I just finished Stephen King’s book On Writing and have to say I really enjoyed it. (Thanks, Judith!) I’ve got several how-to writing books on my shelves that were cracked open and put aside to fulfill their secondary job as dust collectors. A how-to manual on writing just doesn’t appeal to me. Good writing is one of those things I know when I see it. It’s kind of like painting. I could read a gazillion books on how to paint, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be able to do it.
My theory is you’ve just got to practice. I’ve been actively writing for pleasure for almost ten years now. I’ve had some amazing English teachers over the years (and have worked with quite a few too!) who gave me the frameworks on how to write, but it’s been up to me to slog my way through stories to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I also strongly believe, as does King, that in order to write well you have to read. A lot.
One thing I’m still digesting from King is his premise that “while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a bad one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” I’m usually not for blanket statements, but I think he might be onto something here. Some people have a hard time just writing a coherent sentence and will probably never be able to write a great story. And very few of us are Shakespeares.
Do most of us just start out as competent writers? Are we all striving to become merely good writers?
Definitely hope I'm at least in the competent writer category 😉 — ultimately, I hope to be successful (at least somewhat) and hopefully 'good' in the eyes of the majority.
PS – love the blog title (for obvious reasons 😉
You're welcome. Glad you were able to finish and also enjoy On Writing.
I think having the raw talent of being storytellers is what makes us "competent" writers (I hope so at least). But King's right about not being able to turn a good writer into a great writer. There's something … extra … that great writers have which allows them to tap into the collective consciousness at a deeper level than the vast majority of scribes.
I hope I can be considered a "good" writer (and a successful one too, like Bane) because that's what we're all really striving for here.
I dearly want writing to be the one thing I'm really, truly good at. But I am realistic, that just like other things I've wanted to be good at, that may not be the case. However, English was always my shining subject in school; I always had near-perfect grades. Does this mean I can write? Probably not. But it's certainly pushed me to think that if I try hard enough, I can.
I'm not super stressed if I don't get published. In the end, these stories are entertaining to me, and it's my opinion that matters the most. If an agent, and then an editor, and then the general public decide they like them, great. I will have shared a good story with the world. But it's just a hope and a fringe benefit at this point.
Doesn't mean I'm not trying, though 🙂
When I go back and look at the stuff I wrote ten years ago I'm not sure you could even lump me into the competent category. I think I'm there now, but I have aspirations to make it to the good group. (I almost wrote goo which might be more apt based on how my brain sometimes feels!)
I think Matt and Stephen King may be right about the great writers. It just takes something extra, some gift very few possess to take writing to that level.