Somewhere once I read that some famous writer said something like, "If you want to be a writer, then write." It is that easy, but it's also not that easy. I mean, if it were really that easy, then we would all be writers already, right?
Some people think the way to become a writer is by studying how other people have done it and learning all the "rules" to "good" writing. You can spend years reading books on how to write. Others think you have to have a degree in creative writing in order to call yourself a writer.
And these people who say that a "real" writer writes because s/he is compelled to and can't not write...I kind of want to punch these people in the face (not that I would ever).
'Cause I have it in me and it really wants to come out, and also it's a
terrifying thing to try to articulate and organize the mental chaos and
watch it come out on paper (or in a text box) and witness how different it
looks outside the head as compared to inside.
I don't know that there's any magic bullet that works for all of us. Reading books on writing and learning the "rules" might work for some people. And doing an MFA program might work for others. But knowing the rules or having an MFA degree isn't what makes one a writer. What makes one a writer is the writing. The books on writing and the experiences of the MFA program are meant to help break down those mental barriers that keep us from doing what we so want to do. They're meant to create a safe, supportive environment in which to try and fail.
Yes, if you want to be a writer then you need to write. But most writers I know can't just write every day, day after day, without any sort of feedback or encouragement or sense of purpose. Most of us need community for accountability and emotional support and--most importantly--a sense of audience. If you don't need these things, I envy you. If you do need these things, here are some ideas for how to go about getting them.
A good place to start is with DIY MFA, a concept and website created by Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) which has a whole bunch of ideas and resources for creating an experience for yourself similar to an MFA program but on your schedule and without the expense. Pereira's basic premise: in order to be a writer you need to write, read, and participate in community, and that doesn't have you cost you a bunch of money.
Do #writeclub Friday nights on Twitter. All you do is check in at the end of each writing sprint (timed by @FriNightWrites) with updates about how many words you wrote and/or with a line from the piece you're working on. It's community, low-stakes accountability, and encouragement.
Participate in A Round of Words in 80 Days (#ROW80). I just found out about this through Twitter and am completely in love. It's a community of people, started by Kait Nolan (@kaitnolan), who connect via blogs and/or Twitter, set their own writing goals for an 80-day period, help keep each other accountable, and offer support and encouragement. Similar idea to NaNoWriMo, but ROW80 happens three times a year and you set your own goals around your lifestyle. The next round runs January 7 to March 28. I'm so doing it.
Other ideas: Do NaNoWriMo or DigiWriMo. Take community education classes through your local college or a place like The Attic Institute. Find a writing partner: someone you meet up with for writing dates either online or face-to-face (I found one through OkCupid once). Join or form a writing critique group. Find yourself a developmental editor. Go to readings and open mics.
To be a writer you have to be willing to make writing a priority in your life and your schedule. You need not only the time to write but also the energy. And, depending on the circumstances of your home life, you might also need a physical space to write--a coffee shop, the basement, your bedroom with the door shut and a Do Not Disturb sign? Experiment until you find what works for you.
Most importantly, though, you need to be willing to fail. I'm still working on this one. When I get it figured out, I'll let you know.