You’re Not Born With It (and It Isn’t Maybelline)

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Writers face this horrible little myth that truly great writers are just born that way. They’re all little Mozarts, completing novels in their prepubescence, publishing their first draft, and walking on water in their spare time. Here’s some bad news: that’s all BS. Writers aren’t just “born with it.”

The good news is: that means anyone can be a great writer. You aren’t predestined to fail because of genetics, fate, or the mystical alignment of cosmic bodies didn’t favor you. The keys to your writing kingdom take effort to reach, but all writers climb the mountain with skill – not magical talent. Here are some suggestions and reminders to get you moving.

No One Is Born Writing

Essentially everything involves a little talent (some people burn soup and some people make puff pastry beautifully their first try), but expertise is all about skill. People who break eggs for their omelet every morning make less of a mess. Cowboys who ride horses every day keep their seat with greater ease. People who write daily produce smoother sentences. You aren’t born doing any of these things.

Writers Are Readers

Books have always been a writer’s best friend. They open your mind to new ideas, fresh words, and interesting turns of phrase. When your thoughts follow the rhythm of the printed word, it’s easier to translate your own ideas to the page. Writers are made, not born, and they’re made most often by lots and lots of reading. Pick up strange books, difficult books, and books you don’t think you’ll like. They all have something to offer.

Observation and Insight

When your nose isn’t in a book, stick it into other people’s business. Think I’m joking? One of the first things an award-winning author taught me was to snoop. They actually assigned eavesdropping as coursework. Why? He wanted us to pay attention. Observation is the first step towards insight. First, you must notice the world around you, especially the parts you actively avoid because they aren’t your business, your problem, or an immediate concern. Look around, listen up, and get your hands dirty.

Insight comes from reflection. Pay attention to the things you pick up and examine how they fit or contradict your expectations. Think deeply and ask questions. Practice sorting out conundrums logically and imagine yourself in strangers’ situations. How would you handle their problems? What would you do differently? Would your characters behave the same way? Eventually, these wonderings will seep into your work, adding depth, intrigue, and nuance.

Time and Practice

You knew we were coming here. No matter how “naturally” talented you are, how much you read, or how often you eavesdrop, you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t sit down and writing. The greatest novel is written one word at a time, but so are all the early drafts, aborted stories, and frustrating novellas that precede it. All great writers have just one thing in common: they write. If you want to join them, then you need to share that trait. Give yourself lots of time and demand tons of practice.

The choices make the writer. Habits, discipline, and ways of thinking enhance any talent. Skill is always more important, anyway, and anyone can get that through practice. Don’t expect magic the first time you sit down at your keyboard, read more, think carefully, and give yourself the time and experience you need in order to become a pro.

 

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1 Comment

  1. It’s more fun to think that some writers are born with it instead of putting in the work! Maybe that means that we are the special ones, but really, we don’t get to see all the work it took, and we are writers after all, so we fill in the blanks with fantasy.
    Great article, thanks!

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