Originally posted Sep 19, 2017.
In the time that I’ve been working on gaining fiction, I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks who had amazing ideas for stories. Some of them were suggesting them to me as stories I could write, while others were just making conversation. Either way, when I’m impressed with an idea that much, I’ll tell them they should write it, because I’d really like to see that idea brought to life. And then they say that heartbreaking phrase: “I’m not a writer.”
It comes in various forms: “I’ve never written anything before.” “I don’t have the knack for it.” “I’ll leave the writing to the real writers.” They all seem to stem from this idea that there are Writers, and then there’s everyone else, and if you aren’t blessed with the Talent for writing, you’re doomed to be an everyone else. By this idea, you can’t be a writer unless writing comes easily to you, unless the words simply flow your literal or metaphorical pen, unless you’ve always been good at writing.
If this is how you define a Writer, then I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m not a writer either.
This probably doesn’t make much sense without context. After all, I’ve written forty-plus stories, soon to be fifty, and if the comments and messages I’ve gotten are any indication, people really enjoy my stories. I write on a nearly daily basis, and I put out stories pretty consistently. How could I say I’m not a writer? Because I don’t have the knack. I don’t have a talent for writing. Writing simply doesn’t come naturally to me.
Let’s rewind back a decade or so. I’ve always been a very logically-minded person, practically a stereotypical ISTJ. In high school, I excelled in math and science, while I struggled with English and foreign language. In both of the latter two classes, I kept my grades afloat by nailing the grammar portions of the class–after all, grammar is just a system of rules, and I’m good at those–but struggled with the vocabulary portion of foreign language and the writing and literature portion of English. At my high school, graduating seniors didn’t have to take the final exam for any classes they got an A in. I only took two finals for two classes that year: Senior English and Spanish IV. The point is, I’ve always struggled with writing. Even when you go as far back as elementary school, it was one of my weakest areas.
So how did I turn it around? World of Warcraft blogs. That’s not sarcasm at all: I started playing World of Warcraft freshman year of high school, and kept playing until the middle of my sophomore year of college. Toward the end of high school, I fell in love with the WoW blogosphere, the community of blogs and bloggers that surrounded the game. Even as my interest in the game itself waned, I couldn’t get enough of reading World of Warcraft blogs. And it was by reading those that I decided I wanted to try my hand at blogging.
So over the summer between high school and college, I started a WoW blog of my own (which has since been lost to the internet ether, unfortunately). I set a schedule for myself that I would post three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with different themes each day. And so I blogged, for a year and a half until I stopped playing, writing essay-length posts three times a week and posting them online.
Then a funny thing happened. At the end of my freshman year of college, when I was taking a class called College Writing II, the professor (who looked a lot like Zooey Deschanel, but that’s neither here nor there) asked me to send her the .doc file for one of my essays. She wanted to hang on to it to show to her future students as an example of how to write a good essay. And I got an A in that class. From there on out, I didn’t take many writing classes, because I was a math major. But I still took a lot of classes with a big writing component to fulfill the non-math requirements of my degree, and I aced all of them.
So what happened?
There’s this story–it’s probably fake, but the message behind it certainly isn’t–about a pottery teacher who split her class into two groups. The students in the first group would be graded solely by the quantity of their work. At the end of the class, she would bring in a scale and weigh how many pots each student had made. If they made 50 pounds, they got an A, 40 pounds, a B, and so on. The second group, on the other hand, would be graded solely by the quality of their work. Those students only had to make one pot, but it would have to be perfect for them to get an A.
By the end of the class, a funny thing happened: the best pots all came from the first group, the group that was being graded by quantity. While the second group was busy theorizing about the best ways to make pots and trying to learn the best techniques in preparation for making their perfect pots, the other group was just making pot after pot after pot. In other words, they were practicing. And by practicing, they actually got better. Meanwhile, the other group just had a bunch of theories and piles of malformed clay to show for their efforts.
Without realizing it, writing essay-length posts three times a week for my WoW blog was giving me practice with writing and making me a better writer. And in just a year, one of my weakest subjects became something I was strong at. It wasn’t because I discovered a knack or talent I didn’t realize I had. It was because I made my 50 pounds of pots, all because I’d found a way to make it fun.
From there I discovered my college town’s spoken word poetry scene, and got involved in that for several years. After that, I dabbled in fan fiction and original fiction, before settling on gaining fiction as the kind of writing I wanted to focus on for a while. By then, I’d been writing as a hobby consistently for over six years, across all those different genres. I bring up those six years of writing for a reason:
Given some of the comments and messages I’ve gotten in the past, I get the feeling that some people think I’ve always been good at writing. That I just came into the gaining scene with my golden touch and have been putting out good stories since day one. And even I’ll admit that I’m pretty proud of my first few gaining stories, and I think they’re pretty damn good. But they weren’t me coming out of nowhere with my Knack for writing and knocking it out of the park from the first inning; they were me coming in with six years of practice and applying that practice to something new.
Which is to say, if you think you’re “not a writer”, know that all that separates you from me is practice, those 50 pounds of pots. How do you become a good writer? You start out as a bad writer, maybe a just okay writer, and you keep writing. Aside from a basic understanding of the mechanics of storytelling and spelling and grammar, that’s what it takes. All your favorite writers started where you are right now. And then they wrote a story. Then another. Then another. All you have to do to start on the journey of getting where they are is write a story.
If that doesn’t motivate you to write, then maybe this will:
There are people out there who call themselves writers. If you’re at party and you ask them what they do, they’ll proudly tell you they’re a writer. Poke a bit deeper and they might tell you about all the stories they have planned out, their favorite original characters, how the story arc will play out over the course of the several-novels-long series they have planned, and so on.
But they haven’t written anything. Outside of school assignments, the most ambitious thing they’ve written is a Facebook post that was long enough to generate a “See More” button. They call themselves writers, they fancy themselves “real writers,” but they don’t write anything.
If you write one story, you’ll have a more valid claim to the title of “writer” than these people do. It doesn’t matter how amateurish or rough or short that story is; any rough draft is better than a blank page. If you can do that, if you can even just write a rough draft, you’ll be more of a writer than these self-fancying writers are. And if they can call themselves writers, then so can you.
So go ahead and make that first metaphorical pot. You already have an idea for a story, and as someone who’s been doing this for years, trust me, that’s half the battle right there. You’ve probably read enough gaining fiction to know what separates a good story from a bad one, and subconsciously, you’ll apply that to your own writing to make it better. Once you write your first story, it’s easier to start writing your second, and even easier to write your third. Keep it up, and you’ll make those 50 pounds of pots faster than you think.