I’ve been thinking about this question because as a writing and book coach who works with aspiring or newer writers, I often hear variations of, “I want to write a book/have a book idea, but I’m not a writer.”
This, of course, begs the question, how does one become a writer, or what does it even mean to be a writer?
A writer is someone who writes, so the simple answer is that to become a writer, you need to write.
But when people say “I’m not a writer,” they’re saying that they don’t identify as a writer, and really, they want to become an author which is merely a writer who’s published something.
They’re asking how to write a whole book and become an author when they don’t even identify as someone who writes anything at all.
Often, these aspiring authors lack confidence in their ability to communicate in the written word, or they lack confidence in their ability to clearly communicate their ideas or tell a whole cohesive story.
So, how do you become a writer so that eventually you can become the author you’d like to be?
Before I dive into the steps to take, I want to assure you that you don’t need to sign up for an MFA program or take a grammar class at your local community college. It doesn’t matter if you had a negative experience in high school English and were told your grammar sucks.
If you can communicate ideas and stories while speaking, you can figure out how to do it in writing. If you’re a terrible speller or have no idea where to put a comma and words like “grammar” or “phrases” make you freeze in terror, don’t worry. You can hire copy editors and line editors and proofreaders to help you out there. Or you can hire a writing or book coach who can give you feedback and sort of personalized writing lessons based on where you need help.
I also need to let you know (which you probably know already) that on each step of your journey to becoming a writer, your inner critic will start to pipe up. This is merely the voice is attempting to keep you safe and solidly in your non-writer comfort zone. It will probably get louder and louder the further down this path you go, and it will try all kinds of super fun tactics to get you right back into your non-writerly comfy place. This is just one of those things that happen when you start down the path to writing and sharing your creative work.
Okay, so back to where to start to become a writer and eventually an author.
How to become a writer…
1) First, decide.
That’s it. Decide to embark on this journey, wherever it may take you, no matter how scary.
Decide that you are a writer. Say it out loud. Share it on the page. Share it with a friend, or hey, share it with the world in your first ever blog post like I did.
Inner Critic Alert – Oh boy, you just woke up your inner critic and she/he/they will be NOISY, wondering who you are to think that you’re a writer. Ha! The nerve. At this stage, just take note. What does your inner critic say? What scares you the most? Try taking those ideas/thoughts to your journal and get them out where they aren’t quite so scary.
2) Start capturing your ideas
I’m guessing if you want to write, you’ve got some ideas. Start capturing them. When you get an idea for a story, for a scene, for an idea that might help explain a bigger idea, capture it. If you’re out and about, you can talk into your phone using the otter.ai app and your idea will be transcribed. You can set up an idea notebook in something like Evernote or Google Keep. You can write them down in a plain old notebook, word doc, or google doc. In any case start capturing your ideas, no matter how random.
Inner Critic Alert – The fear that will hit here is that your ideas are dumb, they’re unoriginal, it’s all been done already so why start?
The solution to those fears is to just keep capturing your ideas. Yes, some of them will be dumb, some will be unoriginal, some have been done before (but not by you). Just keep capturing because soem of them will be brilliant, some of them will be incredibly original, and through this, you will realize that your own unique take on soem of them will make the original and yours and incredible.
3) Play with your ideas
Whether it’s in your journal, in a google doc, in word, wherever, spend time with your ideas. Write about them, play with them, expand on them. This is the “Hmmm…what am I thinking?” or “Where is this story or idea or argument going?” stage.
This isn’t something to rush. Don’t set a deadline by which you can claim “I am a writer.” Step into the process.
Inner Critic Alert – The fears that come up here will probably extensions of those in step one with the addition that you’ll start to doubt your ability to execute your ideas. Other thoughts might be that this is going to take way too long, you don’t have time for this, this is a waste of time, why aren’t you writing already? Oh, right, you’re not a writer…yet.
4) Choose a platform to start sharing your writing.
This is where you start to transition into becoming an author which is someone who publishes their writing. So in this step, just choose a platform. That’s all.
You might decide that you want to share your words on a blog. If so, you can set up a free blog at wordpress.com or a free account to start writing at Medium.
Or, you can write microblogs on social media. If this feels scary then do an anonymous account until you’re more comfortable with it. This is probably easiest on Instagram since Facebook is linked to your profile. If you want to share your ideas without much elaborating, go with Twitter.
Or you might decide that you don’t want to fiddle around with social media or blogging, that you’re ready to write your book. Great! Choose that and start putting that together, but I will say that most (all?) of my clients, myself included, start sharing their words and ideas with the world on blogs and social media to develop their voice and build up their publishing muscles.
Inner Critic Alert – I start with just choosing a platform because often the idea of sharing our writing when we don’t think of ourselves as writer is TERRIFYING. I’ve shared my story often of pacing my empty classroom in tears before hitting publish on my first blog post ever. There are fears around judgment, imposter syndrome (who am I to do this when I’m not a writer?), fears that people will read your words, fears that nobody will read your words.
Remember that in this step, you aren’t actually sharing a damn thing, though your inner critic will act like you are. This is a great way to begin to address these fears – write them out in your journal, embrace them [link ot inner critic podcast], and keep going. They’ll get louder in the next step (sorry to burst your bubble).
5) Choose an idea that you’d like to share on the platform that you’ve chosen.
It can be anything.
Look at all of the ideas you’ve captured and have been playing with. Which one feels good when you read it? Which one feels light and fun rather than a little scary? Choose the light one.
If you’re not sure of which idea to choose, write about becoming a writer like I did. Your journey, your post, will be different than mine because we each have our own journeys.
Inner Critic Alert – oh boy, we’re back to our idea fears about not being original, not being able to execute our idea into something worth reading. The only way past these fears is through. Again, nobody is even reading your work at this point. You’re just choosing an idea, and with that said, try not to bounce around. Choose an idea and stick with it all the way through even if it feels terrifying and your heart races and you feel stupid and incompetent. You aren’t. You’re brilliant. Keep going!
We’re finally getting to the writing phase in step five!
6) Draft the piece that you want to put on this platform.
What platform you’ve chosen will dictate how you write it. This is called genre and choosing your genre is actually one of the first key steps in choosing what book you will be writing, so this is good practice for you. It’s also nice because it limits us which actually makes writing easier. We have handy little guidelines to follow.
Every genre, whether it’s a romance, mystery, memoir, non-fiction self-help book, or a Twitter post has specific conventions (structural or content features) you must meet. So use this step to get used to the conventions of your chosen platform.
If you’re writing…
- a tweet, you’ll be writing a maximum of 280 characters
- an Instagram post, you’re limited to 2200 characters
- a blog, you can write a few hundred words to several thousand and use a variety of structures
Regardless of the genre, your post will need to share an idea or tell a story, and happily, you already know how to do this.
You know how to tell your friends a story. You know how to share an idea or thought that you’ve had with your partner or friend. This is all it is. If you were to share this idea or story with a friend, where would you start? Write that down. Tell the story and tie it all up.
You have a beginning, a middle and an end. As you start playing with your ideas, you’ll see how to put them together, how they fit, and how you might share them.
The trick is sitting down and writing the thing.
I am a writer, but I still go through this whole process.
Inner Critic Alert – The drafting stage will bring up new waves of fears you’ve already felt (imposter syndrome, fear of judgment etc.) with the addition of things like perfectionism, doubt over your skills, and comparisonitis. The key here is to embrace your role as a beginner. Don’t compare your first post to someone else’s ten thousandth post.
7) Share your piece with the world on whatever platform you chose.
This is called publishing. Even if it’s a tweet, you’ve officially published your writing with the world. And you, my friend, are a writer.
For example, in this post here, I started with the question, “What is a writer? What does it mean to be able to ‘identify’ as a writer?”
I’ve been thinking about this question for a few days, taking some notes, capturing ideas, pondering my own journey to “writerhood,” and thinking about my clients as they’ve become “writers.” I also talked to a friend about it and had some new insights during our discussion.
Then, I knew it was going to be a blog post first, so I didn’t worry about word count. I also think it’ll probably be a podcast episode but since it’s a blog post first, I’m not worrying about writing the podcast intro which is different than how I’d write a blog intro. I also wanted it to be a step by step or list post so that’s how I’ve structured it. This is a common type of blog post, so again, the conventions of a blog post dictated how I drafted it.
I actually drafted it in a document in Scrivener, the writing tool that I use. I let it sit and came back to it several times to revise it and make sure my ideas are clear and fully developed.
Finally, I moved it over to my blog where I gave it one last revision and posted it which brings us to the last step to becoming a writer.
Inner Critic Alert – This is where your inner critic will get even LOUDER! So far, everything you’ve done has been on your own. You’ve had no readers, but now you are sharing your writing with the world. Every fear that you’ve encountered so far might come back, just louder and more insistent. Remember, those voices are trying to keep you safe but I’m going to argue that following you creative passion is safer than squashing it. Once you do this enough, your inner critic will get over and find some other random thing to yell at you about.
8) Be open to receiving the feedback that you get.
Take the helpful feedback and ignore the rest. Did people have questions? Are there areas where you can clarify a bit more on your next piece? Were there areas that you got positive feedback? Things that worked well that you can do expand on and repeat in your next pieces?
Inner Critic Alert – fear that all your feedback will be negative (it won’t be – in ten years of sharing writing I’ve had very few negative responses or reviews).
9) Repeat again and again and again until you can say, “I am a writer” with confidence and ease and joy.
This is actually one of the hardest steps. You’ve gotten past that initial excitement that energizes you. This step is where discovering your writing practice, what works for you, will get you through.
This is the step where you sit down on a consistent basis and write, cranking out word after word after word until you have a cohesive piece. The trick is figuring out the process that works for you (rather than adopting someone else’s process). Adopting another’s process can work at first, but eventually, you’ll want to discover your own writing practice because that’s where you’ll be able to get consistent
Inner Critic Alert – Congratulations! Your inner critic has begrudgingly accepted this whole writing thing, even though it’ll pipe up occasionally when you try to write a new book/genre/piece or when you get more vulnerable on the page than you have been before, but it won’t say anything you haven’t already heard, hundreds of times, and by this time, you’ve figured out how to begin to embrace that voice, quiet it down, and get it out of the driver’s seat. You’re in charge!
In a nutshell, decide you’re a writer, start writing, share your pieces with readers, get feedback, and improve. Do this over and over and over.
Yes, even the deciding part happens repeatedly. I’ve published three books and written five, and published hundreds of blog posts, and there are still days when I have to say “I am a writer” to myself and shift into that mindset.
If your inner critic is really loud, give this episode a listen and learn to both embrace and quiet that inner voice.
Now, are you a writer? If so, share in the comments below and let me know what you’re writing!