How to Be a Writer: A Guide in 5 Examples

One of the things that fascinates me–okay maybe obsess might be a better word–is the question of how writers live. Not just how they write or what their process is, though that’s definitely part of it. But how they construct their lives so that they can be writers. Do they work a day job? Do their family members support them (financially, emotionally, with childcare or household chores)? How many trunked stories and revised drafts did they go through before actually publishing that breakout book? And how do they fold their writer identity into their other life identities: mother, sister, daughter, wife, friend?

Really, you could boil it all down to the essential question: what is it like for you? It’s wh I read more memoirs and books on creativity than actual craft books. Because thankfully, I can look up any specific craft question online and get a number of different answers that hopefully show me a way forward.

I think this question stems from why we read in the first place: to experience others’ lives and to know, ultimately, that we are not alone. It’s why authorTube, blogs, writer Twitter, and bookstagram have exploded in popularity. Yes, authors are trying to build their platforms and get their names in front of an audience. But it wouldn’t work if we, the readers and aspiring writers, didn’t want to know. Books like On Writing and Bird by Bird wouldn’t be such big bestsellers if so many people didn’t crave a peek behind the curtain. Just a little glimpse that tells us not just how to write, but how to be a writer, at least according to one particular writer.

As we start to get hyped up for NaNoWriMo, a lot of us are going to be delving into the nitty-gritty of how to write a novel. And the first things that come to mind are probably things like story structure, character development, or even just how to generate a solid idea for a novel. But I think the best part of NaNo is that it gives many of us the opportunity to live like a writer, at least for a month. And if you’re looking for a few examples to guide you, here are some of my favorites:

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd

Although this book focuses more on a trip the author took with her daughter and thoughts on entering midlife, it also contains the seeds of her first (and possibly most famous) novel: The Secret Life of Bees. Whether you’ve read the novel or not, it’s fun to see the thinking and doubt behind what ended up being a beautiful book.



On Writing by Stephen King

It took me a long time to get around to reading this one and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. King is pretty rigid in his writing beliefs. He never outlines, he writes every day, the first draft should take a maximum of three months, the second draft is the first draft minus 10%… And because he’s Stephen King, it’s tempting to take these things as commandments and then feel bad about yourself if you fail. But as I’ve said before, there are many ways to be a writer and thankfully On Writing isn’t the sole item on this list.


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I would read anything Anne Lamott writes and almost all of her nonfiction contains some thoughts on the creative process, but this one is a classic for a reason. She’s funny and a little bit petty, which I love. And this book is like the total opposite of On Writing because Lamott, despite being pretty prolific and successful, doesn’t believe she has all the answers. But she’s more than willing to share what writing is like for her.


How Do You Write podcast by Rachael Herron

I’ve mentioned this one before, but I love it so much, it’s worth a second mention. Like the title says, it’s about how writers write. But it goes beyond the expected plotter or pantser, early bird or night owl to give you a better picture of how published authors get their writing done and what their lives look like when they’re working.



Vlogbrothers YouTube channel and Dear Hank and John podcast

This is kind of an oddball to throw in, but Hank and John Green are wonderful examples of people for whom writing is a part, but not the entirety, of their identities. They are brothers, husbands, friends, educators, and occasionally old men yelling at clouds. Also, if you binge-listen to their shared podcast and then read John’s most recent novel, Turtles All the Way Down, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how life often works its way into fiction.

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