Just Because You Can Write Doesn’t Mean You Should

I’ve known I would be a writer since I was in first grade. My teacher asked us to write three double-spaced pages about a class trip to the moon, and I wrote 10 single-spaced pages (which may be why she always hated me, I hadn’t quite mastered pronoun use at that stage of my life). I wrote “novels” until I was in high school, and then the more reading I did the better my writing got. My high school English teacher praised my writing and encouraged me to keep going, and I continue to improve now.

Writing isn’t easy, and it isn’t supposed to be. If it was, everyone could do it. Writing is a skill like anything else. You don’t expect to be good at basketball the first try or for everyone to be able to swim like an Olympian, so why does everyone seem to think that if you want to write, you can?

I’m not saying that writing should be exclusive. If you want to write, go crazy. Enjoy yourself. However, know that you might not be good enough to get published. I love soccer, but I knew I wasn’t good enough to play for college (and I was only good enough for high school because we had a no cut policy and we were constantly in need of players) so now I can only play for fun. It doesn’t bother me, because I don’t need validation as a soccer player. I know I’ll never be one of the best, but that doesn’t stop myself from enjoying the game when I play.

One of the problem with self-publishing is that it’s so easy that everyone thinks they can become an author. They devalue writing with that kind of attitude. If you like writing, that’s great. Write all you like and take criticism gracefully to allow yourself to improve, but until you honestly believe that you’re a good writer and other people agree, don’t self-publish. You would profit much more from posting your writing on a free site for people to offer helpful critiques, rather than making unsuspecting readers buy a piece of work that should have never been published and making them angry over wasting that money.

I worked in the writing center of my school and let me tell you, I saw some terrible papers. One, of them was, written. Like this. And when, I asked the, girl. Why she, was using. Unnecessary. Punctuation. She said. “I didn’t know sentences could be that long.” Another person’s phrasing was absolutely terrible, and some guy’s paper was so boring and tedious it made my eyes bleed to revise it. These people knew they were bad writers, but there are some people out there who write just as bad but want to be a writer, so they convince themselves that they’re good and that other people are wrong.

Someone asked for feedback on their book, saying that it had been rejected a bunch of times and wanted to know if it was them or the publishers. I read it, couldn’t bare to finish it, and gave her my notes on what was wrong (which was a lot of things, from characterization to plot to grammar to being unrealistic). She ignored me, bashed me for being rude, and then went on to self-publish. Do you think that that book will help the author? She’s not going to make any money on a bad book, and she’s not going to improve in her writing when the reviews will say “don’t buy this book” rather than “maybe if the characters showed some sympathy in chapter five” or “the plot needs to be wrapped up better at the end.”

General Tips to Improve Your Writing:

  1. Take criticism. If someone says “your plot is weak,” they are not being rude. If they say “THIS SUCKS” and nothing else, then they’re being rude. Ignore them and seek more specific reactions.
  2. Write more. The more you write the more you’ll improve.
  3. Read more, especially in your genre. It will help you understand how plots and sentence structure works.

Now, the title of this is a little misleading. If you like writing, I’m not telling you to stop. However, I want every self-published novel I read to be just as good as the traditionally published novels. I want the stigma of self-publishing to go away. The stigma is there because of the people who think writing is for everyone. I want everyone who self-publishes an amazing novel to be able to get the pubic to read that novel, but they can’t do that if those readers first find a terrible self-published book and now won’t touch them.

This post isn’t just criticizing bad writers, it’s just some tough love. Wouldn’t you want someone to tell you that you were a terrible singer before you went on American Idol? (Although, some of those people don’t graciously accept Simon’s decision when they’re told that they’re terrible, just like some people don’t accept that they’re bad writers when they’re told.) A general rule of thumb should be that if you can’t find at least two unbiased non-friends and non-family members who themselves are writers that say you’re a good writer, you probably need to keep practicing.

Writing is a gift, just like musical talent or athletic skills. We need to keep treating it as something special, not as something everyone can do.

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11 thoughts on “Just Because You Can Write Doesn’t Mean You Should

  1. Hm, I was wondering if my book was going to show up in this, and I’m relieved that it hasn’t! You’re one of those people who recognise honesty as a true virtue, so I’m sure whatever feedback you’ve given people has been honest, which is all anyone can ask for.
    As for writing being a gift? Yes, I agree. But I’m also glad you made the point that practice makes perfect.

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    • No, I haven’t gotten around to reading your book yet, though I certainly wouldn’t name a specific person as being a terrible writer in a post like this. I try to be honest, not cruel.
      I just had surgery, so I don’t really have the stamina to read anything at the moment because I have to keep taking naps. Your book sounded really interesting though, so I’ll probably get to it sometime over break ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • You just had surgery?! I hope it wasn’t serious, just tonsils or wisdom teeth or something? You don’t have to tell me. I wish you good health and healing over this Christmas break!
        Will you be able to eat lots on Christmas day? I hope so. That would be terrible to miss out on that.
        Thanks for your kind words. I know you weren’t that keen on the blurb when I first posted it, so I’m glad you’re willing to give it a go anyway. Actually, our conversation (slash argument) over the perception of sex inspired me to dissect it more in the book. I don’t know if I mentioned that before, so thanks for the feedback, as I think it helped flesh out my characters!

        Liked by 1 person

      • It was just a really minor surgery on my feet. I can’t walk, but overall they don’t hurt very much (I haven’t had to take any of my pain meds yet). I’m spending Christmas at my boyfriend’s, so what I eat will depend on what they make… and his sister is a vegetarian, so there might be some very suspect dishes…. we’ll have to see!

        Thanks for the concern. I hope you have a happy holiday! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad you’re doing well. That’s unfortunate about the vegetarian sister, hopefully you still have good food, even if you can’t have meat ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
        That’s amazing you haven’t had to take any pain meds (though good, of course. Those things can make you more susceptible to pain further down the track). Take care, and happy holidays to you too! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I know someone who self-published a novel because she wanted to be an author before me. She wrote the novel and edited it once. Then after about three rejections she self-published it and told everyone it was a traditional publisher. Most people believed her and thought she was amazing because they didn’t know anything about writing. She never marketed it, either. She just told people she knew in person. Needless to say, the book hasn’t sold.

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    • I know a lot of people who have lower reading standards. I used to post my writing on FictionPress and people would comment “OMG THIS IS AWESOME YOU SHOULD GET IT PUBLISHED” and I was like “yeah, thanks, glad you like it… but it’s nowhere near ready.” There are definitely people out there who will like a bad story, but those aren’t really the people we want to be writing for :p

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      • Yes, I hear you! I used to post on FictionPress, but mostly its sister site FanFiction and people would simply review saying, “This is great. I can’t wait for the next chapter.” It wasn’t much to go on.

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      • I’ve heard that Wattpad is the place to be nowadays though I’ve never tried it myself. I had to pull all my stuff from FictionPress when someone stole my novel and started selling it on Amazon ๐Ÿ˜

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  3. Great post. The problem with self-publishing though, and one I fear it will always have, is that its very ease means that sub-standard books will always get out there. There’s no quality check before you hit ‘publish’ on Amazon. But I agree that some very good books get self-published too, it’s just that they’re all tarred with the same brush. What’s the answer?

    Well, apart from continuing to work like crazy to make your writing as good as it can possibly be, and then to promote what you’ve published, I think in the future we might see more joint or cooperative publishing ventures, where groups of writers share the load of publishing and promoting each other’s work. And to be in one of those groups your writing has to reach a certain standard, as agreed by all the members. I guess that venture might effectively become something like a small indie publisher in some ways, but each writer would maintain creative control and continue to receive the higher royalties that come from self-publishing.

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    • Even if Amazon just ran a spell check and said “nope, no deal” if you came back with too many errors it would help a little. Some people just don’t care. I told a self-published author that I loved his plot but that his editing was atrocious (it looked worse than a first draft) he said he didn’t have time to edit, but he still had time to write and release two more books… also without any editing. Sigh.

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