How did I become a writer?

How did I become a writer?

writer's blockEveryone wants to be a writer.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had no desire to put their own imagination into words.  Unfortunately, writing is one of those things that schools just do not know how to teach.  Being able to write seems to be a skill you either have or you don’t.  If you don’t have whatever magical spark that makes words go down on paper, then you’re doomed to failure.

Fortunately, that’s not true.  Anyone can learn to write, and write well.  So, how did I learn how to write?  What was the spark that I found to make the words roll out?

Beyond the basic mechanical knowledge of grammar and spelling, the two things school can actually help with, being able to write boils down to two things: reading and writing.

Reading

That sounds trite, but let me explain.  To be a good writer, you need to read.  A lot.  For reasons, I ended up being kicked out of school for about a year when I was fourteen.  After a failed attempt at homeschooling, my parents settled on the library as a way to keep me occupied (we didn’t have kindle when I was young, we barely had internet; if you wanted to read a book, you had to go somewhere and get one.)

For six months, my parents would make a weekly trip to the library with me, and between me and my siblings, we needed multiple laundry baskets to carry home our books for the week.  My parents had to sign up for extra library cards and we had a dedicated bookshelf for our weekly haul.  I read hundreds of books that year, and started a habit of reading that never went away.

If you want to write, you have to read.  Not only does it ingrain in you a sense of flow, grammar and spelling, it gets you into the habit of using your imagination.

So much for reading.

Writing

The next part of being a writer is to write.  Note the lack of qualifications on that statement.  You don’t need to write well, you don’t need to write fast.  What you do need to do is sit down regularly, every day, during a set time, and write.  Turn off the TV, tell your family to leave you alone, and start hitting that keyboard.

Your first efforts will be terrible.  They will be so bad, they won’t be salvageable.  You’ll spend hundreds of hours and come away with a story that has no redeeming qualities beyond compost.  There’s nothing wrong with that!

My first attempts were miraculously bad.  I wrote two and a half books of a trilogy and a few half-finished stories, totaling somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 words, then scrapped everything.  Friends and family thought they were okay, even a few people declared them the best thing they had ever read.  But I knew they weren’t worth publishing, even as a self-published book on Amazon.  I was embarrassed to have those books associated with my name.

It wasn’t that way when I was writing them, of course.  I was doing the best that I could and trying to make the stories as interesting as I was able.  By the end of that process, I realized that what I was writing now was actually decent, and the stuff I had been proud of a year earlier was garbage.  Somewhere during that 400,000 words, I had transformed from writing down what was cool (in my head), to having an actual writing style and technique.

It was devastating, realizing that all that work I had put in was wasted.  I couldn’t publish the second book of the trilogy, even though it was pretty good, because the first book was such a disaster.  The third book I abandoned in despair.

For almost two years, I couldn’t write another word.  The thought of going back and re-writing an entire book was just too much.  Then I came up with a new story idea and started putting it down on paper.  Tentatively, I shared my early progress around, demanding actual feedback and not a back-pat.  The reviews I got were positive and I remembered that I was actually good at this (now.)

That was the start of the Dragon Speaker Series.  Rune Scale turned out to be good enough that I felt proud to have it published under my name.  That isn’t to say it was perfect.  Not by a long shot.  But it was a foundation I could build upon.

I think anyone reading my books will agree that the first book is not as well written as my current stuff.  That’s fine!  Good, even.  I would be worried if I hadn’t improved over the course of a million words.  If I go back and read Rune Scale now, it’s a little cringy in parts, there are things I would have written differently, but as a whole it’s still acceptable.

So that’s the second part.  If you want to write, you have to write.  A lot.  A few short stories are not going to make you into a writer.  It will help, it’s definitely better than nothing, but it takes hundreds of thousands of words to develop a style, and hundreds of thousands of words after that to refine your style into something worthwhile.  But it can be done!

Arithmetic?

If you’re not afraid of failing, if you’re willing to sacrifice the hours to get past your initial awful attempts, if you read and learn from successful authors, you too can become a writer.

I believe in you, if nobody else will.