Becoming a Writer

Posted by on June 10, 2002

You have a great book hiding within you. So are you going to coax it out?

“I’d love to write a book, but I don’t know how.”

Sure you do. You learned how in elementary school, remember? Words become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs. Paragraphs become chapters. Nothing to it, really.

“But joining words into sentences doesn’t make me a great writer.”

So greatness is the mountain in your path? Let me help you tumble over it. The first step in becoming a great writer is to know in your heart that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly until you’ve learned to do it better.” Every writer stinks at first, even the great ones. The second step is to read great writing.

“Can you suggest some things for me to read?”

I could but I won’t, because as you read, so will you write. Fill your ears with the voices of writers you admire and soon you’ll be writing as they do. It’s important that you choose these voices for yourself.

“But how do I choose?”

Go to the library or bookstore and select a fiction, science fiction, fantasy or poetry book whose title or cover art attracts you. Turn to a page at random and read two paragraphs. If at the end of two paragraphs you want to keep reading, flip to another page at random and read two more. If again you want to keep reading, take the book home with you. Devour every author that keeps you awake at night. When new and different phrases begin springing to mind, your journey will have just begun.

“Why didn’t you include magazines, newspapers and non-fiction books in your list of things to read?”

A writer constrained by the facts is an animal in a cage. Consequently, reading non-fiction is like walking through the zoo with an ice cream cone. To arouse the magic of the words within, you must walk naked through the jungle alone. Even if your plan is to write non-fiction, a plunge into the crocodile waters of dangerous fiction is often needed to awaken your inner voice.

“It’s awake! It’s awake! So what’s step three?”

Some people go to the gym daily without fail. Some jog. Some meditate or pray. The third step in becoming a great writer is to write a little each and every day. So what will you write this day? A paragraph? A poem? A love letter? How about framing the outline of that book that I see crouching beneath the horizon of your mind? Can you see the whiskers of it there? Below that memory of the summer you turned fourteen?

Roy H. Williams

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