Rubin: If you want to be a writer, just write

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Writer Becki Bayley with husband Andy, Jack, 4, and Maggie, 8.

People think I’m being a smart alec when I tell them the deep, dark secret, but for once, I’m not.

At least a few times a month, someone asks me, “How do I become a writer?”

The answer is five letters long:


If I’m feeling expansive, I add a postscript:


The reading part helps improve the writing part. The more you read, the more you absorb things like style and grammar, and if you pay attention, you notice what moves you and what doesn’t.

Plus, reading is fun, and it fills the time nicely when you’re getting your tires rotated.

What brought all of that to mind was being in a roomful of bloggers last week. And what brought eight bloggers together was Bookstock, the largest used book and media sale in Michigan.

I’m a long-time honorary co-chair of Bookstock — see — which reappears May 15-22 at Laurel Park Place in Livonia.

For eight glorious days, more than 100,000 carefully sorted and categorized books, movies, CDs, records and magazines will rest on tables throughout the mall, which itself rests along Six Mile Road east of Interstate 275.

Across 13 years, Bookstock has raised more than $1.3 million for literacy and education projects in Metro Detroit.

Except for an 8:15 a.m. presale on opening day with a $20 entry fee, it’s free to get in and it keeps mall hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. otherwise.

Most of the books cost $1 or $3, and children’s books start at 50 cents — which is how we connect to the family oriented, bargain-centric bloggers.

Some of them write about kid-friendly activities. Some write about parenthood or education. One writes “Books I Think You Should Read.”

It struck a few members of our all-volunteer staff that these were people who might be as enthused about literacy, family outings and cheap books as we are.

They were, and having met them and enjoyed their company, I asked a few of them about my advice for aspiring writers.

Yes, indeed, they said:


Jason and Lauren Weber of Howell with Karina, 3, left, Kinley, 5, and Miles, 1. Lauren’s family-fun-focused blog, “Mrs. Weber’s Neighborhood,” helps inspire their adventures – and buy their groceries.

Use your voice

Lauren Weber, 31, lives with her husband and three kids in Howell, where she creates “Mrs. Weber’s Neighborhood.”

“All you have to do is start and be genuine and be yourself,” she says, “and it goes from there.”

Becki Bayley, 43, lives with her husband and two kids in Lake Orion, where she plots out time to work on “Sweetly B Squared.”

“Most of what I do is for my own enjoyment,” she says. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Both of them wanted to write, so they sat down and started doing it.

When she began 14 years ago, Bayley says cheerily, “it was just drunken college ramblings, because that was my life back then.”

Now it ties in nicely with her direct sales business and leads to things like free tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters, bestowed by places like The Palace of Auburn Hills because a mention in her blog helps drive traffic to the event.

More important, it’s a way to break through the isolation of working at home.

“If you can sit down and use your voice,” Bayley says, “maybe someone else will get something out of it. Maybe they won’t.”

Either way, it’s sort of a mental scrapbook — a permanent record of what she was doing and feeling as the words fell from her fingertips.

Simple and hard

Blog entries, poems, screenplays ... Whatever the discipline, the point is to let the creativity flow. Do that and you’re a writer, whether or not you cash in.

Weber’s blog actually generates enough ad revenue to pay for groceries, as well as getting her ecstatic kids invited to the Legoland Discovery Center grand opening.

“I kind of look at it as a job and a hobby,” she says. “But it’s work I love.”

She’s about to hit a milestone as a blogger. Nearly five years ago, she sat down at the keyboard, and she’s still there.

“It’s that simple,” she says — and, of course, that hard.

If you want to be a writer, write. And don’t forget Bookstock — even if all you want to be is a reader, which is plenty.