If you’re reading this article, chances are, you’ve considered writing with more than a casual interest. Maybe you wanted a committed relationship with words but found yourself disheartened or overwhelmed. Perhaps you made the first move - but you were so saturated with self-doubt that you couldn’t punch out a coherent sentence.
But then you faced another curious problem. While you may have dismissed writing, writing stubbornly refused to let go of you. Maybe you inadvertently catch yourself day-dreaming about words or find yourself imagining storylines and plots. Then, of course, “better sense” prevails and you decide to tuck away that dream in a corner of your life. But that insistent itch? It just won’t go away.
If you can’t ignore the writing itch, the best course of action is to scratch at it (Honestly, it was my intention to stick with happy, inspirational analogies. Oh well). The most effective way to become a writer is by, surprise, surprise, writing. In fact, it’s the only way.
If you’re wondering if there is a surplus of writers and bloggers out there, the simple answer is, yes. If you’re wondering if that should deter you from writing, the simple answer is, no.
Today, I want to encourage you with these four words: There’s room for you.
Yes, there is an overabundance of blogs and books. Some say that there are no new ideas. Maybe that’s true. But the way you interpret ideas through the lens of your life and your unique personality creates new and refreshing writing. While a flurry of words swirls about online, there’s still room for writing that is authentic, funny, helpful, insightful, and provocative – there’s still room for your writing because someone needs to hear your words.
An author once said, “A professional writer is an amateur who did not quit.” When I look back at my writing career (can you describe a field where you don’t make money as a “career”?), that’s exactly what it took – the unwillingness to quit. I do believe that if I had vacated my calling as a writer, I would have been burying the gift God gave me. I would have missed opportunities to let my words serve others. Words are powerful – when they are used, not when they are buried.
But, first, an emphatic disclaimer: By no means do I claim to be an expert at writing. If you look on Amazon for books authored by yours truly, you’ll come up with a grand total of zero. ZERO. NADA. NILL. ((Here’s a free writing tip for you: Self-deprecating humour makes you vulnerable and real. Readers like vulnerable and real. Also, no one will ever complain that you made them laugh. Well, almost no one.)
So, while this article aims at getting you to answer that insistent calling, it’s also a way to collate my “writing hacks” and stop with the “legit” excuses!
If can’t get rid of the writing bug, but can’t seem to write either, here are some non-pro tips in no particular order:
Make writing a habit. Schedule a daily 10-minute writing challenge. Put your phone away. Shut yourself in. And write. Don’t start second-guessing yourself the minute your fingers hit the keyboard. Don’t think about social media shares. Just clickety-clack away.
Start small. The less imposing the better. Challenge yourself to write, say, four lines a day. Add four more lines the following day. All of a sudden, you’ll look at the word count and find that a 500-word article stares you in the face. It may not be the most insightful or the most beautiful 500 words. But, as Jodi Picoult famously said, “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
Be an observer and a recorder: If you want to be a writer, you also need to be a keen observer of life. The writer observes the smells and sounds and textures and colours that she encounters daily. She walks into a room and notices that it doesn’t just have a nice aroma, it smells like caramel popcorn. She perceives the wonderstruck expression on a baby’s face and the angry-tired scowls of irate drivers. When she reads books, she doesn’t just scan for information. She mines them for stirring phrases and striking quotes. She delves into character studies. But she can’t store all this data in her head. So, the writer also becomes a recorder of details. Note down ideas and inspiration and similes and wordplays and stories. Develop a system for cataloguing all that information – so you can weave it into your writing or simply be informed and inspired by it.
Write for others. Writers need to be read. Otherwise, they would simply be journalers (no, that’s not a real word). Sure, journal away. I have diaries and spiral-bound notebooks by the dozen. (That may or may not be because I nurture of a particular fondness for stationery). Picture your reader. Not a nameless, faceless being. But someone with a real personality. A friend, almost. Write to her. Write for her. Your writing is an act of love and service. Your writing can spark hope and healing. There is no greater satisfaction than knowing that your talent and hard work touched someone’s life.
Write for yourself. I know, I sound like I’m contradicting myself. But we write both for ourselves and to serve others. Writing grows in that delightful tension. Writing is not selfish. But it does express self. Write the story you need to share, the one that seeps through your pores, the one that makes your heart beat faster. When your writing rings true, it will automatically resonate with others.
Rewrite more than sanity dictates: When I submit my work on Indiaanya, I get super embarrassed because the WordPress platform keeps track of revisions that the editors can see. After my 16th revision, I’m sure that the site’s editors probably think I’m certifiably insane. But just as much as you need to go easy on yourself with your first draft, you need to be super hard on yourself when you edit. This is your piece of art. This may actually outlive you (No pressure there, folks, none at all). Writing and editing require a heightened level of passionate insanity. So hack away at redundant words. Replace boring, overused adjectives with those that pop and sparkle. Check the flow. Be your toughest critic (but don’t trash old drafts – you might still need them). Tweak. Tug. Tune. Trash. Revision 16 may just be your starting point. Writer Khaled Hosseini says, “Writing for me is largely about rewriting. It is during this process that I discover hidden meanings, connections, and possibilities that I missed the first time around.” Rewrites are where the magic happens.
Be authentic. Don’t imitate another writer, even one you admire. There are enough Ann Voskamps who attempt to duplicate her poetic imagery. There are enough Jen Hatmakers who try to mimic her razzle-dazzle prose. When it comes to writing role models, yes, be inspired, but imitation is not always the best form of flattery. Be your authentic self. But authentic doesn’t equate to letting prose stay in its organic form. You’ll need to keep on keeping on so you develop a distinctive voice. Writing is hard work. Find your writing voice and own it.
I’ll wrap up my spiel for now. There’s a lifetime of information out there on becoming a more proficient writer. Dig into it. I have a folder on my laptop called, “Learning Never Stops” – my place for everything connected to improving my writing. Writers are lifelong learners. I don’t know if anyone can say they’ve mastered the art of writing. They might cease to be writers if they did.
Keep learning. Keep writing. There’s room for you.