5 Harsh Truths That Will Help You Be a Better Writer

Categories: Writing

Right now I've got a ton of friends on Facebook currently plugging away for National Novel Writing Month, the annual contest where people are encouraged to pen 60,000 original words of written work. Though I don't join in myself due to increased obligations at my day gig during November, it always warms my heart to see so many people taking up the art of creating with words.

However, writing is probably the most self-deluded art out there. I have never found a single person who didn't think they could write a book if they just sat down and put some time in it. Stephen King always used to have a great quip when people told him they always wanted to be a writer. "Really?" he'd say. "I always wanted to be a brain surgeon."

Today, I'm here to pop that bubble. Not because I want to dishearten aspiring writers, but because I want what you write to actually be good.

Your Idea Is Meaningless if it Isn't Realized: What's the worst novel ever written? If you asked a few years back the public's general answer was Twilight, while now folks are more likely to say Fifty Shades of Grey Neither of these answers are correct.

The worst novel ever is the one that you're "thinking about writing." Say what you want about Twilight, but for all the fact that it is indeed a Mary Sue-riddled piece of disposal pop trash that also vaguely serves as a metaphor for conversion therapy at least it exists. Hell, by the time The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner was published Stephenie Meyer proved that she was actually capable of turning out a pretty damned good story when she wanted to.

You are not a writer if you do not produce. That is the long and the short of it. It doesn't matter how well a plot is sketched out in your head, how unique and amazing the characters you've dreamed up are, or how quippy and immortal your dialogue is. Until it exists in written form it is worth infinitely less than the worst novel you have ever read. That step towards actually writing is what trips a lot of people up because they discover...

Jessica Fitzgerald
In my case I wrote terrible songs, then wrote a terrible book ABOUT writing terrible songs
Most of What You Write Will be Terrible: I mean really bad. Like you honestly consider reformatting your hard drive to eliminate the taint of your terrible words from your computer in a literary exorcism. Even after you manage to put out something that other people are willing publish or pay for it will still in all likelihood be terrible.

It has nothing to do with your innate talent or potential. It has everything to do with the fact that writing is really freakin' hard. It just looks easy. I joke to my wife that me working my ass off looks exactly like me doing absolutely nothing useful, but it really is true. Turning ideas into concrete concepts others can understand is a monumental task.

Over the last five years I have published somewhere between one and two million words worth of material. With a few notable and completely accidental exceptions, those first 100,000 words or so are garbage and the second 100,000 not much better. That's what I meant about your ideas in the first entry being meaningless. What really counts is learning how to sharpen those ideas on the page so that they cut like knives when people read them instead of bouncing off like a balloon sword. How do you sharpen your pen?

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Love, love, love this....I can't thank you enough for writing this inspiring article. I'm bookmarking this beotch for future instant inspirational kicks in the teeth.


Nanowrimo is 50,000 words in 30 days not 60,000. Otherwise great article!

Gloria Beck
Gloria Beck

I'm not writer, but thought this is an interesting article.

MadMac topcommenter

"You Need Someone You Can Trust to Tell You When You Suck: "

This whole piece is spot-on but that nugget o' wisdom is the best. Side stepping the whole, "you gotta write it or it's not a book," part, of course.

Before the "deal," before the buying editor, before the agent even, you must have a circle of writers to help you hone your work. The spouse/friend/sibling/coworker don't know from good writing. I don't care how many degrees/how smart/how much they read, unless they also write, they don't know. I've been in three formal organizations and five groups in and out of the organization. It's constantly changing. Bad writers pass in and out. Good writers get frustrated and quit. I won't bore with the inevitable personality/ego conflicts--let's just say I've wreck a couple of those groups. But unless you're a writing savant, a published book does NOT happen in a vacuum. It's dark and there's too much dust, dirt, and schmutz.

MadMac topcommenter

And if you still end up scribbling--congrats--you're a writer!

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