First, try to be something, anything, else.
A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary.
A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World.
– Lorrie Moore, “How to Become a Writer”
Poems. Book of Narrative Poems, Dead Bee.
Please check out my new series, Letters to Dead Authors, featuring letters from today’s writers to, you know, dead authors.
The How to Become a Writer series ran bi-weekly-ish from 2011-2015. I started the series because becoming a writer seemed like the most mysterious thing in the world, but somehow even I had done it. I got to wondering how others had done it. So I started asking.
Each author answered the same five questions:
1. Why did you want to become a writer?
2. How did you go about becoming a writer?
3. Who helped you along the way, and how?
4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?
5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?
In late 2012, the How to Become a Writer series began a partnership with Talking Writing magazine and included interviews with the featured writer of each issue. The interviews were co-published with Talking Writing.
Here’s a list of writers who generously participated, along with their primary genre:
7/10/11 Sarah Domet (fiction)
7/24/11 Caitlin Horrocks (fiction)
8/7/11 Molly McCaffrey (fiction)
8/21/11 Louise Mathias (poetry)
9/18/11 Darrin Doyle (fiction)
10/2/11 David Bell (fiction)
10/16/11 Forrest Anderson (fiction)
10/30/11 Lesley Jenike (poetry)
12/4/11 Carrie Oeding (poetry)
12/18/11 Deborah Fries (poetry)
1/8/12 Andrew Porter (fiction)
1/29/12 Cila Warncke (nonfiction)
2/12/12 Daniel Bowman Jr. (poetry)
2/26/12 Matt Mullins (fiction, multimedia)
3/11/12 Donna Miscolta (fiction)
3/25/12 Eric Bosse (fiction)
4/1/12 Amina Gautier (fiction)
4/16/12 Frances Hwang (fiction)
4/29/12 Jen McConnell (fiction)
5/14/12 Anne Germanacos (fiction)
6/4/12 Robert Flynn (fiction)
6/17/12 Jennifer Perrine (poetry)
7/1/12 Steve Himmer (fiction)
7/16/12 Harry Bingham (fiction)
8/5/12 Joanne Avallon (flash fiction)
8/19/12 Juliana Gray (poetry)
9/10/12 Joanne Hillhouse (fiction)
9/23/12 Jonathan Taylor (fiction, memoir)
9/30/12 Erica Bernheim (poetry)
10/14/12 Mark Brazaitis* (fiction, poetry)
10/28/12 Nathan Leslie (fiction, poetry
11/11/12 Jac Jemc (fiction)
12/2/12 Bryan Furuness (fiction)
12/16/12 Ann Lightcap Bruno* (fiction, nonfiction)
1/6/13 Katy Darby (fiction)
1/20/13 Rilla Askew (fiction)
2/3/13 David Meischen* (fiction/poetry)
2/17/13 Ron Currie, Jr. (fiction)
3/3/13 Ellen Meister (fiction)
3/24/13 William O’Rourke (fiction, nonfiction)
4/7/13 Marcela Sulak (poetry, translation)
5/5/13 Valerie Sayers (fiction, nonfiction)
6/2/13 Theresa Williams* (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, collage)
6/24/13 Sharon Short (fiction)
7/14/13 Janna McMahan (fiction)
8/5/13 Patricia Grace King (fiction)
8/26/13 Lee Martin (fiction, memoir)
11/18/13 Nicole Simonsen* (fiction)
2/18/14 Joseph Bates (fiction)
2/23/14 Ron MacLean* (fiction)
4/2/14 Cris Mazza (memoir, fiction)
4/13/14 David James Poissant (fiction)
4/27/14 Kathleen Rooney (poetry, fiction, essay)
5/18/14 Andrew Lam* (nonfiction, fiction)
6/20/14 Zarina Zabrisky (fiction)
7/27/14 Jessica Tyner (poetry)
9/8/14 Désirée Zamorano (fiction)
9/15/14 Jen Michalski (fiction)
10/13/14 Matthew Roberson (fiction)
10/26/14 Jason Tinney (fiction)
11/10/14 CL Bledsoe (fiction, poetry)
1/25/15 Katie Cortese* (fiction)
3/29/15 Douglas Cole* (fiction, poetry)
* Author featured via partnership with Talking Writing
I also occasionally write other posts about How to Become a Writer because there’s more to becoming a writer than just writing. Writing is the biggie, of course, but there are a million books and blogs about how to be a better writer, how to craft a better character, or mend a broken poetic line (or break a brittle one).
My basic premise is that becoming a writer is not rocket science, but it’s not magic either. Being a writer is a lifestyle choice–usually a lifestyle change. And it’s not just about putting butt to chair and fingers to keyboard, it’s about participating in the literature of the contemporary moment. Imagine a musician who doesn’t listen to music, attend concerts, and talk/debate with other musicians. Participating in this exciting literary moment (and it is exciting, alive and kicking) requires more than just sitting at your desk and writing. It requires writing about writing, reading, writing about reading, attending readings, meeting writers, writing to writers, writing about writers, maybe even teaching or class-taking. (Notice that I haven’t even mentioned publishing. That will come.)
Here are four more reasons why I am doing this series.
1. Becoming a writer is a journey. When you go on a trip, you pack, you set itineraries, you make reservations, you budget. While those journeys in which you just go wherever you feel led can be delightful and surprising, they can also be meandering and unfocused (like this sentence), or full of regret and missed opportunity. You can waste a lot of time flailing around as an aspiring writer, or you can be focused and intentional–and get where you want to go.
2. Ignorance is an obstacle. Many students come to my office, and, lord help me, many strangers call, because they want the short cut to publication and fame when what they need is time spent learning the craft, and learning what it even means to be a writer. I can’t give the short cut (which almost always leads to roads that don’t exist or can’t be traveled on), but I can give pretty good directions with lots of helpful landmarks.
3. Most advice out there is about short cuts: how to write better novels or how to get published or how to outline a killer plot. Or how to be a certain type of writer. But there’s so much more to becoming a writer than all that. It’s about developing a voice, having a vision, being connected with other writers, participating in conversations and debates about art and culture, and creating a habit of reading, writing, submitting work, and being accepted and rejected.
4. I’m a first born. I’m used to stumbling through experiences, making mistakes that others can learn from, and then playing big sister.
So my series will have questions for reflection, to-do lists, to-read lists, to-write lists, and whatever else I come up with.
Click the “How to Become a Writer” category for all relevant posts.
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