A Lesson for Being Sure You’re Right When You Say, “I can’t be a writer.”

If you want to keep believing that writers are born and not made, be sure to follow the instructions below.  

Lots of people have the idea that writing ability (or maybe any ability) is something you’re born with. But the truth is that the difference between people who write well and people who don’t is the same difference as between people who play an instrument for several hours a day and those who hardly ever practice or those who shoot baskets every day after school and those who just go in and lie on the couch and watch television. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it’s virtually impossible to excel without it. Pretty much anything someone cares about requires and deserves an investment of time. No road leads from zero to quality in minutes or hours or even days.

In some ways, this might not feel very encouraging. Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do was just discover that thing you’re really talented at and not have to work hard at it at all? That way, if you wanted to write, it could be possible (for the lucky few, anyway) to just put the pen to paper and stories would just come flowing out.

Obviously, writing doesn’t work that way nor does anything else. The thing is, it would be kind of terrible if it did.  What makes a skill satisfying is the process of learning how to do it. Think about it. When you look back on times you were really happy or excited or satisfied, do you remember the part after it was all over?  Of course not. You remember when you were struggling to stand up in the wave and that, after a number of tries, you finally did it. Or you remember moving up the levels of your favorite video game and how much time and effort it took to get to the top or finding the perfect sweater at the mall after searching for hours. None of those things would be the least bit rewarding or memorable if they didn’t require the effort of learning and doing, of time and effort.

And writing is, of course, the same way. The joy is in the process, setting a goal and working to achieve it. It’s not about a means to an end but the means themselves.

No one can tell you exactly what those means are, what you have to do, step by step, to be a great writer.  But, if you want to be sure you aren’t a great writer, here is a list of things NOT to do.

  1. Don’t And definitely don’t read like a writer, thinking about the choices the author made in terms of characters and organization and sentence structure and settings. Don’t try to figure out what makes a good story tick. Doing that will just make you want to try it yourself.
  2. Don’t If you practice too much, you might find that the process becomes a lot easier and a lot more fun, that you might get so engaged that you’ll want to do nothing else.
  3. Don’t listen to what other people have to say about your writing. An audience isn’t important to a writer. It isn’t about communication. So definitely don’t ask for input or, better yet, don’t let anyone else read what you’ve written at all.
  4. Don’t try to be different. Try as hard as you can to be like everybody else so that you have nothing unique to say, no interesting experiences, nothing of value to share.
  5. In fact, don’t have any confidence at all. Chances are, you weren’t born with talent, so why bother to try?

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