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Want to be a writer? Here are the basics

Take small steps

The Basics

There are all sorts of writing books out there and online articles about becoming a writer, but what do you need to do first? These are the basics. Set these up and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a writer, rather than simply talking about doing it one day.

Time to write

Have a look at your schedule and decide when you can fit in some writing time. Consider where you’re going to write and whether you need complete silence or you prefer to be around other people. This doesn’t have to be every day but try to make it regular if you can, simply because that means you’re more likely to turn up and do it.

Consider what Michael Hyatt and others call your ‘big rocks’: your most important projects, plus holidays, events, big work projects, even birthdays, and work around them.

If you find it hard to find time to write, I suggest that you have a go at the kettle test, which I describe here. Mark your writing sessions in your diary or on a calendar somewhere you can see and treat them like a job that you have to turn up for. Then celebrate by treating yourself afterwards. I put my feet up with a puzzle book or a murder mystery as a way of relaxing after a writing session, for instance.

A space to write in

You can write on a tray in bed, at the kitchen table, at a dedicated desk, at the library, in a rented office space, in a café, on trains, or outside on a park bench. Which would you prefer? Your writing space can be dedicated to writing, and permanent, or portable and temporary.

  • Make it special somehow, by placing objects or images in it that remind you why you are writing. This could be a special notebook with a postcard tucked inside.
  • Make it as comfortable as possible.
  • Make it as easy as possible to access.

A writing habit

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about creating ‘cues’ that will make habits easier to establish. That might be the cup of coffee you drink before or during your writing session, or the reminder you set on your phone. Establishing a writing habit is important because (like exercise) the more you do it, the easier it gets to turn up. Write one page a day for a year or two pages every other day (or about 1,600 words a day for a month for NaNoWriMo fans) and you’ll have a book written, think about how ‘one day’ you’ll write a book and you won’t.

A preferred way of writing

You actually only need a notebook and a pen to get started but for the medium term, think about whether you prefer to you write on a desktop computer, on a tablet, on a laptop or in a notebook. You could also use a hybrid approach, working on a computer and taking notes as you go.

Note the word ‘preferred’! Doing what you prefer is important because you’ll be more likely to do it! Your preferred venue will also dictate how you write to a certain extent. If you want to take your writing out and about and sit outside to do it, a notebook may be easier. When I wrote a series of short stories on location, I wrote in a notebook and typed them up onto my computer later.

Something to write about

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need an idea in order to start writing. I explain why here. But it will make it easier to turn up and write in your dedicated writing space if you have some exercises or writing prompts to start you off. Here are some ideas:

Literary citizenship

This is a term coined by the editor of literary journal Tin House, and discussed at the beginning The Business of Being a Writer by writer and editor Jane Friedman. It means celebrating and promoting the work of your fellow writers and supporting them. In turn, they support you. This might mean:

  • attending readings, events and festivals,
  • reading and reviewing books by other writers,
  • following and sharing on social media,
  • or recommending books to others.

Writing support

Develop a support network of fellow writers informally (on social media for instance) and more formally, by joining a local writing group, or an organisation for writers. Try your library. You could also try your local writing organisation. UK writers, you’ll find a list of regional writing organisations on this page on the TLC website. (Scroll down until you get to the map.) Writing retreats and courses are another way to receive support. Here are some writing websites to start you off on your journey.

So there you have it, the basics you need to get started as a writer are:

  • Time to write
  • A space to write in
  • A writing habit
  • A preferred way to write
  • Something to write about
  • Literary citizenship
  • Writing support

However experienced you are, you’ll find it useful to check in with yourself from time to time to make sure these are all working for you. You know the Japanese concept of ikigai that’s become popular online recently? Think of these as a kind of ‘writing ikigai’.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. I’ve written a book of writing prompts for beginner writers. You can find out more here.

P.P.S. My book on finding time to write is here.

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