Ten years ago I wouldn’t have had the nerve to write about writing, despite being a life long writer. I don’t make a living from my writing – odd payments for articles, the odd competition prize – and realistically, probably never will. However, the fact is that I have been writing for over 50 years. I’ve edited a community newsletter and I’ve had bits and bobs published by bona fide publishing people. I’ve been actively writing a blog since 2009 and have completed a short story for children. One of my short stories was published on Kindle as part of a local collaboration, I’ve had poems published in anthologies and essays and short stories in magazines. At 50, I decided it was time to start thinking of myself as a writer – actually calling myself a writer.

The dictionary definition of a writer is ‘someone who has written something’ so by that count we all certainly qualify! I suppose what people often mean when they say I’m not a writer is that I’m not a ‘real’ writer: i.e. I’m not famous; I don’t have a book deal or an agent. I refer myself – and you- to my previous point: a writer is one who writes. And it is only by writing that we will ever become writers.

I am fortunate to know a lot of writers, many of them professionals: people who have been writing for years, who have been traditionally or self-published and make money from books. Let me tell you a secret -which I’m sure they won’t mind me sharing – many of them don’t feel like ‘real’ writers either! Some feel like frauds, that sometime someone is going to find them out, their success is a big mistake. The thing is
it takes courage to be a writer, to be a creative of any kind, and putting yourself out there in any form is always going to be scary, but don’t worry. That’s part of the creative experience. Take it from people who know if you won’t take it from me. I can’t emphasise this enough. The ONLY thing that makes you a writer is writing. Thinking about writing is not being a writer; reading a book on how to write is not being a writer; attending a literary festival or a workshop is not being a writer. Picking up a pen, or tapping on the keyboard and churning out words – that is what makes you a writer. It might not make you a famous writer, or even a ‘good’ writer, but it does make you a writer. Writing is a craft and like any craft you have to work at it.

I have a friend who said she always wanted to be a writer. The funny thing is, she always has been a writer. She’s been writing for as long as I have, and it’s only in the last few years or so that she’s taken herself seriously enough, given herself the permission to write and then actually taken the time to work at it. She’s started her own blog, won a local competition, and now has two anthologies, several collaborations and two series of her own books out there in the world. The desire was there for decades, but it’s only been in taking time to work at her craft, edit her work and share it that she has made good on her dream. And she now calls herself a writer.

So, as a writer, the most important thing for me, and for many people is making the time to write. If you want to achieve something you have to make time for it. It’s no good wanting to learn how to play chess and never allowing yourself the time to attend a club, or have a game with a mate. It’s not rocket science. If you want to do anything you have to allow yourself the time to do it. Some people have very specific times that they write – first thing in the morning or last thing at night, for example. There is no magic formula. Ignore anyone that tells you to write at 3pm in the afternoon because that’s what they do, or someone who insists they sit in front of a laptop from dawn till dusk. Only you know what is going to work for you and your lifestyle; and if you don’t, experiment. Be realistic. If you work full-time and have a family the chances are you are not going to manage anything in the working day. Can you snatch 20 minutes before work if you’re an early-riser, and don’t have a young family to get organised? Can you grab half an hour in the evening a couple of times a week when everyone’s in bed, if you’re a night-owl? Can your partner, or a friend, entertain the children while you grab an hour at the weekend? Can you do some flexi-time or take a half-day break to give yourself a start? The busier your life is the more creative you will need to be. If there’s something you are desperate to write, you will find a time to write it. Some people never manage to find the time to write because of the pressure and commitments of hectic lifestyles, and if this is you, maybe you will have to wait until the children are older, or you’re working less hours, or you don’t have the caring commitment for your parents. It can be tough. Some people take a sabbatical – 6 months or a year- to complete a specific project, but that is a luxury not all of us can afford. If you can carve some time out to attend a retreat, or simply give yourself a break from your usual routine then go for it. More often than not, we simply have to work hard to find time within the restrictions of our already busy schedules. Beware. Don’t do what I sometimes do and use being busy as an excuse. If you can find 30 minutes to update your Facebook page or Twitter feed, then you can find the time to write! Switch off the socials and grab the laptop and a blank document!

Thinking of writing as ‘work’ might help. Writing is not a fuzzy feel-good activity. What’s that old adage? 10% inspiration 90% graft. Writing is work; often hard, solitary, laborious, frustrating and unpaid work. It can also be fulfilling, satisfying, stimulating and highly enjoyable. If you don’t have the desire and commitment to write, and then put the effort in, you are unlikely to ever get that novel finished.

Don’t let the fear of not being good enough paralyse you into inaction. Like a lot of people I am my biggest critic. I am always convinced that what I’ve written isn’t ‘good enough’. This is really a thinly veiled fear that I am not good enough. That what I have to say doesn’t matter. If you want to be a writer you need to take yourself seriously and develop a tough exterior. You need to take your courage in both hands and share what you are writing with someone. You can tell yourself that you’re writing ‘just for yourself’, that you don’t care if what you write is published or not, but it isn’t true. Writing is a form of communication. It’s meant to be read. What you write can touch people, amuse, instruct, enlighten, touch people. What some people write changes lives. Sharing your writing is your opportunity to share something unique that only you can say: nobody else can write what you have to say.

When we first moved to the Highlands, my husband and I joined a local writing group. It was a new group and some people were novice writers, whilst others were more experienced. Everyone was a bit nervous about sharing what they’d written, sharing themselves in some way, and yet doing so was both liberating and inspirational. Having an audience for something you’ve created is affirming. It doesn’t matter if it’s a paragraph, a short story or a poem, everyone is offering up something that they’ve created to share with the rest of the group. As a writer, having people who can offer support, advice and constructive criticism is important.

Some of us worked on existing projects and some of us were seeking inspiration to kick-start the writing process. Whatever stage of the writing journey you are on, you need someone other than your mum or partner to review your work – to give honest feedback – and a good writing group will do that. However, don’t let this be an opportunity for naysayers and denigrators to offer negative or disparaging comments. If you’ve made the effort to write something and share it, the least people can do is be supportive of your efforts. Fulsome praise and flattery is no use to any writer, but unconstructive remarks can be seriously destructive to the confidence of a novice writer, so choose your critics wisely.

So, you’ve actually started writing. You’ve been brave enough to share your writing with a friend, or you’ve joined a writing group. All is hunky-dory. You’ve got that much needed inspiration, or you’ve started the project you always wanted to write. Then the muse desserts you. Writers block descends. I’m sure ‘real’ writers have written lots about this, provided magical formulae by which you might negotiate your way around this brick-wall. I have no idea. What works for me is this: I keep writing. I write it out. If I can’t think of anything to write, I describe an object; I write about a photograph; I make up a story about a stranger; I write a ‘to do’ list. Anything. If that doesn’t work –although it usually does – I do something else. Read a book, go for a walk, even write a letter. The channel will free up again in an hour, a day, a week. The important thing is not to panic. Congratulate yourself that you’re experiencing a writer’s phenomenon and move on. Over-thinking things will likely prove less helpful than simply accepting you’ve got a momentary blockage. You’re a writer. These things will happen.Keep writing. Keep sharing. Keep creating. You’ll be amazed what you learn about yourself, what interesting people you meet, and how positive you feel about this whole being human thing. Writing really can shape our thoughts and help us explain our emotions to ourselves and to others. Writing can be a big deal for some people and a bit of fun for others. Whatever your style, form and content, get writing and keep writing. There’s a writer in all of us looking to be unleashed.

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