Steps to Becoming a Writer: Learn to Swim
Someone recently asked how I became a writer. “What steps did you take?” was the actual question. I’ve answered that or similar inquiries more than once over the last few years and not always exactly the same way—not because I’m making it up as I go along, but because the truth is layered.
Back in the day, I was a singer. Yep, that’s right. A soprano, no less. I took formal voice lessons from grades 7-10 and made All-State my junior and senior years in high school, the only two years I tried out. I loved to sing, loved harmonizing with others. A close second for joy was playing the piano and the guitar. And yes, I did write my own music. Quite a lot of it, actually. My dream was to be a Broadway star, dahling. I would have settled for being a pop star.
I got married and had kids instead.
See, as much as I dreamed of Broadway, beyond the voice lessons I didn’t do anything to prepare myself. Not only did I break out in hives and a cold sweat whenever I was on stage, but I never took dance or acting lessons. Never auditioned for regional theater. Never did anything, in fact, but sing and play music for my own enjoyment. After my kids were born they became my audience. That’s one of the best things about a newborn, you know—they can’t run away when you annoy them. 🙂
The thing is, though I dreamed of being a singer, underneath it all, I was a writer. It didn’t occur to me that I was a writer because writing was second nature. It was part the whole, not a separate skill or talent. Like a Siamese twin, it was always there, lending a hand with my other pursuits—school papers, songwriting, the stories I made up for fun when I couldn’t fall asleep at night. Buried in a box in my attic is a poem I penned at 18 while sitting in my car outside the UNLV student union, my excitement and trepidation poured out in rhyming scribbles on the back of a drugstore receipt. I had arrived early for registration and had to wait for the doors to open. I didn’t turn on the radio. I didn’t hum show tunes. I wrote. It never occurred to me to do anything else.
Over the course of several decades, I wrote countless short stories and multiple full-length novels. The Unreadables, as I call them now, will never see the light of day (you’re welcome). Poems? Innumerable. Terrible and innumerable. Trust me that none of this stuff is ready for prime time. But I was doing something all that time that I didn’t realize. I was preparing. And when I was finally ready to let my twin take the lead, the rest was like pouring water onto a sponge. I soaked it up. I joined writers’ groups and took online workshops. I began attending conferences, blogging, and reaching out to other writers. I did what I had never done with my singing and music—I prepared.
And here’s the big non-secret: I’m still preparing. I won’t ever stop preparing. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this writing gig, it’s that it shifts with the tides. The market is slippery as a greased water slide. Learn all about it today, take the weekend off, and—bam!—come Monday some high concept novel has hit the fan and exploded its juicy different-ness everywhere, shaking things up, splattering whole genres with different colors (Harry Potter, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Gray). It’s a changeling, this writing business. Don’t try to grasp it in your hands. It cannot be caught. Instead, jump in and learn to swim.
So, to the question that started all this, “What steps did you take?” The final answer is all of them, and there are still more. No matter what we do, there is always another step to be taken.
How about you? What thing has been part of you forever? What steps have you taken?
See you next week for more of the Naked Truth.
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