Steps to Becoming a World Famous Writer
Okay, so the title is just a come-on. If there were steps, I would have gone down that path many years ago, but the journey I took hasn’t made me a world famous writer . . . just a published one. So how did I get there? What helped me become addicted to the art of wordsmithing?
Step One: Read, read, read. You can’t be a good writer or even a mediocre one without a reading background. For me, that started with DC Comics. Yes, I’ll admit it, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, Batman . . . these were all my constant companions at a very early age. From them I learned super powers always came with a weakness, a vulnerability. It meant all characters had a fatal flaw. It meant even super heroes were human. I couldn’t get enough of these super heroes and my room became piled high with comic books. Of course, they were the hook, and soon I ventured into the world of Tom Swift Jr. These were my introductions into the world of science fiction and I would spend hours with a book in hand enjoying my journeys underseas in submarines or overhead in giant aircraft or under the earth in mammoth tunneling machines. And I couldn’t wait until the next book was published. From these serial adventures, it was an easy transition into the realm of mythology. I started with Hercules, Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and Greek heroes of mythic proportions. Then I traveled north to visit Odin, Thor, Loki and the darker realms of Norse mythology. They welcomed me into strange, new worlds inhabited with unpredictable gods and human heroes who often defied them. Finally, I was ready for the worlds of science fiction and fantasy created by groundbreaking writers: Tolkien, Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, LeGuin and Herbert. It was here I learned about world building and what it meant to expand the boundaries of my imagination. All these books, all these writers created a foundation for my future writing career.
Step Two: Prepare Yourself Academically. Reading set the stage for my next journey, but in order for me to become a real writer, I first had to know how to write. Okay, I learned the basics in elementary, secondary and high schools, but it wasn’t until I was established in college (UCLA and UC Santa Barbara) that I discovered academic writing and creative writing don’t exist in the same world. Yes, I could write a paper on the uses of symbolism in Ionesco’s plays, but actually writing a play was quite different. However, knowing how to vary sentence length and structure, how to utilize strong verbs and nouns instead of adjectives and adverbs, and how to describe something using multiple senses were writing strategies that worked well in both the academic and creative settings. Analyzing pieces of literature also helped me to understand the difference between effective writing and crap. That’s not to say I haven’t written my fair share of crap. Every beginning writer goes through the purple-prose, too-many-generalizations, not-enough-concrete-images, too-many-to-be-verbs stage. So if you haven’t analyzed your own writing, I suggest you start. And, of course, college will give you the tools to do just that.
Step Three: Don’t Give Up. So now it was time to see if anyone, other than my current girlfriend, thought I was writing decently. I began as a poet. I liked words. I liked to manipulate words. I liked to play with words. I decided to test the waters, so I gathered my courage and gave a sample of my poetry to my college English professor. Big mistake. What I thought would be a friendly feedback session turned out to be a roasting. My professor told me my poetry was reminiscent of what a Victorian housewife would write. Yep, in those terms. Humbled and angered I slunk back to my apartment not knowing what I should do next. I could either throw all of my poetry in the circular file and forget about my future as a writer, or I could take this as a challenge—a slap in the face—but a challenge. I chose the later, and that has made all the difference. I was determined to show this professor I was better than a Victorian housewife, at least in writing poetry. I looked closely at what I was writing and how I was writing it. Yes, I could see what he meant, but I could change. The first step to changing was to read some modern poetry and see what these poets were doing with their structure and themes. Then it was back to the drawing board to create my own voice and my own style. The point is, don’t give up on yourself as a writer. Keep striving to improve. Never, ever take one professor’s critique as the final say in the matter.
Step Four: Send Stuff Out. Maybe you’ve heard this a few dozen times, but it bears repeating. You’ll be rejected more times than you can count. It goes with the territory. If you weren’t rejected, you wouldn’t be a writer. You’d be a freak of nature. Writers have to have strong egos because most publishers take metaphorical swings at them. Swings like: “This doesn’t fit our needs at this time,” and “Read a sample of what we publish before you send in crap like this.” I think I still have the uncashed $3.00 check I received for my first published poem. It’s a time to celebrate for a couple of minutes. Then, it’s get back to work.
Step Five: Find a Support Group. When I retired, I was ready to get back to trying to become a “World Famous Writer.” I was ready to write my first novel, but was I any good in the fiction writing world? I’d really only done poetry, and fiction, well, fiction was all about lying. So how good of a liar was I? I decided it was time for some feedback from other writers. I googled writing groups in the area and found the Coffee House Writers Group in my very own city. I visited the critique group the next week with some fiction pieces I had written. As nervous as I was in letting others critique my work, I found it strangely exhilarating and beneficial. After a few sessions, I knew the writers I could trust with their comments and I listened closely to the feedback they gave me. Not only did I learn a great deal, but I also made good friends with writers who have now gone on to become well known in their genres. I have continued to use them as beta readers and I pay close attention to what they have to say. The concept of writers supporting writers is not new, but it is important. Find other writers (on-line if need be) to give you the support you’ll need at the next level.
Step Six: Help Others So They Can Help Themselves. Once I became more comfortable with my writing group, I began to take a leadership role in the organization. For me, it wasn’t enough to just make my writing better. It was important to help other writers with their craft and with their voices. I started as a critique group leader, became a presenter at Shop Talks, organized a writing program for the elderly at a rehabilitation center, found publishers, editors, bloggers and writers to speak at monthly meetings, and became the Educational Director for the Coffee House Writers Group, a nonprofit organization. I helped set up a small scholarship program for high schoolers hoping to become writers themselves. I guess what it all boils down to is making a difference in the world for others. If you can do that, you will have officially become “A World Famous Writer” even if no one has ever heard of you before.