by Jennifer Stevenson
This post is for about twelve hundred friends and acquaintances who have said to me over the past thirty years, “I’d like to write, but how do I start?” Three new ones this week. One enterprising and hard-working woman has even gone so far as to take grammar and rhetoric classes. (Heck! She’s learning craft, not just taking a memoir class! This is impressive.)
What I started to say to her, and then stopped myself, was that when one reaches a certain age it may not be possible to train your brain to write with good grammar. But with the power of positive thinking (and maybe a glass of wine) you can train your brain to let your true voice come out.
I’m not talking here about “how to get published” or “how to get an agent” or “how to write a good book as opposed to a sucky or lame or merely adequate story.”
I simply want to address crossing that line in the sand, a line that so many people perceive as a huge brick wall, between seeing yourself as “not a writer” and seeing yourself as “a writer.”
The simplest answer is, You’re a writer if you write.
When my mother was a cub reporter, she once asked “How do I become a writer?” of a copyboy at the Chicago City News Bureau. He told her, “Put the seat of your pants in the seat of the chair.” The copyboy’s name was Kurt Vonnegut.
I know a hell of a lot of writers, already published in book form, who talk, talk, talk, but who do not write very much.
By contrast, the amateur who has never submitted so much as a joke to Reader’s Digest may write hundreds of pages a year. That gal is a writer.
So rule number one is, Write.
The second rule is, Stop worrying about your grammar, your market, your story structure, what your mother/your kids will say if they find out, and “whether you have anything valuable to say.” Especially the last one. Good gravy, if we all worried about the worthiness of our message, we’d have ulcers but no royalties. And you’d have nothing to read but Chicken Soup.
This is where arrogance becomes your friend. All professional writers have some, though they’re smart if they mask it. It’s hard to survive a life of rejection and worse, waiting for rejection, without arrogance. If you think arrogance is too much to ask of yourself, call it something else. Faith. Self-confidence. “I can do better than that.” Many a first novel has sprung from the sound of a paperback hitting the wall, followed by, “I can do better than that!”
It really doesn’t matter why you choose to write. Raging to set the record straight? Bored? Dying to become famous? Fed up with the last bad book you read? Want to get rich?
Put the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair.