Advice to a young writer just starting out

My poor younger friend Mike, also a writer, innocently messaged me a question.

M: Cathy, what do you tell aspiring writers?

C: In what regard?

M: When someone says they want to make a career out of it?
C: Driving, will brb.

Danger, Will Robinson, this gives me time to actually think about it.

C: Okay, first YAY!

M: Yay?

C: 2. LEARN YOUR CRAFT AND FORM! (Currently struggling with screenwriting 28 years after tying for a playwright award with someone who went on to write for a major soap opera for 20+ years!)
3. Go all in or forget it. You have to not just “want to be a writer,” you have to do the work, finish the projects.

4. Find a love who respects and is supportive of your work. GENUINELY SUPPORTIVE. This will show up in a myriad of ways when you’re with someone who isn’t: time, solitude, need to discuss, bounce ideas, sometimes financial, because your projects won’t pay consistently like a day job.

Yay for creativity!

Find someone who can handle writer weirdness. Need for long periods uninterrupted, drifting mind during conversations, because writing in head at same time, etc. because WE ARE ALWAYS WRITING!

5. Find a job that works with writing, so if you want to write comedy, nudge yourself into a production assistant at a show or movie, be in the industry. Or at least live close to it. (I hate my Virginia suburb for this. Loved Boston for it. See 4. financial, your projects won’t pay until they reach the right hands.)

6. LOVE IT HARD!! Enjoy it!! Get out of your own way! Finished is better than perfect.

7. EDIT, say more with less, be clear.

M: Damn. Alright. Alright.
My response was: FLEE! FLEE FOR YOUR LIFE!

C: Oh good, because my short answer was go big or go home.

And don’t have kids! Lol!

Not really on the kids, but if you want them and you want to write, understand that your life will take a tectonic shift in focus, especially if you’re the primary or default parent.

I once read about John Updike’s writing habits of at least 6 hours a day out in the shack out back, “or he didn’t feel like a writer.”¬†What he failed to mention was where his wife and kids were during his long uninterrupted daily time in his writing haven. Did his wife have a career? Did she write? I KNOW NOTHING OF HER!

Virginia Woolf had an excellent point about A Room of One’s Own for women, that we are either biologically built for (seriously, there are quantitative brain function differences that serve community focus vs individual focus between men and women. Google it, I’m not a scientist, just a curious geek) or trained societally over generations, or both to be at everyone else’s beck and call. I find it becomes very difficult to transition focus back to writing when you always have someone in your family vying for attention, either by necessity, fun, or logististical reasons.

The long alone silences (or with music or whatever works for you, I often half-listen to podcasts, it reminds me of sitting in cafes and writing while overhearing conversations) are necessary not just imaginatively, but for problem solving when you know something isn’t quite right about what you have written so far.

So, to my friend Michael Wagner, my apologies for the flood response in text, but thank you for the inspiration to blog about writing life again!