How to become a writer

by Harriet Castor

Essentially, I can’t answer this question.

 That was a short blog, wasn’t it?

 No – hang on. I can’t answer the question in terms of a step-by-step plan; I can’t give you a fail-safe route map to becoming a writer. After all, there are probably as many routes to becoming a writer as there are writers. Or almost.

 But… I think there are a few useful things I can say. Number one: it’s crucial to read (for pleasure – not just your course books!). To be more specific, read, read, read – and then read some more. If you don’t love reading – and, crucially, love reading the type of books/articles/poems (or whatever) that you’re hoping to write – then you need to have a long hard look at why you want to write.

(A possible exception, you could argue, is the case of the playwright or scriptwriter: shouldn’t they be watching rather than reading? Well, of course – watch as many films/dramas/plays as you can. But I would say you need to read scripts as well. Get used to looking at the words on the page, because they’re going to be the tools you’ll work with.)

And when you read something you think is brilliant, try to see what the writer has done to make it so brilliant. How have they achieved it? Learn everything you can from the experts.

Number two: write. Write, write, write. Don’t just think about writing, or plan to write… tomorrow. Try to write every day, even if you’re not currently in the middle of a creative project. Keep a journal, write down your dreams – whatever you like. Writing is a craft, and needs to be learnt. Practice is a huge part of the learning process. Books can help you learn the craft, too. ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande, for example, contains writing exercises that Hilary Mantel (double Booker winner) swears by. And if you want to learn about story structure techniques, I think ‘Story’ by Robert McKee is great.

Finally, go to the library and find a copy of the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’. A new edition comes out each year, and it’s packed with details of how to go about getting published, how to submit scripts for film, theatre, TV and radio, what agents do (and how to find one), plus information on writing for newspapers and magazines. It also contains information on self-publishing, plus articles by lots of well-known writers.

Good luck!

Harriet Castor is the author of more than 40 published books. She’s also the Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow in UWE’s Arts Department, which means she’s here to help students sharpen up their writing skills, for example by working on essay planning, structuring an argument, or improving grammar and punctuation.

To book a confidential one-to-one session email Harriet.Castor@uwe.ac.uk.

She’s at Frenchay on Wednesdays and St Matthias on Thursdays.

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