Thursday, January 5, 2017

Become a writer in 10 steps

Become a writer in 10 steps
So you want to be a writer.
When I was a senior in high school,
my parents and I travelled around to
different colleges, researching the best
ones for my chosen major, Creative
Even though this was many years
ago, I remember walking down a flight
of stairs at a university in San
Francisco. We had just left the creative
writing department and I was feeling
both ambitious and intimidated at the
same time. My father, a man who I
had watched spend years writing
novels, plays, and song lyrics, asked
me why I wanted to be a writer.
“You know how hard it is to make
money as a writer?” he said. It felt like
a betrayal.
“I don’ t care about making
money,” I told him. “I just want to
write great books.”
Despite my show of idealism, I
secretly thought this was a silly
conversation. As soon as I wrote my
first book, I knew I would be an instant
Of course, that’s not exactly how it
Since then I’ve written four books,
hundreds of articles, several short
stories, and a handful of poems.
But I’m still not an instant success.
They haven’t named a literary prize
after me (yet). And I haven’t seen my
name next to George R.R. Martin and
Stephen King on the bestseller’s list.
And ye t , I’ve accompl ished
something much more important.
I’ve become a writer.
Every day I get to sit down in front
of a keyboard and think up words,
words that reach thousands of people
in a dozen different countries. Every
day I get to create stories out of thin
air and put together sentences that
change the way people see the world.
Every day I get to write meaning into
people’s lives.
No one is born a writer. You must
become a writer. In fact, you never
cease to become, because you never
stop learning how to write. Even now,
I am becoming a writer. And so are you.
In this short book, I’d like to give
you the ten best pieces of wisdom I’ve
learned as a writer. I hope they will
inspire you to begin your journey
toward becoming a writer (or continue
it with renewed focus!).
Afterward, I’ll share a program that
will help you step into your new
identity as a writer.
Let’s begin, shall we?
Really? Tip number one is to
It’s strange to begin a list of
writing tips with a tip to publish. In
fact, as I read books and articles about
how to become a writer, most of them
don’t even mention it. They usually
say, “Just Write!”
However, writers write things
other people read, and so the act of
publishing is essential to being a
What is stopping you from
publishing something today?
Seriously. What is stopping you?
Like most people, you probably
think of publishing as the process of
getting an agent who will attract
Harper Collins or some other New
York publisher to pay you a small
advance and a portion of the royalties
so they can print and sell your book.
However, publishing can also
look like posting your articles on a
blog or emailing your short stories to a
f r iend. I t doesn’t have to be
groundbreaking, and it doesn’t have to
be perfect.
If you want to become a writer,
you need to get used to writing for
others. You need to practice taking
feedback and dealing with rejection.
You also need to start earning some
You do this by publishing,
publishing small and regularly.
What is stopping you from printing
out one of your writing pieces and
giving it to a friend? Or publishing it
online as a blog post or even a
Facebook note?
Do you have one friend who
would be interested in reading your
writing today? I’m betting you do. Why
not send them one of your writing
pieces now? (Yes, now.)
Think of it as practice for when
you publish with that big New York
publisher. (It could be a while, so you
may have a lot of time to practice.)
II. Set deadlines, or
better, get someone
else to set them for you
(and then keep them)
“I love deadlines,” said author
Douglas Adams. “I love the whooshing
noise they make as they go by.”
Deadlines are meant to induce
stress. I know none of us really wants
more stress in our lives (do you?), but
most writers I know struggle with two
things: discipline and focus. A good
deadline helps with both.
A little bit of stress focuses you.
A good deadline can keep your butt in
the chair and your fingers on the keys
much better than “inspiration,” that
fickle muse, ever could.
How, then, do you set good
deadlines so they don’t whoosh by as
they did for Mr. Adams?
The best deadlines are set by
others, by editors or freelance writing
clients or even your fans.
The most effective deadline I
ever set was to write one article on my
blog every day. I did this while
maintaining a full-time job. What
made this deadline especially effective
w a s t h e p e o p l e h o l d i n g me
accountable were my readers, a small
group at the beginning but eventually
a large, clamoring audience.
When you know people are
waiting for your writing, you become a
much more disciplined writer.
HINT: People are waiting for
your writing. When are you going to
give it to them?
III. Learn how to tell a
great story.
No matter what kind of writing
you do, you will always tell stories.
If you want to write novels or
memoir or short stories, this is
What if you're writing self-help
or reference? You still need to learn to
tell a good story. When firefighters
hear stories about the close calls of
their friends, it activates the same part
of the brain as if they were going
through that experience themselves.
Then, when they experience a similar
situation, they’re better prepared
because of the stories they’ve heard.
Stories are the best teachers.
What if you’re writing marketing
or sales copy? What is marketing but
telling a story of how a consumer’s life
could be different if they bought your
All writers tell stories. Great
writers tell great stories. Learn to tell
great stories.
Read things that make
you feel like someone
finally understands.
Read things that you
don’t fully understand.
I wanted to become a writer
because I read a few books that made
me f e e l l ike someone f inally
understood me.
I became a better writer because
I read books that I didn’t fully
understand and kept reading them
until I did (some I’m still reading).
Learn everything (but
become an expert on
Writers are learners.
When I’m writing an article or a
chapter in a book, I often have ten or
twelve tabs pulled up on my browser
as well as a few books open in front of
me, all of them research and resources
to make my writing better, more
detailed, more lifelike.
Writers bring information to
people who have never heard it. We
can turn a few words on a page into a
whole universe inside our reader’s
imaginations. We can look into the
souls of our characters and share their
story in a way that our readers fully
understand them.
We do all of this through
learning, learning about politics and
current events, craftsmanship and
s c ience , about emotions and
Writers should never become
experts. Once you become an expert,
you can no longer learn anything new,
and if you don’t learn anything new
you will become stale and uninspired.
Be a novice in everything and you will
never run out of things to write about.
“Good artists copy, great artists
steal,” Steve Jobs liked to say.
He was “quoting” Picasso, but
this quote has also been attributed to
James Joyce and William Faulkner and
Stravinsky among others.
But the quote actually originated
with T.S. Eliot, the great modernist
poet, who wrote, “Immature poets
imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets
deface what they take, and good poets
make it into something better, or at
least something different.”
When Ernest Hemingway was
first beginning as a writer, he would
1 See the Quote Investigator for more details.
type out whole sections of books by
writers he admired just to get a sense
of the flow and rhythm of their
When I was working my first job
as a freelance writer for a local
newspaper, I printed out ten of the
best articles I could find from the New
York Times and the Los Angeles Times,
and then carefully read through each
one, taking notes and asking, “Why
did the writer say this here? What is
the purpose of this sentence? How
does this word move the story
Whenever I begin a new writing
project, I read something that I admire
to inspire and motivate me.
Cormac McCarthy, author of The
Road and All the Pretty Horses, once
said, “The ugly fact is books are made
out of books.”
There is nothing new under the
sun. The question, then, is which
books are you going to make yours out
of? And how are you going to turn
them into something better (or at least
something different)?
When you see pain/
death, don’t look away
I once read a short story about a
boy who wanted to become a writer
that stuck with me (although, I’m
forgetting the title, so if you know it,
email me!).
The story begins with the news
that a man in their small ranching
community had been killed. To help
with the body, the boy and his father
and uncle leave late at night and walk
through the wilderness.
It would be the boy’s first time
seeing death, and when they came
upon the body, he was terrified and
looked away.
“You want to be a writer?” his
uncle asked.
The boy nodded.
“Then don’t you look away.
Don’t you ever look away.”
I’ve seen things I have wanted to
look away from. I’ve seen legless boys
pull themselves around on a cart to
beg for coins from passing cars. I’ve
seen hillsides covered with slums,
people living amidst trash and human
waste with just cardboard and tin for
shelter. I’ve seen death.
If you want to be a writer, you
must know death and pain and evil
and injustice, know it as intimately as
you know your soul. A writer’s job is to
bring the bad to life just as well as the
Don’t look away.
Become acquainted
with boredom,
comfortable with
writing-induced misery.
Every writing project I’ve ever
worked on has come with weeping and
gnashing of teeth.
When you begin writing, you are
awash with excitement. You have a
vision and you’re confident you can
bring it to life.
It’s the middle that’s always the
hardest. Author Donald Miller said
every story is like paddling a row boat
to an island2. When you first start, the
2 From A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.
shore recedes quickly and the island
feels so close you could touch it.
But once you get out into open
water, it’s easy to think you’re not
even moving. The shore you just left
seems far away and the island you’re
rowing toward isn’t getting any closer.
You’re not making any progress, and
you start to wonder if you should just
give up.
Most people quit here. No one
has problems starting stories. They
don’t even have a hard time finishing
them. But the middle is a story
graveyard, littered with corpses of
books, blog posts, and articles.
When I was finishing my first
book, I became so frustrated and
hopeless with my writing that I knelt
on the floor, put my face in my hands,
and cried (a very macho, manly cry, of
course). I thought, “I don’t want to do
this anymore. I don’t want to write
this book. I don’t want to be a writer at
all anymore. I never want to feel this
stupid again.”
But after a little while, I got up,
and I wrote a few more words. The
next day, I wrote a few more. A month
later, the book was finished and sent
off to the editor.
That moment on the floor was
the turning point, the beginning of the
end of writing my first book, and now I
remember that moment every time
writing is at its most frustrating and
hopeless, and I know I’m nearly
Write through the mess. Write
through poor grammar and awkward
tense changes and switches in point of
view. Keep writing even when you
know as you’ve known nothing else
before that what you’re writing is
worthless. When you’re in the middle,
good and bad are meaningless. Just
keep writing.
And when you can see the shore,
when you realize, at last, that you’re
nearing the end of the writing process,
remember the feeling. You’ll need that
memory for the next time you find
yourself in the middle.
Surround yourself with
people who inspire you
(some of them may be
We think of great writers as
silent, brooding geniuses, but the
truth is no one becomes a writer on
their own. I t takes a team, a
community, to sustain the passion,
creativity, and sheer willpower to
become a writer.
The truth is, the best writers
have always had a community. Ernest
Hemingway had F. Scott Fitzgerald,
Gertrude Stein, and the expats in
Paris. Jack Kerouac had William
Burroughs and the Beats. J.R.R.
Tolkien had C.S. Lewis and the
Inklings. Virginia Woolf had Leonard
Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
“You are the average of the five
people you spend the most time with,”
said Jim Rohn.
If you aren’t spending time with
creative people who inspire you and
challenge you to do your best writing,
perhaps you need to make a few new
Oh, and don’t forget to
Let me close with one last story.
A few years ago, I did something
that changed my life. I started writing.
In fact, I finished one writing piece
every day.
I had, of course, written before. I
had even started a few novels (that
were soon abandoned). I had written
essays for school and a few bad poems
for fun.
However, when I started
finishing one writing piece per day,
something happened to me. I started
to think of myself as a writer.
A real writer.
This led to getting small jobs as
a writer, freelancing for a local paper,
editing books for friends. It took a
while (and a lot of practice), but
eventually, I was able to quit my job
and support myself and my family
full-time through my writing.
It all started by finishing ONE
writing piece regularly. That small
habit changed my life.
I’m passionate about helping
other writers go from being aspiring
writers to becoming daily writers.
That’s why I want to invite you to a
program that could change yours.
This is the Becoming
Writer Challenge
What if you could step into your
identity as a writer today?
I want to challenge you to stop
dreaming, stop aspiring, and start
developing the habits that will turn
you into a writer. It’s called the
Becoming Writer Challenge.
Here’s how it works:
You write ONE, WEEKLY Writing
Piece. It can be anything from a short
story to a blog post to a poem to the
chapter in a book.
You share it with our community
of encouraging and committed fellow
writers to get feedback. You also give
feedback in return, helping you
develop your own eye as a writer and
You join a writing community that
can turn your passion into a writing
lifestyle. This community will become
what the Inklings were for J.R.R.
Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, what the
expats in Paris were for Hemingway,
what the Bloomsbury group was for

Get what you need to
become a writer
… the deadlines you need to focus
… the resources to learn the craft
… the accountability to stay disciplined
… the chance to share your writing in a
safe, encouraging place.
This community turns aspiring
writers into daily writers.
Are you ready to become a writer?
We’d love to have you join us
when we open the community.
Please, check your email soon for
more details about our launch date.