How do I become a writer?
Short answer: Read a lot. Write a lot. Don’t give up.
(Warning: Chances are, you are going to like the long answer a Lot Less than the short answer.)
- First try to understand the true meaning of your question. If you write, you are already a writer. Yet you ask “How do I become a writer?” Is your question “How do I become a good writer?”, “How do I become a professional writer?”, “How do I become a financially successful writer?”, or something else? Define your question carefully. Maybe you can achieve your true objective more easily if you did not try to be a writer at all. If you want to be rich, famous, admired, or respected, there are much better ways to achieve those goals other than writing. If you want to be a good writer even if it means you will be serving tables for many years to come, then you may really want to be a writer.
- Assuming that you want to be a writer, the first thing you need to learn is humility. You can never improve as a writer if you are not receiving objective criticism of your work. One thing is for certain, if everybody you showed your work to loves it and cannot find a hundred things wrong with it, you are showing it to the wrong people. If you disagree with the criticism you are getting, just say “Thanks, I’ll consider it” and shut up. Then take a deep breath and seriously consider it. DO NOT talk back to the critic no matter what kind of a jackass he is. You need critics to make your writing improve. You must not give the impression that you cannot take criticism calmly. If your critic is a hater who is only trying compensate for their own insecurities, just walk away without talking back and find better critics. (Most young writers have trouble getting through this first phase.)
- Be strategic about your reading. If you have never read a vampire novel, then you are clearly not qualified to write one. If you are an avid reader of vampire novels and know intimately what tropes vampire fans are tired of and what elements vampire fans want to read more of, then, you will have a good chance of becoming a successful vampire writer. Definitely, you must know your genre. One the other hand, if you have never read beyond the vampire genre, you will not be able to develop your characters sufficiently or adopt fresh elements into the genre from a different angle. Therefore, you must read widely in disparate areas far beyond your usual field of vision. You must also read psychology, philosophy, history, botany, and an array of other non-fiction titles. You cannot read everything, so you must strategically map out your reading range. You must also read to learn. If you are vague about any of the words you read, do not skip them, but search them in the dictionary. If there are story elements you do not understand, look them up in the encyclopedia. Do not just rely on the internet for your knowledge.
- Study the craft. There are hundreds of books in publication on how to write. Read as many as you can find. Be warned that most of the material is dry. Most of the best books will encourage you to do exercises. Learning to write requires repetitive training, like sit ups and push ups. A lot of it is like training for an athletic event. You do not get ahead by having fun. It is not easy. It is not quick.
- Learn to be properly dissatisfied with yourself. Becoming a billionaire writer like J. K. Rowling is a statistical impossibility. You should not be unhappy that you are not raking in mountains of money. But then again, every writer, editor, and publisher is seeking to become/discover/publish the next J. K. Rowling. Nobody is lowering aspirations. Yet you will destroy yourself if you iron brand yourself a failure for writing books that almost nobody reads. That is the hardest part of writing. You have to aim for gold, which means you have to be analytically dissatisfied with your current performance, but you have to remain positive, which means you must not be emotionally dissatisfied with your current performance.You must learn to maintain a balance between enthusiasm and dissatisfaction.
All told, learning to become a writer is a drab and dull endeavor. Oddly enough, I find it similar to a video game. You shoot mindlessly until you are killed. You reset and start over until you reach another level. You go on until you are killed. You start over. It is addictive, but at the same time you begin to feel that you are wasting your time. Then you get killed. And you start over. And then you begin to feel that your life is pathetic that you are devoting so much time to being killed over and over in a fruitless diversion. Except, there is no such thing as a “gamer’s block”. Writing is a lot harder. You have to build the maze as you go along. You have to do writing exercises which are as dull as push ups. And you keep struggling until you reach another level. Then the next level. Then the next level. If you become a writer, your life will become an endless, tortuous video game. Yet at the end of the game, you still may not get published. If you can count the publishers that rejected you on both hands, you have not finished your appetizer.
And after knowing all of that, if you still want to be a writer, you probably already are a writer. My condolences.