So You Want to Be a Writer?

One of the speakers at The Hayes Summer School, a writers’ workshop held every year in Derbyshire in the UK, posed a question which I have always found very telling. ‘Do you want to be a writer?’ he asked. ‘Or do you want to write?’


He then went on to explain that many people think in terms of the fame and fortune they imagine authorship confers. ‘I want to be a writer,’ translates in their minds to ‘I want to be a writer like J.K.Rowling.’ The fact is that the J.K.Rowlings of this world are few and far between. I believe the ratio is something like: 1% of writers make a fortune; 4% make a living; and the rest struggle in their proverbial garrets like all artists driven by the compulsion to perfect their art.

And therein lies the second part of the question. Because if it is the process of writing, itself, which drives you, if what you’re saying is that you want to become a writer, then you have a chance of succeeding. But it takes effort, and the capacity to accept constructive criticism.

One of the flattering, if potentially fatal, aspects of being a published author is that other people want you to read their manuscripts. Seduced, in the early days when I was first published, I undertook to read through several dog-eared masterpieces. The trouble is that some would-be authors didn’t seem to want the advice I so (bravely!) and helpfully had to offer. What they wanted was a pat on the back and an assurance that their literary genius was exactly what the market was waiting for with bated breath.


Fortunately, not everyone was like that. There were many who were prepared to put in the hard-slog that’s necessary in order to achieve in any artistic pursuit. And because I remembered the endless patience of those who mentored me in my early endeavours (as I clung to my perfect prose as if it were my baby and I was faced with a gang of child-snatchers) I decided that it would be only right and proper if I were to offer whatever expertise I had to others. So, when I was invited to lead a weekend-long writers’ workshop, following publication of my first two or three books, I began to develop a series of lessons based on what I had learned.

That event led to other workshop opportunities – and ultimately to an invitation as Resident Writer in the city library in the county where I live. Sadly, it was an invitation I had to decline. Circumstances at the time had forced upon me the necessity of earning a living, and I had little chance for my own writing, let alone mentoring that of others.


That situation is now resolved, and some months ago I began a series of tutorials on creative writing on my website. I know, from the people I meet, that some of my readers will be thinking in terms of writing a full length novel (min. 70,000 words if it’s for adults) and others will want to accomplish something rather different: perhaps a testimony – a story covering a relatively short period of your own life, which you feel may be inspiring to others. What I have to say will, I hope, be of help in all aspects of creative writing. That is to say, fiction, biography or autobiography.

The topics I’ll be covering (and this list is not definitive) will be:

  • Plotting a story
  • Identifying a theme
  • Creating credible characters
  • Developing dialogue
  • Market and readership
  • Building suspense
  • Weaving all the strands together
  • Reaching a satisfactory conclusion


You may know of other people who would like to ‘join’ the Class of Mel’s Muse. If so, please ask them to come along. The more the merrier. The joy of online interaction is that numbers are unlimited by strictures on venue size, health and safety and so on. Nor are there any formalities: no registration; no regular attendance requirements; in fact no obligations required of them at all.

The people you ask may not, necessarily, be aspiring writers. But often even readers – especially those in Readers’ Groups – relish the idea of acquiring an insight into the esoteric workings of an author’s life. And if you, or they, have questions of me, I promise I will do my best to answer them. At very least – if they’re genuine – you have my assurance that I will reply.