How does one become a writer?
As I try to come up with my answer to this question, I keep thinking about this interview with Tim Ferriss, one of my favorite bloggers/podcasters, and Terry Crews of Brooklyn Nine-Nine fame.
During the interview, Terry makes the argument that with any aspiration–fitness, financial success, writing– you have to be it now.
And I agree. In order to have, you have to do. In order to do, you have to be. In his words:
You are what you are now. There is only now. This is all you have. It’s like… if you were trying to get to LA, and you didn’t know you were already here, you just keep walking. You keep going. You be all over the place, until, finally, you realize, wait a minute, I’m here.
But that’s kind of the way fitness, success, any goal, any aspiration, you must be it now. That book, the thing you want to write, or that thing you want to accomplish, you have to be it now. You are an author. So, now, what do authors do? Authors write. And when authors write, they have a book. And I’m telling you, it sounds really, really simple. But once you get it, forever, you will never think of anything the same way again.
So if you truly aspire to be a writer, congratulations! I’ve got great news: you are a writer.
It may sound like I’m handing out elementary school “Honor Student” awards here. If all you have to do to be writer is aspire to be a writer, then what’s the point? Nobody wins if everyone gets a prize.
But the problem with this reasoning is that it assumes being a writer is some sort of competition. As Tim points out later in the interview, competition is actually the opposite of creativity; focusing too much on beating the competition actually prevents you from thinking creatively.
If you truly aspire to be a writer, then there you are. You might have stretch goals–getting published, seeing your name in print, becoming a New York Times bestselling author–but the difference is that you haven’t attached these goals to your idea of what it means to be a writer. They aren’t prerequisites; you recognize that being a writer is an identity, a mindset that isn’t governed by accolades or accomplishments. And once you truly have that mindset, you can’t help but do the one thing that writer’s are known for:
Take me for example. I’m writing this post at 5:00 in the morning on Sunday, May 19th. It’s my wife’s birthday; we’re about to wrap up an amazing vacation in Charleston (without kids!) and she’s happily snoozing in the bed beside me as I type these words.
Let’s think about this for a minute: we’re on vacation, sans kids. In the parenting game, sleep is a precious commodity. She’s sleeping and I’m not, which is INSANE. I wish I was sleeping, but I can’t. I woke up around 4:30 feeling restless, and needed to write.
Because unfortunately, I made the mistake of thinking this post would write itself. I’ve out it off all week; honestly at one point I considered just having the post read, “How to become a writer: write.”
But the truth is I spent years wanting to be a writer and never getting started. Now I realize that being a writer was within my grasp the whole time, I just had to recognize it. It’s a simple truth, although it’s not always convenient (I really wish I was sleeping right now).
I wanted to write this post to help other people get to that point. In order to become a writer, you must write, plain and simple. But if you’re still not there yet, and the idea of a blank page is still intimidating and you’re finding it impossible to get started, that’s OK. I’m offering you an out.
If you feel you can’t write, at least read. More specifically, read this:
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Now, reading is great, but it can also be a form of procrastination. Reading about writing is no substitute for actually writing, but this book is a little different. It’s a 12-week course designed to help readers work through and gain artistic inspiration. It had a profound affect on me; among other things, it’s what gave me the idea for this blog which is why you’re reading this word right now and also this one. If you’re feeling stuck, I guarantee this book will unstuck you.
Please don’t waste any more time trying to figure out what you need to do to “become a writer.” Instead, accept the idea that are a writer, and act accordingly.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m I’ve hit my word count and I’m feeling tired. My eyes are getting heavy; the birds are starting to chirp outside but I think I can power through that and sleep for at least a half-hour or so.
Shutting down – see you next week!