This article is for anyone who has given in to the Great Lie, that Great Writers ™ are born, not made. It’s a commonly accepted fact that some people have innate artistic talent, and others do not. That only the chosen few can reach the lofty height of the Great Writer.
It’s also horse shit. Great Writers are forged in the crucible of discipline. They hone their craft through endless hours of brutal work, cranking out hundreds of thousands of words that will be sacrificed on the altar of skill.
These early words will never see the light of day, and it is for this reason that most people abandon their craft before achieving mastery. Ira Glass has an amazing quote about this:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
Everyone sucks at the beginning, and the only way to escape that is work. Lots and lots of very hard work. It means constantly learning, constantly striving to be better than you were the day before. It means embracing that your work sucks, but also knowing that eventually it won’t. Understanding that the Great Lie is a lie. If you stick with this and commit to learning you too can become a Great Writer.
You’re going to generate a lot of word turds before you produce anything worth reading. That’s okay. That’s expected. What’s more, every author you love went through this same phase to reach the point where they could produce the books that captivate their audiences.
It’s for this reason that I chose to write books for authors, because I don’t want other writers to fumble about blindly like I did. There’s a damn good reason that the first two are 5,000 Words Per Hour and Lifelong Writing Habit. Almost everyone I talked to said I should write books about plot, or characters, or self-editing. I will someday, but those books are NOT the first thing a new writer needs.
Before you learn those skills you need the most vital one of all. You must write, and you must write every day. You must build a strong writing habit, or you’ll never crank out enough words to hit escape velocity into true skill..
I know. I know because I’ve quit writing twice in my life. Both times because of exactly the circumstances Ira Glass was talking about. My work sucked. I knew it sucked. I despaired and convinced myself that the Great Lie was true.
If you want to be a writer, then you must write. You’ll suck at first, just like everyone else. No one will want to read your work, because it’s terrible. But you need to write through that. You need to keep writing until you master your craft.
Pick up books on craft. Learn about plotting, characters, emotion, and viewpoint. Learn about setting, narrative voice, and conflict. Study the work of others. Watch movies and read books with a critical eye.
In time you will master each of the necessary skills, and when it all gels you’ll finally be able to weave the kind of story you’ve always wanted to. It will be difficult, and you may have to labor for years, but you will get there as long as you keep writing.
The question you need to ask yourself is this. How bad do you want it? Because if your dream is to become a novelist then I’m here to tell you that it’s possible. Every journey begins with a single step. Take yours.