Sometimes the best advice is not to take it. Except this. Take this advice.
This didn’t make me feel good. But I needed to read it. I will not stop writing but I will keep on calling myself a wannabe writer because let’s be honest, I will never get a dollar from it. Am I a con?
I love research. I can get lost for hours upon hours researching a topic, tracking down every little bit of information. But then I have to write it up, massage it into shape, into something appealing to others. When I write I want to communicate the excitement of the search and discovery I experienced.
“They’re the ones written by people who have no right to call themselves writers.”
Thank you for saying this. I wrote a piece about how everyone nowadays calls themselves a writer. I find it rather odd. No one disputes that a plumber, lawyer or doctor have a special skill set. Writing is a skill, a craft like any other. Yet you say that not everyone’s a writer and you’re now branded as ‘pretentious.’ People want to democratize Art. Ok. Fine. Sure. Free country. Go for it. But respect actual writers who’ve been taking this seriously for years and decades, who have an inborn talent. I’m glad Substack exists. I encourage all to express themselves. But there’s a massive chasm between fun posting on SS and being a serious writer. Just like there’s a difference between a freshman in collage studying medicine and an actual doctor. It may be pretentious to claim being a writer, but it’s artless and silly to claim you’re a writer because you simply happen to put words on a page.
That’s my contrarian view 😎
Btw: My two most recent posts are about editing and finding literary agents.
‘Sincere American Writing’
It is a difficult one to opine on given I am a new / wannabe writer. I have bought a couple of books on writing, e.g. by Steven King and Natalie Goldberg. I plan on taking a creative writing course but deciding on the best option for me given full time employment. I have done a few Domestika courses which have helped a little. I am not sure what a seat at the head table would look like. The relatively young writers I have met on here - and this is the only community of writers I have at the moment, it needs to be pointed out - all strike me as rather humble and unsure in their abilities, never boastful. That includes myself, I would like to think. For me, and this may be a simplified view of the world, the newbies, who think are good but are not, will learn the hard way; trying to take someone else's seat will not be relevant for long, if they truly are that unskilled and self - assured for no reason. Having said that, is 'good' not rather subjective? One man's trash is another man's treasure, however the saying goes. I can think of a few successful, celebrated authors whose work I dislike (to put it very politely) but many others enjoy their craft. Is having a unique voice, which is something highlighted time and time again, the same as being 'good'? How do we measure 'good'? Whose view of 'good' gets to impact who sits at the table? I have no idea...
The first thing about writing, is reading. I've read a lot of "shit writing", and I've read writing that has brought me to tears just for the sheer beauty of it. If you write something and it doesn't "speak" to you, you have to revise it, and then revise it again. I think some people write a piece and think that's it, that's as good as it's going to get, and then they self publish it--just because they can. And when no one reads it, they tell themselves it's because they don't "get" it. Maybe they don't get it because they don't like it? Maybe they don't like it because of the obvious grammatical errors? Writing is about using your senses as well--you have to feel the cold of the rain, because it's not just rain; it's about hearing the thunder rattle the windows of the small hillside cabin; it's when you taste the love that went into the food because it's more than just potatoes and gravy; you see the sunset as more than just colours, but colours on an artist's palette. Writing is about reaching into your soul, and touching someone's heart.
Ramona, yes, writing well is the work of a lifetime. You have to need it, to need to come back to it again and again. I become "me" when I write. Even when I am sick of it, tired and out of ideas.
"Learn to write uniquely. It’s the logical, necessary first step in order to lift us from the crowd. And it takes the most practice."
I totally agree, Ramona. It seems you, like I, embrace the process. I write something, and then spend an inordinate amount of time noodling around on it. It's part of my process. Sometimes I'm nitpicky ... sometimes I bleed on every word. But in the end, I think it's worth the effort.
You write "art and a craft deserving of attention and humility." I agree 100 percent. I enjoyed this piece and look forward to your next one. -- Jim
Just a quick addendum, Ramona. I peruse the web all the time as I discover links to topics that interest me. It then surprises me how a much poor writing gets published. Wordy, repetitive, awkward mechanics.
By the way, I experimented with one of the new AI chat applications -- Jasper. I input a few ideas, dropped in some key words ... and sure enough, it spit out a coherent, very legible and grammatically correct treatise on the topic. But, you know what? I'm still a better writer! (lol)
Stay well! -- Jim
This is exactly why I so often marvel when someone hears I'm a writer and then they say, "Oh, I've got a book idea that I'll eventually get around to writing."
One never gets around to writing a book. One has to put in a lot of what a friend calls "Ass in chair time." You don't do that "eventually."
This one definitely got me thinking. Do we fault the con artist upstarts for scamming the newbies or do we fault the newbies for having the hubris to think more of their writing than is deserved? And, at what point do we cross the rubicon between aspiring and achieving? In Kindred Spirits (https://elizabethbeggins.substack.com/p/kindred-spirits) I acknowledge my first anniversary as a Substacker while also confronting my imposter syndrome. Even after 45 years of honing this craft, I sometimes hesitate to call myself a writer.
Not many of us will reach King or Goldberg status though some are deserving, and there's no telling how much effort we will have to invest along the way. Like you, I'm irritated by the ones making money off other's visions for success. I'm not a fan of the unscrupulous. But, I don't think any amount of advice is going to curb the human tendency toward audacity and gullibility. The ones who need to heed those lessons aren't in the room.
“Learn to write uniquely. It’s the logical, necessary first step in order to lift us from the crowd. And it takes the most practice.”
Thanks for your piece! Totally agree with you. Writing takes - writing! I think a recent post on did on my Rocky Point newsletter, "Waiting for...?" fits right in with your thoughts.
Such interesting thoughts, Ramona as I struggle to keep the heads of my indie-published books afloat in a sea of other writings.
I have ceased reading 'advice' from the current gurus for better or worse.
I just get on with it, do what I need to eventually present the polished words to the world and then try to avoid that awful part of being indie which is pimping my work. I'd rather go word-hunting, to be truthful.
But there are a couple of major experiences in my writing life which were and remain my powerhouses.
1. Submitting my first ever manuscript (in the early 2000's) to a literary consultancy in London. They saw something in my work and style, even though the eventual story became the one you put in the bottom drawer.
The next ms also went under their care and became my first published book. I worked with them for three years on that one and yes, it cost me money, but it was real-time coaching from a real set of voices and I will never forget it. I would return to them tomorrow... Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.
2. On the consultancy's suggestion, I joined a writers' online review site (funded by the UK's creative arts programme) and had hardcore reviews which sometimes hurt but taught me grit and determination. And I'm lifelong friends with some of the writers I met. That was called YWO.com back in the day.
3. Competitions. They truly do sort the wheat from the chaff and if one is successful after being judged by professionals from the publishing trade, writing academics and a core of the reading public, then I think one is making progress.
4. Substack. Is teaching me weekly discipline. I'm in awe of some of the things I read and feel like a very poor and illiterate cousin, but perhaps through time, I will improve.
5. Never having expectations. I never expect to be great nor will I seek greatness. I just love words - words are like chocolate to me. (And I am a chocoholic!) and when I string a near perfect line together, endorphins are released and all's right with the world.
Cheers and thank you for your post and also for the interesting commentary.
Thank you for this discussion. It provides structure to what I want to do and leads me to think l am at least on the right track with a ways to go.
Yes, yes, yes. I may be an English teacher with a masters degree in rhetoric and composition who has been blogging for 10 years, but I'm always learning. I'm always growing. I get so frustrated when I see writers with way less skill than myself get recognized. I hate the hustle culture that is all about how you can easily use blogging to make money, but the writing isn't good or engaging but they know how to play the game and so they are "successful". I want to write. I want to impact people with my words. I want to leave a legacy. That doesn't mean fame and fortune, but I at least want a seat at the end of the table.
May I cross-post this?