I receive some very kind emails as a result of this blog, many of which from aspiring writers seeking advice. I used to simply direct them to Google, however, when I finally tried the query “How to be a writer” myself, the search engine’s “Instant” predictive text technology kicked in and options began to appear. Get to the “w” of writer and the results get pretty odd. “Writer” is saddled between “wedding planner” and “wizard,” both occupations in which it is undoubtedly easier to make a living. So do that instead.
Interestingly, “how to be a woman” and “wingman” are side by side, which surely says something about gender relations. Ditto this sequence of how-to-be’s – waitress, werewolf, witch and waiter. At the bottom of the list is “winner,” which is somehow affirming despite the fact that it’s seldom the endpoint of being a writer. The actual endpoint occurs sometime after you’re able to answer the following question…
How to be a Writer means answering “Who cares?”
There, I said it. Who cares? This insight comes courtesy of my brother, who, as someone who’s likewise made his career plying a liberal art (in his case he’s a major label veteran and TV composer), uses this clever retort anytime I speculate as to what I might write next.
Knowing my brother, he isn’t trying to be dismissive so much as wry and incisive. Or maybe he’s just a jerk. The point, is valid, however – who cares? As a writer, it’s your job to either produce work that serves an intrinsic need for your readers, like a How-To book; or deliver some invaluable insight, affirmation or entertainment experience available nowhere else.
To accomplish this, you must first nurture the presumption that you, indeed, have something worth sharing.
If you’re one of these types that is “writing for one’s own pleasure,” please kindly click away and continue pleasuring yourself. These insights will be a worthless distraction to you. The fact is, if you’re writing for none but you, there’s no reason to share it. Just lock it up in a drawer like Emily Dickinson and hope a locksmith and posterity find you so that after death kindly stops for you, your magnum opus can live on without you. Take your ball and go home. Writing is communication and no one wants to hear you mumbling to yourself if you don’t care to share what you have to say.
The rest of you, however, have to start deciding “who cares?” and begin writing toward them. Notice I said toward, not for – imbedded in this prepositional fancy footwork is a philosophy. Writers dance with readers. Extend a hand and give them the space to do their own legwork and your work will be a mutually satisfying experience.
What Should I Write?
As for making your readers care, there are a few places to begin. The first question is what do you care about? As unique and individual as you are, there are others like you, with similar concerns, hopes and dreams. In fact, given the fact that your genes only differ from those of a chimpanzee by 3 percent, chances are there are some apes that share your interests as well (inter-species media has already begun thanks to Purina’s recent dog food commercial that uses a canine-specific frequency to catch the ears of its target market).
The point is, you have to package your interests such that they appeal to your cohort. If your project has lost your interest, it has lost theirs as well. Commit to only that which you truly care to write and some schmuck, somewhere is probably dying to read it. Present company exempted, of course.