Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Seven Things You Need to Become a Writer by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Stepping away from comedy for a moment to talk about that favourite topic: How to become a published writer.
I have over 200 publications, 9 awards, and have taught fiction writing since 1992.  Based on my experience with over 1000 students, here is my abridged list of what you need to become a writer:

1.  Time.
Writing takes time.  To be a writer, you are going to have to give up something.  I gave up television and the gym.  The latter is obvious.

2.   A room to write.
Virginia Woolf said: A woman needs money and a room of her own in order to write.  EVERYONE needs a room, or a place to write.  Preferably with a door to close out the rest of the world.  Especially if you have kids.  I wrote in the bathroom for years.

3.   Supportive friends.
Eliminate all people you can from your life who are negative influences on your writing.  The ones who think you will never make it.  The ones who think it’s a ‘cute’ hobby. The ones who look down upon the genre in which you write.  Do it now.  This minute.  Become friends with other writers who share your passion.

 4.  Desire.
I nearly said passion, but really, they are the same thing.  To be a writer, you have to actually love to WRITE.  That is, bum in the chair, by yourself, hitting the keyboard, in a world of your own making.  Too many people want to become authors, but don’t actually like the physical work of writing.  Figure out whether you do right now.

5.  The Craft.
If you want to write a novel, take a course in crafting a novel.  If you want to write short stories, ditto.  You’ll learn a lot really quick, and it will cut years off your apprenticeship.  Not only that, you’ll make friendships with like minds who will inspire and encourage you.

 6.  Talent.
 Yes, you need talent.  By that, I mean you need plot ideas of your very own.  I can teach you the craft of writing in my college fiction writing classes.  But you also need to have the sort of brain that is producing ideas all the time.  Successful fiction writers don’t have to look for ideas.  They are drowning in them.

 7.  A Thick Hide.
All writers deal with massive amounts of rejection.  Even when you strike gold and get a publisher, you will deal with rejection in the form of bad reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  None of us escape that.  All of us need to develop a thick hide to survive as authors.

Luckily, I have developed a thicker hide.  It comes from skipping the gym and gaining weight.


  1. I think I knew most of this on some level, but somehow it's more meaningful to see it laid out this way. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. As soon as I read the title I thought: A healthy ego. You cover that with "a thick hide".

    You give up the gym. I give up sleep. I gave up the gym for my crossing guard job. It's not as good for exercise, but the gym wouldn't pay me.

  3. A writer can save a lot of time by learning these things sooner, rather than later. It's hard work. Just do it. Oh, and going to the gym is so yesterday (I have a treadmill in my basement and that's where I do my plotting).

  4. Somehow my thick hide is just thick. Doesn't seem to have taught me to develop a healthy ego. But I agree that you have to love the writing so much that you plow through the negatives and failures anyway, just because you have a need to put stories down on...I almost said paper, but that's no longer the only place we put our stories. Great outline, Mel. I agree with the comments here that all writers should know and remember these valuable points.

  5. Super Seven, Melodie. And I agree with them all--especially surrounding yourself with helpful, supportive friends.

  6. Great advice!!! I'd add that you need to become shameless about letting the world know about you and your work!!

  7. Thanks, everyone! Yes, another list should follow this: what to do once you ARE published. Of course, we're all still learning's never-ending.

  8. I just recently heard on CBC Radio some abysmal statistics on writers earnings per year: average is less than $1,000 a year for more than 60% of writers. And these figures are even lower for self published writers ( ebooks, etc,) , and this is not counting unpublished writers.
    Which makes me think twice about it. I know is the love of writing that drives the passion to write, but perpetual lack of monetary reward for my passion will not provide the fuel I need to maintain constant effort and pay my bills. Sorry I like money, lots of it! After all Virginia Wolf said "money" was also needed with the room to write.

    1. Ipi, that is what makes this a puzzle. Yes, I am to the point where I am making reasonable money at my writing. But for many years, I didn't. I think it is best to think of writing as a hobby that costs you little to do, but can maybe make you something occasionally. Most published novelists with traditional publishers have other means of support. We do it for the love, not the money.

  9. Perfectly accurate on each point. I gave up housework.