I have to admit, I was stumped.
Although I’ve helped hundreds of authors to bring their books to reality, I didn’t have a ready answer. Adding to my “stumped-ness” was the fact that she was a university student who happened to be taking a course in writing Historical Non-Fiction, and whose stated career goal was to write health policy. If she didn’t know how to become a writer, what hope was there for the rest of us?
After some consideration, I managed an answer. I told her, “Just write.”
She nodded slowly, then the flow of conversation changed and that was that. I’ve been left thinking I should have had a better answer, but I keep coming back to the same one: Just write.
It occurred to me that people who write as part of their job or for school have several things in common. They have deadlines, topics, and structure. There is a stated goal and a framework. Regular feedback and other influences help them get past their inner critics.
Writers of policy and procedure manuals have people to interview for topic matter, and a table of contents to work from. The inner critic has been silenced by a well-paying contract and meetings with a happy client. The regular client feedback is reaffirming and helps the writer adjust the content and project plan along the way.
Bloggers have created a habit, use an editorial calendar (hopefully) for guidance and structure, and reader comments help them overcome their inner critics.
And students have deadlines and topic guidelines. It doesn’t matter how loudly one’s inner critic is screaming, students must hand in something or jeopardize their grades. The teacher and other students provide feedback and guidance to keep the young writer moving forward.
Authors working on their own have none of these supports. So, to become a writer on one’s own, one would need to create a working environment that included these provisions.
In her best seller “The Artist’s Way,” multi-talented author and artist Julia Cameron teaches her students to write three Morning Pages, without fail, every morning. She encourages people to write about anything: your day; your plans; your shopping list; your gripes; your hopes, wishes and dreams; your ideas; your manifesto. The point is to just write. By doing so daily, writing becomes a habit. By writing three pages, you get used to generating a substantial amount of text. By proving to yourself that you can write three pages a day about nothing, you start to become a writer.
So, if you want to write, just write, but create a habit and a plan with deadlines. Know where you are going with your content (this may be easier when writing non-fiction). Finally, silence your inner critic (“The Artist’s Way” has some good ideas on how to do this). Create a working environment that mirrors the supports provided to students and those who write as part of their jobs, and, then, just write!