How can you tell if you are a writer? Well, there are tons of people who will tell you all kinds of magical signs to watch for, such as:
* Do you like to read?
* Do you get ideas in the shower or the middle of the night?
* Does the ink flow of your pen and type of paper, or the font and color scheme on your computer, really, really matter to you?
* Do you journal?
* Did you write creative works in grade school or high school, before college or law school?
* Have people complimented your writing, even your legal writing?
* Do you fantasize about chucking it all and going to live in a rustic cabin for a year with nothing but a notebook (paper or electronic) and some coffee and your ideas?
While I’d love to hear the answers to these questions (because I love a good story), they miss the point. It’s pretty simple to tell if you’re a writer, in reality. There’s one big, huge tip-off: YOU WANT TO WRITE. If I were clever I’d be tempted to put those words in blinking text. (Fortunately I’m not clever, because blinking text would be annoying.)
I’m a firm believer that if the desire to write is bubbling up in you, it’s because you need to write. As the Sufi mystic Rumi says, “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.” Fortunately we now live in a world where you can do lots of things in a lifetime. If your heart wants to write, then writing is one of your things.
So, how do you get from wanting to write to actually writing?
First, do morning pages—3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing just as soon as you get up. This is one of the main tools that Julia Cameron, author The Right To Write, insists you use. And she insists for very good reason: Morning pages let you unload your worries, anger, and frustrations, so your creative juices have a clearer path to getting out of your head and onto the page or into action. I’ve used morning pages for years and have gotten great story ideas with them—along with great insights into my life, which usually show up in my writing, eventually.
Second, set aside some time every day to write. It doesn’t need to be a lot. If you write for 15 minutes a day, you will have a book, eventually, if that is your goal. If you don’t write, you won’t have a book, you’ll have an idea. My best writing time is in the morning, and right now I can make that work. But when I was first writing, I couldn’t make morning writing work, so I would take an afternoon coffee break from my job, and spend half an hour writing. It doesn’t matter whether your writing is good every day; what matters is that you write every day. When you write, guess what? You’re a writer! And the more you write, even horribly, the better you will get.
Third, try this exercise: Pretend you are entering one of those contests for worst fiction writing ever. You know, the ones that have you complete a story that begins with some set text like “It was a dark and stormy night.” Really enjoy this, and go with whatever comes into your head. Write a few pages’ worth of utter dreck. See? Writing doesn’t have to be scary.
Let me know how these tips work out for you. I’d love to hear about it.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who wrote for a living for 10 years. Interested in becoming a lawyer-writer? Check out her online class, So You Wanna Be a Lawyer-Writer, which starts Oct. 28. Or contact her at jalvey AT jenniferalvey.com to set up personalized writing coaching to suit your schedule.