Writing has always been one of my passions in life. I love writing. When I was five I wrote my first short story. It had something to do with a James Bond-type character sneaking into a military compound. As you can expect, it was pretty terrible. But my teacher loved it. She had the pages laminated and bound with a plastic-wire spine.
From that day I was hooked.
I spent most of the next decade dabbling in the craft. Like most teenagers, I didn’t have the confidence or interest to stay with any one piece for the time it would take for completion.
Although I originally went to college to study in a STEM field, it was my freshmen English courses that held my interest. I knew that if I was going to spend four years doing any one thing I wanted to learn how to write well and expand my interests in literature.
I switched majors to English and did a focus in Creative Writing. I had the good fortune of learning under some of the best writing professors at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Lawrence Naumoff was the first teacher to guide me in the art of writing. Although at the time I was somewhat over-confident in my skills, he was the professor that taught me the meaning of having thick skin. The pieces I thought he would adore were verbally shredded before the class. I would sit there as he red-inked and scolded my choice of wording, my naive use of plot and character development.
It wasn’t easy. I remember leaving classes feeling destroyed, despite the encouragement of my peers. But I loved every minute of it. To this day, I believe the only way we truly grow is to stand and learn from the criticism of others. If the person criticizing you is a six-time published, award winning author, then you’ve hit the literary jackpot.
From there I moved from fiction into the memoir genre of nonfiction writing. Under the mentorship of Marianne Gingher, author of Adventures in PenLand, among many others, I spent two years learning from her the wonderful art of crafting stories from our past experiences.
Every author has the capacity to write memoir. Even the most mundane of life experiences can be transformed into an interesting story. It was also during this time that I developed a taste for nonfiction writing. Not every story has to be a fantastical creation of the mind. Some writing is about putting the obvious into words and conveying it to others. Good journalism and research writing does just that. But there’s also a need for good writing in the fields of math and science. At the end of the day, nonfiction writing is about communication. Whether you’re getting your point across through a compelling story, or a well-structured article, the goal is to convey a message. That was where I first saw how I could make an impact on the field of medicine.
I spent my final year of college doing an independent study with the Director of UNC’s writing program at the time, Daniel Wallace. On top of being an incredibly charismatic, thoughtful teacher, Professor Wallace was the author of Big Fish, a book that was adapted to film by Tim Burton.
Under Professor Wallace I returned to the land of fiction in the form of flash fiction writing. The pieces were short, 750 words in length, which doesn’t give a lot of time to convey plot or develop a back story. We also wrote a new piece every week, which didn’t leave time for procrastination or writer’s block. However it was a great experience of saying more with less and one I encourage every writer to experiment with, especially those of us who tend to be wordy or take their time getting on with the story.
In all, I wrote over fifty short stories during my time at UNC. While I built a substantial porfolio of pieces and skills during those four years, I also gained some confidence–a quality lacking in most artists, young and old. I learned that writing was something I could actually do. Even if I was a novice at the craft, I had proven to myself that I could put pen to paper, print to word-processor, and come out with a finished piece.
And so can you.
If you’ve read through my site now you know I echo the message of so many authors, Stephen King and Steven Pressfield among the forefront:
To be a writer, all you need to do is write.
That’s it. There’s nothing more to it. If you want to be a writer then write. Start today. Start right now. But stop making excuses. You can live your life being a writer in your mind, telling others that you’re working on a novel, but if you don’t ever put the words to paper you’re just a hack.
Don’t be that person. Don’t be the person who spends their life waiting for the perfect moment to start. Don’t be the person that doesn’t think they’re good enough to write the stories in their head. You won’t be any better next week, or next year.
So start today.
If you’re a writer, begin by reading these three articles:
The first will teach you about the importance of creating content rather than consuming others’. Writers write. We create. Don’t fall into the trap of spending too much time reading and researching. A lot of what you’ll learn will be from doing.
The second article serves as an action plan for getting you started writing. You may be sitting their now with amazing ideas for novels, articles, or screenplays but if you don’t get them out of your head and onto paper they’re worthless to you.
Finally, as a send off, I want to talk about the education of a writer. If you’ve read this post you know I had a lot of schooling on writing before reaching this point. But I’ve also had great mentors along the way that guided me in the process. I don’t believe college is necessary to become a writer. But it does serve as a great catalyst to get you writing and experimenting with different styles. Colleges also serve as a location to find mentors, in the form of your professors, for feedback and skin-thickening criticism. However, college is not the only place to find these resources.
For more on the topic, read Do Writers Need to Go to School for Writing?
Despite the solitude effort of writing, we should always think of it as a collaborative effort. Always be willing to help others. Always be open for feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for other’s opinions.
Resources & Further Reading
At this point, the book is a classic and should be considered every novice writer’s bible. Although you may disagree with the quality of King’s writing, he’s incredibly well-published and knowledgeable about the act of writing. Grab a copy, read it start to finish, then read it again every year.
I never would have imagined that the author of Gates of Fire and The Legend of Bagger Vance, would have gone unpublished until well into his forties. This is part Pressfield’s telling of his journey to become a successful author, and part manifesto on the struggles that afflict all artistic creators. Some call it writer’s block, some procrastination. I use the phrase invisible monsters. Pressfield refers to resistance. No matter the name, we all have inner demons, insecurities, and bouts of laziness that prevent us from achieving our goal of writing. Read this book. It’s an absolute-must on overcoming the hurdles of creation.