Writing and Publishing

My Story of Becoming a Writer

I remember it well.

Alone, I sit in my home office. I should be working. I’m not. I’m distracted. In my windowless basement room, I swing the door shut and dim the lights. I know what I must do, but I don’t want to.

I’ve been writing and publishing for years, but I’ve never owned this reality. Now I must. It’s a seminal moment, of that I’m quite sure. If I don’t do it today, it might never happen. My gut rumbles. I inhale deeply and close my eyes, as if eyelids will afford me protection from what I’m about to do.

Pulse racing, my lips move, but no sound comes out. On my third attempt, an audible rasp oozes forth, a murmur I can barely hear. Almost indiscernible, I just mumbled, “I am a writer.”

I try again. Eventually my volume rises to a normal speaking level, but my words lack confidence. A few months later I try this in front of another person. It emerges as a most pitiful attempt. It takes a couple years before I can confidently tell someone that I’m a writer.

That was a long time ago. Now saying “I am a writer” flows forth without effort and no self-doubt—because it’s true.

At writing conferences, I occasionally teach a workshop for newer writers. I often lead my class in saying this phrase out loud: “I am a writer.” Their first effort is cautious, timid. But by their third attempt, they grin with confidence. We need to first call ourselves writers if others are to believe it.

I am a writer and so are you.

I sold the first article I ever wrote in 1982 and never stopped. I formed a magazine publishing company in 2001, where I function as publisher and editor-in-chief. In 2008 I began blogging, long before blogging—and later, content marketing—became a thing. And in 2015 I became a successful commercial freelance writer. And I even ghost wrote a couple of books.

Over my career, I’ve written thousands of blog posts, hundreds of articles, and scores of books, with a hundred ideas in queue, for both nonfiction and fiction.

And like most authors who publish a book about writing, I suffer from imposter syndrome. I suspect this perspective stems from the fact that I’m a self-taught writer. I don’t have an MFA degree, and I didn’t even study writing in college.

I learned by doing. And that might be the best way to learn.

The benefit of being a self-taught writer is that I studied what I needed to know when I needed to know it. I also followed blogs, read books, and listened to podcasts—many podcasts—about writing and publishing. I went to conferences and attended critique groups. I got feedback on my writing every chance I could get.

But mostly I wrote. I wrote a lot.

Over the years I’ve learned and grown as a writer. I’ve received recognition and awards. And I often hear compliments about the way I weave words together. There are many aspects of writing I’ve learned to do well, other areas where I strive to improve, and one item persists as my Achilles’ heel: grammar.

You see, I switched schools between fourth and fifth grade. My old school had not yet even hinted at grammar, while my new school had already covered it thoroughly. I was far behind in grammar when I transferred. And I never caught up.

In college I took only one writing class, a freshman-level requirement. When I took the placement test to gauge my writing ability, I failed the grammar portion in grand fashion. They advised me to take remedial English first. But since they didn’t require it, I took the standard freshman writing class they didn’t feel I was ready for. Through hard work and a determination that astounded my instructor, I persevered and earned a 4.0. It was my first and last college writing class. After my bachelor’s degree, I later went on for a master’s and then two PhD’s. Along the way I did a lot of writing.

Even though it took me a while to call myself a writer, I’ve been writing most of my life. In high school I learned I had a knack for it, and it’s been part of most every job I’ve had. Although I’ve had some great jobs, my work as a full-time writer is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

Using words to educate and entertain others is an art form that I cherish. Being an author and writing every day is a job so wonderful that it doesn’t even feel like work. I get to influence and encourage others with my words. How amazing is that?

I don’t plan on ever retiring. I like writing too much to stop. My prayer is that I will be able to write—and write well—until the day I die, which I hope is a long way off.

Until then, I will persist in my goal to change the world one word at a time.

Takeaway: Writing is an amazing, wonderful, and fulfilling adventure. Having a successful career as a writer takes time, effort, and persistence. But it can happen. Just don’t rush it.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.