Writing about being a writer seemed like a good idea to me this week. Next week I’ll get back into current events. Last Friday, I graduated with honors from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff Officers’ Course (Common Core) at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. Having spent 2017 so far in Alabama, it’s good to be back in York. During my time away, I was asked by several people in person and online about writing. Military peers and civilian friends have realized how easy writing seems to be for me. They have wondered how to do it and how to develop as a writer.
Writing: the why matters
Before I talk about more concrete aspects of writing, it’s worth talking about why someone should write. To write in hopes of making money is like getting an undergraduate degree in liberal arts with the goal of getting a job. Your work isn’t likely to show up at Kilgore Library or on the big screen at Sun Theater anytime soon. If it does, I’ll be the first to applaud.
So if it’s not to be famous or get rich, why write? I write because it helps me think through ideas. Writing is a way to try to connect with and influence other people. If your thoughts aren’t written down, they probably won’t last much beyond your death. Communication is important in the fields I work in, so I consider proficiency at oral and written communication a necessity.
You’ll have to come up with your reasons for writing. Your goals will motivate you far better than mine. But whatever gets you to start writing, my opinion is that the regular practice of writing will help just about anyone become a better thinker and a more useful communicator.
Writing: it’s not rocket science
There is no secret to becoming a writer. Many people who communicate just fine through speaking don’t think they can write. Anyone can write. If you can talk, you can write those words down. You might be a better writer if you wrote down what you would say, instead of handling writing completely different from speaking.
Something that’s hard about writing is that your thoughts become set in concrete. One of the risks of becoming a writer is that you might not get it perfect or even close to right. Your ideas might look silly a few weeks, months, or years later. Hey, if I can write a column in the newspaper every week, maybe you can get over your fear too. There are worse things than making mistakes, including not even trying something that could pay off for you and others.
If you’re going to write, you need to bring your voice. It’s that simple. Write down what you have to say. Paint your picture. Plead your case. Tell your story. It’s not rocket science: just about anybody can do it.
Writing: do the work
To be a writer, you have to be willing to do the work. There’s a great book about this called “Do the Work” by Stephen Pressfield. It’s simple. If you want to be a writer, you’re going to have to sit down and write. You’ll have to push against every excuse and every other form of resistance that stops you from putting words on a page.
What distinguishes a Flannery O’Connor or an Ernest Hemingway or a Stephen Kings from people like you and me? They sat in front of a typewriter until they had done their work. I guarantee you they did not start out gushing classic literature. The difference between them and most of us is that they kept at it. If you’re not willing to do the work, you won’t become a good writer.
One way to do the work is to force yourself to do it. Find a time or a place you can devote to writing. Then do it. If your goal is to crank out two pages, then don’t get up out of that chair until you have two pages written. You can turn off your phone or internet connection to help you accomplish your goal.
Writing: look for the connection
Connection matters in writing. If you’re a writer, you’re trying to make connections. You’re figuring out what you think about something. Maybe you’re trying to connect your thoughts more logically or beautifully. You’re hoping what you write connects with someone else, maybe even a whole audience.
You can see if your writing is getting your point across by asking a friend or two to look it over. People run writing and speaking projects by me all the time, and I give honest feedback. If someone who knows you can’t follow what you’re trying to say, chances are the rest of us aren’t going to either. When you share your writing with friends, if they like it they may end up spreading your work for you.
Take the time to write. Let me know how it goes. I’m rooting for you.