How do I become a Writer?

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‘Writers write!’ is the famous quote that supposedly answers the question that all aspiring writers want answered: namely, ‘How Do I Become a Writer?’. Just write? That’s it? Well it may sound simple, but the act of putting words onto a page does not make you a writer – no matter how well you learn to do it, or how often you practice it. No, being a writer is about something far more intrinsic. After all, anyone can write – but that doesn’t mean we are all writers! So what is it that makes a writer? And how do you become one?

What Qualifications Do I Need?

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If you were to ask, ‘How Do I Become a Teacher?’ or ‘How Do I Become an Accountant?’, most people would tell you that you need to follow a very specific training path in order to gain a qualification in that particular field. And it’s true that you cannot be employed as a Teacher or Accountant without a qualification. Similarly, there are many pathways to writing qualifications for those wanting to ‘become’ writers, the only difference being, that a qualification is not essential in the majority of cases for someone to become a professional working writer. But my point here is one that’s very often overlooked. And that is, it’s not in the learning to be a writer (or teacher or accountant) or qualifiying for the job by completing a course, that makes you a teacher or accountant – or writer. The key to becoming anything isn’t in the qualification – it’s in the yearning or passion that you have for the job. That’s where teachers and accountants are made. And that too, is where writers are made.

Making It Happen

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Some years ago now, I did a postgraduate teaching qualification, thinking it would be an easy path to a ‘family friendly’ job. My daughter was very young at the time, and I wanted a job that would give me a good income and lots of time with my family. I very quickly realised that teaching was a job requiring huge sacrifices and long hours – and about as far from ‘family friendly’ as it gets. But what I also came to understand, was that teachers are born, not created. Always a great student and a hard worker, I powered through my classes and finished my first semester with High Distinctions, but no matter what my results said, I knew inside that I had no passion for the job of teaching. There was no yearning each day to head off to school or to get things done, and I didn’t think about anything teaching-related unless I had to (for my course). I certainly didn’t get the same enjoyment from it that my fellow classmates did, and while I hid it well from them, I am sure that the kids in my prac classroom could tell that my heart wasn’t in it. I finished the course (because I’m not a quitter), and I graduated with the qualification – HD’s no less. Officially, I was a teacher – but I never took up the profession. I had learnt how to become a teacher – but even with the qualification – I wasn’t one.

What’s In Your Heart?

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Teaching was always a chore for me. But writing? Now there was something that I was always doing, even when I didn’t have to! As a kid, I wrote poems and stories and made them into books. I wrote even when there was no-one to read what I’d written. I entered competitions and started making submissions to magazines when I was a teenager, and was thrilled when I was published over and over again. I loved crafting the words that seemed to just pour out of me. I loved creating something from nothing. Writing came very naturally to me. Don’t get me wrong, I still had to work at it to make it really good, and I eventually did a degree in Creative Writing to help hone my craft, but I didn’t have to become a writer – I already was one. It had been there all along.

If you are a writer, you’ll know. You’ll know because you will have to write, no matter what. Writing will be like breathing to you – it will be something that you have to do, that you want to do, that you crave doing. Just as a born teacher will find themselves drawn to education and to helping children, and just as a born accountant will find they have a flair for numbers, a writer will naturally love to write. It won’t be the idea of being a writer that you’ll be in love with – and I think that’s what a lot of people who ask ‘How Do I Become a Writer’ are infatuated with, the idea of writing – no, it will be the writing itself that you are in love with.

Being a writer is not about writing, it’s about being in love with writing. Every day.

One of my favourite pieces of writing about being a writer, is ‘So You Want To Be a Writer?’, by Charles Bukowski. I love Bukowski, because his words come directly from the heart and the gut, both. You feel what he is saying. His words are raw and beautiful and eloquent in their brevity. ‘So You Want To Be a Writer?’ he asks.

Well then…

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work
just thinking about doing it,

don’t do it.

if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out
of you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it
to your wife
or your girlfriend
or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed
with selflove.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

And that’s how writers are born.

 

Linda Memphis
May, 2017

© 2017 Linda Memphis

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4 Comments

  1. I completely relate to this post. After just finishing my Bachelor degree in Political Science where I originally was going to pursue a career in law, it wasn’t what I was 100% passionate about. I finally had the courage to now continue my education in journalism where I can pursue my writing. Sometimes life has a funny way of getting us to where we need to be. Great Post!

  2. Here is my comment again!
    I seem to have hit enter before I edited.
    I can relate to your post as well.
    I have always enjoyed writing all of my life now I am working on steping away from behind my writing and onto speaking to reach a difference and step out of my comfort zone. I never dreamed in millon years I would speak in front of others sometimes you just have to do it anways and go for it.

  3. Hi there,

    I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the “Blogger Recognition Award” – because your blog is awesome! Here is a link to the announcement post.

    http://www.rockyourworld.co.za/the-blog/blogger-recognition-award

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