No one ever asks a guitar player how you become a guitarist. They know, without asking. You buy a guitar and you practice. For years. Until you learn how to play. If you practice hard enough and have the good fortune to be talented, you may even learn how to play well.
So why do people ask, how do you write?
If they’re readers, I think they’re understandably mystified. A good story may be magical, but writers are not magicians. A great novel may seem to be a work of genius, but most writers are not geniuses.
A writer is someone who writes. Full stop.
But that answer doesn’t satisfy many people who ask the question in the first place.
What they want is a rule book, one with secrets to a successful life as a writer, preferably one with the word “Secrets” in the title. They can find plenty of them. I’ve bought my fair share.
I think people hope rule books have the answer because they suspect the hard truth. Writing is a lonely occupation with no guarantee of success and no expiration date for the training period.
“Writing makes no noise, except groans,” the novelist Ursula K. LeGuin said, “and it can be done anywhere and it is done alone.”
It’s a lot easier to read a rule book than it is to sit in a room by yourself, struggling to free your imagination, to write from within, which is where all good stories and novels come from.
To write is simple:
You sit by yourself.
And you write.
And you rewrite.
But you don’t stop there.
You read other writers. You study what they do and try to figure out how they’ve done it.
How they make characters come to life on the page. Write dialogue that sounds like real people talk. Craft sentences, paragraphs, scenes, stories, poems, scripts and novels that hold a reader’s attention from beginning to end. You try to adapt these lessons to your own work.
“Talent is a long patience,” the French novelist Gustave Flaubert said, “and originality an effort of will and intense observation.”
So you also study people. You eavesdrop on their conversations. You notice what they wear, how they walk and talk, how they show affection or disapproval. You take notes.
You become a student of human nature. You meditate on the human condition.
How do you become a writer? The same way you become a guitar player.
You do it.
May the writing go well.