Hello there, welcome back to the blog. Today, we’re talking about how to be a writer and how to write a book by stealing like an artist.
If you’d like to check out the above video instead of reading this article, go right ahead and let me know what you think as I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from it.
Let me also preface this post by stating that I mean this in a way that doesn’t just literally mean going out, picking a book off the shelf and plagiarizing the hell out of it.
And think of this one as a bit of a primer on why it’s important to steal like an artist and understand your influences, give you some steps to follow to become a writer and some practical advice and tips on how to get your first book written. It isn’t easy, but by taking the first step of searching for advice in the first place, you’re far ahead of the competition.
I’ll be creating more content relating to becoming a writer, writing and publishing in a later series of posts and videos. This one, while aimed at beginners, can easily be utilized by the more seasoned professionals among you to give you some more ideas.
“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.” —Jim Jarmusch
No, what I mean is the creative sense of stealing like an artist – I’ve recently read a fantastic book by Austin Kleon called Steal Like An Artist – which is where this idea of how to become a writer and how to get started and write that book you’ve been wanting to write was sparked from.
Also, if you’re worried that this may not apply to you because you’re a digital artist, or sticker maker, or SEO content writer – stop right there, because you’re wrong.
This advice can easily apply to any industry, hobby or potential business venture.
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get started.
“We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.” —Francis Ford Coppola
Two of the most common questions that I get as a writer is “How can I become a writer?” and “How do I write a book?”
And I know exactly where you are coming from – if I rewind to where I hadn’t even conceived the idea of my first book Old Eyes – I had no idea how to be a writer or even where to start writing a book.
And I think it’s because I thought that I should be taught it from someone, or to attend a class OR may not have studied the correct subjects to be setup for being successful.
But, I was wrong.
Even though I have an MA in Creative Writing, the degree didn’t teach me how to be a writer or how to write a book – what it did give me was an appreciation and understanding for the industry and my influences – and that’s what I want to share a bit with you today in this video.
Your influences are relevant to the work you’ll be doing.
You aren’t just in a solo-sphere filled with imposter-syndrome … ness… is that a word?
For me, it was H P Lovecraft. For you, it might be Cold Play if your a singer-songwriter. Or George Lucas if you’re a budding director.
Understanding how you are influenced by others will definitely help you build up confidence in your own art.
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.” —William Ralph Inge
If you want to write a book – steal your favourite things from a variety of different works – and don’t be limited by media format either.
Want to write a dark fantasy Western like Stephen King? Go for it!
Want to include the political backstabbing of Game of Thrones? Get that bad boy started!
It’s okay for you to think of these ideas and write them because somewhere in the process you’ll get to that lightbulb moment.
You’ll find your own unique voice or story along the way. There’s no need to have to think you need to be 100% original to be 100% original to you.
(That’s kind of deep – I need to write that down.)
I’ve got a bit of a workshopping method for you to start getting your ideas down on paper.
Just grab a pen, pencil, stylus or tablet – whatever works best for you.
1. Write down a list of 3-5 of your favourite stories.
2. Then jot down 3 points on each of your favourite elements.
3. Now, connect them up randomly to create a premise.
For example I might get something like this for my first premise:
- The story began with a mistaken phone call.
- Takes place in a decaying, beachside town.
- Ends with the protagonist losing everything.
I’d like to see if you can guess what stories these concepts come from in the comments below.
As part of their own stories, they are important parts of those unique narratives
Here, they are stolen elements that you can utilize in an original way.
This is the essence of stealing like an artist.
Let me know below in the comments what story concepts you came up with and how you are thinking of writing them.
Right, next, let’s talk about some steps that you can take to put yourself on the right path for becoming a writer and how to write your first book.
Practical steps for becoming a writer and writing your first book
- Read often, read widely.
Seriously, you need to consume if you want to create. Don’t just read what you like, but also read about other things – they’ll open your mind to different ideas and you’ll write more originally that way.
Lately, I’ve been reading about the art fundamentals in the hope to improve my drawing and painting skills – and it gave me some horror ideas that I hope to use a new short story set in the same world as my books.
And you’re not just limited to books either – games are also a powerful vehicle for storytelling, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to feeding our own creative beasts.
- Know your grammar.
This may get a groan from a lot of you. But being grammatically correct will definitely set you apart from other writers by making sure you work is ready to submit to agents, publishers and need less editing work – and trust me, editing is where you’ll be spending the vast majority of your time as a writer after the initial draft. Speaking of which….
- Get the first draft done.
I think I’ve spoken about this before, but just get it done. It is statistically frightening how many projects or hobbies people start every year and give up because of a lack off willpower.
The first draft will be the most painful step of the process – but remember, just as it doesn’t need to be 100% original, it doesn’t have to be 100% perfect either… or perfect at all really.
- Create a basic outline.
Now, this differs from person to person – some people are pantsers and some people need to plot every detail of their stories out.
Create a basic outline of your book – they basic points, the essential parts – the a, b and c of where your story starts and how it ends.
Again, it isn’t set in stone and it will change – but it’ll give you a bit of a framework to follow.
- Get excited by what you’re doing.
If you are simply taking the steps to write your book and to become a writer, you’re already ahead of the potential competition who haven’t even started – so be excited by what you’re doing.
In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve persisted with this channel, because I am excited and genuinely passionate about sharing tips and advice with you all.
Being positive with yourself is one of the most powerful forms of self-motivation. Relish in it.
- Seek advice.
Seriously, don’t be afraid of asking questions – whether it’s on Reddit or in the comments of YouTube videos – the majority of us are happy to help and actually encourage the sharing of ideas.
Bouncing those ideas around will give you help in shaping your own art – everything is in flux and time and time again the waters will flow and change – maybe that’s too Jungian.
- Share you work.
Before even sending it out to agents or publishers, share your work with people who you trust to give you an honest opinion.
That means if they think something is crap, they’ll tell you it’s crap.
I know that probably makes you want to curl up into a writerly ball of invulnerability – but taking criticism in your stride and acting on the critique that is right will help you more than if you never shared your work and sent it out for publishing first.
You’ll be taken more seriously too.
To nail in these points into your mind-engine – just follow these simple steps.
- Do my exercise to generate writing ideas – think of them as your own writing prompts based on stories you are passionate about.
- Create a basic or complex outline for your needs – make sure you know the rough idea of the basic elements that will create the story.
- Start writing the first draft, don’t care about the word count or the quality of your writing – and don’t be afraid to steal ideas from other writers, games, films or tv shows in the beginning. Remember, steal like an artist.
- Get it done – be excited and share your accomplishment with friends, family, members of this YouTube community and the writing subreddit – you’ve achieved more than the average person would ever achieve in their lifetime.
- Now, get to the editing – ask questions, search for help and share ideas to improve your work.
- Re-write and edit again and again until your happy – you’ll never achieve perfection, but get as close as you’ll be happy with.
I really hope these ideas and steps have helped you in answering that question on how to be a writer or how to write a book.
Just to give you a final idea too – my first book came from a short story I wrote down several years prior to actually writing the book. The character and story premise was there, I just didn’t get started. I’ll be creating future posts which go more in depth on writing a book – this one is a sort of primer on getting started
So, get started now. You won’t regret it.
If you’ve enjoyed this post today, maybe check out the video version of this to hammer home the key points to follow OR check out my other writing and storytelling videos which are aimed to help you on how to be a writer and how to write a book or novel you’ve always wanted to write.
And definitely look into the fantastic book Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon – especially if you need an extra kick of motivation!