As far back as I could remember, I wanted to be a writer.
I was always writing — short stories, lists, recollections of the day. I have a vivid memory of carrying around a little notepad where I would list the characters from my favorite movies. The names from “Steel Magnolias” — in the handwriting of an 8-year-old — still sticks in my brain.
I loved looking through the weekend newspaper before I even really understood what the words said. When I would hear a new word, it would become second nature for me to try and learn how to spell it with my finger. This is a habit I’ve yet to break, but don’t really want to.
English and reading classes were the only parts of school I enjoyed. When I was in high school, I got to further the enjoyment by joining the school paper and yearbook.
This continued into college when I became a copy editor and news reporter for Illinois State’s paper, The Vidette. When interviewing a professor for a profile on his career, he said, “So, you’re a journalist, huh?” And the sound of that set off an electric current in my brain that hasn’t turned off since.
There is not a day where I don’t write in a journal. Sometimes friends and family will ask for writing advice, and I’ve come up with a list (because, if you don’t already know this, I love lists) of the top five pieces of writing advice I like to share.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you trust for feedback. When I first started, I was a bit too stubborn to ask for feedback and/or proofreading from friends. I eventually learned that part of being a writer means being able to accept criticism. And, it never hurts to have a second set of eyes for proofreading.
2. Take time every day to read. I wish I had taken more time in the past to read each day. Once I rediscovered my love of reading in my 20s, I noticed it helped make me a better writer. It inspired me to try new styles and new vocabulary.
3. Be prepared for rejection. I have pitched ideas, stories and interview requests to major magazines time and time again — most of which don’t even receive a response. If they do, it’s usually a rejection. But, every once in a while, it’s a yes, and that’s what makes it worth it to keep trying. For instance, I wrote a short play that I turned into a short story a few years ago. I pitched it to dozens of anthologies. They were all rejected until one accepted the piece on my 20th birthday. It’s kept me going through the decade.
4. Save everything you write. Whether it’s handwritten or electronic, save everything. This allows you to go back and see how you’ve progressed as a writer (and have a good-hearted laugh at your former self). I wish I had kept more of my writing assignments from school to see how my writing has changed.
5. Write with someone in mind. A friend of mine recently interviewed one of my favorite writers, Cameron Crowe (I’ll save my jealousy for another time). Crowe gave the advice of “Write like you’re writing a letter to a close friend. Make it personal.” I wish I had heard this advice earlier, as sometimes I get so caught up about the perfect thing to write. When I take the route of pretending like I’m writing to a friend, it makes everything flow so much easier.
I wanted to end with that last piece of advice because that’s my goal with this column each week — to write like I’m writing to a close friend. Even if I haven’t met you, I consider you a friend and I truly appreciate you reading my words.
Even if writing isn’t your thing, I would still encourage you to write a little bit every once in a while — something as simple as a journal entry or scribbling a silly poem. You never know what it might inspire.