The one true secret to becoming a writer

Secret of the mistThere is one secret to becoming a writer, something all writers know and understand on a visceral level. This is a secret often shared and almost always ignored; when I was told it I thought So What? As I’ve progressed I realise that, like many human endeavours, it is not the answer that is important as much as the question. You may not be impressed with the secret revealed here, and you probably know it already. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Questions and answers

In my day job I am a management consultant. This often means helping clients answer difficult business questions. I have also trained extensively on the topic of problem solving (as described in my book Opening the Creativity Diamond). Before that I worked for a software company and in my 30 years experience, getting the question framed correctly is often much harder than people realise. Bad questions lead to poor answers. My own mantra is [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]tell me the problem, not the solution[/inlinetweet]. An example will help:

When I ran the product team for a software company in the 1990s we had a US office. One day we had a request for a new feature helpfully described as a complex new command with strange parameters and various other oddities. The request came with ‘important customer needs this feature’. After a lot of discussion we found out what the customer was actually trying to achieve (the problem). With our knowledge of the inner workings of the software package and development roadmap, we realised we could extend a new feature in such a way as to give this customer a solution without bespoking something just for them.

The US guys had worked in good faith, and were trying to be helpful. What we needed was a good description of the problem.

The secret to being a writer

Here goes. The secret to being a writer, as first told to me by John Dorney (who frequently tries to help would-be writers in his spare time around writing and acting):

Q: How do I become a writer?

A: Just write something.

And that’s it. What we have here is a bad question. The actual question is not being asked and goes along the lines of any of the following:

How do I become a published writer?

How do I make money writing?

How do I write for XXX?

How do I get rich writing?

These all need more work. What do you mean by published? How many copies, what outlets? How much money?

[pullquote]personal drives are a complex thing[/pullquote]

This is central to your journey to being successful writer according to your own measures. As I’ve written elsewhere (What does Maslow tell us about writing?), personal drives are a complex thing. I do believe self-awareness is a useful step towards being happy with where you’ve arrived as a writer, and shaping where you are going.

So, thanks for taking the time to read this; what’s your question? What does being a writer actually mean for you? Let me know!


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