How To Become A Writer

By Mark Nichol

Write.

In order to be able to call yourself a writer, all you have to do is write. But I have another piece of advice: Don’t go passing out business cards emblazoned with that word just yet.

Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating writer (one who deserves those business cards) who has an uncanny knack for extrapolating from mundane facts and ideas from an oblique — and unique — angle. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, he describes an intriguing concept popularly known as the 10,000-Hour Rule. Simply stated, it points out that most people who become highly accomplished at one endeavor or another have at least one thing in common: They’ve worked at it for 10,000 hours.

So, if you haven’t devoted an hour a day into writing for the last thirty years, or three hours a day for the past decade, or an equivalent total, don’t be surprised that you can’t find your name on the New York Times best seller list. Take heart, however, that you don’t need to log five figures’ worth of writing time to satisfying your desire to compose prose (or poetry, or nonfiction).

But ignore James Brown’s advice to get up offa that thing — sit down on that thing and write. It doesn’t matter what you write, but it matters that you write.

It also matters that you read — and, similarly, the what isn’t as important as the that: that you read. Read literary classics and airport novels and graphic novels. Read biographies and memoirs and as-told-tos. Read magazines and newspapers and blogs. Read about people and places and things real and imagined.

But learn to distinguish between bad writing and good writing and great writing. Notice the style and tone and technique of the great stuff. Don’t try to imitate it, but recognize it and what it does for your reading experience. Think about what you want the experience to be like for your readers.

Don’t forget, though, the most important reason to write: for your own enjoyment — the joy of creation, the joy of reading the story you had to write because nobody else had done so until you came along. Don’t write with any goal in mind except this one: to complete a story — a novel, a novella, a short story, a short short story — so that you can read it.

I’ll return to this topic with posts about elements of fiction writing and others about writing nonfiction, but I’ll sign off for now, because I don’t want to keep you from your writing.

What are you waiting for?

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23 Responses to “How To Become A Writer”

  • Laura Drake

    Okay, I met the criterion (3 hrs/day for ten years) so why aren’t I on the NYT list? Oh, has something to do with quality time, huh? 🙂

    I agree with your point to remember why we do this – if you get on the publish treadmill, it’s easy to forget that!

  • naomi hamm

    I do not feel either that you need to have business cards as a writr, but they can come in handy in the right places and @the right times. Like a writers group or conference, that you would attend where all can get back to you should they need to.

    I also do not feel you have to write every day, either, but I would caution you this: write @least 3-4 daysa week an hour or more those days you write.

    and also become an affiliate and make money in your spare time, details to come soon.

  • Ron

    I though you all might appreciate reading the written response of Grant Hill to Jalen Rose; Reminds one of Mark Antony’s speech.

    http://thequad.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/grant-hills-response-to-jalen-rose/

  • Lauren

    One of my favorite articles to date. 🙂

  • tay

    Reading your tips is doing miracles to me. I’m Brazilian, and in spite of not being a native speaker of English I really enjoy studying it, and believe me: your tips are helping me to write much better now, in portuguese. Indeed, my practice in English language is increasing too, and I’m glad to know I can access a website which helps me we that.

  • tay

    Reading your tips is doing miracles to me. I’m Brazilian, and in spite of not being a native speaker of English, I really enjoy studying it, and believe me: your tips are helping me to write much better now, in portuguese. Indeed, my practice in English language is increasing too, and I’m glad to know I can access a website which helps me with that.

  • malou sequerra

    thank for teaching us through the internet. This is the most convinient way to learn things and to improve knowledge in grammar, vocabulary,etc.

  • amir

    ok lets say that i write a book or something how can i publish it?

  • Kyla

    I love this article. It’s truly that simple, and yet that complicated, to be a writer. I’ve been writing for 10 years, but I’m sporadic. Some days I might spend anywhere from 8-12 hours writing, and others I don’t write anything at all. How could I ever figure if I made it to my 10,000 hours mark?

    But thanks for reminding us that those are two, essential things every writer should do. I’d like to add one, if you don’t mind: Live. Go out there and experience as many different things as you possibly can. If it’s true that you write what you know, then know as much as you possibly can.

    Anyway, have a great day, and thanks so much for the wonderful article!

  • Zelda

    I enjoyed your advice. I would like to try to write. It seems like a lot of research. One thing I would like to explain is that I live in the South and people in the South are so different than people in the North. People from the southern part of the United States don’t tend to read as much as people from the northeastern part of the United States. Where I live it never snows, but we have hurricanes. How much do these factors affect the purchasing of books? Are book sales higher in the northeast than in the south of the United States?

  • Shayla

    OMG this article hit the mark with the questions I had. And even the other responses have been a big help.

    I’ve always been amazed at my own imagination and had only a few people to encourage me to write. Now that I have a defined starting point, I feel much more prepared. Thank you.

  • Fatma

    My mind is full of words every single day

  • LionshadeSC

    that was so motivating!! x) thanks for the tips!!!

  • ericka may

    WOW! INSPIRING!.I was smiling while reading your advice or tips.All i can say is thanks,cause you really have said what is really right.just write and have one goal,to finish it….so then you will see if it is good or still need some improvement,…

  • James Dimino

    It’s the same thing everyday. I wake up I hear the “VOICE” in my head. It never stops. I take medication to shut it up, it helps but I would like to eliminate all together. This voice that come and goes is always putting me down. It calls me names like bitch and other non educated words. It’s favorite thing to do is drop the FBOMB on me constantly. Out of nowhere I will be sitting there doing nothing and I hear a voice say FBOMB for no apparent reason? Yes I have tried confronting the voice. I say hey voice why don’t you speak to me like a normal human would. I am still waiting for the answer to that. This has been my life for the last 10 years. I have so much more to share, I want to write a book and tell the world about me and the “Voice”. Tell me what you think

  • Grant Fetters

    I wish I had the skills my proof reader has. With out her skills I would be less effective.

  • Rob Graham

    I must say that of all the sites I have subscribed, yours is the most helpful of them all.

    Long live Daily Writing Tips. 🙂

  • Solomon

    That’s was impressive and i would like to know more about writing poetic stories and non fiction i mean which tone do you use…..

  • Christopher

    Well I am glad I have been writing nonsensical jargon for almost ten years. Lol.

  • Todd

    I read somewhere that the average writer needs to compose at least a million words before you’re any good. So, if you are still scratching your head on the number of hours, maybe you can estimate the length and number of things you have written.

    Problem is, most of what I do is editing rather than writing. I’m sure I have pressed several million keys by now, but writing? Hmm…

  • Marilyn Hall

    The tip not mentioned is a)money is required to pay to write.
    for the printer ink jet cartridge or whatever method you you use to print what you write.
    and even more so, is b) a credit card. The most convenient and accepted way to pay when on line. Even if you see a terrific deal for a small amount of $10. OR
    Even free offers require a credit card to pay the shipping.

    c)most offers have a time limit and offer expires so no payment no offer.
    d)a network service provider
    e) money for the computer, the hydro until the writing is done.
    f) I have written some things in long hand. Until I had the printer to print it out. etc etc.
    So I have saved these pages until I have ink.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Writing is absolutely the most critical part of the equation. If you aren’t writing then you’re a person who writes, just as a painter between jobs is a person who paints.

    I decided long ago that even if I knew I’d never again be published I’d still write. I’m too addicted to the joy I get from putting my stories on paper to restrict that to writing what might someday earn some money. Ink is a highly addictive substance once it gets into one’s blood.

    As to business cards, yes I do hand them out and yes, they proclaim that I’m a writer. I do freelance work, after all, so they may bring some work my way. At the very least they’re an easy way to direct people to one of my websites to read my tales and poems, thereby getting my name out there just a little bit more.

  • Douglas

    You’ve written a really good article, everybody should understand these concepts.

    But what impresses me is the randomness of the comments.

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