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Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper.  All rights reserved.

Becoming a Writer


If you really want to be a writer
If you want to be a published writer
Working in a nonfiction writing/editing field

"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers.  
My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them."

                - Flannery O'Connor

If You Really Want to Be a Writer

Write.  People who say they want to be writers have no excuse not to write.  If you don't write, then you don't want to be a writer.  If you don't get a job that makes use of your writing skills, then obviously some other skill is more important to you (for whatever reason: financial, career, personal interest, talent).

I'm not saying that that is a "bad thing."  I'm just stating a fact.  If it's a matter of buying baby food or a toner cartridge, paying your surgery bill or "retreating" to the coast to write, I'd say your choices are clear.  If it's a matter of educating yourself as a manager instead of a writer, then you'd better take a closer look at your career goals.  People who say, "I've always wanted to be a writer; I wrote a short story in college." -- those people are on the same level as people who say, "I've always wanted to be a chemist; I mixed sugar and 7-up once."

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal."

                             - Henry Ford (1863-1947)

So, write.  That's all there is to it.  Of course, if you want to be a published writer, that's something else...

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If You Want to Be a Published Writer

If you ask me how to become a published writer (preferably a successful one), I say:

  1. Take courses in grammar, journalism, writing, and editing.
  2. Read everything you can find.
  3. Learn to accept critique.
  4. Learn how to learn.
  5. Write a lot, but not all the time.
  6. Do interesting things so you can write interesting stories.
  7. Get a job that requires you to write or edit for a living.
  8. Educate yourself in every field you can get into--it gives you more topics to write about and helps you create cultures with more depth.
  9. Write about what you know; research what you don't know, be creative about everything else.
  10. Don't take anyone's word for anything.

There are items in that list which are not practical or necessary for everyone.  For example, if you have read enough that you have ingrained in yourself the structure of stories, sentences, and style, you might not need to take courses in writing.  If your writing skills are so honed already that you don't need to practice, you probably don't need a job in writing, either, to force you to improve quickly.  On the other hand, if your skills aren't half as honed as you think, but you refuse to work to improve yourself, you don't have much right to complain about not getting published with what you do churn out.

It takes time to hone skills. It doesn't matter whether you gain your skills by reading (and thereby training patterns into your mind) or by writing (the reality of practice, trial, error, and correction).  What does matter is that you gain the skills in the first place.

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Working in a Nonfiction Writing or Editing Field

 OR:  Doing What You Love and Still Earning a Living

There are many ways to work as a writer without being a fiction author.   There are jobs in journalism, technical writing, technical editing, science writing, marketing communications, sales writing, grant writing, etc..  I'm not saying people shouldn't have jobs outside the writing fields -- good writing skills are useless if you don't have something -- preferably something interesting -- to write about.  That means doing things other than writing.

What I am saying is that education and skill development, whether formal or self-inflicted, are necessary to becoming a professional writer.  If you don't work in a writing field, it will simply take you longer to hone your writing skills than it will for someone who works part- or full-time as a writer.  In the same vein, if you lead an interesting life, it could be much easier for you to have interesting stories to tell than for someone who does nothing but write.

Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper

All rights reserved.  It is illegal to reproduce or transmit in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, any part of this copyrighted file without permission in writing from Tara K. Harper.  Permission to download this file for personal use only is hereby granted by Tara K. Harper.

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