May 14, 2014

How To Be A Writer 101

By Davalynn Spencer

Last week a former student from the college where I teach asked me to meet with him to discuss career direction. He wants to be a writer.

The first thing I told him—in spite of my usual rants on originality—was, “Don’t quit your day job.”

Cliché, perhaps. Truth, absolutely.

He nodded and chuckled. Not exactly the sage advice he was hoping for from a professional writer. However, I figured if I started with the hard cold facts, everything else would be warm and fuzzy.


The young man admitted to the also-cliché quip of “I write because I have to,” and we discussed the long, slow start some writers experience.

“If you’re writing for money, you’re going to be disappointed,” I told him. He is interested in creative nonfiction along the lines of commentary, so I encouraged him to approach the editor of his mountain-town weekly about writing a column.

“Give him a couple of samples to see if what you have to say is a fit for the community,” I said. “Then ask what the budget allows for columnists.”

However, there might not be a budget, and he might have to give away the first few things he writes. But he’d have a byline and something in print to add to his credits.

He saw the value in that.

Some days this aspiring writer tells his family to give him room because he just needs to get away by himself for a couple of hours and write.

Really? A couple of hours? By himself? I wish.

“You have to write every day,” I said, brushing away the warm fuzzy for some more hard cold. “Whether you want to or not.”

Whether it’s nice and quiet or not. Whether the TV is blaring in the other room and the dog just knocked left-over cereal off the kitchen counter or not.

He looked as if I’d insisted he make his bed every morning, help with the dishes, and take out the trash.

“Make yourself write even if you don’t feel like it. Determine a number of words—250, 500, 2,000, whatever—and discipline yourself to write that amount every day.”

Hoping to end our meeting with a softer bit of advice, I tried adding a touch of fuzz to the cold.

“There’s someone out there writing what you want to write. Read them. See how they do it. Read everything you can get your hands on. Study the craft. Sign up for email delivery of blogs and newsletters from literary agents, successful authors, and writing sites.”

Immerse yourself in the writing culture, I told him, because that’s about as warm and fuzzy as it gets.

But above all, build on the hard cold rock of reality and “Just write.”
When the handsome, dark-eyed cowboy sauntered into Davalynn Spencer’s life, the gate to adventure swung wide. So began her journey writing for national rodeo markets and winning awards in the process. Her writing has also taken her from the city crime beat of a mid-size daily newspaper to college classrooms and inspirational publication with David C. Cook and others. When she’s not writing western romance or teaching as an adjunct professor, she enjoys speaking and leading worship at women’s retreats. She and her former rodeo-clown husband have three children and four grandchildren and make their home on Colorado’s Front Range with a Queensland heeler named Blue. Her latest book is "The Cowboy Takes a Wife." Connect with her online at,  Twitter @davalynnspencer  

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