The Difference Between Good Writers & Bad Writers

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The difference between good writers and bad writers has little to do with skill. It has to do with perseverance. Bad writers quit. Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it.

Good writers keep going
Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

What good writers do

Good writers practice. They take time to write, crafting and editing a piece until it’s just right. They spend hours and days, just revising.

Good writers take criticism on the chin and say “thank you” to helpful feedback; they listen to both the external and internal voices that drive them. And they use it all to make their work better.

They’re resigned to the fact that first drafts suck and that the true mark of a champion is a commitment to the craft. It’s not about writing in spurts of inspiration. It’s about doing the work, day-in and day-out.

Good writers can do this, because they believe in what they’re doing. They understand this is more than a profession or hobby. It’s a calling, a vocation.

Good writers aren’t perfectionists, but they’ve learned the discipline of shipping, of putting their work out there for the world to see.

What bad writers don’t do

Bad writers don’t understand this, which is precisely what makes them bad writers. They presume their writing has achieved a certain level of excellence, so they are often closed off to editing or rewriting. They can seem haughty, prideful, and arrogant.

But really, it’s laziness and fear (mostly fear).

Why don’t they edit? Why don’t they write ahead? Why do they give into the myth of the overnight genius? Because they’re afraid of putting the work in and failing. As a result, their work is scattered and disconnected, not nearly as good as they think.

How to be different

A lot of decent writers think they’re great. I used to be one of those people. Stubborn and pig-headed, I didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to grow. But I wasn’t that good.

When I ask people to rewrite a guest post or make suggestions on how to improve their writing, they get defensive. Or more often the case, I never hear from them again. It is a rare occasion to hear from a writer who asks for feedback and means it.

Many want to get together for coffee; few want to write.

A good writer is humble. Regardless of skill, she is committed to seeing the writing process through to completion. No matter how grueling or hard, she will write. And she will get better.

So what can you, the aspiring writer with something to say, do?

Make a choice

Choose to be different. Keep going when others do not. Go the extra mile that most will not take. Be amazing by persevering.

Take the crap job that pays nothing. Offer to be someone’s understudy or apprentice. Put the hours in, pay your dues. It will pay off. But you will have to work.

Don’t coast on talent alone. Let it remind you of the responsibility you have to honor your gift. And if you’re not that good, well here’s the good news: you can get better.

You can outlast those who are lucky and out-work those who are lazy.

This all begins with humility. Which really means a willingness to listen and change. To do the work and become a professional.

If you do this, if you take the time to make your work great by never settling for good enough, it will make all the difference. So start persevering today.

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What do you think is the difference between good writers and bad writers? Share in the comments.

489 thoughts on “The Difference Between Good Writers & Bad Writers

  1. I always thought that having bad writing skills just means that you are just thinking too fast you have no time to write neatly

  2. each one has a song within himself to be sung… if it is left trapped its the worst agony of all. good writer’s realize the caged bird within and express through writing The craft of writing is hard work after you have answered the call All this applies to athletes artists entrepreneurs singer anyone. Everyone has a calling all you have to know which is yours!!!!!!!!

  3. I can sum up what a good writer does in three words: they stay involved. This idea encompasses the main difference between being a good writer and being a bad writer. Good writers write while bad writers procrastinate about writing.

    When it comes right down to it, writing is a discipline that you have to work at every day. With that said, there are so many ways to stay involved in the craft.

    If you simply make it a goal to stay involved, then that impending white space of doom will quickly turn into a fertile playground of creativity. And while there are a number of ways to do this, I’ll highlight some that I use.

    * Don’t think of your manuscript as a linear piece of work; rather, give yourself the freedom to pick and choose what part of your story you want to focus on. Who says you have to start at the beginning, if you’re stuck, jump to another spot. Invariably, putting the stuff you’re struggling with on the back burner will allow your brain to work through a problem that may be contributing to writer’s block without you even knowing it.

    * Sometimes if I know what the problem is, I’ll write myself a note and demand my brain to figure it out. It sounds ridiculous, but I have yet come across a situation that my inner brain can’t solve.

    * Research is another avenue I love that allows me to stay involved and while technically it’s not writing, it keeps me grounded to my work and often leads to other ideas, which leads me back to my office.

    * Another key to being a good writer, is finding a place where you can write in peace. For good habits you need a good environment where you can create. This should be your temple. It’s sacred and the people around you need to understand this.

    * And finally, have your work critiqued. This allows you to build that thick skin you need for rejections and it also points out major flaws you tend to gloss over. Furthermore there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dosing of humble pie.

    If I know anything writing, it’s that I know a lot more than I did when I first started. If I know another thing about writing, it’s that I probably won’t ever know everything there is to know about the craft.

    Visit me at

    1. Thank you Ian for your words of advice and encouragement. I found this article because today I felt like ‘the bad writer’.

      ‘I don’t feel motivated. I have no idea what I’m doing. My story is horrible, etc.’

      I have these moments of doubt and struggle because it’s a symptom of being human. I need to remember that. I need to remind myself that I know no one who is motivated 100% of the time. I know no one who has it all figured out and knows exactly what they are doing. And my story is a story. It’s started. It’s easy to start something but difficult to finish.

      Allowing myself to fall down and struggle is just as difficult as letting my characters do the same. Coincidence? I think not. Because no one WANTS to struggle. But isn’t there something beautiful within the fight? Isn’t that why we are drawn to books in the first place? To meet real people, to know of their insecurities and realize they are so similar to our own? It’s what makes books tragically beautiful.

      Today I will remember that I am human. That I am a writer not based on how many books I have published (or the lack thereof), but because I choose to sit down and write today. Because I embraced the tragic beauty.

  4. My name is Carole Tomlinson. I am an author of approximately 2500 articles on health on-line. I am experienced with websites and hold my own as well. Every good writer needs a knowledgeable and experienced book designer that does not charge high rates. My husband is an experienced and wonderful editor and book designer. He can make it happen for you!!!!

  5. I think I write good English, I am not being arrogant. I do not proof read that is my problem and I type too fast. If someone tells me that I am a bad writer then it bothers me a great deal. I was an ESL teacher.

    1. I was an ESL teacher and I think I write well. I hope I’m not being arrogant, but I do not proofread and I type too fast. When I’m told that I am a bad writer it bothers me a great deal.

  6. I know I can be, and I have ideas I know I want to get out there, stories I want to tell. I can talk about writing hours on end, give every tip in the handbook, yet for some reason, no matter how passionate it makes me feel, I blank out when I start. The world is built, laws set, characters fleshed out, and plot set in motion, and I know my writing is good. Yet when it gets down to it I can’t continue for more than a few chapters. It’s infuriating. I feel like it’s a lot harder for me because I have ADD, ADHD, and OCD, the triple threat to anyone who wishes to sit down and focus. All these tips are great for people who aren’t constantly struggling with perfectionism and rabbit trails, but does anyone have advice for those of us who can’t seem to grasp the concept of focus?

    1. I know that this is late. But I think that anyone else with problems concerning focus shouldn’t try to write a whole story. Well, maybe. I don’t know much about the diseases, but I don’t think that it’s something that you can overcome. But if you like to write, maybe you can make a blog and post some short pieces? Also, here’s something I tried in order to improve my writing: I found bland parts in books with descriptions, and tried to write them in a way that it captivates the reader. For you, it could just be some practice, and a way for you to enjoy writing if you can’t do much. Perhaps that will help. And since you have some neat ideas you want to share, try writing a tiny bit every day. But that probably won’t help, for as I said, I do not know much about ADD, ADHD, or OCD. I do not know what it’s like on your end. But I do have trouble continuing more than a page of something, merely because I think it sucks, and I get infuriated. It’s not much like your case, but getting only a little done must be irritating, right? Perhaps if you had a friend who could sit down and write with you and encourage you to focus, that would help? Again, it may not, and I am sorry for that. But it might. Maybe. Try joining a writer’s group.
      You could try googling ‘How to keep focus when writing’ and see what comes up. I think that there’s an article on this website on how to stay focused.
      Also, why not develop short stories off of those ideas? Maybe some extras that happened in between parts?

      1. I’ve tried the google thing. I don’t really have anyone to sit down with though, and I’ve done some short pieces, thought not in a while. I’ve also done what you’ve done with books.

        I’m just so easily distracted. The focus point of most people without zoning out is, what, ten minutes? Try two. Maybe less. I HAVE to stay stimulated in some way. Multitask. Move. Thinking. I switch back and forth between five different tasks. You should see the number of tabs open on my computer right now. Not to mention the number of ideas for just ONE project…one CHAPTER can be overwhelming. I’m pulled in about one-hundred unorganized directions. It’s exhausting.

        1. You sound like me. SO glad I’m not alone. When I get to writing, I shut down internet and phone. I usually have 4-6 things I’m working on at once. It used to be much worse, but I am learning to manage better, through self-discipline and several self kicks in the butt. I have to have my environment in order or I cannot focus. Sometimes I get in a zone and it’s amazing. But usually I’m all over the place. If you ever want to connect for tips, send me a message. I’d love to share what has helped me and what I’m still working on,

    2. Look at it this way; every time you write one chapter, that’s one chapter ahead. Some great authors manage 500 words a day. Some up to 10,000. It’s never the same for anyone. I have ADHD and focus can be terrible sometimes. Too much going on in my head. I carry a voice recorder around with me. Sometimes I think and talk too fast to type then I get overwhelmed because I’m a paragraph ahead in my mind but only two sentences in on typing, then I forget what I needed to write because I’m already on another paragraph in my head. UGH! And a few chapters each time is really good. Just write what you can when you can. When you’re done, put it away for at least a couple of weeks then go back and read and edit it. Sometimes I look crazy walking around looking like I’m talking to myself, but it sure does help. I also use dragon naturally speaking, because, well, I’m just a slow typer and my mind just doesn’t slow down that much. There are days when I can barely get past one paragraph. Happy writing…

    3. I’m like this too, and I have that cycle of “this is brilliant, this is average. Oh, dear Lord, who will want to read this awful muck?” travelling through my thoughts. Sometimes when I get a block, I write a scene going on in my head. It may be later on in the book. It may be outside the story, but in the same universe, and I find that if I’m losing inspiration, writing just a few paragraphs where I find the vein richest pulls me back on track. I don’t know if that will work for you?

      1. Hm. I have tried that a few times. I wish I could just have it magically appear on the page while picturing the scene in my head. Even if badly worded, because you can rewrite it better. :/

  7. A individual can function like an hippo, do everything they’re expected to do down to the correspondence, get reviews, take the composing perform shop, create guide after guide, analysis, analysis, study, and everything else, and still get definitely nowhere & be in the same position they were on day one when they first began, with no improvement.

  8. I think if people are typically responding negatively to your feedback that it might be a good idea to examine how you are delivering this feedback. I think many, if not most, people are open to helpful and constructive feedback, delivered in a positive and supportive manner. But people are not as open to cold criticism. Perhaps you might think about improving this?

  9. This is great.I think young writers really need to read more posts like these,I find them really helpful.

  10. This was extremely insightful. I recently had a revelation: That I wasn’t the best I could be. After writing a story I considered to be the best I’d done yet and taking 4 months to rewrite, revise, and edit, I turned it in to an editor who said it was, and I quote, “Poor quality writing” among other things. She liked the story and its plot, but my skills weren’t up to par. I didn’t graduate with a degree in English, I just really like to write and have been told I was great at it. My best grades in college were in English. I’ve made money writing. I just wasn’t prepared for the stinging criticism. What did I do? I slept on it. I went over her feedback and changes, realized I needed to brush up on my grammar skills, particularly those I was never taught. I needed more education in creative writing, which I was already doing before the editor, so I was on the right path. Overall, I ended up realizing I had a long way to go. I wrote my editor thanking her for her hard work and opening my eyes to new things before I went public. I asked a few questions and can’t wait to learn more from her. This is a journey, and I’m prepared for it now.

  11. Writers all over the world need motivation and inspiration to keep going. its hard when your staring at a blank page. i am just starting out as a writer and i am discovering how much commitment this craft takes. if your like me and need some motivation every now and then when things get rough, follow me on twitter @Marq_writez another good page is @Litrejections. This post is awesome.

  12. I don’t want to be a writer, good or bad, but I can’t stop writing. I never revise what I’ve written since it’s mostly my journal but I keep writing it anyway, day after day, without anyone ever seeing it. It’s like my second nature. I write every chance I get whether with a keyboard or a pen. When I’m close to neither my hands would get twitchy, my head would spin out of control and I’d be short of breath; my whole being would itch to find writing apparatus and right then and there command my hand to do its bidding regardless of my brain’s say in the matter. I just can’t stop doing it. It’s my survival tactic. I don’t care if the product of my writing is good or bad; I just know I have to write or my brain would go numb and I’d be dead inside. I don’t live in a place where writing is lucrative, nor do I have any other reasons for doing it. I don’t even know how to use punctuation correctly. I just know I have to write because to me writing is therapy and living and I’d be dead without it.

    1. Yours is not the kind of writing he’s taking about. He’s talking about writing that is meant to be read by others.

      1. And I didn’t think anyone would read my comment, yet someone did. Maybe one day I’d look back and revise my stuff; and I’d be brave enough to show it to someone and maybe it would be more than just pages on my computer? Out of instinct I just know I have to keep doing it. Aren’t writers once just people who write a lot without getting paid for it? As of now, though, I have no plan to be one.

  13. I think you’re right about the pridefulness and arrogance. If I was speaking, and someone told me that I wasn’t being clear or that they couldn’t follow the flow of what I was saying–why would I be offended? Since I’m the one trying to be understood, I would try to make myself clearer. So it’s strange that writers would object when editors tell them their writing isn’t working. Ego must play a big part. Give me a single clearly crafted paragraph over some long winded sloppy essay or novel from someone who thinks every word they type is some kind of gift to humanity.

  14. Recently a literary agent used the words “you are a reasonably good writer” when describing his review of a book proposal I had sent him. What am I to do with the words ‘reasonably good’ that keep circling in my head? Does that mean that I am going in the right direction or that I am just a plain average communicator? What’s your take? You give such great advice! Thanks for your time.

    1. You’re going in the right direction. Except for the few ‘word magicians’, you could say most writers are plain communicators. Not sure where to go from there? Look at what reasonable means to you, and work at perfecting your writing. Get more feedback and listen to what the people say. Keep writing and editing and submitting. Keep going forward with passion and one day it will be “You are a great writer”. But never bend your own principles. Not everyone will love you or like you. And that’s ok, because a writer doesn’t write for everybody. But I would take the comment as you are on the right path and look to hone in on your storytelling. After finishing a manuscript, I like to walk away for a while then come back in a few weeks to edit. (At least a couple of weeks) It gives you a whole new perspective on what you wrote and you see things more clear.

      1. Thanks for your positive encouragement and insight. Since I wrote that comment I sent my manuscript to an editor that was recommended to me and she was very complimentary of my style and sense of humor in writing. It has given me new hope about enthusiasm about writing and even starting on a second book. The difference in opinions between editors is amazing. Can’t give up trying. Thanks again for your help!

  15. I think you’re confusing success with talent which do not have to be mutually exclusive.

  16. An analogy might be helpful about now.

    A vocal coach who has Youtube classes, books, and tapes concentrating on highly technical breathing, tongue movements, and secrets of the pro’s was all amp’d up when interviewing one of the best rock singers in the business–and when he’s asked him if he used so and so technique or this and that throat movement, the singer replied, “Sorry man, but I’m a Natural… I just sing”

  17. I walked into this article ready to learn something I didn’t know, and that… didn’t really happen. It’s not that I disagree with your points, because I don’t. It’s just that your points are generic. A soccer player who goes to every practice will be more successful than one who skips when they’re not in the mood; an artist who sketches all the time, even in the margins of their notebook, will be better than one who only draws once a month. This was an article about perseverance, not ring a writer – and sure, writers need perseverance, but what else do they need?

  18. “She” is not a pronoun that can apply to everyone, you virtue-signaling, intellectual faggot. Seriously, you wrote a good article, but using a pronoun like that for affirmative action points just makes you out to be a pompous d-bag.

    1. Then what’s the alternative?

      “He” is not a pronoun that can apply to everyone, you virtue-signaling,
      intellectual faggot. Seriously, you wrote a good article, but using a
      pronoun like that for prescriptivism points just makes you out to be
      a pompous d-bag.

      “They” is not a pronoun that can apply to everyone, you virtue-signaling,
      intellectual faggot. Seriously, you wrote a good article, but using a
      pronoun like that for gender neutrality points just makes you out to be
      a pompous d-bag.*

      Get outta here.

  19. I get completely that a writer has to write and persevere with their writing . Really enjoyed this post. It’s encouraged me to keep going and to work with more professionalism at the craft of writing . That means I have to overcome my laziness and fear ! But I’m sure going to try.

  20. Worth reading! 🙂 As following my opinion, a good writer spend time to give something valuable information to their audience/readers. Beside a bad write try to finish his writing without giving value. They target to finish their writing quickly.

  21. Goins,

    Great Site and excellent articles – I especially like this one as becoming a great writer is something I am striving for. Frankly, all of the points you made about becoming a great writer apply to becoming a great anything – software developer, farmer, mathematician, etc. But seriously, you make some great points and set some great standards for me to aim for.

  22. Great article… Most of the good writers have learned through their past mistakes to hone up their skills. However, if you are finding it difficult to give shape to your ideas visit our website and get the right assistance to get started.

  23. I have 3 books self-published, the 4th being edited (again) and the fifth in the works – but how do I sell them???

  24. I agree with this for the most part, but I would add that a writer must not only persevere when it comes to writing, but also when it comes to building an audience. I read comments from others who have said that they ‘did everything right’ but didn’t get anywhere, I have learned that once the writing is done, a whole new level of perseverance is required in order to get your work out there.

  25. good article but the phrasing of the opening premis is weird. the implication is that if you’re published then you’re good because you didn’t quit. but we know you don’t have to be a good writer to be published.
    the difference between a good writer and a bad one IS skill. if you quit then you can’t even call yourself a writer to begin with.

  26. A great article! Thank you Jeff! It inspires me to keep doing my best a freelance writer. The tips that you have exposed in the articles are quite good. When you are doing any kind of creative activity, the sky is the limit. Really. Me, I don’t understand writers who have good skills but have a lot of pride. That’s the main reason why the fall over time. It’s tricky trap. You think that you are skilled enough and don’t give a damn about other experts in the niche. That’s where you professional growth as a writer stops. I hope I’ll never fall a victim to this.

  27. Great read. I’m a professional journalist and you never stop learning. I’ve been published for years but have taken jobs sometimes paying less to get exposure to things that will raise my game. Famed UK political hack Andrew Marr’s autobiography’s title sums up the point I think you’re trying to make. It’s called ‘My trade’. Not art that you’re born with, something that you work at everyday.

  28. “A good writer is humble. Regardless of skill, she is committed to seeing the writing process through to completion. No matter how grueling or hard, she will write. And she will get better.”

    She, she, she.

    What is this assumption that I’m seeing on more and more articles like this, that every author is a “she?”

        1. Well it certainly means something if it’s getting your panties in a twist. Of everything you could have commented on in this article you chose to point out the pronouns used.. says a lot about your threatened masculinity. No one is trying to ‘solve’ anything, you’re argument is ill-founded and says more about you than it does about the writer.

          1. Your ad hominem is both obnoxious and idiotic. Speaking of panties in a twist, why does a simple query have you spouting such flaming dumbassery, as if the faux moral high ground from which you babble, is the result of some personal attack against your femininity?

            1. I think this is an odd argument. I’m pretty sure that Jeff doesn’t think all writers are female or anything of the sort since he is male, himself. Besides, he had to choose one gender to portray for the sake of consistency and some people probably would have found a way to be offended no matter which one he chose.

          2. Speaking of panties in a twist, why does a simple query have you climbing to the faux moral high ground from which you babble? Is this your way of lashing out due to some attack against your femininity? Your ad hominem is as obnoxious as it is id iot ic.

          3. Your ad hominem is as obnoxious as it is simpleminded. Speaking of panties in a bunch, how does a simple query send you up to the faux moral high ground from which you babble? Are you acting out against some perceived threat to YOUR femininity? Your angry lashing out is ill-timed and ill-advised, and says more about your mental state than anything else here says about anyone else.

  29. A good writer never quits & continue on to becoming more better & improve their skills over day & night . There is no such thing as a bad writer just fear inside to see how much work you are willing to put in . Good writer alway think outside the box & have a good mindset & heart at ease. Writers can also write how they are feeling , another way to express . Writers focus on what’s the importantance of improving their skills & staying calm even if what they wrote wasn’t as good expecting to be ,that’s okay revise & go over the words & correct sentences & take the advice you have receive & put it in your writing to make your writing outstanding & outstretched & good attitude. Writers can tend to feel defensive over how they write because they want to become a perfectionist, I know exactly how that feels,back in middle school I thought my writing was excellent but I over the years , I have kept writing all day & night & coming back to school the next day to show the teaches & listen to the feed back

  30. Thank you so much Jeff.Really needful words for me as i am aspiring to be a good writer .I am Nitin from India. I know unless i put in my own efforts such great teachings will be of less use to me.But i have a query, can you please guide me??. Whenever i begin writing i take a lot of time in getting thoughts and while putting those words down often i miss the coherence. Can you please advice me as to how to overcome it …..waiting for your kind response Jeff. Thanks regards Nitin

  31. Demanding empirical value in the faces of Situated Knowers is despicable oppressive historic White Protestant European patriarchal factualism. It is I>cis-sexist heteropatriarchial oppression versus a nation of corrupt seditious incompetent whiners, eunuchs, feminists, and trannies demanding their rights.

    I demand diversity, gender identity, otherableness, not being left behind, Yu-Gi-Oh! safe zone extreme victory, social promotion, Affirmative Action, equality, ontogenetic liberation, disintermediation, the validity of all voices, tolerance, Standpoint theory, cultures, transtheoretical models, beliefs, programs, learning environments, advocacy, protected speech, meaningful vocabulary and symbols, talking sticks, families of choice, rainbow flags, emergence, broken window validity, identity spheres, weightless economy, two spiritism, the Society for Individual Rights, challenges and experiences, behavioral economics, conceptual decompression, having allowable opinions, backwardation, confronting prejudices, engaging process, drum circles, empowerment, Ally programs, personal growth, liberation of oppressed populations from dominant cultures, de-ideologized reality, metal foil millinery, first perspective, conditionality, methodological eclecticism, critique of political economy, psychopolitical validity, adaptive expectations, social activity matrices, concientización, erasing history, rhetoric of therapy, marginalizing objectivity, automatic experts, liberation from historic Christian patriarchy, bounded rationality, heteronormatism problematizing homosocial othering, and continuous revolution.

    Where are my trophies?

  32. It’s the perseverance part I find difficult. I enjoy writing but watching T.V. is certainly easier after 10 hours at my day-job, helping with kid’s homework and washing the dinner dishes.

    Mind you, I’m not complaining. Except for the 10-hour day-job — I’m complaining about that.
    I’ve written about how I keep writing even when busy. I’d love to get feedback:

  33. “A good writer is humble. Regardless of skill, she is committed to seeing the writing process through to completion. No matter how grueling or hard, she will write. And she will get better.”

    She, she, she.

    What is this assumption that I’m seeing on more and more articles like this, that every author is a “she?”

    1. True, i’m a male fan-fiction writer and when that sentence happened it offed me and kind of offended me.

      1. Sit with the idea that it offended you when an article about writers in general used the pronouns she/her.

        Because that’s what it’s like being a woman from the moment we leave the womb. I, and all women, are very used to reading stories about men, listening to music written by men, abiding by laws written by men, and living experiences for men.

        This is the definition of patriarchy and male privilege (or privilege of any kind.) You’re so accustomed to your experience being expressed and validated that it feels like oppression or insult when the other 50% of the population is centered in the conversation.

        1. Actually, both of you need to stop being babies. Normal people of either gender or any race do not have difficulty empathizing with other people because they are “different.” Most people loved finding Nemo, and I assure you not one of them is a fish. Chill.

        1. It’s interesting how men notice and are offended at the mere use of a different pronoun because they aren’t centered in a narrative. For example, as a woman I neither noticed when the writer wrote she/her, nor do I notice when men use the pronouns he/him because I am used to men being the default center of gravity which all other things are defined by, in opposition to.

          It’s interesting how you’re so used to being the subject of every story told that not sharing the identity of the author pulled you out of it, made you lose focus, as if you couldn’t possibly continue to read and identify with a single word if it was about (god forbid) a woman.

          It’s interesting.
          Very interesting indeed.

  34. I largely disagree with everything you’ve said here because you’ve left out one critical piece: talent.
    Can just anyone write a book?
    In order to adequately answer this question, we first need to add a bit of specificity to what exactly is being asked. If we are talking about whether or not someone can write a book just for the fun of doing so, with perhaps the intention of self-publishing it, or perhaps writing the odd short story for the same reasons, then I would say ‘Sure, anyone who can type, or who has sufficient paper and ink, can write.’ And, as always, it must be said: there is nothing ‘wrong’ with writing for fun, or of casually daydreaming about becoming a ‘real’ writer one day. Yet, while I may enjoy playing golf, rarely do I consider myself worthy of induction into the PGA.
    Moreover, if the question regards whether or not ‘just anyone’ can become a professional author, someone who makes their living at least in part by writing, then the answer changes quite dramatically. To be clear, I am describing a professional author as someone who gets their work published in the traditional sense, or who has sold enough copies of their self-published work to actually make some money at it.
    If the question is, ‘can anyone write a book worth reading?’, the answer is most definitely ‘No.’ And yet, this myth persists: that given enough effort, just about anybody can write a book worthy of publication, or, at least, of reading. People say, “I have lived such an unusual life, had such crazy and wonderful things happen to me, that all my friends say I should write a book.” They may think to themselves, “Hey, I’ve got lots of interesting stories, lots of fascinating things to say. I know how to type and use a word-processor. I know how to spell most words and where to put the commas in. Isn’t it just need a lot of work? What else does anybody really need?” As Joseph Epstein stated in The New York Times, ‘There is something very American in the notion that almost everyone has a book in him or her.’ It is written into our societal DNA, this idea that ‘all men are created equal’, and that anything can be achieved simply through the application of adequate exertion and positive mental attitude. Such theories work wonderfully well for building roads and bridges, but far less so for the arts. Yet, while few people assume they could become concert pianists if they really wanted to, or paint like Picasso, a great many people think that ‘their book’ just waits in the wings for them to write it.
    So let us then, for the sake of argument, set aside all such nebulous concepts as talent, intelligence, creativity, passion, and the disposition necessary to be a writer, and instead turn the mastery of creative writing into a simple matter of effort, of time on task. Let us further ignore the fact that non-fiction memoirs do not even sit on the same shelf as creative fiction, not unless the book had been misfiled, or the bookstore is the size of an average guest bathroom. This is not meant to impugn the work of autobiographers, but merely to point out that, unless your name is Augusten Burrows or David Sedaris, there is quite a difference between memoir and creative fiction.
    In any case, beginning from this idea that mastery in writing comes simply from copious amounts of effort, it has been stated somewhere, by someone, that the expertise of any complex task requires ten thousand hours of practice. While it is likely that whoever came up with this idea completely pulled the number out of thin air, and further, that even though the idea is reductive at best, and just plain stupid at worst, we shall use this metric as our metaphorical yardstick. Given this ten thousand hour limit, this means that the average person would have to work 40 hours per week for just over 4 years to accomplish the sufficient proficiency. Now, since most people can’t afford not to work while becoming the next Joyce Carol Oates, let’s divide that number in half. If our budding writer works at their craft twenty hours per week, every week, they will achieve their goal in just under ten years. A decade. The very first hurdle is, by far, the largest. Most sane people are not willing to put in that kind of time.
    But the hard truth is even worse: that even after exerting this much energy, there is absolutely no guarantee you’ll ever be good enough. I know a number of authors who have been writing for years and never get any better at it. Then again, I know one who went back and rewrote their first novel instead of setting it aside. (This is nearly always a cardinal sin, because normally, writers will never improve by editing what they’ve already written, but rather by continuing to write.) And yet, even while committing this heinous offence, this writer has succeeded in creating a book that is really quite wonderful. It still needs some work, but it’s close. Talent is not something you can practice. It is something you have. Or not. And the unfortunate thing is, you’ll never know if you’re any good unless you put in the work. It seems almost crazy that anybody would ever want to be a writer given all these limitations. But writing is both something you are, and something you do. Yet that still doesn’t mean you have talent.

  35. This can be a hard lesson, but certainly it is a necessary one. My own writing has suffered the last few years because of my inability (or perhaps resistance?) to keep it going. It seems like there’s always something else, something getting in the way. Something important that has to be done NOW. It’s time to get back on the wagon, as it were. Thank you for the words and the advice.

  36. Good advice, and I would like to add something that I’ve learned in my own (limited) experience:

    Righting well is to emphasize the quality of ‘what’ is being said rather than the quality of ‘how’ it is said. Generally, a good story poorly written will always be better than a bad story written well. Knowing that, I think if writers develop the bones of a story better, it might impact their writing in a positive way. I’ve noticed that when I believe in what I’m writing and I’ve worked hard to develop the story, the writing becomes noticeably better. This is just my opinion so take it as you will.

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