So you want to be a writer?

Yesterday, as occasionally happens, a good student who has maintained a regular correspondence with me even after graduation, and who is an avid reader of modern and classic literature, sent me this simple message regarding her future prospects: “I think I want to be a writer.”

The following is my reply.

What does that mean, “I want to be a writer”? A writer is a person who writes. You write (diaries, letters, and so on). So you are a writer.

Or do you mean “I want to be a professional writer,” a writer for money, as a career? Then maybe you should try writing instruction manuals for products, or tourist information guides, or textbooks. You can make money doing those jobs, if you are good at them. 

Or do you mean, “I want to write interesting ideas or stories”? In that case, start writing — every day, carefully, with attention to details. And remember that you might have to do that for several years, for several hours each day, before you get good at it. And that even if you become great at it, it is likely that you will never get any money for it. And that if you are going to be good at it, you have to be willing to do it just for the pleasure of doing it, without even thinking about getting paid — even when you are too busy because of practical responsibilities, even when people around you tell you that you are wasting your time, and even when you have no idea whether anyone else on Earth will ever read one word of what you are writing. In fact, that is the standard of “being a writer” in this third sense: You write entirely for yourself; you would keep writing, enthusiastically, even if you never found a single reader in your life; and finding ten thousand readers would make no positive difference to your reasons for writing or your desire to do it.

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