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The Only Two Things You Must To Do To Be a WriterJuly 11, 2013

There are only two things you must do if you really, truly want to be a writer. 

1. Write. 

We can talk it to death (and let's do! Writers love to talk about writing and process and where and when and pens and paper and all of it), but it comes down to this: You have to write. You don't have to do it for long. I've been relearning lately that I can get 500 words written on a 15 minute break -- and if you do that four times in a day? 2000 words! Your mileage may vary, but you'll be surprised what you can do in a short amount of time. And remember, you don't have to do it well. First drafts are automatically garbage. But you do have to write. 

Photo on 6-20-13 at 6.11 PM
I seriously hit PhotoBooth instead of WriteOrDie (the logos look similar) and I shot this snap before I knew what I was doing. This is writing. It isn't pretty. 

I like to get my writing done first thing, ideally. At my day job, I write on my breaks, when I can. But on my days off from work, the first thing I do is eat two eggs for some needed word-writin' stamina, and then I get in the car and drive to the cafe for my caffeine. (I love my cafe so much. It's my office, really. I say hi to my "coworkers" (the baristas and the other patrons) and then I put in my earphones and ignore everyone, but when I come out of the writing haze, there are people to smile at, to chat with. When I leave, everyone says, "'Bye, Rachael!" It's really the nicest feeling in the world, and it's something I worked at making happen. For years I went in there and felt unseen, which was fine for a while. Then I started methodically learning every employee's name, and that expanded to the regular coffee gang. Now I'm part of that crew, and that was NOT the point I started out to make, but that's the magic of writing -- you never exactly know where you'll end up.) 

Back to what I was saying: I try to write before I do anything else, because besides my family, my writing is the most important thing to me. And if I get something done, first thing, then at least no matter what happens later, the day's not a waste. 

You, however, might need to write at night, or in the afternoon, or on your lunch break, hidden away in an unused cubicle. Whenever and wherever works to write is the right place, as long as you're getting it done. If you say, "I'm a night writer. I could never get up a half-hour early to write--I'm just not awake enough at that time of day," that's great if you know that.

Protip:  But if you're not writing at night even though you tell yourself you will, then night ISN'T actually your ideal time, and you should stop telling yourself that. Try a different time. Sneak up on yourself. Turn off the internet before you talk yourself into checking Twitter one more time (it's not easy). For me, it helps to land at the page when I'm still a little sleepy. I feel fewer mental barriers then. Also, I usually need to get out of the house and block the internet before I write. I eventually get bored sitting in front of the computer with nothing to do, so I write. It's not a great system, but it works for me. 

Just write. For every half hour you let yourself read about writing or surf publishing industry blogs, make yourself write (badly!) for fifteen minutes.

You don't have to be published to call yourself a writer. You do have to write.

As John Scalzi so succinctly said, 

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.


2. Find your circle of writer friends.

Just like at my cafe, my circle of writer friends is something I worked at. It isn't some random group I happened to trip over in the new fiction section of Books, Inc. I had to think about it. That first time I went to a local RWA meeting was one of the smartest moves I've ever made.  But do you know how hard that was to do? I'm sometimes terribly shy, most of all when something really matters. I was sick to my stomach walking up those stairs at Pyramid Brewery that first Saturday morning. But from that meeting, I met some of my core friends, my staunchest supporters, the people I can turn to for just about anything. 

Last night, I emailed Sophie Littlefield my notes on her newest work-in-progress (which is AMAZING, by the way--I can't wait to be able to tell you it's available). Today I emailed my beloved Cari Luna about my most recent work-in-progress. I needed a little a lot of hand-holding. She sent back, as she always does, the words that made all my hair lie down flat again. 

Over the years, I've cultivated friends who are in ALL stages of the publishing/writing process. I'm dedicating my March release, Pack Up the Moon, to my favorite high school English teacher and to my favorite college English professor, both of whom are still my friends. I've kept writing friends from my writing circle in undergrad, back in the 90s, when we used papyrus to write and smoke signals to Tweet. 

I know who to email when I need someone to gently but firmly nag me to keep going (again, Sophie) and I know who to email when it's bad enough I need her to meet me at the local bar for a quick drink (Juliet Blackwell). I know when a writer friend needs a phone call and not an email (the acceptance! The first bad review!). I know when to drop (literally) everything and get in the car with a bottle of champagne to toast the news that a friend (Juliet) has hit the NYT bestseller list. 

Julie, Gigi, Sophie B'Con - webres
Julie, Gigi Pandian, and Sophie at Bouchercon

I couldn't write without my people. Okay, that's not quite totally true. I could write for a while. I'm just not sure I could keep writing. 

Our voices are small. The audience is large. We need backup. Choose that backup wisely. If you end up with a crit group that makes you feel worse every time you meet, ditch them. (And if they make you feel like the best writer in the universe every single time you hook up? You might want to think about ditching them, too.) A true writing friend both believes in you heart-and-soul and isn't afraid to bring up the parts of your book that suck. Know why? Because they truly believe you can fix it. 

And you can. 

* The winner for Vanessa Kier's giveaway is Mary from TN! Thanks for commenting! 

Comments

I love this post, darlin'. You DO know exactly when those phone calls are needed! xoxo

HA! Scary picture! From beautiful birthday girl to serious laser focus take no prisoners "AND I SAID NO TALKING! THIS MEANS YOU, MISSY!!" face.
What has the alphabet done to you?

Great article-applies to so many things-just do it-even a little at a time, it adds up.
(Just a row of the scary lace pattern. Soon you will have a shawl-or in my case,
the opportunity to frog and begin again, more certain in my skills and even more certain in the deviousness of laceweight and little needles-their size seems so unassuming...but....they want to break you-they want you to swear off knitting, they want you to religate them to a dark corner where they can plot undisturbed-how to dominate squewing swatches for gauge...everywhere...always.)
And choose your friends wisely-you rely on them
(to bring you cocktails and the wisdom of lifelines-and to remind you knitting should be fun-threaten that shawl wannabe-it would make a great dustcloth..or cat toy. Refill?)

You know Juliet Blackwell? Next time you talk to her, please tell her you know a knitter who LOVES her books! I'm on Number 3 of her Witchcraft Mystery Series. I allow myself to buy one of her books only after I've read 4 by other authors -- I don't want to go through them all too quickly!

You know, that's the kind of pic I end up with in PhotoBooth too. I keep 'em. It's somehow kind of fun to see me looking... erm... intent and focused (heh) with different haircuts and outfits across the year.

I am not a writer, but need to write. I definitely haven't found what works for me yet. Thanks for giving me some ideas.

This made me tear up. I do just fine with #1, but I am still struggling with #2. But I'm getting there!

Thank goodness for writer-friends, and thanks for the reminder that just a little bit of time writing adds up, Rachael!

I read part 1 and scuttled off to do some actual writing! I'm horribly guilty of doing the writing last. I know it's only a blog but I enjoy it, so I'm going with your definition - for today at least, I am a writer!

And as an entirely unrelated PS - get Rose Under Fire when they publish it in the US; it's just as good as Code Name Verity.

Ha! I love that first picture! How many times do we all create that face in response to our computers, lol!

Again, you have come to the rescue for me. I have been so afraid of writing (or fear of not coming up with something that will travel forward), that I've been frozen. So many starts, so few finished projects!

We are now in a place where we not only want to create, but need to create to keep our motorhome in diesel.

Thank you once again, Rachael!

Thanks for your honesty about writing -- and your inspiration. I'm really inspired to try writing in small bits, as you suggest. It is really hard for me to find a big block of time.

How much do I love this? I am at thrillerfest trying to get up the courage to go to the big party... And I won't really be walking in alone :)

Wooo-hooo. I finally won something! Have been entering various giveaways for 2 years and this is the first. Vanessa Kier's book looks really interesting and I can't wait to read it. Thank you for the chance to win what looks to be a really fun summer read! Just right to take on my summer vacation---along with the requisite knitting of course. Thanks again!

"You," I said to myself, "need a push. An outside shove to get back at the keyboard. Nothing you (meaning 'I') do works, no amount of bribing, rewarding or nagging makes a difference. What would Rachael Herron to tell you to do?" That was yesterday. Today I know what Rachael would say. Thank you, and the universe, for eaves-dropping on my internal dialogue. True story.

So love this. It applies to everything. In my case I subbed "runner" for "writer". I think my favorite line is the "yes, but" = "no". LOVE!

Do you think this applies to all creative pursuits? Sometimes I feel like a knitter with all the bergere de france yarn we've always got in spare for some reason. Sometimes like a painter, sometimes like a writer.

i love this! thanks for the post.

Just finished reading wishes and stitches - so impressed you are writing and knitting and working-wow! Just love to immerse myself in Cypress Hollow- just a shame it isn't real. Looking forward to the next one so keep going girl.
Sarah from Scotland.

Received the fab book from Vanessa and it is HOT. Ladies, you have to run out and get this one! Thanks again for the opportunity to win in the giveaway.

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at [email protected] to make arrangements.

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