note, the right riff, the best sound, the best mix. Art and music are great metaphors for writing. As a great guitar player plays and plays and plays, you must write and write and write. As a great producer listens and tunes, listens and edits, listens and mixes, so too must you ‘listen’ to your writing and work it, work it, work it.
More than likely it’s the social life that will take the sacrifice. Writers lock themselves away (even if in the middle of a crowd), regardless of anyone asking what the hell they’re doing. You need to practice, research, edit, read, listen, and do this over and over again. Stephen King, in both Danse Macabre and On Writing makes this point as well.
Take this with you–Your frame of mind:
You’re a writer because you have the drive to write.
You need to just do it, supported or not. Find the time.
You need to practice, edit, listen.
You may not have a story or idea now to put in to form. That’s fine. While you’re waiting for that, practice your scales, so to speak. I’ll give practice drills with each post.
Your practice drill for this lesson: TMI Put to Use.
One of the first things you need to do as a fiction writer, and also as a non-fiction writer, is to get a sense of how people speak. Different kinds of speech, accents, rhythms. Pay attention to words, structure, syntax (we’ll go over this more and more. Words are most important).
Begin to go out places–your building, the subway, a park, a public building, town hall. Listen to conversations around you. Write down what you hear, and find someone who intrigues you for some reason. As many people helpfully insist upon sharing a great deal of their phone conversations to strangers around them, use that as an opportunity. Copy as much as you can hear of the conversation. Now, take your conversations to a writing area (where you can be in peace) and fill them in. Create a history for the person you recorded. Who are the people speaking? Imagine what is the conflict in their lives that leads them here? What are they going to do afterwards?
Imagine a conversation you would have with this person. Write a short scenario where this person gets fired, or applies for a job, or has a conflict with his/her significant other.
If one conversation doesn’t work, keep trying. That’s the point of drills. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. If you can’t get out, use a show or video on TV or the Internet, but not something you’re already familiar with.
Page last updated 1/20/2017
Copyright Alex Fiano 2012-2016