Are You Ready To Become A Writer?

Every once in a while I would ask myself, “Self, are you ready to become a writer?”  My answers have changed through the years. Initially, myself would answer, “No, shut up.” Later, myself would answer, “No, stop asking.” A few years ago myself started taking long thoughtful pauses before answering, “Not just yet.” Finally, last summer, myself said, without being asked, “I’m ready to become a writer. Come on, let’s get a move on.” Myself can sometimes be an asshole.

You must submit to taking the leap of courage and faith necessary to become a writer.

Of course, “coming to writing”, as I like to call it, is more complicated than constantly harassing yourself by asking the same question over and over again until you submit. But then, you must submit when you take the leap of courage and faith necessary to become a writer. Just as important as taking the leap itself is where, why and how you decide to take the leap. Oh, and if you’re wearing any underwear mid-flight. Cheeky!

Taking the leap from an unstable place is probably something you want to avoid, if you can. That’s why you want to assess where you are in your life right now, ask yourself why now is the right time to become a writer, and be honest in how committed you are to putting in the time, the hard mental and emotional work of becoming a writer.

Where are you in your life right now?

Ask yourself where you are in your life right now to determine if you are in the best space to begin the journey to become a writer.

When I graduated from San Francisco State with a BA in Creative Writing 17 years ago, I was not ready to become a writer. I didn’t want to go to graduate school, nor did I want to be a teacher or struggle to be a novelist or freelancer or whatever else I thought writers had to be back then to make a living. Essentially, I bought into the notion of starving artist. I liked food and shelter too much. Still do.

I was burnt out from school and didn’t want more debt (I had $40k from my first two years at Bryn Mawr College). So, I decided to bide my time working in book publishing until I was ready to become a writer. Then, I stumbled upon web development along the way. Kind of hard not to when everyone and their mother works in the web tech world, living in the San Francisco Bay Area and all. Nonetheless, I worked full time for companies for a while, then four years ago I started working for myself freelancing.

Fast forward to summer 2017. For a few months I didn’t have much work but I thought it would pick up.  By the end of the summer, still very little work. By the end of the year I realized that I made only about one third of what I used to make when I worked full time, and maybe a half of what I made my first year freelancing. I was progressively making less money every year.

I could be paid to build other people’s dreams, or I could find a way to get paid to live mine.

You know what I realized? Here’s where you ask, “No, what did you realize?” Thanks for asking. Well, I realized that my diminishing income coincided with my diminishing interest in my career. I could have actively looked for new freelance clients. I didn’t. I could have learned new skills and booked contract work. I didn’t. The reality is, for years I’ve growing disenchanted with my work. I didn’t want more work, because I just didn’t care about the work I was doing anymore. I cared about my clients, not my work.

I built sites for non-profits and for successful entrepreneurs, which objectively, is a good thing. But, it’s not my good thing. It gives me no pleasure to make other people’s dreams come true at the risk of my own personal fulfillment. I was not personally fulfilled. More importantly, I realized my life had no purpose. No driving force that got me out of bed, made me a better version of myself everyday.

My purpose in life is not to build websites. At the end of the day, they are just websites. Even if the product that these websites sell or advertise change the world, it doesn’t mean that I changed the world.

I could be paid to build other people’s dreams, or I could find a way to get paid to live mine. I’m ready to live and work with purpose. I am ready to become a writer.

It took me a lot of time, a lot of detours, a lot of emotional energy to get to today. I have the time because I work from home and I have enough savings to last at least a year or more.

Just as importantly, because of the often painful, but soul-rousing hard work I’ve put into my personal growth in the last three years especially–through therapy, mindfulness and general self-care, and which is still very much in progress–I have the emotional space and strength to pursue my dream of becoming a writer.

I believe you just have to be in the right place to make the leap to become the writer you want to become. Not the writer you think you should be come. Not what it would be like to be the next JK Rowling or Joan Didion. But what you, as your greatest writing self, will look like. What it will be like to become a good to great writer. Ideally, you want to be in the right frame of mind, have the time and financial stability–so you’re not distracted from money worries, which will deaden your creative spirit–to begin to put your whole self into working to become the writer you hoped one day you could be, but because of where you are now, you know you will become.

Why is Now the right time?

Ask yourself why Now is the right time. Why was 5 years ago, or even 1 year ago, not the right time compared to now?

I believe my journey to becoming a writer was meant to start Now. I used to believe that I was a late bloomer in life. I came to common milestones later than I think most people. It took 6 years to graduate from college (1 year hiatus + 1 taking additional classes after switching majors). I didn’t start earning my worth until my early thirties. And there are other milestones I came to later that are too personal to speak of in this article and that are frankly none of your business (*wink!). Now I believe you get to where you get to whenever you get to it. There are no “shoulds”. Things are or they are not.

So, when is Now the right time to become a writer? When you believe that you can be the type of writer you’ve always wanted to become.

When I think about it, I tend to take the long way around. I’m like a crab that way. Have you ever watched a crab move? They walk sideways because their knees bend outward and not forward like ours. Well, my mind tends to bend outward. It takes me a while to make a decision because I’m highly sensitive, sensing more than I can possibly mentally process. So I tend to overthink–or more accurately, over-feel–when weighing the pros and cons of why I should or should not do something. I not only play the devil’s advocate, but also the devil’s advocate’s advocate. Either that, or I jump in without thinking at all and do a lot of self-correcting along the way, which of course also takes up a lot of time…and energy.

When I was fully immersed in my career as a web developer, though I thought I would eventually become a writer, I also feared that eventually would come too late. I feared when it did come it would be too difficult and I would never be good enough to do it and become successful at the level and in the way I wanted to be successful.

I want to write well, I want to write prolifically, I want to write with meaning and purpose. I know this now. I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know what purpose was then because I wasn’t living with any. Then again, I didn’t know I wanted a purpose. I don’t think everyone needs to live with a purpose, but I know now, that I do. Writing is the only thing I have ever done, and I think I could ever do, that gives me soul-deep purpose, an activity, if you can boil it down to such a trivial thing, that I engage with my entire being.

Sometime last year I happened upon an article about famous people who found success later in life that alleviated my fear of being too old to become a writer. Of course, as I write this sentence, I see how absolutely ridiculous that sounds. But, tell that to my subconscious!

Meanwhile, did you know that Andrea Boccelli started studying to become an opera singer at age 34? Crazy, right!! There are also many well known writers who became very successful later in life: Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye, age 40), Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange, age 39), Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on The Prairie, age 62), George Eliot (Adam Bede, age 44), Stan Lee (Spider Man, 43), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, age 44), and Helen Dewitt (The Last Samurai, age 44), to name a few. Fortunately, becoming a writer, unlike becoming a professional athlete, does not have an expiration date. Whenever your Now is, is the right time to become a writer whether at 21 or 41 or 81.

So, when is Now the right time to become a writer? When you believe that you can be the kind of writer you’ve always wanted to become. Now is the right time when where you are in your life right now, supports this belief. Now is the right time when you can look back and you can honestly say, it all lead to Now and you say to yourself, “I was meant to begin my journey to becoming a writer Now, that whatever path I was on, this is a new point of diversion.” Walk on.

How committed are you to doing the work of becoming a writer?

Any change in career, any life change, is a marathon and not a sprint. So, like a professional athlete, you have to be in the right mind set, believe now is your time, and commit to the process, from your soul outward. Do or die. Ride or die.  Give yourself no alternative.

When it comes to big life changing events, some people can easily commit to doing the work it takes to transition, to reach their goal. I’ve never met one, but I’m sure they’re out there. Most people I know–which aren’t that many since I’m an introvert and prefer a small circle of friends, family and other useful people–including myself, go into the holy mess of life-altering change by either pretending that it’s not happening, or by kicking, screaming, biting and punching their way through it. I don’t have a love/hate relationship with change, but a “I respect you, and know you’re an inevitable and necessary part of life, and ultimately I’m better because of you, but you seriously suck and hurt like a matterfucker” relationship with change.

I tend to go into soul-deep life changes raging silently until I become physically sick and finally relent. I’m a smart cookie, but my conscious mind processes important things slowly. Or rather, because I’m highly sensitive, my mind-body processes everything all the time so it takes a minute for specific things to “get through” if you know my meaning. I feel everything at once, constantly.

What actually gets through quickly is my body’s immediate reaction or consistent reactions to specific situations. For example, I came to writing last year when my body no longer sat without pain while doing web development work. When I’m writing on my laptop, I’m fine. When I’m journaling in a notebook, I’m fine. When I’m coding or designing, excruciating pain. Just approaching my iMac exacerbates my now chronic neck, back and shoulder pain. The human machine is a cruel and beautiful thing.

But change is always in progress. No one suddenly comes to writing, or any great life change, without having always been “coming” to it. It’s an inevitability. I didn’t suddenly have pain, but the pain was always there on some level, eventually becoming unbearable, becoming obvious. The pain, like all pain I’ve ever felt that was not a directly result of a disease or injury, was a “coming to” some realization event. I’m a hot beautiful mess.

Find a way to commit. If you can’t find a way to commit, put yourself in a position where you have no choice but to commit.

In hindsight, I realized I ignored the pain for years in its infant stages. I now remember how tense, and angry I felt after work. I remember how unfulfilled, unsatisfied my whole being felt while working. I could see now how my subconscious convinced my whole mind-body to push through it. How unhappy I was had manifested physically in how I gripped my mouse, sat hunched and tense, refused to get up from my desk until I got whatever I was doing over with. I knew I was unhappy with web development for a while. The extent of how much became obvious when my body finally said, “enough already, stop!”

I’ve been seeing a chiropractor and physical therapist for almost 7 months now to fix what I broke. It’s costly–emotionally, and in time and money–but I am truly grateful for the wake up siren. This pain is what has made me completely commit to becoming a writer. And I can honestly say, I have never been committed so fully, so consciously, from my soul outward to anything as I have now to becoming a writer. Though I have days where I want to crawl in a hole, or throw my laptop at a wall, really, I have no choice but to keep going because I simply can’t go back. I won’t.

So, I say, find a way to commit. If you can’t find a way to commit, put yourself in a position where you have no choice but to commit. Preferably, without dismantling your entire life. Again, start from a place of stability: emotional support (friends, family therapy, life coach) , financial support and self awareness. For example, if you can quit your job and have savings for at least a year or so, do so. If you can’t quit your job, reduce your hours where you can or take longer lunch breaks. If you don’t have the emotional support of your friends or family, find a life coach, or find a therapist or an online support group, or start a meetup group for people in career transition or who want to become writers, or join an online writing group. I have a therapist, a supportive friend, created my own Meetup group and an have joined two facebook writing groups.

Then, as I did, just start going to cafes–or libraries or the dungeon in your cellar where you keep all the dead bodies no one knows about–and start writing, or researching whatever tools you need to write, or take a random online or in person course on writing or read about how other writers write. Make it a ritual that has to be done. Put it on a calendar, hang your real or virtual Do Not Disturb sign, and have at it. Force yourself into a corner. Put Baby in the corner.

One caveat: don’t expect Baby to stay in the corner. It takes time to build a routine. Creating habits take at least a few weeks to a couple of months. Be self-compassionate and accept that there will be a lot of “getting to know you” and “what the fuck” moments when you start to figure out who and how you are as a writer.

So, are you ready to become a writer?

If you are ready to become a writer, you have taken the time to really think about these three questions above. You’ve decided that where you are in your life now can handle becoming a writer. You’ve decided that Now is the right time to become a writer. You decided you are fully committed to becoming a writer.

Now what?

Deciding you are ready to become a writer only gets you to the beginning of your journey. Now begins the hard, no, the harder and scarier part: Where do you begin?

To that I can only answer, with a shrug and all sincerity, “No bloody clue. This is your path, not mine.” Kidding…sort of.

Start with sleep. Seriously, sleep. Just let all this seep into your subconscious, your bones, your heart, your soul, your everything. Tomorrow, or later today or tonight, stand at the foot of your path, take a deep breath, submit to where you are right now, imagine where you want to be–without fixating on the destination–remember you’re in a good place, Now, and are committed. Then, take a step forward into your new writing life.

Or, more concretely, try one or more of the following:
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  • Read more articles on Becoming Write
  • Read the book Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (one of my favorite books, seminal in giving me confidence to become a writer)
  • Write something, anything
  • Read about how other writers became writers
  • Read about other writers’ writing routines and processes
  • Join a Facebook writing group
  • If you’re into workshops, join one of those
  • If you’re not into workshops, like me, take a writing class (online or in person)

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Go forth and conquer…and write like a matterfucker!

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