Many people assume writers have a gift. Maybe some do, but most that I know (or read about) work(ed) hard to hone their craft.
I was a horrible writer in high school. My grammar teacher was a shrew, so I figured learning nothing in her class would teach her. Right – the life applications for diagraming a sentence are innumerable. I still think it was a dumb way to teach grammar (along with a whole lot else they experimented with on kids in the school systems during the 70s).
Grammar rules are still something I have to think about – or look up – to get right. Of course, these days people take a lot of liberties, but as with master painters of days gone by, it’s best to know the rules you’re breaking (and be able to render a realistic representation to underscore your talent) before you decide to get wildly creative.
So why would a kid who hated English, couldn’t spell, found grammar rules nauseating and saw no use for writing in career plans wind up relishing a career as a writer?
Finding your writing stride
I have to give Mrs. Neighbors, my senior-year high school English teacher, much of the credit. I suppose in some ways, I haven’t changed much – then, like now, I tend to procrastinate on getting things done I don’t want to do. I’ll give a nod to Brian Tracy here and his ‘eat the frog’ philosophy (tackle the most challenging or dreaded task of the day first and after that you’ll feel a monstrous sense of pride and momentum to carry you through the rest of your day). It works but that still doesn’t stop me from occasionally getting in my own way.
Well, I did what I always tended to do with English classes (or foreign languages, or any other subject that bored me, translation: those disciplines I was lousy at). I waited to start assignments until that last possible moment. Somehow in my mind at the time, scrambling the night before meant I’d save myself the misery of more time spent tackling the task.
So, when I was the last student to pick a topic for a book report assignment, Mrs. Neighbors chose one for me. I should have known by her grin she had a plan in place to give me a serious schooling, but I figured she was just one of these happy gals that enjoyed sharing books she found light and entertaining with kids in her class.
As I started reading Kafka’s The Trial, I realized this wasn’t going to be a breeze.
The next day I approached Mrs. Neighbors with my objections.
Her response shocked me. Most of my prior English teachers were adversarial control freaks and dismissive (I didn’t make their days easy with my behavior so tended to miss the top 90% favored student ranking). Not this woman. For whatever reason, she decided I was worth trying to reach. Instead of accepting my self-assessment that I couldn’t compute anything having to do with topics other than math, science or art, she stated I was one of the few students she had who was creative enough to handle this assignment with style .
She encouraged me to seek her help along the way. I did; not only during this assignment, but also for the rest of the year on class work, extended learning and more.
What I left with was a new appreciation for literature (and a thirst for reading every existentialist author I could find – these were nuts I could relate to), my first high grades on English assignments, recognizing writing skills would be critical for any future achievement and a decision to keep working on my proficiency.
I had unexpectedly earned an English Degree from the University of Rochester before I was satisfied with my competence.
Is writing a passion for you?
Being one of these very odd sorts who’s equally left-brained and right-brained, I turned to art to fund my living expenses while in college (with plans for a chemistry degree). I was thrilled to discover I could peddle drawings done during high school and younger years to newspapers, magazines and other publications, get paid a handsome sum ($150 per piece was a king’s ransom for me at the time) and then – here’s the kicker – they’d give me back my drawings.
Once I transitioned to the world of work-for-hire, I couldn’t stand it. Having editors who knew nothing about composition (or the emotion involved, for me at least, in crafting a piece for stories, story boards, article illustrations, etc.) mandate changes so that what was left was dreck, made me realize art was too personal for me to commercialize.
I lost a creative outlet I had loved for most of my life.
Interestingly, writing provided a similar spiritual experience, yet client modifications didn’t bother me with this one. I was happy to craft what I deemed a masterpiece and then amend it to satisfy client desires (or egos). Then I discovered an ability to adopt another’s voice after a 20 minute interview. I wound up stumbling on a previously unimaginable career path. Small businesses, newspapers, trade publications and individuals chased me for ghost writing, copy, promotional ideas and marketing strategies.
So, I decided writing provided the perfect balance as a creative conduit for my right brain and a marketable product to business with my left brain. How much fun is that?
Writing is something you can learn to do. The question is – do you want to? I do a lot of delegating on tasks I don’t enjoy. Writing is one I relish.
If you want to write you can. Do yourself a favor though and find a mentor, read, study, proof and then get a second pair of eyes to critique. Once you’ve listened to (or read) feedback, improved your delivery and gotten to a point where you’re proud of what you produce, do you still like writing? If so, keep it up. If not, go with your passion and find another to help support this task. Life’s too short not to do what you love.