A wise friend once told me, if you want to be a writer, you need to be a writer.  Do all the things that writers do.  Surround yourself with writers, talk about yourself as if you are a writer, network with writers and above all else, write.  What she failed to mention is that this ‘being a writer’ thing requires incredible stamina.  It is definitely not a sprint.  It isn’t even a slow and steady jog.  It’s a marathon, a test of endurance, strength and discipline. 

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet with Yorick's skull
Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet

 So how does one, be a writer before they are published?  There are many things you can do.  But first and foremost:

  1. Write.  Too often we get caught up in all the other things going on in our lives.  However, if you want to write, if you truly want to be a writer, you have to make time for it.
  2. Join a writing community.  If you are reading this article, chances are you belong to a writing group.  But ask yourself what you are getting out of this group.  Are you learning anything?  Is the group helping your writing career or is it just one more thing that is taking up time in your life and keeping you from writing?  There are many, many forums for writers out there.  Choose your community carefully.
  3. Present yourself as a writer.  When people ask you what you do, tell them you are a writer and say it with conviction.  If you don’t believe it, no one else will.  This was a transition I personally had to make slowly (otherwise I felt like a fraud).  I began with, “I’m a teacher, but I’m not teaching right now, I’m writing in my spare time.”  Then I started saying, “I used to be a teacher but now I write.”  Now I say, “I’m a writer.”  And you know what?  I feel like a writer.
  4. Be professional.  If you want to write as a career, treat it as such.  Your query letter is your cover letter, your partial is your resume.  Make sure you are sending out your very best work and if your project is passed on, make sure you send a gracious thank-you as you never know when your paths will cross again.  Conferences and workshops are like job fairs, an opportunity to see what’s out there and to network.  Create a professional persona with the name you plan to use, business cards and websites.  There are many ways to do this without spending a lot of money.  Ask the members of your writing group if you need help, that’s what they’re there for.
  5. Network.  Like any other business, networking is imperative.  Take a step out of your comfort zone and attend conferences to meet people in the industry and to feel a part of that industry.  Don’t just focus on industry professionals, meet other authors and readers, you never know who anyone is or who they will become.  Again, be professional and gracious.  Yes, attending conferences can be costly but think of it as an investment. If money is an issue, plan for it.  Do things like collect air miles to help pay for flights.  Share a room with others – it’s a great way to meet people and to cut costs.  If a conference is really unattainable, there are many ways to network free of charge.  Twitter and Facebook are easy ways to make contacts without spending a dime.  If blogging isn’t for you, take some time to simply follow and comment on other peoples’ blogs.
  6. Volunteer.  I have been so amazed and delighted by the support in this industry and have directly benefited by the guidance of others who have been involved longer than I have.  I know I’m not alone.  Pay it forward.  Volunteer in your writing group, it’s another great way to meet industry professionals, one-on-one.  Help those who are newer to this than you, you never know – they may someday become your biggest fan.  Volunteer at conferences to moderate a panel – you could end up meeting one of your favorite authors.  Teach writing classes, find an aspect of the craft that you excel at and share your techniques with others.
  7. Write.  Just in case you’d forgotten.  It’s a marathon, remember?  And, as Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

    Plato and Aristotle
    Aristotle and Plato