An acquaintance approached me recently at a gathering and said, "I understand you're a writer. I always wanted to write. So what do I have to do?"
The question took me by surprise.
Would the lady have asked her doctor a short cut to becoming a surgeon? Would she have approached the conductor of the philharmonic orchestra about the best way to duplicate his success?
Obviously, common sense makes such questions ridiculous. But, for some reason, folks seem to think all they need to become a writer is a pencil and a tablet.
At the risk of discouraging the budding author who approached me, I had to tell her the writing life, like any other career, requires an apprenticeship. There's a long road to travel from those first, halting attempts to that dreamed-of day you actually see your by-line in print.
I started writing in elementary school. In those early days, I wrote lots of stuff. All of it was terrible. But with each attempt, I learned something new about how to use the language.
In high school, my teacher, Miss Ingram, took me under her wing and began encouraging me. Her support went a long way in helping me to decide to continue on the writing path.
In later years, I took several writing courses. One I attended at Chautauqua Institution became a turning point. It led to my first newspaper writing job.
It was a long apprentice, but at every step, I grew in my craft. And in talking to the would-be writer who wanted to enter the field, I advised her to begin her own apprenticeship.
In starting on such a path, pay attention to people.how they talk, how they act, what they're interested in. People, after all, are both your subject matter and your audience.
Another important step in the making of a writer is reading. Falling in love with words is a major element of success in the field. It's important to read everything, both the good and the bad. By studying how a gifted storyteller captures the reader's imagination, you learn how to use your own words to achieve your goals.
In the same way, when you read something poorly written, you can discover what not to do in your own writing.
In addition to living attentively and reading widely, there's one more vital step to take in becoming a writer. It's the most important step of all. Put simply: Write. Write continually. Write widely. Try your hand at everything.fiction, humor, poetry, advertising, speeches. The goal is to become comfortable in selecting the words that say exactly what you mean, to develop your own unique style.
So there it is, the three simple..but complexsteps to becoming a successful writer. First, live your life and pay attention to what's happening around you. Second, read. Third, and most important, write, write, write..
It's important that I add this warning to my would-be writer. Only a handful of those who follow this path will become wealthy through their words. There aren't many folks like Stephen King and John Grishom who have found their way to the top of the writing mountain. And phenomenal success stories like that of J.K. Rowling are rare indeed.
Most of us, even those who pursue this work full time and are widely published, may thoroughly enjoy what we do but we don't get rich.
As one writing instructor told me long ago, "If you want to make money writing, limit yourself to ransom notes and prescriptions."