I put quote marks around the words “making it,” because the idea of “making it” or “success” vary somewhat from writer to writer. It’s kind of like being “rich.” If you talk to several people who you consider rich and ask them if they consider themselves rich, most would say no. Or the term “old.” How old is old? It depends on who is talking, and how old they are.
And so I approach the idea of “making it” as a writer not with the measurement of being rich or famous, or being on the New York Times Bestseller list, or even being able to write as your full-time job. The first two really depend a little on talent and a lot on luck; the third–full-time writing–depends a lot on choice. If you are willing to adopt the lifestyle of a full-time writer, and do without a lot of things that others consider essential, like a 9-5 schedule, then anyone with a modicum of talent, dedication and smarts can write full-time.
What I am talking about is simply writing books (or magazine articles or short stories for that matter) and selling enough of them to give yourself a little side income, enough that you can seriously call yourself a writer. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Write. A lot. And then write some more.
2. Read. Ditto with the lot as above. It doesn’t have to be classics; in fact, the more variety the better.
3. Learn about marketing. Use it.
4. Learn grammar, spelling and punctuation. Use it to edit your own stuff. This is important even if you have someone else edit your stuff in the end. Learn to rewrite.
5. Learn about social networks. Write a blog. Get on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and become part of the community. Don’t go on simply to sell your books; rather make friends and let them sell your books for you.
6. Join some sort of writer’s group. Use the group to bounce ideas, short stories, and get honest criticism. Don’t use them to feel good about being a writer, especially if you don’t write anything.
7. Take a writing class. Or two. Or three. Learn about structure, characterization, dialogue, viewpoint. Use what you learned.
8. Observe life. Take notes. Learn from your mistakes. Remember that everything you observe, everything you do, is potential material for writing.
9. Have a family. Learn more from your mistakes. Learn about human nature. Write about it.
10. Make connections with other writers, editors and agents. Even if you don’t see a need to know them now, chances are in a few years that connection will come in handy.
Good luck. Let me know when you have made it.