The key to teaching and understanding writing is dragging all those particular steps back out of the brain-basement and shining a light on them, so you can look on them as part of a system that others can then replicate and assimilate. Most writing instruction, from the time we enter school in kinder-garten (or before) until the time we graduate at any level, is focused on defining these steps in the process: learning the alphabet, learning to spell, sentence structure, topic sentences, etc.
I'm not going to concern myself with any of that.
Writing instruction that focuses on developing the process also leaves certain items -- vitally important to writers -- untaught and sometimes even unmentioned. The purpose of this series, and there will be five parts in all, is to air all the Dirty Little Secrets that writing classes don't always tell you. If you've heard some of these topics before, then you had a first-class mentor. If this is all brand-new to you, then let me be your guide.
Part 1: We're Not Holding Our Breath
The sad, naked truth of it is, no one cares whether you become a writer or not. Okay, maybe your parents, but other than that, not so much. In Hollywood, both the industry in general and other writers in particular, would prefer if you just fucked right off. The industry, because they're scared you might actually come up with something interesting that proves they're the emperors without clothes, the screenwriters because no one is looking for more competition.
There's no shortage of writers, or written material. The internet is inundated with would-be writers and their ramblings. Blogs like this one, for instance. Go to your local bookstore and see just how many books are published every week. The WGA is inundated with script registrations for material so awful it has less than zero chance of ever getting turned into a movie. In none of those places do you see a place-holder with your name on it.
It's "easy" to write when you're in high school or college, because you have some benign person looking over your metaphoric shoulder and gently forcing you to meet deadlines. When you hit the real world, the truth hits you: we can all go on with our lives very comfortably if you never write another word in your life. The challenge then becomes whether you can force yourself to write in the absence of external pressures. As a writing professor, I can teach you how to write, but, no matter how much I seek to inspire you, I can't give you the will to write.
The first step to becoming a professional writer is, in fact, writing. Initially, you're writing for your own pleasure only, not for money, fame, or the adulation of readers or filmgoers. If you can allow yourself to not write, maybe you should consider another career path. Writers work at it, always. We're compelled at some fundamental level to put thoughts on paper, regardless of anyone asking our opinion on anything.
Professional writers also write regularly.
The myth of the "inspired" writer, that one who only sets ink to paper when the muse strikes, is someone who may be fun to have a drink with, but this is not an actual writer. This is the dilettante who gives writers a bad name. They also fall into the category of "binge writer." You know those stories? The guy who wrote the script in a weekend. The thing they don't ever tell you is the script sucked. Binge writing is like binge drinking: it may be fun, but you're usually left with a pile of puke.
So, if you want to write, you need to do it regularly, and, since no one's fate hangs on your latest masterpiece, you need to make yourself do it. If you don't have the will, you'll never finish anything. That, of course, means you'll never actually be a writer (and probably weren't one in the first place).