There’s been a kerfuffle on the Internet today, specifically on Twitter. It was launched by this tweet by the esteemed Niel Gaiman, who said:
http://clarion.ucsd.edu is where you apply to go to Clarion. If you want to be a writer, you want to go to Clarion, NEED to go to Clarion.
Now, first off, I don’t really think Gaiman meant that the only way to become a writer was to go to Clarion’s writing workshops. I think he meant to endorse them as a good place to go to help you become a writer. I think, perhaps, the 140 character limit got the better of him and it came off sounding a bit elitist. I mean, Clarion is no doubt wonderful, but the subset of people in the world who can afford to spend $5000 and ten days to attend a workshop in San Diego is, let’s say, somewhat circumscribed.
I don’t mean to suggest that Clarion isn’t a wonderful opportunity and a great program – it seems to be both, by all accounts, by those who can manage to get there. However, you don’t need to go there. There is only three things I would argue you require in order to be a writer. They are as follows:
1) You Must Write
This should not be revolutionary, but if you do not write things you cannot be a writer. How often should you do this? Hell if I know. I think this little piece of advice from by Daniel Jose Older is a good start. But however you do it, you need to do it. If you don’t do it, you aren’t a writer.
2) You Must Take Your Writing Seriously
If you define your writing as a hobby, I would argue that you are a person who writes, but not necessarily a writer (i.e. somebody who is a professional at this trade). If you intend to be a professional, you need to take your work seriously, strive to improve it, and push yourself to do your best.
3) You Must Strive to Publish Your Work
Again, speaking professionally and defining “writer” as a profession, you need to intend to release your work for public consumption, ideally for compensation (or, provisionally, for the purpose of securing compensation in the future). You do this by publishing it, either yourself or through more traditional means (publishing houses, etc.).
That, friends, is it. Now, the above three things don’t make you a good writer, necessarily, nor do they guarantee you to become a successful one. I would say, however, that the above is the bare minimum for entry. A writer writes, treats their work seriously, and strives to publish it. That’s literally it. You don’t need an MFA, you don’t need publications, you don’t need to go to Clarion – none of that. Will those things help? Sure, probably. But they are not requirements for entry. There is only one person who controls whether or not you are a writer: