I get asked for advice by young writers and never know what to offer beyond a few things that sound absurdly simple. I don’t want to be discouraging. I don’t want to be overly encouraging, either. Print may or may not be dying, but writing isn’t. People still want to become writers, hope to make a career of it, think of it as something special — all that jazz.
I think the fundamental force behind writing is passion. The writers I know are insane. They don’t know how NOT to write about stuff. It’s like pro athletes often say about their sport: They’d play for free. Writers love to write — and not because it’s easy. Getting it right isn’t easy at all, and that challenge is a big part of why writers love to write. It’s a high, working on your game, a way of being in the world that feels absolutely honest and true.
Anyone, especially in his or her twenties, saying ‘I have no time to write’ because of a job or anything else is full of crap. Writers write. If you can’t find time to write, don’t worry about becoming a writer. You’re not a writer. You’ll never be a writer. Find something else that lights you up.
Same with reading. Anybody who has no time to read isn’t a writer. All the work necessary to learn how to write boils down to reading and writing. This is not subtle or nuanced advice, obviously. I stress it here because of how often I talk to people who seem to think there’s a shortcut. I know no shortcuts. Luck counts, yes. Connections, too. But luck and connections won’t help if you’re not a good enough writer to take advantage of them.
The other factor is endurance. Endurance is a talent. Without endurance, I don’t think other talents mean much, not in a profession as uncertain as writing. Almost without exception, the chances to earn money and recognition come slow. If they do come quick, endurance is still required to build a career. The few writers I know who found relatively early success and kept it going weren’t just good writers; they worked even harder after making their bones.
Keep in mind, though, that this is just one guy’s way of thinking. I was selling columns to a weekly paper in Philadelphia for $40 a pop the year I turned 40. The best writer I know in Cleveland is nearly 60 and makes his living checking orders at a beverage warehouse. One of the best young writers I know in New York City works for a caterer full time. Maybe you can find someone else out there who can offer you some shortcut. Not me.