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What Does It Take To Be A Writer?

Dallas Nicole Woodburn -- October 4, 2007

"If you are meant to be a writer, you will be. No one can stop a writer from writing. Not even Hitler could do that," says Jim Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist. Are you meant to be a writer? What does it take? Do you have to go to college and earn a special degree? Publish your work? Sell hundreds -- even thousands -- of books?

No, no, and no again. One reason writing is so magical is that no one can stop you from doing it. Writers can be ten years old and they can be one-hundred-and two; Harvard professors and high-school dropouts; me and you.

What makes someone a writer? Writers, quite simply, are people who write.

I know, DUH! But you'd be surprised how many people dream of being writers but don't do anything about it. If you want to be a writer -- a good writer, at least -- you have to write. As science fiction legend Ray Bradbury told me when I met him at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, "Write and write and WRITE some more!"

It's simple -- but great -- advice. Think about when you were a kid: if you wanted to make the basketball team, you practiced for hours and hours and hours. If you wanted to be good at the piano, you spent lots of time with your fingers on those ivory keys. Well, if you want to be good at writing, practice writing every day, even if just for half an hour. These minutes will slowly but steadily add up, like compound interest in a savings account -- only instead of amassing money, you will be accumulating pages and pages of words and stories.

Here's something else you need to do if you want to be a good writer: read. Read until your eyes get sore.

Professional published authors agree. "Read everything you can get your hands on," says Niki Burnham, author of teen novel Royally Jacked and the newly-released sequel Spin Control.

"Make time to read. You'll learn a lot that way," echoes Sharon Creech, Newbery-award winning author of such acclaimed books as Walk Two Moons and Love That Dog.

Reading helps broaden your imagination and creativity. Plus, it's a good learning tool to try emulating the same techniques the authors of your favorite books use in your own writing. You can learn a lot about dialogue and character descriptions, for example.

Reading will also inspire you on those days when the words won't come and it's hard to sit in front of your blank computer screen. Michael Bedard, author of the young adult novel Stained Glass, offers this advice: "Look for writers whose work excites and inspires you. And then try to imitate that passion in your own writing."

So, if you want to be a writer, BE ONE! The only one who can stop you is YOU!

Stuck getting started? Try these writing prompts:

Write a letter to your future self, predicting where you will be in five, ten, or even twenty years. What will you be doing, thinking, dreaming? Or jot a note to a character from one of your favorite books.