“Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.”
– Stephen King
Well! I haven’t posted an official “on writing” blurb in over a month. That’s mostly because my writing posts tend to reflect my own progress in the journey to publication, and right now, I’m in the doldrums: agent-query land. But, as the rejections started trickling in (don’t worry, I’ll blog about rejection soon), it occurred to me that while I might not be a brilliant writer, at the very least I’m quite a bit better than I used to be.
Originally, the title of this post was “Can Anyone Become a Writer?” but I changed it, because the answer to that question is simple—yes. By the literal definition, anyone who has the ability to pick up a pen and form meaningful sentences can write. Heck, they don’t even need to pick up a pen…they can type it, or have someone type it for them. So that’s my simple answer. Yes, anyone (with a conscious brain) can write!
End of post!
Just kidding; I wouldn’t end the post at a mere 250 words. Especially because ‘can anyone become a writer?’ is probably not the real question here. The real question people wonder, I think, is, ‘can anyone become a good writer?’
Ah, here we go.
My answer, still, is yes.
Surprised? Or maybe you think that I’m a terrible writer, and trying to make myself feel better by lowering my standards. That may be, but I have a bit more to say on this front.
Let’s start with a point we can all agree on: nobody can write beautiful prose straight out of the womb. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan and whichever writers you personally think are brilliant…none of them were cranking out Shakespeare at the age of five, or ten, or even twenty. And yet, today, their stories are lauded as being some of the best around. So, what happened?
Let’s examine a quote from Mrs. Rowling herself, taken from her Harvard Commencement Speech:
“I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged.”
She and the other authors I mentioned all have some tips for improving on writing. “Read a lot” is the first one, followed closely by “write a lot.” I know from experience that reading good books helps expose you to various styles, throws you in the middle of some of the best works out there. And then, when you go to write, you naturally mesh all of those styles together to form your own.
I don’t know if I’m making sense here. What I’m trying to say is that I believe everyone starts out terribly, and how good we become depends a great deal on how hard we work at it. Remember the expression, “this is 20% talent and 80% heart”? Writing most definitely fits that description.
Stephen King is one of many who would disagree with me. According to his book On Writing, he believes that you either have it, or you don’t. I, on the other hand, think everyone who can pick up a pen has equal chance of becoming great. I can’t prove it, but in an industry where chance is everything, how can anyone? At the end of the day, this is all subjective.
Let’s use an example! Rick Riordan, who started writing when he was in eighth grade, took ten years to write and sell the first Percy Jackson, and that wasn’t until he was forty. And yet, I most certainly wouldn’t complain if I ever got to where Rick Riordan stands now. His books have been translated into multiple languages, he easily makes enough to have writing as his day job, and he’s one of my favorite authors.
But he took ten years to get his story good! J.K. Rowling only took three with hers. Stephen King took less than that. Many would argue they have more natural writing ability, and I would agree with them. Riordan probably had to spend more time building his talent; had to revise his story dozens of times, and had a tougher time getting published than JKR or King. But he did it, same as them. So, what does that leave?
Well, for me, it leaves hope. And it leaves the belief that, to answer the initial question, anyone can become a good writer. It may be harder for some than others, depending on who picks up the talent faster. But I think it can be picked up by anyone who tries hard enough.
I’ll close by using one more example: myself.
I started writing my novel in eighth grade. I’d meant to do it sooner, but put it off because I was afraid it would be bad.
I was right. It sucked, and by quite a bit. So much that even I didn’t like it!
So I read a lot more, wrote a lot more, and revised a lot more. The second draft still sucked. So did the third, but much less so. I read every book I could get my hands on, spent half my Christmas money on writing guidebooks, and even contacted authors asking them for advice (and quite a few responded, including a certain Tom Clancy). I did everything I could to get my writing better. I felt somehow impaired when I thought of all the writers who sold their books in two years; the fact that I was fifteen didn’t strike me as a significant factor.
And, look where I am now. I might not be published, but I don’t think my writing completely sucks anymore. My book, after years of work, is finally in a place where I’m proud to let people—including literary agents—read it.
And what’s more, you’re reading this. You’re reading words that I wrote, and maybe you even like them! So, even if I’m not a good writer yet, I’ve made progress. Which is why I believe anyone can make progress. And I think that ‘natural talent’ is merely a measure of how fast that progress unfolds.
So, to summarize a long post: if you want to write, don’t give up. Please, please, don’t. It might take a lot of work, and you might have to practice a lot more than other writers, but I think that with enough willpower, anyone can learn what it takes to write well. And I think that even if you start out as a terrible writer, if you keep at it no matter what, you can make yourself into something better.
Believe me, I know.