You Know You're a Writer When Your . . . Part 2

Dare to dream  Photo by Linda Wilson
Build a strong foundation:  Read as much as you can. Study your weak areas so you can improve them. Share your work with a critique group. Take courses. Attend workshops and conferences. Build a marketing platform. Write the best article/book/poem/memoir you can. Ask a professional editor to proof your work. Whatever you do, don't give up. You've covered the bases. You are on a sure road to success.

And, don't forget: write from your heart. For, without putting your heart and soul into what you write, your works would have little meaning. To find meaning you need only to look inside. As one editor put it, "Go to the well. That's were you'll find what to write." Sound easy? It hasn't been easy for me. Nestled in among the flowers inside there are weeds, weeds that I sometimes don't want to see. But when I take a good, hard look, each weed that I pluck adds meaning; and in the end, could be the very reason for my story to linger.

What has made up your well is the sum total of your past, your thoughts and feelings, your experiences; in short, where you come from. While reading through this small sampling of the main forces that have shaped great authors' careers and how far their humble beginnings have taken them, think about how your own writing choices originated; how these choices have driven you, even challenged you, toward the subject(s) you write about today.

You know you're a writer when your . . .

. . . relative is a journalist.
  • Brian Doyle, the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon; and author of thirteen books, most recently The Plover, published in April 2014, writes that he is asked how he became a writer in almost every class he visits. His short answer is "By writing." In an article for The American Scholar, Doyle imparted precious gems he learned from his journalist father: "My dad was a newspaperman, and still is, at age 92 . . . he taught me immensely valuable lessons. If you wish to be a writer, write . . . Note how people get their voices and hearts and stories down on the page . . . Be honest with yourself about the size of your gift . . . The best writers do not write about themselves but about everyone else . . . The best writers are good listeners."
. . . family is your biggest influence.
  • As an extremely shy girl, Jane Austen, the youngest of seven, centered her world around her family. The author of six novels, including Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, Austen drew her "comic abilities" and "knowledge of the sea" from her brothers. Though Austen never married, she drew much of her fiction from her own life.

  • Eudora Welty grew up in a house full of books. After attending college at the University of Wisconsin and Columbia, she returned to her childhood home in Jackson, Mississippi, where she lived most of her 92 years. She never married, saying, "It never came up," and of her life at home, said, "I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within." Welty wrote four short stories which were reissued in 1980 as The Collected Stories; five novels, a volume of essays, The Eye of the Storm (1978), and a memoir, One Writer's Beginnings (1984).
. . . life is changed by a catalystic event.
  • In answer to why he became a writer, on his website Stephen King writes, ". . . there was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories." King grew up without a dad. Endearing to me is that he made a success of himself in spite of that. Though he grew up with meager finances which continued for the first part of his career as an English teacher, he and his brother David benefited from a loving mother. At six and seven years old King's mother read aloud to them. Stephen loved her choice of stories, from the comic book series, "Classics Illustrated," to Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. She said of a thin, plain "grown-up" book, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, "This one's a scary one. It's about a man who changes into something else." Stephen begged, "Read it to me." She gave in. The story only fanned the fires already burning in Stephen's heart. Even at the tender age of seven he thought, "I have to do that, but I have to do that worse."

  • When Stephen was eleven years old he and David amused themselves by going to the movies. They liked the scary ones best. One matinee, The Pit and the Pendulum, moved Stephen so much that he wrote his own version and passed copies of it to his friends. Movies helped develop his unique writing style: "I write down everything I see. It seems like a movie, and I write that way."

  • Yet King's most poignant influence came at the discovery of an old box of his father's books--horror stories--that he found in his aunt and uncle's attic. Among the books was a 1947 collection by H.P. Lovecraft, one of the first noted horror writers, called "The Lurking Fear and Other Stories." Like Lovecraft, King was from New England. King realized, too, that he could establish his stories in the place he knew best--Maine.
. . . life experiences have moved you to help others.
  • Offering examples from the experiences of the patients in his psychiatric practice, M. Scott Peck, M.D., developed a philosophy discussed in his best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled (1978). It is an engaging read which, in the first part, focuses on the importance of discipline in helping solve life's problems and in living a fulfilling life. Peck sums discipline up in neat categories, such as: Delaying gratification: the process by which some children by the age of twelve "are able to sit down on occasion without any parental prompting and complete their homework before they watch television;" Acceptance of responsibility: the ability to accept responsibility for our actions and not avoid it by expecting others to be responsible; Dedication to truth: "Courageous people must continually push themselves to be completely honest, yet must also possess the capacity to withhold the whole truth when appropriate," and; Balancing: the ability to handle situations appropriately. Peck argues that by trying to avoid legitimate suffering, people ultimately end up suffering more. The last two parts of The Road explore the nature of love and the power of grace, respectively.

  • "Be in control of your life and live the life of your dreams." That's the mission stated on Dr. Wayne Dyer's website. Dyer is the author of over 40 books, many audio programs and videos, speaker in the field of self-development, and guest on thousands of television and radio shows. His belief that every person can live an extraordinary life is particularly poignant, for he grew up in orphanages and foster homes. In the late '80s, I listened to audio cassette tapes by Dr. Dyer in which encouraging words were spoken by him in rhythm. The rhythm matched the steps I took on walks, and provided reassurance at a time when I needed it most. Dyer's books and audio products have evolved since then; I haven't been able to find that specific program I enjoyed while on walks. But Dyer's works, available in print, CD and audio download, cover the gamut of encouragement.
Writers from our own ranks at Writers on the Move exemplify the urge to help their readers by virtue of their writing choices. Readers can scroll down from this post to the list of contributors and by checking out our writers' websites and blogs, can find a treasure trove of expertise and heartfelt advice.

Now for my humble beginnings: Chronicling my life in diaries has satisfied a natural inclination to record anything that strikes my fancy, from childhood on. Serious efforts began by reading "how-to" books and writing for local newspapers and periodicals. Today, after retiring from teaching elementary school, my dream to write for children has finally come true. The best part is that writing for WOTM has allowed me to delve into topics that I enjoy writing for adults, too. I feel I have arrived at the best of both worlds.

Sources:;  "Jane Austen: Get the Particulars," by Ginny Wiehardt, at;; and "Stephen King," Biography Today, vol. 1, 1995;

Next month: Know Your Audience

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, recently completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction course. Linda has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-9 year olds. Follow Linda on Facebook.


Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, what a great post. Knowing how others got started and overcame obstacles gives lots of writing inspiration. I have a few books by Dr. Dyer and I love his mission statement!

Thanks for sharing this - it's a keeper.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Fun post- Thanks.

Shirley Corder said...

I love reading about other writers and what got them motivated. Thanks Linda.

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you, Karen, Mary Jo and Shirley. ! I'm glad you found the post helpful.

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