Learning to be a Writer
By Yen Ooi
The journey in becoming a writer neither starts nor stops at writing itself. Of course, producing copious amounts of stories, prose, poetry, and text is vital for a writer, but there is also the much ignored fact that in becoming a writer, one must be like a writer.
Don’t worry—last I checked, writers are not a different species or a specific sub-species, but there are two important characteristics of a writer that I believe are key. These characteristics are probably true across all creative types, all artists.
Neil Gaiman famously said that, “If you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.” So, I twist his words and say, pretend to be a writer and just behave like writers would, and slowly, you will be one.
But what is it that makes a writer, a writer? In the last few years, I have met many people in various creative careers—writers, artists, designers, musicians—and I realised that everyone is creating something, and that we are all passionate about our own creations. I also realised that there are those, like Gaiman, who are a cut above the rest. I believe that this is because of two characteristics.
Good artists are:
Yes, I know. It sounds like the above makes all artists hypocrites, but hear me out. All artists, people who create, know that their skills and quality of their creations can always be improved upon, and that there are always people out there who are better than them. This keeps them humble. This also is how they are able to accept criticism at a level that no other jobs require, whilst giving them an open heart and mind to be able to work with others collaboratively.
However, to be a good artist in today’s world of social media, self-publishing, and accessible technology, artists need also to be proud. Proud enough to believe in their own work and sell it. The solitary writer is a dying breed, preserved only by the archaic functions of traditional publishing houses. A writer needs to be able to approach future readers and say, “I know you’ll love this!” and believe it.
Writers and other artists have a difficult job to do today. Humble and proud are antonyms of the other, but they go hand-in-hand in creating a good artist. It is the balance of the two that we all seek, in order to survive in a very harsh environment that destroys all who fail, and makes celebrities of those few who shine.
So, if you are thinking of becoming a writer or if you are in a transition to do so, you need to firstly write and keep polishing your skills as a writer. Then, whilst you are writing, you need to look within and believe that your work is good and beautiful, but never think that your work is the best.