A reader asked me recently, “How do you get started as a writer?’
When I get a question like this, I think about the times when I didn’t know how to begin. How does anyone begin to act on their dreams? Many times people told me, “Just write,” but that wasn’t helpful. There are so many questions layered in that single question, things like: “Could I really do this?” “I want to write (paint, take pictures, act) but who do I think I am?” “What if I’m never any good?” “What if people don’t like my work?” “What if I never make money at it?” The list goes on and on.
When we ask how to begin, though, we’re also asking for someone to open a door and invite us in. We’re asking for help, one artist to another. We want encouragement. And, of course, we want specifics. So, here are a few:
- Study, and that doesn’t mean go back to school (though it could). Study the works of others who have similar concerns or styles as you. Ask yourself, “What do I like about this work? What don’t I like?”
- Find out what’s meaningful to you. In the case of the reader who inquired, she already has a subject in mind, but some of you don’t know what to write about. What excites you? Angers you? Keeps you up at night? Chances are, whatever affects you emotionally is a good subject.
- Find books that open your creativity. For me, the classic is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. When I ran across this book in 1997, I had no idea how it would change my entire life. Not only did I start writing spontaneously within three weeks of doing the exercises in the book, but I also learned to quilt, started taking photographs, and decided to travel more. Other people have their favorite creativity books, but this one is mine.
- Let go of wanting to be perfect. Your first efforts won’t look good, and they shouldn’t! Be willing to write badly. I’m still a humble student with a great deal to learn.
- The secret to writing, and to all of life, is to revise. Though my blogs tend to be off the cuff, my books are not. They go through a lot of changes along the way. Recently I was going through my late mother-in-law’s art, and I was struck by how many drawings she made of a subject before she made the actual painting. With each drawing, she made changes sometimes so subtle that I had trouble figuring out the differences — but she was looking for a particular look and feel, and she explored until satisfied.
- Find people who do what you do and connect with them. If you’re a writer, join She Writes or Red Room or some other online writing group. She Writes has sub-groups within it, so if you’re a blogger, join the blogging group. If you can find a local critique group that you enjoy, all the better.
- Now, after these other steps, I can say it: just do it. Spend some time each day writing, drawing, or whatever you’re inspired to do. You may not have a lot of time, but start with fifteen minutes. If you write a paragraph a day, you’re still writing. Over time, as you gain confidence, you’ll get creative to find more time. The more you practice, the more you learn.
I hope this is more helpful than “just write.” I hope this inspires you to begin. Fledgling artist, I am opening the door to you. Come inside sit down, and have some cookies. You are welcome here.