So You Want To Be A Writer
Here is what I know.
I went back and forth thirty times before deciding to write this. A lot of writers think of their jobs as some sort of mystical craft best discussed in hushed tones over bottles of bourbon and a campfire. I am not one of those people. I can count on one hand the number of times that my fingers have felt possessed by some higher, benevolent power as I type. Most of the time it feels like what I imagine starting a new construction project every day feels like—if your face and Twitter handle were on the building and pedestrians were encouraged to throw tomatoes at you over every little thing they didn’t like.
That’s not to say it’s all bad. “Writer” is the only job I’ve ever had as an adult besides being a bartender. I don’t enjoy writing first drafts, but the editing process often gives me the same feelings of relief and accomplishment I experience when I de-clutter in my house. For whatever reason, I was born with the need to figure out what I want to say. Writing is the easiest way for me to do that. If you’re reading this, you might have the same affliction. Here is what I know:
Writing isn’t a special activity. You should not wait for the mood to strike before you get your butt in a chair and begin. Waiting for the perfect wave only makes a writer more irritable and difficult to be around. My family can attest to this. The key to writing is to write. I wake up every morning and write three pages longhand in a journal. Sometimes it’s thoughts on what I plan to write that day for work. Sometimes it’s stuff going on in my personal life. Sometimes it’s a giant to-do list. The important part is getting my hand across the page. I think of it as my version of stretching before running a race. I learned this technique from the only book you need on writing, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. The book offers a 12 week course that has all kinds of advice on how to get started, how to burst through writer’s block, and how to live a more well-rounded life.
Read a lot. I write non-fiction. I devour a lot of non-fiction. Whether it’s articles in magazines, books of essays, documentaries, or true crime podcasts, I devour it all. My favorite writer is Joan Didion. I re-read The Year of Magical Thinking every year to refresh my memory on how it works. I also re-read Michael Paterniti’s The Long Fall of One-Eleven Heavy—the gold standard of magazine stories in my book—often. I am just realizing both of these recommendations are about death, and I’m probably going to need to talk to my therapist about this. Still! I learn the most about writing from other writers. If you find yourself loving a poem or a novel or a movie or some other piece of art, maybe get out your lab book and study it like a scientist and break down how the creator did what they did. Again, think of writers as construction workers, not magicians, so you don’t go insane.
Start calling yourself a writer today. Speak it into existence. You don’t have to win a Pulitzer to be a writer. You probably write text messages all day long. Boom. You’re a writer. Now get your butt in a chair and start writing. That’s it.
You don’t need to have a degree in writing to become a professional writer. I know because I have a degree in human biology. This is because a) I’m a masochist and b) my college writing classes were filled with the most insufferable people who either wanted to quote “Paradise Lost” or talk about Shakespeare through a Freudian lens because they thought the craft should be inaccessible to everyone but the most precious few. It’s not. If you are still waiting to be christened a writer through some kind of medieval ceremony consider it done. I am a Knight, after all. I just used my sword and divined you a writer.
You are never too old to start. A lot of people email me saying they wished they had become a writer and now they feel like it’s too late. Some of these people are 25. (You can feel old at any age.) When I tell an aspiring novelist to sit down and write 500 words a day, they invariably look at me and ask if I know how old they’ll be when they finish. “Yes,” I say. “The same age you’ll be if you never start.” So if you want to write a novel or an essay or a poem, start today. Do just a little bit. I recommend 500 words a day for longer projects because that’s what I did five days a week to write a book in ten months. Baby steps.
Oh, and if you want to write about baseball?