How do you start being a writer?

I had this email today, and have to share it. ‘I am in my early 30s and took a degree in IT. I have had 3 jobs in the past 10 years and feel this is still not where I am meant to be. But it was drummed into me that you can’t get a career or financial stability as a writer. It’s all I ever do in my spare time. I borrow about 7 books from the library each week, I love to share what I see in the world with others. How do I take that first step? Jes’

Jes, you are starting the way all writers do, by doing it because you can’t help it and because meanings nudge you wherever you look. That’s what I did (you can read more about it here).

I’m sorry to say the naysayers about writing income are right. Most published writers don’t earn enough from writing to do it full time. But you can still do the day job and count yourself a full-blooded writer – that’s what the vast majority of published writers are already doing. So IT isn’t where you want to be – but it doesn’t have to define and confine you. It’s what makes your really important work possible. Here’s an excellent post on the mixed blessings of a day job from Joanna Penn.

As for careers? There are no guarantees that you will get a lucky break. Or that before then you will happen upon the right teachers. Or that when you do you will be receptive to learn. The only way is to start and see where your quest takes you.

But how do you take the first step? Keep reading, keep writing. Keep trying to find out how to make stories out of those half-understood murmurings, so that others can hear their importance too. And do you know what? You have already started.

Guys, how did you start being a writer? And what would you tell Jes?

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  1. #1 by Patty on February 23, 2011 - 12:22 am

    Replace Jes’s name with mine and it’s the same story!

    I agree with you, keep doing what you’re doing. Read excessively, find ideas. Write your own novel, then start researching the publishing business. Find an agent. Submit.

    It took me years, but I just signed with an agent last month!

    Don’t give up.

    • #2 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 12:28 am

      Wow, Patty, you got in there fast! That post was only just off my fingertips!
      So glad it chimed – and that it’s all paid off for you too. Very best of luck.

  2. #3 by Shay Fabbro on February 23, 2011 - 12:24 am

    I would say that if you want to write, the only thing stopping you is, well…YOU! I am a research scientist and professor and writer🙂 And I love all three of my jobs. My dream would be to make it big but I am also in a position where I happen to love my day job so right now, I am just happy to get my work self-published and into the hands of potential readers. what happens next is by the grace of God and my hard work! Just don’t give up!!! It is a long, hard road but well worth it in the end if you really want to be a writer!!!

    • #4 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 12:31 am

      Hello, Shay – nice to see you! That’s a good position to be in – nobody says you have to loathe your day job to regard it as a day job. Do you read Livia Blackburne’s blog? She’s a neuroscientist and also writes fantasy, and is balancing the two nicely. She’s in my blogroll somewhere… Brainy Writer is her name.

  3. #5 by Carrie on February 23, 2011 - 1:25 am

    I agree with Patty, also, replace Jes’s name with mine & it’s almost the same story, i’m just missing having a job. Fear is what is holding me back! I am 32…gulp….almost 33, and have absolutely no formal writing education. I have written one manuscript and i have another 6 outlines for other novels done. They are just sitting here, in my computer. I am afraid my grammar and actual layout of sentences and paragraphs would make any agent trash my work immediately. I’m a unemployed SAHM now, so paying for a class is out of the question, so I have resorted to stalking out as many positive blogs on writing until I get enough courage to take the next step and submit to an agent. So thank you Roz for writing these helpful blogs!😉

    • #6 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 9:21 am

      Carrie, although classes do help, you can learn a lot from what you’re already doing. Keep taking the posts!

  4. #7 by Eva on February 23, 2011 - 1:48 am

    I just posted something on Joanna’s blog but I’ll add it here–I’ve just been offered a severance package from my long time employer. I plan to use the time off to do some writing but I recognize I need to find another job to pay the bills. It’s heartening and helpful to see that I am not alone in this type of journey!

    Congratulations, Patty!

    • #8 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 9:22 am

      Eva, hope this is the beginning of great things. I got partial severance about 10 years ago and it was the best thing I ever did, or at least the first of many.

  5. #9 by Patti Larsen on February 23, 2011 - 1:49 am

    I was twelve. I remember it as clear as a bell. I finished a Nancy Drew novel and thought, “I could do this!”. I turned to my parents (both reading on opposite ends of the couch) and told them I wanted to be a writer. My mom snickered. My dad said go for it.

    I’m glad I listened to my dad.

    • #10 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 9:25 am

      Great story. There is always some snickering to contend with. Sometimes it’s like being among Muggles.

  6. #11 by Al Boudreau on February 23, 2011 - 2:02 am

    Hi Jes & Hello Roz, I also have a full time job (pays the bills) and a writing addiction (feeds my soul). In my opinion, becoming an author is no different than chasing any other dream. Passion will allow you the energy and strength to burn the candle at both ends. Perseverence will keep you on the path. Writing is so much more than being recognized in public or a six-figure salary. These things are nice, but not the end-all, be-all. It’s about the journey … about how you feel when someone tells you that a blog piece you wrote resonated with them. It’s about the wonderful connections and friendships you build as you grow. It’s about the writing community as a whole, and your contribution to better that world. Finally, don’t let anyone push or steer you off from the path. Believe in yourself, read, have conversations, and most of all, grow. All the best, Al

    • #12 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 9:27 am

      Al, it’s like a great story, isn’t it? To start with you think it’s about the goal. Then, many years later, you realise the goal is taking much longer to reach than you thought, but the journey has become a fulfilling way of life and you’re loving it.

  7. #13 by Joanna Penn on February 23, 2011 - 2:06 am

    Thanks for the mention Roz, and for Jes, that is my story too! I am 35 and have been in IT for 13 years now. I am slowly moving out of it but it still pays the bills while I build my writing and blogging business. My advice is to start slow so it is not a stress. I went to 4 days a week on contract to make time to build the new business and write my books. It helped amazingly🙂 I also got rid of the TV. Those two things changed my life!

    • #14 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 9:30 am

      Hi Joanna – you’re definitely a role model here so you HAD to be mentioned! Start slow – that’s great advice. This journey is going to take a long time. There are some things you’re only going to learn with miles on the clock.

  8. #15 by Indigo on February 23, 2011 - 2:59 am

    What would I say to Jes? Follow your heart. Give in to the yearning and let it move your fingers across the keyboard.

    Why did I start writing, initially I wanted a way to give my silence a voice. When I write I’m not deaf. The voice became an echo that reverbrated through my entire being. Then one day I realized I had a head full of broken, startling, horrid characters roaming about; who kept company with resilient, strong, beautiful spirits, and I wanted to share them.

    In words: we love, we hurt, we nourish, and feel the anguish. As a writer we are kings and queens of a nation of souls. In that sense writers are not paupers, they’re richer for having written. That in itself is reason enough to write. (Hugs)Indigo

    • #16 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 9:32 am

      Hi Indigo! What an interesting perspective. And writing is enriching – thanks!

  9. #17 by Tara Benwell on February 23, 2011 - 3:33 am

    For me it was always about spiralled notebooks. I still have one going at all times. I write fabulous quotes on the inside covers to document what I’m reading. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones got me hooked on writing, though I always knew it was what I was supposed to be doing. My day job is also writing based and sometimes I wish I was a house painter or a mail carrier.

    • #18 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 9:34 am

      Tara, I freelance on magazines from time to time and have to keep a notepad beside me. I enjoy the work but being forced to deal with non-fiction for a day puts my story brain into overdrive.

  10. #19 by Alexander M Zoltai on February 23, 2011 - 5:16 am

    How did I start being a writer?

    I was in church and my brain told my mouth to ask my mother for some paper and a pencil. I wrote a poem. Or, it wrote me… I was thirteen.

    Many years later, not able to stop my fascination with words, I wrote a few more poems.

    Many, many years later, I wrote a couple books and six years after that I began my WIP–the book that is finally defining me as a “Writer”.

    • #20 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 9:35 am

      Great story, Alexander. It is a bit of a compulsion, isn’t it?

  11. #21 by Jonathan Moore on February 23, 2011 - 10:00 am

    I subscribe to Russell T Davies’ statement (I like to think of it as a challenge) that “you can’t call yourself a writer until you’ve written something, so stop talking about it and go and write”. Consequently I still consider myself as ‘trying to be a writer’. When I finally finish this WIP I’ll truncate that to just ‘writer’.

    How did I get started? About age 16, after playing roleplaying games for years, I had stories that occupied my mind and figured I better do something with them. That’s pretty much the same now – I have ideas that would make a good novel, so I start writing them down and developing them. Unfortunately I’ve never felt that compulsion to write that a lot of people talk about, but if I didn’t write it down I’d basically just be a daydreamer with an english degree.

    As for the career/writing balance – I spent seven years working part time as I ‘tried to write’ and failed to get anything accomplished. I consider this an enormous waste of time and should have concentrated on my career instead – the writing I’m doing now, while I work full time, is far more focussed and purposeful (more than I can say for my paid work). If I ever get published I hope to make a bit of spending money from it, but my future finances probably rest in the 9-5. Sad but true.

    • #22 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 11:33 am

      ‘A daydreamer with an English degree…’ LOL. I had no idea about your seven years of part-time ‘writing’ … every time you visit my comment box you drop in something new and tantalising! Care to elaborate? Why didn’t it work and why does what you’re doing work better for you now?

      • #23 by Jonathan Moore on February 23, 2011 - 11:56 am

        OK, so here’s what you shouldn’t do:
        Don’t finish your degree for which you wrote the first two chapters of a novel (and which were well received) and then take a part time job ‘for 2 years’ to see if you can make a go of being a writer, but then spend all your time trying to match the standard of the work you’ve already done, so that for each page written you delete two, and 2 years turns into 7, and you’re no further on, and in fact your thoroughly bored with the story now and shelve it.

        Roz! In Jes’ original e-mail the question is “how do I take the first step?” The answer is of course, to purchase Nail Your Novel.
        Always
        Be
        Closing.

        • #24 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 11:51 pm

          Jon, I am a hopeless salesperson. Thank you.

  12. #25 by Frances Silversmith on February 23, 2011 - 10:07 am

    I’ve only just started – I’m not sure I can even call myself a writer yet.
    I’m 42 years old, in IT like several of the people above, and I’ve spent the last 30 years reading, reading, reading, and occasionally wondering wether or not I could write.
    The answer was always ‘no’ – the ideas I came up with were just never interesting enough for me to want to write them down.
    Then, one day about 6 weeks ago, I suddenly did have an interesting idea. By now, I’ve got about a third of a first draft for a novel, and lots of ideas about possible other projects.
    I’m really looking forward to finding out where all this will lead one day. 🙂

    • #26 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 6:38 pm

      Frances, it may have taken you a while to start but it sounds like you definitely found the tipping point. Best of luck.

  13. #27 by Jes on February 23, 2011 - 11:59 am

    Thank you everyone for your inspiring replies.

    Indigo – I understand fully what you mean. These ideas, characters are all just waiting to be emerge from this place within me. Its about time🙂

    I agree that a lot has to do with fear – but I guess the only way I can know for sure is by taking that first step. It gets easier with time. As most of you look back you realise what you did to get to where you are now. It didnt just happen overnight.

    Alexander: I hear you. Writing is definitely addictive, it allows you to express yourself to take the ordinary, simple things in life and find its beauty and shape it and present this to the reader.

    Most of all it is the ability to connect on a deeper level with others and be able to touch them through your work.

    • #28 by Jonathan Moore on February 23, 2011 - 1:16 pm

      Seriously though, if you haven’t got Roz’s book it’s a good place to start. If I’d had it when I left Uni I wouldn’t have spent 7 years for no result – it addresses exactly the problem that scuppered me.

  14. #30 by The Writing Runner on February 23, 2011 - 5:47 pm

    Step One: Read A Lot

    Step Two: Write something you would like to read

    Step Three: Find a good first reader who can give you appropriate feedback for the type of book you’ve written — whether this is a teacher or writers group or whatever. Friends and family are nice, but only if they can actually give you critiques that will make your work stronger. “You’re totally awesome!” is not the ideal response.

    Step Four: Learn as much about the publishing business as you can so you are as knowledgeable as possible about HOW things work and why

    Step Five: start searching for an appropriate home for the type of thing you write

    Oh, and of course: have fun and write because you want to write, not because you think it’s going to lead to fame and riches! 😉

    • #31 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 6:36 pm

      Great list – especially working out where you are going to fit in the outside world of publishing (if publication is your goal).

  15. #32 by Margaret McGriff on February 23, 2011 - 9:15 pm

    I can soo feel where Jes is coming from! I studied for a career in law and was so certain is was what I wanted to do until landing my first job and I hated it! After all those years I was at a crossroads. Then, while moving out of my apartment I found my sixth grade yearbook and next to my name in the section Dream Job was writer. That was the day I became a writer and two years later, despite the day job, that is still what I call myself!

    And that post by Joanna Penn was a great one too!

    • #33 by rozmorris on February 23, 2011 - 11:53 pm

      Great story, Margaret. Finding your yearbook is almost like a scene from a movie.

  16. #34 by Jill Kemerer on February 24, 2011 - 10:44 pm

    I love your response to Jess. I think most of us can relate to that feeling of “who am I to call myself a writer.” But when I decided to write my first novel, that’s exactly what I had to do–tell myself I was a writer.

    We don’t have to define ourselves by how successful we are, it’s enough to be working toward our dream.

    • #35 by rozmorris on February 24, 2011 - 11:18 pm

      Hi Jill! I think everyone has a stage where they need to give themselves permission to say ‘I am writing, I am taking it seriously and I am committing to it’. Who knows what may come afterwards, but if we don’t start with that it definitely won’t happen.

  17. #36 by Keetha on February 25, 2011 - 2:44 pm

    I’m excited for Jes!

    I’d say write. Write, write, write, write. Then write some more. Go for brisk walks, get outside, read, write, write, write.

    Enjoy the living aspect of creating the life you want. Know that writing is fun. Do it!

    • #37 by rozmorris on February 25, 2011 - 8:46 pm

      Keetha – hello and that’s a great point. Writing is a mindset as well as something you do at a keyboard.

  18. #38 by DazyDayWriter on February 26, 2011 - 3:33 am

    Thought this was great advice, Roz:

    Keep trying to find out how to make stories out of those half-understood murmurings, so that others can hear their importance too.

    That is truly the essence of writing and, if I may say so, you nailed it in one great sentence!

    I’m always so glad when I stop by your blog!!! Take care, Daisy

    • #39 by rozmorris on February 26, 2011 - 9:05 am

      Hi Daisy! Always lovely to see you.

      That sentence may be small, but for me it encapsulates one of the hardest jobs a writer does. And one of the biggest struggles.

  19. #40 by Maren on March 5, 2011 - 3:54 pm

    I’ve been writing since I was 8 yrs old. I’ve always known I was a writer, I just didn’t want anyone else to know it. I had boxes of stories no one read, notebooks of poetry no one knew about and later in my life, a blog that I didn’t advertise. Until now. I’m about to turn 41 and I just sent in my first 2 children’s books to a publisher (fingers crossed). I started advertising my blog and have said out loud for the first time, ‘I am a writer”. I feel so enlarged by the whole experience. I just felt in my gut that it was time to drag myself out of the writing closet. I’m so happy I did! Whatever happens with the books or the blog or the box of secret poetry, I am a writer and happy to admit it. (I run a full-time daycare as my dayjob…altho from reading all the posts…I’m thinking I should have been in IT:) Thanks for the question!:) Loved answering it!

    • #41 by rozmorris on March 5, 2011 - 4:06 pm

      Maren, we hear you loud and clear. And I’m first in the queue to hie on over to your blog.

  20. #42 by Jes on March 30, 2011 - 2:15 pm

    Hi everyone,

    so its a month later. I finally got my hands on a copy of Nail your Novel. Thanks Roz🙂

    Next week I will be meeting up with a Writing Group in my area. I can’t believe that this is all slowly coming together. I am so glad for the support & responses I received from this post.

    I used to be afraid to tell people I wanted to write and shared this with a few recently to discover they also secretly wrote. How amazing!

    Thank you everyone for the motivation and inspiration.

    • #43 by rozmorris on March 30, 2011 - 4:10 pm

      Hi Jes – thought you’d find other friends who were also secret writers! That’s brilliant – and best of luck.

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