Yesterday afternoon as I was talking with Karen M. Collins, author of Danny Boy, she said that when writing her book it was her earnest hope that it would change one life. If she succeeded in that, then having written the book was all worth it. She was thrilled to say that it has already accomplished this modest goal.
That's my motivation this morning with this message to a young writer. The world needs writers. Today's young writers will be here long after we old ones are gone. It is my hope that at least one young writer will stumble across this and take something away that makes fires him or her up to be a better writer than they might have been otherwise.
1. Never quit honing your craft.
There must be fifty books on writing in the library. Most of them carry some new insight or anecdote that you can add to your toolbox. Writers conferences and workshops can be helpful, too. Never stop learning and never stop trying to improve your writing.
2. Become a deeper person.
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus... agree or disagree with their ideas, but in each case they had become deeper persons first, then writers. The books that have changed history were written by people with personal depth. They didn't write just to hear themselves chatter on about poppycock. What this means for you is that you need to read the classics and grapple with the great questions. Don't be in a hurry to grow up. Take your time. Deepen the foundations of your thinking. Broaden your life experience. Travel abroad. Then you'll begin to have something to say.
3. Write about anything and everything.
When starting out it almost doesn't matter what you write about. Just keep trying to write it better. Try new approaches. Write a story in first person and then write the same story from another character's point of view in first person. See if it's possible to write the same story yet again in second person. And then try telling the story in form of someone's diary entries. Maybe you can tell a story from the point of view of a piece of furniture. It may be silly, but it will teach you something. Most of all, write.
4. Be willing to accept criticism.
Sometimes it's really hard to evaluate your own creative efforts, whether art or writing or music. Feedback helps us understand better how something is coming across. Is the tone right? Are the words making sense? Is the subject matter worth the pain of trying to get it right?
Try to find a mentor who cares about your success as a writer. Thirty years ago I was helped immensely through my friendship with an experienced writer who edited my first articles and helped me see my shortcomings. All writers got help from more experienced writers when they were starting out.
5. Know what good writing looks like.
Being published by a big New York publishing house doesn't mean the book is well written. There is a lot of hack work out there, but it sells so it's on the shelves. If you want to be an important writer, you'll have to learn what good writing looks and sounds like.
6. The world will always need writers.
Businesses need writers. Publications need writers. Even if you're only writing letters to the editor, get in the habit of polishing your words. You want your ideas to connect with readers. Even if you never make a career through writing itself, writing well will make you more valuable in any career that you do ultimately pursue.
The written word has power. The Bible, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence... these are written documents whose power has shaped history. Aim high. Whether your words touch lives a thousand years from now or not, you will be a better writer for having tried.