My How-to-Be-a-Writer Checklist
1. Have experiences.
✔ I moved from Jersey to Boston at 18. Had a crazy musician boyfriend. Worked in a halfway house for ex-mental hospital patients. Graduated from Emerson College with a bachelor's in communications, got married, etc. Had two kids. Raised them up. Decided against the MFA: too much time and I wanted to hang with my kids. Got an MA in English from a state college instead. Got divorced. Got laid off. Taught as an adjunct at four to five schools at a time. Put kids through college. Sold house. Moved from Jersey to Queens for a full-time teaching gig at Queensborough Community College. Teaching like my life depends on it.
✔ Find a great teacher. Find another one. My first was Karen, a retired high school English teacher. She held a weekly writing group at my town’s public library. She started every session with a freewrite, a practice I still use at the beginning of every one of my first-year writing classes today. She introduced me to the works of Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron and planted the seed that eventually grew into my search for a graduate writing program. It took me four years to get my master’s from William Paterson University, during which time I went from stay-at-home mom to divorced mom. My teachers in grad school eventually became my colleagues and I’ve never stopped learning from them.
✔ I once had a creative writing teacher who told the class that if you don’t write every day, then you’re not a writer. So I set myself a goal to write every day, but with working seven days a week to pay the bills to keep the lights on and such, what I wrote was mostly comments on student essays instead of the writing that a Writer must do. I was sad about this, but after a while, I was like fuck it; I’m doing the best I can. I wrote during semester breaks and over the summer and managed to get a story published here and there. The good news is, what with all the heartbreak and struggle, I had plenty to write about. These days I give myself permission to write when I want to write. So maybe I’m a writer instead of a Writer, but I’m okay with that.
4. Get published.
✔ I’ve written a couple of novels and had some mild interest from agents, but no takers as of yet. For a while, I was super disappointed about it, but in the meantime, my short fiction and works of creative nonfiction were finding homes in online and print literary journals. I’m guessing tens of people have read them! One thing I’ve come to understand: it takes a village to make a writer. In the absence of a village, however, one can be a village unto herself.
5. Live. Be fierce. Write.