Well, I don’t know if I can. I just think I can. And there isn’t actually any threshold criteria for being a writer. If I can be a writer, so can you. Really! All it takes is a great idea and perseverance. But it helps to read a lot, write a lot, and to have something to write about.
Reading a lot
I started reading at 5 years old. My dad taught me the alphabet on this cool little blackboard with the alphabet and a clock and I learned to read by myself. By age ten I had already read all the kids’ books in our library and started on the grown ups’ section (I almost wrote ‘adult books’ but that sounded wrong). I went on to get a Masters degree on English, writing my thesis on a literary topic. Thinking back now, what drew me to a literary topic rather than a linguistic one was that I could write anything, as long as I could make a convincing argument. There wasn’t one correct answer. With fiction writing it is even better: I can make up all of it!
These days, I read about a hundred books a year. My seven year-old Kindle account shows I’ve bought almost 700 books in that time, and that doesn’t include all the physical books I’ve bought. And there are books and series I read over and over again, like JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries (especially on long ship voyages for some reason) and a few others of the same supernatural vein, as well as all of Agatha Christie, Jasper Fforde, the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries and so on.
Since I started writing, I’ve been reading two kinds of books: research for my books (mostly for the second series), and cozy mysteries. The research is a fun break from my writing as I can indulge my curiosity. That the reading will be helpful a year from now, when I actually may start writing the first book in the historical series, is just a bonus. As the second book series will be set in historical times, there is a lot to learn and doing it piecemeal helps keep the research part manageable. That said, I do look forward to a day when I can start a real push into research. I dream of warm summer days, lying in a park somewhere with nice views, with my blanket and a stack of books, working on my research. I did a lot of this when I was traveling and I was reading dozens of cozy mysteries for research. I was having the most fun, and it was all research!
Writing a lot
A few months before I set off on my 15-month round the world tour, I launched my travel blog. Since then, I have written almost 300 travel blog posts, and a handful more here on my writing blog site as well. Guesstimating an average word count of 600 words per post, that means 180.000 words so far, or about two books’ worth. If I ever had a fear of the blank screen, I have long since lost it. Writing anything helps you be a better writer. But in my case, I have been writing about traveling for almost two years now and I will write a series of books about a traveling sleuth. My blog has made me a better writer and helped me discover my “voice”.
You might say that isn’t it awfully cheeky of me to write in English even though it isn’t my native tongue. Sure, but even though it isn’t my native language, I have worked, studied, read and written exclusively in English for two decades. And there’s that handy English degree to point to should I suffer from momentary self doubt. Am I a great writer, or even a perfect writer? Of course not. Reading my old blog posts clearly shows that. For my books, I will of course pay a professional editor and proof reader to make sure my writing is up to snuff. And should you dream of becoming a writer, so can you. The first book might need more editing but the more you write the better your writing will be.
Something to write about
I’ve read a few authors’ bios and they all seem to have started writing when they were young. When it comes to fiction, I’ve only been writing a few months. I have lived quite an ordinary life, wonderful in many respects, but hardly the stuff that makes books worthy of best seller lists. Getting the idea about writing a murder mystery and discovering the cozy mystery genre were a game changer for me. My travel experiences make for a perfect back drop to mysteries, and while there is a huge market for cozy mysteries, few have been written with a travel motif.
It’s funny, I went from not even thinking about writing a book, to having ideas literally for a dozen books in the Murder Travels series, and also for several books in another mystery series altogether. It was like a dam breaking, really. But instead of being a destructive force, what broke loose were ideas and scenes and characters. Now they’re all jostling for space in my head, begging to be written.
Discovering self publishing
When I started writing my first book, I envisioned publishing traditionally through an agent and a book publishing house. And it was a bit daunting. What if I never found an agent? Or a publisher? But I soon realized that self publishing might be a better match for me. I will write more about self publishing in a later post, but for now, discovering self publishing took away the last lingering doubt of whether I would ever get published. Now I know I can, it’s just a matter of finishing a book, getting it properly edited and uploaded to Amazon and other sites. See, easy! (Now where’s that sarcasm font?)
It was a revelation to realize that many writers, especially cozy mystery writers, have written dozens of books. See, rather than having to write one amazing novel that gets all the awards and hundreds of thousands of readers (keeping me in travel, wine and capes for the rest of my life), I can write a few books a year which sell more modestly, and still make a living from writing. Of course it does mean publishing 2-4 books a year, which is a feat in itself, but I won’t literally have to put all my monetary hopes and dreams on the spine of one book. Planning a series is also helpful in this regard. I won’t have to market each book separately, as stand alone novels, which is always more difficult than marketing a new book in a series that already has a readership.
But enough about me. Are you thinking of becoming a writer? If it’s your dream, go for it! You won’t regret it, and you might just find a new career for yourself.
P.s. I am very glad that I live in the age of laptops. I don’t think I could manage writing with an old fashioned type writer, picturesque though they are.