The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. – Neil Gaiman.
I think it must happen to all writers sometimes, regardless of whether they’re beginners or professionals. You read something really good by one of your favourite writers and just for a moment you think ‘This is so good. Why am I even bothering to write? I’ll never be as good as this’. Even if it’s just a passing thought, it can impact you subconsciously and sometimes without knowing it, these negative thoughts can affect your writing.
This happened to me recently as I was reading A Game of Thrones. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a book so well written with such amazing characters I cared so much about. Literally whenever I had two minutes to spare I picked the book up to read.
With George R.R.Martin dominating the fantasy literature scene, what chance do I have- a newbie twenty something writer with only a few writing jobs on my CV? Do I even have the right to put yet another story about a young, white, straight, rebellious princess onto the ever expanding book market? Who’s even going to read that when there are so many great novels out there already?
Creative professions such as writing are the only ones who have thoughts such as these. Do people in so called ‘normal’ jobs ever think ‘there are so many better scientists/sales managers/ice cream vendors in the world. I should just give it up’. Probably not, so why should writers be any different?
It’s very easy to let these negative thoughts get to you and they’re probably why many writers throw down the pen and give up. Logically, it probably would be much better for us to get real jobs and less stressful hobbies. But we don’t. And here’s why.
You can get better.
Especially in the early stages of writing a book, it’s depressing to compare your own work to that of a much better writer, but instead of thinking ‘this isn’t good enough’ think instead ‘how can I make this better?’ Every first draft turns out terrible, that’s just part of the process of writing. Making the transition from okayish writer to great writer takes a lot of time and practice. Some even say you need to write at least a million words to get any good, and they’re probably not wrong. Those million words are like your training before you enter the big race.
It’s amazing the number of writers who already think their writing is perfect and never try to improve it. Anyone who’s passionate about writing will always try to improve their work, no matter what level they’re at. This is why getting feedback and accepting constructive criticism is so important for writers. By finding out where you lack, you can make your writing better and better over time.
Every writer wants to be someone else.
Off the top of your head, you could probably name at least five writers who you would gladly trade lives with if you could. What you may not realise is, they probably have a list too. Just as you have your influencers and role models, they have their own who’s books have affected their lives deeply. Most novel writers grow up with a love of books and reading and learn their own craft through studying others.
You may think ‘I wish I had an imagination like that’ but no writer can just summon something out of nothing. Every work needs inspiration and that’s where these role models come in. Your own influencers are most likely the ones who have realised that it’s not about making up something completely new but telling an old story in a new way.
Being the best isn’t a reason to be a writer.
I believe that you should always do your best no matter what you’re doing, because otherwise there’s not much point in doing it. But that doesn’t mean you have to be the very best in the whole world at every single thing you do. It sounds like a lovely thought, but aiming for it is just going to lead you to disappointment.
Who decides who is the best writer, anyway? The critics? The readers? The bestseller lists? There are plenty of books that make millions but most people can agree are terribly written. If you became a writer to get money, fame and recognition, then write the next Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. Just don’t be surprised when the rest of the writing community shuns you and the whole internet makes fun of you.
If you became a writer because you love stories and you love to write, don’t worry about being the best in the world. Worry about being the best that you can be.
Just being a writer makes you amazing.
How many times have you told someone you’re a writer and they say ‘I wish I knew how to write’ and that sounds confusing to you because writing is the most natural thing in the world to you? Thing is, whether you’ve written a hundred books or a few short stories, whether you’re published or unpublished, writing something and finishing it is an amazing feat.
I think that anyone can learn to write if they have the time and discipline. It might be true that everyone has at least one book in them, but inside them is just where that book will stay. Most don’t want to bother with the craft of writing or don’t have the time or passion to learn it. Many don’t realise how tough it is, that it’s not all sitting by the window with a notepad and a coffee waiting for perfect prose to flow from the pen. Writing is one of those things that everyone wants to do but barely anyone actually will, like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. And if you’ve achieved that, even if it’s just a crappy first draft, you should feel very good about yourself.
If you take your writing seriously enough to fret about it, then you must be on the right path. Most people don’t have enough story in them to fill a few pages, let alone a whole book.
You’re the only one who can write your stories.
Bad writing can only be written by bad writers. A great story can only be written by the right person because it is their story. But as great as your favourite writers are, they can only write their own stories and you can only write yours. Other writers could write it differently, but it wouldn’t be the exact same story. Look at how multiple adaptations of the same work are always different every time. This is because they are all different interpretations by different writers and directors. Some may be better or worse than others, but they are never fully the same.
People need stories, including yours.
After essentials such as food and shelter, entertainment, and particularly stories, are what we need most of all. They enrich our lives and our souls, let us see the world through new eyes and help us through difficult issues. But if we left it only to the ‘greats’ then there wouldn’t be enough stories in the world. You might have faced an issue that none of them have that people need to read about. Or maybe you have in depth knowledge about something that no one else does. If you have neither, you have thought up ideas that none of them could ever dream of and chances are people will really want to hear them. Remember NaNoWiMo’s slogan – The world needs your novel.
Great writers understand people and their motivations, hopes and fears. They know how to construct a plot and write prose good enough to keep their readers hooked. All of these are tremendously hard to learn and usually take years to master, but if they can do it then there’s no reason why you can’t too. Your stories deserve to be read just as much as theirs.
When famous writers are asked what advice they would give to other writers, they will most likely say ‘just keep writing.’ They keep on saying this because it’s true. It sounds like such simple and easy advice, yet it’s harder than it sounds. Being a good writer requires tremendous amounts of discipline, whether you write professionally or as a hobby, but sticking with it is what turns you from a good writer into a great one. So remember the advice of your favourite authors. Whenever you worry that you’re not good enough, sit down and write instead and you’ll forget why you were ever worried.
Some things to remember:
- Discipline yourself to keep writing, just as the professionals do.
- Examine all your favourite books closely and analyse why they are so good. Then use these lessons to improve your own writing.
- Do not worry about judgement and rejection. If someone makes fun of your writing, don’t listen to them. Listen only to constructive criticism and learn from it.
- Don’t latch onto the current literary trend for the sake of it. If you do, then do it because you truly love the genre.
- When you start having negative thoughts about your writing, remember the above points. Let positive thoughts control your writing, not negative ones.