How to Be a Writer: Ten Important Steps to Becoming a Writer (and Living Your Dreams)
From about the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a writer.
As a teenager, I imagined myself writing novels and getting paid for it. I took my writing seriously, buying books on the craft of writing, joining a writers’ group (along with my mum), and even making a serious attempt at a novel.
Maybe you, too, have wanted to be a writer since you were young. Or maybe it’s a more recent dream.
Whatever your situation, if you’ve wondered how to be a writer, today’s post is for you.
What Does It Mean to Be a Writer?
There’s no rule about what you have to accomplish before calling yourself a writer.
You’re completely entitled to describe yourself as a writer simply because you write – even if you’re not currently writing.
But when I dreamt of being a writer as a child, what I was really dreaming of was being a published author and getting paid to write stories.
In my early 20s, I still had that dream, but I also started working as a freelance writer. I quickly found that freelancing is a much faster and more secure way to make money than writing fiction … and thirteen years on, I’m still freelancing.
I still write fiction, too, but the main reason I call myself a writer is because freelance writing is what I do for a living.
What does “being a writer” mean to you?
Maybe you want to:
- Make some money from your writing
- Make a living from your writing
- Write for magazines
- Write for websites
- Write non-fiction books
- Write a memoir
- Work as a full-time employed writer
- Get your novels published by a publishing house
- Self-publish your work
… or something else entirely.
There are lots of different ways to be a writer. All of these are valid. You can be a writer who never writes fiction, for instance, or a writer who only writes fiction.
So how exactly do you become a writer? That’s what we’re going to tackle here.
Chances are, you already have some writing experience, but I’m going to cover things step by step in case you’re only just starting to dip your toes into writing. Just skip ahead if you’ve already got to grips with a particular step. 🙂
Step #1: Read Widely and Attentively
The first step on the path to becoming a writer is to read.
Like me, you might have been an avid reader as a child. Or you might have discovered a love of books later in life. Or you might not read many books, but you devour blogs or magazines.
If you’re going to be a writer, you do need to read. I know it can be hard to make it a priority – I miss the endless hours I had available for reading as a teenager! – but it really will help your writing.
Try to read widely: by that, I mean don’t only read the sort of thing you want to write. Read different types of fiction – literary fiction, classic fiction, genre fiction. Read poetry. Read “trashy” writing that you consider beneath you (it’s still crafted with skill).
Step #2: Come Up With Lots of Ideas
You might think that to be a great writer, you need great ideas. Almost all writers will tell you that it’s not really about the ideas – it’s about what you do with them.
Instead of trying to find a “perfect” idea, be on the lookout for an idea that captures you. If you’re going to devote a big chunk of your life to writing, then you want to write about things that you’re actually interested in – whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction.
If you’re struggling, try How to Come Up With Lots of Ideas for Your Writing for five different ways to get those ideas flowing.
Step #3: Write Something Short
Do you tend to finish the writing projects you start? I know plenty of writers who have lots of beginnings … and not much else. (That certainly happened to me a lot in my earlier writing days.)
While it’s sometimes a good decision to abandon a writing project partway, you don’t want to get in the habit of always starting and never finishing. That’s why this step is to write something short: something that you can finish and move on from.
Depending on the type of writing you want to do, you might want to try your hand at a short story, blog post, poem, or non-fiction article. You could even write a letter or a diary entry: anything you like, so long as you can stick with it and complete it before moving on to any other projects.
Step #4: Get Into a Regular Writing Habit
If you’re going to be a writer, you need to write on a reasonably regular basis. You don’t have to write daily, and you can certainly take time off from writing … but it’s tricky to call yourself a writer if you only write from January 1st – January 7th each year, then write nothing for the next 51 weeks.
Some writers find they work best when they write a little bit every day – others prefer to have one long writing session each week. I don’t think there’s a “right” or “wrong” approach here: just figure out something that works for you. If you’re trying to get into the writing habit, aiming to write three or more times a week may help, as it’s easy to lose momentum otherwise.
Step #5: Set Up Your Writing Space
You may well not have a home office or spare room you can use for writing – plenty of writers don’t. But having some kind of space for writing is important.
Your writing space serves a practical purpose: it means you can sit down and write when you want to, ideally without interruptions. But it’s not just important for practical reasons.
Setting aside space for your writing is a way of saying this matters to me.
Depending on your circumstances, your writing space could be:
- A spare room in your house
- A garden shed
- A desk in your bedroom
- A table or desk in a corner of your house, e.g. a corridor or even an understairs cupboard
If it isn’t practical to have any space devoted to your writing, you can use a shared space – like the kitchen table or even the sofa, if you’re comfortable writing there. This works best if you can write at times when family members are elsewhere. I also find that headphones help a lot to drown out the distraction of other people and their noise.
Keep your writing gear in a box or bag so you can easily set up and pack away your writing things, if you’re using a shared space.
There’s loads more about writing spaces and making them work for you (even in trying circumstances) in Supercharge Your Writing Environment.
Step #6: Choose an Area of Writing to Learn More About
By this point, you’ve hopefully tried out at least one type of writing, and you’ve got into a reasonably regular writing routine.
Now’s the time to pick a type of writing and learn about it (e.g. writing romance novels, freelance writing, blogging).
You might think this step should have come sooner – but I find that a lot of newer writers get very caught up in learning about writing without actually doing any writing. So I think it’s best to establish a writing practice first, then start to refine your craft.
If you enjoy several different areas of writing – and many writers do – I’d recommend picking one as your primary focus, at least for a few weeks or months. You might, for instance, decide to learn about writing short stories and write two stories a month for the next three months.
There are hundreds of great books on writing out there, and hundreds of fantastic blogs, too. Simply tying your area of writing into Google should give you lots of different avenues to explore – or try some of these great posts to start with here on the Aliventures blog.
Step #7: Write Something Bigger
Once you’ve written at least one complete short piece, you’ve got into a writing routine, and you’ve started to learn more about your chosen area or genre of writing … it’s time to tackle something bigger.
That could be a longer piece, like a novel (or novella) instead of a short story. Alternatively, it could mean writing a number of shorter pieces that fit together – like articles for a freelancing client, posts on a blog, or short stories in a collection.
It can be tough to stay on track as you work on something big. This is a great time to get support from others, either in a local writing group or through an online group. If you’ve bought anything from me – ebooks, self-study seminars, etc – then do come and join the Aliventures Club on Facebook. It’s a really nice supportive group full of people writing lots of different things.
Step #8: Take a Writing Class or Course
While you don’t have to take any classes or courses on writing, I think most writers will want to do so at some point in their journey.
A writing class or course is a great way to immerse yourself in a particular area of writing. It’s also a fantastic place to meet fellow writers.
Back in 2008 – 2010, I took a MA in Creative Writing, and it was a great experience. I learnt a huge amount from some incredible tutors, I drafted the first novel of my Lycopolis trilogy, and I’m still in touch with some of the writers I met there.
Taking a whole degree might not be practical for you, but could you take an evening class, an online course, or even an afternoon workshop? If you want to learn lots about different areas of writing, there are also writing conferences – here in the UK, I’ve been to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and the Winchester Writers’ Festival (now the Writers’ Weekend).
Step #9: Get Your Writing Published
Getting published probably seems a lot easier said than done … but there are plenty of ways you can become a published writer.
One straightforward way to get your writing published is to start a blog and publish your own work online. You can do this for free with WordPress.com – and the technology for it gets easier every year. Alternatively, you could offer to write for other blogs. Plenty of large blogs take “guest posts” from non-staff writers, and some even pay for these.
If you write fiction, you can self-publish it: since 2011, self-publishing has become a much more common and viable way for novelists to make money than it once was. Of course, you can also submit to agents and publishing houses: traditional publication is still the goal of many authors.
What if you want to freelance? A good way to begin is by writing a few free pieces for (other people’s) websites or for non-profit organisations. Then, you’ll have some clips to use when you apply for freelance writing gigs. You could also write sample pieces on your own website or on Medium.com.
Step #10: Take Breaks … but Keep Coming Back to Writing
Hopefully, you’ll want to keep writing in some form throughout your life. That doesn’t mean that you’ll want to (or be able to) write consistently every month or even every year.
Most writers have times when they write very little or nothing – or when they focus solely on paid work (such as freelancing or a full-time writer position) and don’t do anything outside this. That’s absolutely fine. There’s no rule that says you have to write all the time.
Take breaks when you need them. That might be because you’re at a low ebb, creatively, or simply because life is busy. But do come back to writing. It might seem difficult to restart … but as soon as you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you’ll find it’s easier than you think.
Ultimately – you’re a writer when you say you are! Don’t feel that you have to follow all these tips on how to be a writer before you can claim that title for yourself.
It’s fine to call yourself a writer even if you write for your own eyes only, like in a journal. Equally, it’s fine to call yourself a writer even if you haven’t ever had anything published or been paid for your writing.
These steps, though, can help you on your journey to becoming a successful writer – whatever that means for you.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.