So you want to be a writer: Encourage a Young Writer Day

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Olivia Staser/File

So you want to write, but you’re not sure where to start. You’re better off than you believe.

Whether you’ve landed a spot in one of Berkeley’s few competitive creative writing courses, tried your hand at fan fiction or the last writing class you took was R1A, you’re still in a good place.

Novelist Anne Lamott’s piece “Sh*tty First Drafts” contains an iconic section called Bird by Bird, in which she says, “All good writers write (sh*tty first drafts). This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.” 

Writing stories doesn’t usually start with some inspiration from the heavens. As Lin-Manuel Miranda (beloved creator of “Hamilton”) said, once inspiration strikes, you have to run with it because it only lasts for so long.

You also have to remember that a lot of writing is writing through writer’s block — not being inspired, but writing anyway. Once you’ve started, you’ll find that you’re so much further than you were even five minutes ago when you were just staring at a blinking screen or blank page. Getting started is half the battle.

Once you give yourself permission to be an amateur, you’ll find so much more freedom in the beginning of something that could turn out to be wonderful. Allow yourself to be a beginner, allow yourself to write purple prose, silly stories and pitiful poems.

But what if you want to try poetry? Poetry is its own wonderland. Comparing Shakespeare to spoken word and trying to find something in between can be a challenge. It’s hard to know what exactly constitutes a poem these days. What are the rules, exactly? Are there rules? Are we supposed to break them?

Here are some words of wisdom from poet Mark Grist to maybe help clarify things for you a little:

The main theme from writers all across the board seems to be to allow yourself to get started.

So many of us make the mistake of thinking that writing flows naturally from inspiration’s fingertips, but that’s not always the case. Not everything you write is going to be original. We’re inspired by so many things around us that sometimes our work may end up sounding like a rehashed version of our favorite series.

And you know what? That’s actually OK. Creating for yourself, especially in the beginning stages, is just part of the process. Not everything you start will turn into what it was originally, just like not every story or poem you begin will end up being your favorite or your best work… But that’s OK, too.

Once you’re ready to move past that stage, find your way to a workshop or some way of getting feedback. Berkeley does offer a creative writing class for everyone called “Modes of Writing,” and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in giving writing a try.

But even if you don’t have time to take a writing class right now, share your work with someone you trust, especially someone you know will be honest with you. Let them read it and give you their opinion. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every change they say, but it does make a world of difference to know how your work comes off to someone who doesn’t live in your brain.

You can’t say, “Oh, what I meant here was—” once something has been posted or published — find yourself a safe space for your writing to bloom and grow. Don’t worry about being the next great American novelist or Poet Laureate right away.  If you haven’t started writing yet, start planting those seeds. We can worry about the weeds later.

Contact Lauren West at [email protected].