How to become a Writer

I have always wanted to be a writer.

Since the day that my proud parents brought a boxy Apple Macintosh computer (the height of technology in its day) into our home and taught me how to use its solitary programme, Word, that was it. I was on the bumpy and unrewarding road to becoming a writer.

The first story I wrote on the old Macintosh was, to my memory, a breathtaking yet endearing tale about two stray dogs trying to find a home (in accordance with my Homeward Bound obsession at the time, out which, incidentally, my first real dog also got her name), however, my parents might remember it a little differently. In my memory it was epic, in reality it was a page and a half, mostly dribble.

But the seeds were sown, and throughout my school days I relished nothing more than a creative writing assignment, to let my imagination take hold and put pen to paper.

Growing up in middle of nowhere, surrounded by Mother Nature in all her beauty you might expect that my writing took a turn towards the Bronte, sprinkled with elaborate descriptions of rolling hills and the delicate balance of rural life. But I wasn’t reading Bronte, I was wrapped up in James Joyce’s Dubliners, reading about the city where I had spent my earliest years. My stories were gritty shades of grey, stifled emotions, cracks in pavements, rainy city streets.

And that was the Carrie Bradshaw dream that emerged throughout my chapter as a teenager, to get away from my isolated home and small town school to the big city and become a real writer. Because you always believe that being a writer is something you can only do when you are somewhere doing something, rather than where you are right now in space and time. I wanted to grow up, move to the city and study literature. I had a wonderful sepia-toned image of spending my spare time in the library, scribbling my stories down in hardback notebooks, or creating the next literary masterpiece in some indie coffee shop, of course I would have to learn how to like coffee. I was the perfect cliché.

And I did do it, some of it.

I moved away to the big city, and became a literature student. What I didn’t do was scribble stories in the library or create literary masterpieces in coffee shops. I didn’t learn how to like coffee.

I learnt how to drink cheap wine and play poker. I spent my spare time in the Derby Bar taking full advantage of £1 pints and watching Top Gear. I actually did spend more time in a tree than I did in coffee shops – and not in a hippie, political statement kind of way, more in a drunken, concussion-inducing kind of way.

But I’d made the move. And I still wanted to be a writer, it just didn’t seem all that important at the time that I didn’t actually write anything. I barely wrote the essays I had to submit never mind penning the next bestseller for kicks.

The one important thing that I did learn in that time as a writer that didn’t write was that the city, as much as I had longed for it all those years, was not that crucial to being a ‘real writer’. It was more the sense of longing, and ironically, I was now longing for home and all its idyllic isolation. Of course 24 hours back in the Irish countryside and I was going out of my tree (this time not literally) to get back to the hustle and bustle of Liverpool, and from there stemmed the great inner conflict that fuels pretty much everything I write now. It was around this time that I first heard the song Homebird by Foy Vance, it became a kind of life philosophy. Children with small lives telling big stories and their grown up selves looking back with pleasant nostalgia. For me, it was always longing to be where I wasn’t, trying to find the balance between two homing instincts.

Despite a long-lived ambition I have only really been a writer for a year or so. Yes I wrote thousands upon thousands of words for essays and dissertations throughout university but it was only in the bluesy boredom Post-Graduation when I found myself wanting to write my own words again. But I still wasn’t sure how to go about it. In fact, I nearly became a teacher because by my logic, my favourite authors were writers who had taught to make money and pry on the human condition – I could do that! But thankfully, I didn’t.

It took a tremendous kick up the arse from the fates to finally make me put pen to paper, but since then I’ve being doing ok. I started a journalism course, I’ve thrown my hand to all sorts of reviews and commissions in the hope of gaining enough experience to finally get paid for it (it doesn’t take that long, right?) and I even started a blog – I’m practically a professional.

And what have I learnt?

How do you become a writer?

Well, usually when you have something far more pressing to do, usually, in the dead of night when you should be sleeping, and always with a cup of tea at hand. A dog at one’s feet is also nice, but unfortunately that’s a treat I can only enjoy when I’m back home, balancing the scales. A window, preferably open, helps – something about the fresh air I assume. Heartbreak or homesickness or any other undesirable discomfort is fantastic! Look at Adele! But there’s only so much material you can bleed out of that before people lose interest.

If nothing else, I recommend just writing. As Maya Angelou very excellently put it: “You can’t use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have.”

And that is my advise after nearly twenty years of wanting to be somewhere or do something that would make me a real writer, the answer was in front of me the entire time, staring up from a blank, white page.

And I never did learn how to drink coffee.


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