How Do I Become a Writer?

“…then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world you would most want to read if you had your heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.” -JD Salinger, “Seymour – An Introduction”

You would likely be amazed at the most common course of conversation I have with new students.

“Kathie, how do I break into publishing? How do I get my short story into a magazine? How do I get my novel with a traditional publisher?” New Student says.

“Write,” I say.

“Okay, yeah, sure, but what about my platform? What about my website? What’s my target audience? What are my keywords? What should my query letter say? And what should I do first?” New Student says.

“Write,” I say.

“Well, yeah, I get that, but what do I need to do to be successful?” New Student’s voice has now turned into a plaintive whine.

“What does a writer do?” I ask the New Student.

“Um…” New Student says.

“Write,” I say.

I’ve taught creative writing classes and workshops for 22 years. I’ve owned and directed my own international creative writing studio since 2005. My first short story was published when I was fifteen years old, in 1975. I took off then and I’ve never looked back. And I can tell you now, without a shadow of a doubt, that the very most important thing all writers must do, and in fact, the only thing a writer must do in order to be the best writer he or she can be is…write.

I noticed a change about ten years ago. Instead of asking me how to write, new students began asking me how to sell, wanting me to teach them how to create a platform, write a query letter, write a synopsis, research markets for magazine publication and book publication. At first, I answered them straight out and gave them the information they requested, because I assumed they had a finished piece to market. But then I saw an interesting and confounding phenomenon. After I taught them all this information, so necessary after a piece is written and polished to a high shine, I sat back in my teacher chair and asked, “So what’s your <insert story, book, poem, essay, memoir> about?” They answered, “Oh, I haven’t actually written it yet. I’ve been told I need to get this other stuff done first.”

No, you don’t. That’s putting the cart before the horse. You can’t figure out how to sell a creative product before it exists. And you don’t write your book while staring at an audience waiting in front of you. You find your audience after you have something to show them.

Because of this trend, I implemented a new rule in my studio, AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop. There will be no discussion of marketing or marketing tactics until a piece has been written, polished, and declared done. Period. The real work gets done first.

And since then…my students have landed over 100 traditional book-publishing contracts. We are also in our fifth straight year of not going a single week without a student having an acceptance in either a magazine or an anthology.

And honestly? This is simple. To be a writer, to be a successful writer, you WRITE. Then sell.

The amazing Ray Bradbury wrote me a letter when I was seventeen years old, in which he told me that the way to be a successful writer was to read. “Stuff your eyes with words,” he said. “Read everything.” And he meant it. Plays, poetry, essays, memoir, every genre of fiction, the backs of cereal boxes…

And I listened. And I read. Everything. Now, I would add my addendum to Bradbury’s advice. “Read everything. But also write everything. Follow every idea.” Don’t think of audience. Don’t think of sales. Don’t think of markets. Think of what you most want to write, listen to the words that are scrolling through your brain, and then dare to do the obvious.

Write. Everything.

The rest will come.

Kathie Giorgio is the critically acclaimed author of four novels, two story collections and a poetry chapbook. Giorgio’s stories and poems appeared in countless literary magazines and anthologies. Nominations include the Pushcart Prize, the Write Well Award, the Million Writer Award, and the Best of the Net Anthology. Her story, Snapdragon, was performed for the Stories On Stage series at Su Teatro theatre in Boulder, Colorado. Giorgio is the director/ founder of AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop.