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How to Become a Writer

Edited by Steve McConnell, Ben Rubenstein, Alex, Nath and 64 others



Part 1 of 3: Becoming Inspired
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Figure out what you want to write. The large field of creative writing splits into
subcategories (fiction, poetry, creative-nonfiction) and there are even specialized
genres (sci-fi, mysteries, experimental the list goes on). Figure out what you want
to write. Write what you would want to read. Your best writing will stem forth from
something that you, and maybe even only you, are passionate about. When your
passion translates well into your writing, your readers will in turn become interested.
Your passion for your own writing project is a powerful tool that will serve as a
starting point.
Remember that you dont have to limit yourself to a single field. Many established
writers spread themselves out and exploreperhaps they write creative essays
while publishing their creative non-fiction work. Maybe their short novels have poems
inside of them.
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Set your own routine. Establish a particular time of day, location, and atmosphere
for your writing sessions. As you establish this routine, the creative side of your brain
will become accustomed to working upon these familiar conditions. Things to
consider are
Noise: some writers enjoy absolute quiet. Others will listen to music to jog their
creative juices. Others will want the company of friends to bounce ideas.
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Time: Some writers jot down thoughts just before they sleep. Early mornings hours
work well for others, as fewer people are awake to bother them. Other writers may
enjoy being badgered, and therefore write in between coffee break or other work
sessions. Other writers will like long periods of undisturbed writing time, and dedicate
their weekends to writing.
Location: establishing a particular building, room, or even chair can help the writing
process. This familiarity will train your brain to work creatively, or technically, to suit
your goals.
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Read and learn. Reread the things you have enjoyed and study themfigure out
what makes them effective, what makes them work. Try to understand the structure
of your favorite poem, or the evolution of the characters in your favorite novel. Find a
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sentence that you think is great, and wonderwhy did that author choose that
phrase? This word?
Do not limit yourself single genres or fields. To truly enrich your writing experience,
you must explore. You may not enjoy fantasy, but other people read and write
fantasy for a reason. Read with this motto in mind: I read to write. I read to learn. I
read to be inspired.
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Be an explorer. Notice things. Pay attention to the world around you. Look for
mysteries and try to solve them. If you have questions, pursue the answers with
obsessive interest. Take special note of the quirky and unusual. When writing,
having noticed things will help give you something to write about. Moreover, it can
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help make your writing more compelling, richer, and more realistic. Here are some
pointers that will help you explore the world around you:
Nothing is ordinary or boring. Theres something odd or special about everyone and
everything.
Theres a mystery in front of you: a TV that wont turn on, a bird that wont fly. Figure
out how things work, dont work, and why.
Pay attention to detail. The leaves are not only green: theyve got long, thin veins,
rigid stems, and are shaped like spades.
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Keep a journal. Write down things that you notice or that inspire you. Take it
everywhere you go. Some famous writers even went as far as to sew extra pockets
into their jackets in order to carry more scraps of paper. Use this journal to produce
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ideas, take note of things you see, hear, or read, and flesh out your writing material.
When you get stuck on your project, you can revisit it for inspiration. Understand that
everything can go in your notebook, because everything is a source of inspiration.
Some useful things are:
Dreams: a major source of the weird and unusual. Write it down before it disappears!
Pictures: photographs and doodles
Quotes: things people say, sentences that surprise you, short poems, the insides of
a fortune cookie
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Start your project. This is the most important part, and it can be very hard. Many of
us stare blankly at the computer screen, with no words to write. Some call it writers
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block. To help, here are some basic writing exercises that can help jog your creative
juices and provide a material for your project:
Go somewhere busy, preferably a place with lots of people. Imagine that your vision
of the scene is a video camera, recording everything. Take out your notebook and
write down exactly what is happening. Include all the sensessight, smell, hearing,
taste, and touch.
Take a voice recorder, and spy on a conversation. Dont let the speakers know! After
youve recorded for an adequate amount of time, transcribe the conversation on
paper. Play with the wordsdelete things, change things, add things. Create a new
setting, or a new situation.
Create a character. What do they want? Fear? What is their secret? Who are they
related to, and where do they live? Whats their last nameif they even have one?
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Be a part of a community. Sharing ideas and getting feedback is one of the best
ways to become inspired and to improve your work. This can be scary for beginner
writers, for your work can be something incredibly personal, and you may be afraid
of rejection. However, writing in isolation means that not only is no one reading your
work, but you can also run the risk of compounding bad habits (being too wordy,
redundant, or melodramatic, etc.). Instead of being scared, think that every person
you share your work with is a potential person to give you new ideas and inspire you.
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Address financial issues. Being a writer is almost like being a superhero: awkward
office job by day dragon-riding, super sleuth, knight in armor WRITER by night.
Some creative writers do not have day jobsbut this is very rare. However, having a
day job is not a bad thing. In fact, a good day job can even be helpful to your goal in
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becoming a writer. When finding your dream day job, here are some things to
consider:
Does it pay the bills? A good day job should ease your financial burdens so you can
write without worry. Stress is not conducive to your project.
Does it leave you enough time and energy to write? A good day job should be easy
enough on your energy level so that youre not exhausted afterwards.
Does it provide a good distraction? Having a space away from your writing work
can be helpful. Spending too much time on a single project can be overly immersive.
It is good to take a step back.
Does it have other creative people? A good day job should give you awesome
coworkers. Creative people are everywhere! They are not just writers or artists.
Part 2 of 3: Transforming Inspiration Into Words
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Arrest the reader. No, dont literally put them in handcuffs! Immerse them in your
work. Suck them into the writing so that they will read and read and never want to
escape, so that they will want you to handcuff them to your next book. To do this,
here are some techniques you can use:
The senses. We perceive and experience the world through our senses. An
immersive and convincing work will often have readers seeing, touching, tasting,
hearing, and smelling.
Concrete details. These types of details provide a specific sense of understanding of
what is going on in the writing. Rather than generalizing an imageshe was
prettyget specific: She had long, golden braids, which were interwoven with
daisies.
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Write what you know. If you are more familiar with something, you can write about
it in more detail, realism, and depth. If you dont know a detail that is important for
you project, do research. Google it. Ask someone. The more information you know
about a situation, a person, or setting, the more you will be able to render it
realistically on the page.
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Consider structure. Sometimes, the best way to write a story is Linear Structure:
Beginning, Climax, and Resolution. However, there are many, many other ways to
write a story. Consider In Media Reswhen the story begins in the thick of things.
Or, a story interspersed by multiple flashbacks. Choose your structure depending on
your storys progression.
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Consider Point of View: In total, there are 9 different points of view. The 3 main
categories are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Person. When deciding point of view, think about
what information you want your readers to have access to.
1st POV: uses "I"
involved narrator is an active player and teller of the story
detached narrator is not telling their own story specifically, but maybe the story of a
central character
Plural (we) a collective narrator, maybe a large group of people
2nd POV: uses "You"
inverted, the narrator is referring to themself as the writer, and perhaps dissociating
themselves from distasteful thoughts/traits/memories
You = a character, distinct with their own unique qualities
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You = direct address to the reader
You = reader is active character in the story
3rd POV: uses a character name
omniscient narrator knows everything, has free reign in the story and complete
authority, and can hurl judgments
limited this POV is missing something. It is like a window of vision that gets smaller
and smaller as you become more limited
single characters thoughts and feelings -- Harry Potter is limited to Harry's thoughts
and feelings
direct observer -- a narrator's telling of situation, but cannot explicitly discern the
emotions of the characters
fly on the wall--the narrator is spy, watching the situation from a distant perspective,
but is not privy to everything for information is limited by the narrator's location on the
wall

Part 3 of 3: Nitty-Gritty Rules of Thumb
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Start with simple words. Simple is best. While you will undoubtedly need a well-
stocked vocabulary (more on that later), too many big words will drive all but the
most dedicated readers away. Start small. Don't hold onto a grandiose word just
because it sounds fancy. Aim instead to allow everyone who reads your writing to
comprehend exactly what you wanted them to comprehend. Nothing more, and
nothing less.
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Stick with short sentences in the beginning. Short sentences are easy to digest
and are very readable. That's not to say that you can't, or shouldn't, write a long
sentence every once in a while. It's just that simple sentences deliver information
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without stopping the reader in his or her tracks, stranding them on an island of
befuddlement.
Take a look at a notorious long, overwrought sentence. The following sentence won
the satirical Bad Writing Contest second-prize. It's no secret why it qualifies as "bad
writing." The sentence is caked in jargon, riddled with imprecise catchphrases, and is
way too long:
"If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the
repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious
authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to normalize
formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational,
enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality."
[1]

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Let your verbs do the real work. Verbs are the great drivers of sentences. They
carry meaning from one thought to the next. On top of that, they help writers achieve
dazzling degrees of precision.
Pay close attention to certain problem verbs. Verbs such as "did," "went," "saw,"
"felt," and "had," while occasionally appropriate, don't really add any spice to your
writing. Substitute a more specific word for problem verbs when appropriate:
"accomplished," "skipped," "gazed," "experienced," and "secure" all communicate
more specific ideas.
Use the active voice instead of the passive voice, as a rule of thumb.
Active voice: "The cat found her master." Here, the cat is doing the work, so to
speak. She is actively finding her master.
Passive voice: "The master is found by his cat." Here, the cat is more removed from
the action. The master is being found; the cat isn't finding.
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Be careful not to overuse adjectives. The beginning writer will go crazy with
adjectives. There's nothing wrong with adjectives, except that they can sometimes
be redundant and are often more obscure and therefore harder to understand
than other parts of speech. Don't feel like you need to include an adjective before
every noun in order to describe the noun.
Sometimes, adjectives are redundant. Take the sentence "I watched as he lifted the
last pawn and set it down, checkmating the king, clinching his successful
victory." What victory isn't successful? Here, the adjective simply restates what we
already know. It doesn't add anything to to help the reader comprehend what's going
on.
Other times, the adjectives writers use can be pretty obscure. "He is a puissant
adversary" is a sentence that is neither accessible nor fitting. "Puissant" means
powerful, and substituting "powerful" for "puissant" would have made the sentence
both understandable and bearable.
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Be a student of vocabulary. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus by your side at all
times. Whenever you come across a word that you don't know, look it up. It's hard to
call yourself a writer if you're not at least marginally interested in etymology. At the
same time, use your vocabulary sparingly. Just because you know the words
"defenstrate," "pyknic," and "agnomen" doesn't mean you should be finding excuses
to use them.
Study roots of words. Word roots (especially Latin roots for the English language) will
help you decipher the meanings of unknown words without a dictionary. Knowing the
roots mal-, ben-, epi-, eu-, ag-, and con- is a good start.
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Say what you mean. It's tempting for people who use words for a living to use them
a little loosely. Often, when we're stuck and we don't know which word to use, we
wing it and write down a word that's "good enough." This strategy is useful and
necessary in everyday conversation, but problematic in writing.
For one, there's no social context. The writer can't use his or her hands to gesture,
and can't rely on facial expressions to steer the conversation toward clarity. The
reader is all alone, and must rely solely on the words to gather meaning.
Second, the reader takes what the writer says at face value. The reader doesn't
expect to have to ask the writer whether she meant what she wrote; the reader
assumes that the writer meant what she wrote. The writer doesn't clarify confusing
words, which means that if you write down a confusing word, the reader is left
confused.
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For these reasons, take the time to say what you mean. Figure out what you
want to say before you say it. Be dogged about sniffing out the right word, even if it
takes you time. A lot of sub-par writing is the refusal to fit the right word with an idea,
not issues with plot or stylistic concerns.
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Use figurative language for effect, not as a rule. Examples of figurative language
are metaphor and simile. It's best to use metaphor and simile when you want to
dramatize or draw the reader's attention to something specific. Like saying "I love
you," figurative language loses much of its power if used incessantly.
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Don't over- or underuse punctuation. Good punctuation is neither seen nor heard,
but is powerful nonetheless. Underuse punctuation and your readers won't be able to
understand the meaning of your sentences. "Let's eat, Mommy," and "Let's eat
Mommy"have two very different meanings. Overuse punctuation and your readers
will be distracted. No one wants to read a sentence in which colons, semicolons, and
dashes make more appearances that actual words.
Exclamation points. Use exclamation points sparingly. People don't often exclaim
things; nor do sentences often merit exclamation. Elmore Leonard, the great crime
writer, has this to say: "Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed
no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose."
[2]

Semicolons. Semicolons act as hybrid periods, connecting two sentences that have
logical connection. Still, Kurt Vonnegut argues against them: "Do not use
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semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.
All they do is show you've been to college."
[3]
Although Vonnegut's assessment
might be a little harsh, it's probably only good to use them from time to time.
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Once you've learned all the rules, break them. Don't be afraid to invert rules or
play with them to achieve the sort of writing you want. Some of the greatest writers
have successfully broken grammatical, stylistic, and semantic rules, making literature
better by doing so. Know why you're breaking the rule in the first place, and
understand its likely effect. But if you're not willing to take some risks, what are you
doing calling yourself a writer?

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