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  • Susan May

So you want to be a writer?

I’ve been writing seriously since 2010. This means for seven years, when asked what I do for a job, I reply,"Writing." Despite beginning this journey when I was in my teens, I was interrupted by life. Most of my friends were surprised when I didn't pursue writing as a career. So was I.

You make choices and they take you down unexpected roads you think you control and that will bring you eventually to your heart's desire. Not so, I'm afraid.

For three years I played around writing short stories and doing well, getting involved with being a film reviewer. No novels though. I'd written a couple but couldn't finish or polish them enough to do anything with them.

The year 2013 was when I got my act together and published my first book Behind the Fire. Fast forward to 2017 and I guess you’d call me a professional because I do this for a living. I've sold more than 100,000 books in the past eighteen months and every one of my little babies has topped a chart on Amazon USA. My books have ranked up there with my hero Stephen King's books for several years. I still pinch myself, don't you worry.

When people learn this, they tend to become excited. I guess we writers are an inconspicuous bunch and it's like spotting a unicorn. The common response when people hear what I do is:

Them: "I should write a book too.”

Me: “You should.”

Them: “Yeah, I don’t have time now. I should take time off work. You've inspired me.”

I've learned to just say, "Good luck. Look forward to reading your book." Because, so far nobody has been inspired enough to actually write a book. I think the reason is that this is a long journey, measured in years. To achieve your goal, you need to find a way to fit writing into your life.

Writing a novel is probably like dieting. Easy to begin, but difficult to stay true to the commitment because you are altering your life.

Let’s set the record straight right here. To be a writer, you need to manipulate your lifestyle in increments. You do not need to give up work or all your time with family and friends to write or pursue any form of creativity. You can hunt for time in the nooks and crannies of your life. You might have to give up a little here and there but you won’t even notice if you do it right.

Writing is a portable craft. Laptop, pen and paper, and your mind. All of these, you can take with you wherever you go. Writers have the best opportunities I believe, because we can write anywhere and everywhere. Maybe painters, not so much. A touch messy perhaps. I guess you can still sketch wherever you go.

During winter my sons play sport and need to arrive an hour before their game to warm up. I write while I’m waiting. I haven’t gotten to know the other sports’ moms because I’m in the car visiting my imaginary worlds. But that’s okay, I have written books in that time. So I give up time chatting about things I won’t remember in a week with people I don’t really know.

Waiting anywhere is perfect. In the ad breaks, watching TV. You can eventually teach your mind to switch on and write for ten minutes and then switch back to whatever you were doing. To me, it feels like a muscle you develop.

I don’t do coffee so much anymore with big groups of friends. I don’t miss it. I have two friends I see regularly. That keeps me sane and happy. Sometimes on weekends my family watches sport. I live with three males and I don’t follow soccer or AFL (Australian Football League). While they’re watching, I sit with them and write on my laptop. Or if they go somewhere without me, I write.

When my kids come home from school I’m done with writing for the day and I’m a mom again. Between looking after our home and the business part of my writing, I only manage a few hours a day if I’m lucky. But I keep plugging away. That’s how you get books written. A sentence at a time, plugging away.

If I worked outside the home, I would write when I commute or in my lunch break. I’d steal that time back. You don’t give up work to write because you end up using that time for something else. Whereas if you are working you have designated downtimes. Use that.

Your first stories, novels, whatever they are, will be difficult and not beautiful. You need to write a lot to become comfortable in the craft. Even then, sometimes you have your not so good days. I don't bleed over my keyboard because I love this work. Some days though my head hurts and I'm terrified I don't know what I'm doing with my work-in-progress. This is also part of the life. But I'm a professional writer, so I keep going. This is what I do.

Every sentence you write makes you a better writer, so that’s a lot of minutes you will need to find. You can do this over the years like I have, if you’re alert to discovering lost time. My way you don't give up everything. You build a different lifestyle and mindset.

You must not wait for blocks of time. Life doesn’t give you grand chunks of time in which to discover whether you’re a writer, an artist or a craftsperson. Life gives you minutes here and there. If you don’t fill them with social media, television or other distractions, you can achieve a great deal.

Don’t give up on your dreams by thinking about the time it will take. You already have the time in your hands, you just need to take that time back and mold it into your future.

That’s all I did.


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