How Do You Become a Writer?

Guest Blogger: Amanda Eyre Ward

Amanda Eyre Ward is the award-winning author of How to Be Lost, Sleep Toward Heaven, and Forgive Me. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.

I remember going to hear Joyce Carol Oates read when I was in college. I wanted desperately to be a writer, and I hung on her every word. When she mentioned that she wrote by a window, I noted write by a window. When she said she drank tea, I wrote tea. Whenever I met a real writer, I asked them where they wrote, how they wrote, and when. I wanted to know the rules, how to organize my life in order to succeed.

I know now that every writer makes his or her own rules. The advice I give to beginning writers is to have faith, love the process, and to value writing, to put it in the center of their lives.

Having faith is hard as rejection letters and bills come regularly in the mail. But of my friends and colleagues who studied fiction writing with me at the University of Montana a decade ago, the only ones who have not published yet are the ones who gave up. The rest of us make a living now by writing. (Or writing and teaching.)

Valuing writing is the fun part. Set aside a desk for writing, set aside a day. Spend some money on your favorite tea, an important pen, a book you want to read. Play music, and feel proud when you’ve written a page. Take a walk if you need to. Get a sitter. Surround yourself with objects that inspire you. The rest of the writing life is difficult, and can be heartbreaking. This is what you get: a solitary morning, a cup of coffee, the luxury of bringing words into the world, the joy of a perfect sentence.

Putting writing in the center of your life is also challenging, when so many other important things beckon. Oprah and everyone else tells me I can make time for an exercise routine, but I can’t seem to do it. But living as a writer doesn’t always mean being alone. You can take care of children, or a job, or a spouse while you think about writing. When you see a movie, ask yourself why it is working or not. If you lose interest in a friend’s story, ask yourself what she could have done to hold you. What magazines are you reading, and why? What could be going on with the bank teller and her strange expression? Living your life as a writer is a way of participating fully, but also taking notes as an observer. It’s something that takes practice, but I have found it to be essential. I have been completely stuck in a novel, left it for the day, and then found my answer on the playground or at the library. I am always thinking about my novels.

And, thanks to Joyce Carol Oates, I always sit by the window.

Visit Amanda Eyre Ward official website.

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