I think you know if you're a writer.
You can't NOT write.
Looking at my post-it covered desk the other day, I had memories of writing little notes to myself when I was younger. Even just a pencil-scrawled sentence on a napkin or torn piece of paper-- "This day was BAD" or "Dinner was delicious."
Weird. Maybe a coping mechanism, I suppose.
I discovered journaling as a teen. I always felt better somehow if I could get the words--good, bad, indifferent--out of me and onto paper. My grandmother once said that our family was a "word family." Talkers, writers, readers. There are many published authors, reporters, and writers in that branch of the family tree.
Those are my people.
The road to paid writing can be a long one. Since I've had stories published in a couple of books, written articles for numerous publications, and now am blessed to do regular work as a writer and editor--I'm often asked these days about how to get published.
I had the happy coincidence of living next door to a children's book author, Pam Calvert, when we were stationed in California. Just the simple fact of talking to a writer who had been-there-done-that and believed I could do it, too, boosted my confidence.
It actually seemed within my grasp, not just an ethereal 'maybe some day' kind of thing that I might finally get around to doing.
I began submitting articles to different publications in the late 90s. I freelanced (some paid, some unpaid) for over a decade when I had time, amidst nursing babies, raising little ones, homeschooling, and dealing with military moves and deployments.
I had to try out different things before I understood that nonfiction writing is my thing. I do best writing what I know and have experienced. I tried several times to write fiction, and was a dismal failure at it.
The good news, for me, is that far more nonfiction work is accepted and published than is fiction (I don't have the stats right here in front of me, but the ratio is pretty high). So I've pretty much put the thought of writing the next great American novel aside.
So--are you a writer? I think, if you're asking yourself that question...you probably are. If you've tried and failed, I'll encourage you to keep trying. If all you want to do is be a writer, then hang in there. Work at it. Be willing to put in the time to perfect your craft (which you'll always be doing!). Here a few tips and some websites that have proven to be a great help to me.
Take courses. I had to take a children's writing course to realize that was NOT what I wanted to do. As a homeschooling mom who loves children's literature, it seemed a natural outlet. But reading over my story and realizing I didn't even believe (or like!) my own characters...uh yeah, not for me! I still learned a great deal about writing in general, so I don't consider it wasted time. Take a course or two to hone your skills. It's hard to see our own mistakes sometimes. Taking writing courses helped me be more objective about my work.
Be willing to put in your "apprenticeship." And by that, I mean--be willing to write for free for a time. Submit, submit, submit. No one will ask you later which was paid and which was unpaid work, and it will help build your resume'. Write articles for newsletters or e-zines, anything you can find. And it sounds tired, but I've honestly found--the more you write, the more you'll write. Really.
Take it seriously. If you don't, who else will? Try to have some dedicated writing time each day or week--whatever works for you. Set up an area. Getting my own desk was a turning point for me. It was the sign that both my husband and I took this seriously enough to create a workspace for my writing. So do whatever you need to do to create your own writing time and space.
Vonda Skelton has some great (and inexpensive!) online courses. Since taking her magazine article writing course and putting what I learned into practice, I've had dozens of articles published and almost have more work than I can get to right now. Pam Calvert has some great ideas for children's writers, which can also apply to other writers. She's the author of many children's books, including the Princess Peepers series. One of my favorite writing websites is Writer's First Aid. LOTS to learn from that site!
I love the Maeve Binchy Writers' Club book. Maeve Binchy was one of my favorite authors (sadly, she died recently). One of the biggest things I learned from her was writing in my own voice, and not trying to be like anyone else. I'll leave you now with some of her words: