How to Know If You're Really a Writer
Longing to write a book but unsure if you're meant to do it? Our favorite authors share their wake-up calls—moments that you can look for in your own life.
Have You Had a "Look Inward" Moment?
"When I was 13, I discovered journalism. I was painfully shy and I found that as a reporter I could have access into worlds where I felt I didn't truly belong, worlds of privilege. I had been writing all my professional life but it wasn't until I was well into middle age, about when I turned 40, that I was able to look inward and explore issues that really meant something to me personally. And I guess that's when I finally decided I wanted to become a real writer."
— Jeannette Walls, The Silver Star
Can You Make a Tape Recorder into Your Own Mrs. Gerbe?
"When I was 6, my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Gerbe, invited me up to her desk to dictate short stories to her. She sensed that my imagination was going at a pace that was faster than my writing hand. She became like my personal secretary, and I would practically say, 'Take a letter, Mrs. Gerbe!' My mother saved the stories I dictated, and in them you can see the earliest beginnings of a writer's inner workings." — Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings
Have You Ever Discovered "Just the Kind of Book" You Want to Write?
"After reading Jim Harrison's novella, Legends of the Fall
. Roughly a hundred years of family (and world) history compressed into roughly a hundred pages of the most luminous prose I had ever read up to that point. I don't know why, but after reading that novella, I wasn't content to simply remain a reader. Something changed, and it had to do with the great characterizations and incredibly specific and painterly lush descriptions of landscape, particularly wild country." — Rick Bass, All the Land to Hold Us
Have You Tried—and Failed—at Other Creative Projects?
"I had such vivid fantasies as a little kid, but when I tried to draw the pictures I saw in my head, I was utterly defeated. It was infuriating to have so much to express and such a faulty instrument to communicate it. So I put down the crayons and picked up the pen. Words got me closer to my visions, though [were] still frustratingly imprecise. (That's still the case today as a published author!) I wrote poems first, until I was in college and realized I had about as much talent for poetry as I did for art. So I switched to prose. My whole career was born out of a series of failures." — Domenica Ruta, With or Without You
Has Someone Already Told You That You're a Writer?
"In the summer of 1998, I was working at Glacier National Park, where I met my then girlfriend, now wife. I was a gardener and she was a waitress at Many Glacier Lodge. During this time, I wrote her many lascivious love letters and poems. She said, 'You should be a writer,' and I said, 'Okay.' So many years and so many books later, it's all been an attempt to impress a pretty girl. Growing up, I was an obsessive reader, but I had never considered writing as a profession. Sometimes it takes that one person—a teacher, a parent, a friend, a lover—to give you a nudge and help you find your path." — Benjamin Percy, Red Moon
Has Your Job Trained You in How to Tell a Story?
"I was in my first weeks as a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon, when I was asked to work on a truly puzzling case. A man who had murdered his girlfriend in Washington was now confessing to several other murders, including one committed in Portland five years earlier. Problem was, our office had already convicted two people of aggravated murder in the case. My job was to help convict the new defendant and exonerate the two old defendants. As a long time reader of crime fiction, I kept hearing myself think, "What if this?" and "What if that?" By the time I left the DA's office five years later, I knew the culture, characters and voices of law enforcement. I had asked "What if?" so many times that I had the kind of twisting, turning plot I've always appreciated as a reader. I thought I was finally ready to write." — Alafair Burke, If You Were Here
Next: 6 (easy!) ways anyone can become a writer