There comes a time in every aspiring writer’s life when you have to stop playing at being a writer and actually become one. The day will dawn when you have plum run out of excuses, and then you will have to make a choice. Either you are a writer, or you are not a writer. What’s it going to be?
For many people a writer is simply someone who writes. Though your words may never be read by a stranger’s eyes, the simple act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keys is enough. And that’s fine. But for others the dream is to write professionally – to make a living at this wordsmithing, storytelling craft. I fall into the second category.
By many standards, I have already achieved this dream. I do, after all, make a living with my words. But, each time I answer the dreaded so-what-do-you-do question with “I’m a writer,” I cringe just a little. I know that the person I’m addressing is going to assume I write fiction, when in truth I write marketing copy – websites, ebooks, case studies, and so on. I’m not embarrassed about my work. In fact, I’m damn proud of what I do, and on most days, I really enjoy it. The projects are like puzzles and my clients are a fabulous bunch of people who appreciate my strategic and tactical skills and bring a lot of fun into my workweek.
The thing is, I didn’t grow up saying, “I want to be a marcom writer.” I grew up wanting to become my favorite authors: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin, Madeleine L’Engle, and all the other weavers of the fantastic tales and outrageous adventures that made my childhood imaginings so rich and full. And now, as a grown-up, though I put my mind to work on comparatively pedantic tasks, I still adore and aspire to emulate the writers who bring the exotic, unusual, and unbelievable to life. I read Neil Gaiman, Charles DeLint, Erin Morgenstern, Lev Grossman, Catherynne M. Valente, Philip Pullman, and others and am drawn once again into worlds of magic, mystery, and often mayhem. This is what I want to create with my words: stories that entice and enchant – tales that whisk the reader away and change her in the telling.
But, up until now I haven’t invested in that dream. Not enough, anyway.
I haven’t invested my time, or my money. I haven’t taken action to prove that this dream is important to me. I have thought about and talked about writing. A lot. I have written hundreds of journal entries and read thousands of blog posts. I did do NaNoWriMo … once. I did participate in a writing group … for a little while. But those concrete actions took place a long time ago. I’ve given over my days and nights – all my precious hours – to my other work and to pastimes that are enjoyable, but which do not feed my dream of writing stories.
Step 1: For Christmas last year, I bought myself a copy of Scrivener – the beloved software of so many fiction writers. It wasn’t a big an indulgence, and I know that software does not a writer make, but it felt good to put that particular tool in my bag of tricks.
Step 2: A month ago, I attended the Grub Street Writers’ annual conference – Muse. I forked over the cash and carved out a whole day to just hang out with other writers, listen to them speak, take notes on what they were teaching, and generally immerse myself in an atmosphere of literary blossoming.
Step 3: Today, as you read this, I will be sitting in my first Grub Street Writers classroom taking the first of a 6-class series on unlocking the power of fairytale and myth.
I’m ready to start putting my pen where my mouth is. No more dancing around with the idea of being a writer. It’s time to step up and BE a writer – the kind of writer I always dreamed I could be, the kind that writes stories like the ones I loved as a child. If my “wannabeawriter” years have proven anything to me it’s that I can talk a really good game, but if I’m going to actually get anything done, I need to ante up. My good intentions have delivered little in terms of results. Investing in things like this class provides me with more than exciting opportunities to learn from professionals, meet other aspiring authors, and stretch my writing muscles. The fact that I’ve paid for and committed to this class means that my butt will be in that chair for four hours each week for the next six weeks. That’s 24 hours of working on my craft. Given that I haven’t spent that much time in the last two years combined, this investment – though small – is a pretty big deal.
I’m excited. How about you? What can we get you excited about?
How do you define writing success? How badly do you want it? What will you invest to reach your goal – make that dream come true? What can you do today? What can you do next week? What can you commit to doing before the end of the year?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.