There is one simple magic trick to being a writer:
You can read as many craft essays and books as you like, but they will all start with one word. Write. Advice on writing craft typically assumes that, as someone who is seeking help to improve your writing, you already know how to get the words on the page.
In the words of Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors: “If you only write when you’re inspired you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not.”
As someone who aspires to become a (published) novelist (although being a poet would be nice, too), I am one of many who has to sit the f#$k down and write, with or without inspiration. It’s not easy at first; at first, you end up shrugging off writing, and then you end up barely writing at all, and then you’re not really a writer, let alone a novelist.
There are different ways to combat a lack of inspiration. Deadlines (my personal favorite being NaNoWriMo). Writing prompts. Writing groups (I recommend Book-in-a-Week) and classes. Inordinate amounts of coffee. Treating yourself to a KitKat every 100 words. Reading the work of other writers or articles about writing. Word wars and sprints. Nagging from your fellow writers on Twitter. Forcing yourself to sit down in front of a blank or half-finished page until you write one single awful sentence. The point being that you sit your butt down and spend time with your work, whether you like it or not.
Stephen King, in the only book of his that I have ever read, which also happens to be my all-time favorite craft piece/memoir, tells the aspiring novelist: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” By “a lot,” he means three to four hours a day. As a full-time college student with a variety of interests and obligations outside the realm of writing, I am willing to call BS on those numbers, but the original point remains valid.
A saying from Raymond Chandler to reinforce this: “Every author has a million words of crap in them that they must spit out before they write something good.” You hate to hear it, I know. I hate to hear it. I have not kept track of every word I’ve written over the years, but I’ve written at least 400,000 words through NaNoWriMo novels alone. Maybe another 50,000 or so in short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, etc. For the sake of my reputation we won’t count the fanfiction or roleplaying (although to be honest that has to be at least another 50 or 100k). I am not quite halfway to that golden million and, although I can see myself improving, I can still feel the disconnect between the writing I am producing and the writing I want to produce. I don’t know if that disconnect will ever go away, even when I do hit one million words. I doubt that a milestone as simplistic as a wordcount could be used to determine a writer’s quality, anyway. But the point of being a writer is not the million words. It is not being published. It is not making money. It is not writing the next Great American novel.
The point is writing. Sitting down in front of the computer. Putting words on the page. Finishing the things you start.
You do not need to write every single day for four hours to be a writer (although the practice of putting writing into your daily routine is an excellent one). You do not have to write a million words in your whole life. You do not have to be the next J.K. Rowling; you do not even need to let anyone else read your work but yourself.
All you need to do to be a writer is to write.
But, you know, if carrying around a Moleskine and a cup of overpriced coffee makes you feel more like a writer, I will be the last person to stop you. In fact, I’ll be sitting at the next window, clutching my salted caramel latte and staring dreamy-eyed into the overcast sky.