Readers email me from time to time, occasionally about my books and columns, but more often about writing in general. Most people are looking for advice on becoming a writer, specifically: “How can I be a writer?” and “How can I be a paid writer?”
To answer the first question, I defer to this bit of advice, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” This comes from writer Mary Heaton Vorse and was repeated by her student, Sinclair Lewis. Vorse reportedly hid Lewis’ shoes and pants on at least one occasion to assist him in this task. Writing is a solitary affair between you and your notebook, computer or whatever writing device you prefer. It’s not a team effort, and you have to spend a lot of time sitting in a chair, thinking hard and writing.
The answer to the second question is, just like any paid job, you have to look for writing work and apply for it. You need to create a resume, a LinkedIn profile, and hopefully have proof — education, experience or both — that you can provide to potential employers, showcasing your skills.
The question I never get is: “How can I be a good writer?” Most people believe they’re already good writers, just like they believe they’re good drivers. If you’ve driven around town, you know this claim isn’t always true.
How does anyone get good at anything? If you’ve been watching the Winter Olympics, you probably have a pretty good idea: you train, learn, and practice. You do it again and again and you study how other people do it, too. You read books about how to write and books written by great authors. You take classes and participate in workshops.
Here in Colorado Springs, resources abound for writer training and most of them are free. The Pikes Peak Library District hosts writing groups and activities like the Life Circle Writing Group, Journal Club, and 21st Century Writer’s Group. For Meetup groups, there’s the Colorado Springs Nonfiction Writer’s Group, the Colorado Springs Writers’ Workshop Group, and the Pen Drop Coffee Break Group. Finally, there’s the 2,000-member Pikes Peak Writers, a group that’s free to join and hosts a three-day conference every year.
I attended a couple of writers’ events this year. The first one was a free Non-fiction Writer’s Group critique at the East Library. Most of the people were writing memoirs, and they were all passionate about their work. My memoir projects are all ghostwriting gigs and I have confidentiality agreements with the subjects, so I had nothing to share. Still, it was good to hear what these Springs writers are working on and listen to their thoughtful critiques.
The next event was a free authors’ panel at the Rockrimmon Library. Local novelists Anne Eliot, Jennie Marts, and Mimi Foster shared stories about their work, answered questions and offered great advice. It was refreshing to hear such current and accurate guidance about the writing process and publishing. Afterward, they stayed to chat with anyone who had specific questions about their own writing projects. Listening to these women inspired me to dust off my notes for a fictional series I started seven years ago.
I have more events lined up, including a free March preview of the annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference and the Pikes Peak Library District’s annual Mountain of Authors Program in May, and I’ll probably check out more writing meetups.
I started this column with the goal of impressing the importance of training on would-be writers but uncovered something else: an expansive, city-wide writing community. And I discovered there’s more to becoming an exceptional writer than reading books and taking classes.
Those Olympic athletes train hard, but between performances, they retreat to their coaches and teams for inspiration and support. And just like the Olympic skating, skiing, and snowboarding I’ve been watching all month, great writing not only requires practice, it also requires feedback and guidance from other writers. Colorado Springs is known for its Olympic athletes, but maybe our city should be known for its Olympic writers, too — the people who generously share their experience and knowledge to help others write more and write better. They may not have medals, but their willingness to support aspiring writers is world class.
This blog first appeared as a column in the February 28, 2018, Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.