Monday, August 24, 2009

guest blog: how to be a writer

You’ve met the fantastically talented Erica Orloff during the author Q&A on July 22nd. I’m so excited Erica has offered up one of her past blog posts to share with us today. The following was originally posted on Erica’s blog here.

how to be a writer
by Erica Orloff

Despite the title of my post, I really have no idea. I can teach people all sorts of rules of writing. I can mentor, guide, critique, even heavily edit someone's material. But I can't TEACH someone how to be a writer. Not really.

However, I have come to realize the people who succeed, those that I know personally over the years who have gotten contracts, big and small, who are still in the game years later, who seem to have a fan following, all of that . . . they seem to share some common traits. I am sure you notice a few yourself if you read enough blogs and talk to enough writers.

I have come to the conclusion that persistence is overrated. [Before you shriek, wait for the rest of this.] If you persist in sending a steaming pile of meh out, the same steaming pile of meh, a hundred times, you might wear down some poor underling editor at a small house, but I don't think you'll embody success. I have seen bull-headed writers insist they are the next Hemingway or Salinger or Fitzgerald, and no amount of critiquing--gentle or otherwise--seems to stand in the way of their delusion. They are PERSISTENT. Persistence can be learned, but there is also a personality type that simply refuses to give up. Call it delusion. I used to know a woman married to an actor--a singularly unattractive man who could not act his way out of a paper bag, but refused to get a day job lest he miss his "big call" while she slaved away long hours supporting his dream. Nope . . . that is supporting a delusion.

So I think before persistence, there must be a willingness, an incredible OPENNESS to learn craft.

Then persistence.I think writers also have to have an understanding that this isn't easy. That's it's a marathon, not a sprint. That your first novel might sit in a drawer forever because it was like kindergarten and it might be your fifth or sixth or tenth novel that really gels.

The writers I know that I consider successful never stop learning.

Note these are all TRAITS more than "don't overuse adverbs."

So what would you add to the list? So far I have:

A mind open to learning

Maybe it's that there is a difference between learning HOW TO WRITE and learning HOW TO BE A WRITER. What do you want to add to the list?

Be sure to visit Erica’s blog here and don’t be shy. Leave her a note, ask a question, and go ahead and follow her blog. You can also visit Erica’s website at


  1. Yes, a huge difference between learning how to write and how to be a writer. I've been thinking about this lately--what makes a writer a writer. Nice post. I look forward to visiting Erica's blog.

  2. I love the twin traits of openness and persistence. Absolutely, there are lots of people who doggedly carry on when they shouldn't. Thanks for the post!

  3. Hi Cynthia:
    I'm always telling kids who want to write to live more . . . being open to new experiences so they have something to say when it comes time to write . . . somehow, learning how to be a writer is more about becoming a person, and learning to write . . . is about the mechanics and craft, in my mind.


  4. Lindsay . . .

    I think writing is about pushing forward and letting go . . . so much of it is definitely a yin-yang.