As an avid reader, and a person who is fortunate enough to live in a book-loving community with bookstores that regularly host writer talks, I know a lot about the kinds of questions readers ask. I've been thinking about that recently, as I hope to start giving book talks myself once my novel, which I self published as an e-book in November, is out in paperback later this spring.
One of the first questions to come up is one that I've been asked numerous times during my 30-plus year career as a freelance non-fiction writer. People want to know if a writer has a particular schedule or routine. Over the years I've come to realize that while people are asking if a writer, say, gets up every morning at 5, brews a big pot of coffee, and is at their desk at 6 and toils faithfully away in longhand in black ink on legal pads until noon, they really want to know something else. I suspect they're looking for the secret formula that turns everyday people into authors.
I was guilty of the same thing in my teens. I thought writers needed a special gift that enabled them to turn ordinary words into magical prose that captured a reader's imagination. I used to wonder, when I was scribbling out my early attempts at fiction, how I could find that magic myself by emulating the writing schedule and habits of a famous author. I discovered, much to my surprise, that there is no magic bullet. To quote the Nike slogan all one needs is to Just Do It.
To become a writer, all one has to do is write. That's it. There's no secret, there's no short cut, there's no magic. All it takes is time, energy and a willingness to put words on paper, and the perseverance to keep writing and honing your skills. Does this mean I think writing is easy? No. Writing, especially writing well is hard work. It takes time and a lot of effort. And it takes a lot of thought. Think about what you want to write, whether it's a diary entry, a love letter, an angry retort to a newspaper article, a magazine piece, a bulletin for your bird watchers club newsletter, or a novel. Then start putting your thoughts onto paper. A good grasp of grammar and spelling is helpful, but those skills can be taught. A love of language is certainly helpful, so is a love of reading. I couldn't imagine ever becoming a writer if I hadn't been addicted to reading from an early age. Other than that, the only other criteria is a desire to communicate your thoughts via the written word. Once you've captured the essence on paper you can edit your work and polish your prose if necessary.
As for myself, no, I don't have a writing schedule. Most of my work for magazines, newspapers and businesses is deadline driven. I've found the pressure of an upcoming deadline is a good incentive to turn on the computer and start producing. For projects that don't have a deadline, like my novel, I work on them when time allows. I wrote Playing the Genetic Lottery while caring for my husband during his 18 months of life. When Gary was napping, and I wasn't driving him to and from doctor's appointments, medical tests or visiting him during hospital stays; I turned on my computer and wrote. When he woke up, and needed me, I printed out the day's work and turned off the computer. Somehow, even without a schedule or special work habits; I managed to write a book. If I can do it, so can anyone else who wants to share their thoughts, stories or imagination with others.