You have no idea how long I stared at that title wondering if it made sense or read well. Ditto that last sentence. No irony intended, it just happened that way.
If you’re a writer, the chances are you’ll relate to this header. Maybe it’s you at this very moment. Maybe it was you last week. Maybe it’s you most days. It’s certainly me, not most days, but with irritating regularity. So I thought it was time to address it.
Let’s begin by looking at what we mean by ‘good at writing’.
Are we simply talking a capable writer; someone with above average competence in spelling, grammar and sentence and story structure? Or is it greater and more nuanced than that; someone with all of the above plus exceptional storytelling skills, a broad and sophisticated vocabulary, elegance, eloquence and a borderline telepathic ability to empathise?
I’m guessing most of us would pass the former criteria with flying colours, would all love to be the latter but in reality fall somewhere in between. Ability isn’t linear. We all have strengths in different areas and room for improvement in others. Some write cracking plot lines but struggle with characterisation or voice. Some create beautiful, believable characters but lack pace. Some write elegant prose but are appalling spellers (my other half is a terrible speller, I’m sure he’ll definitely mind me telling you).
So at the very least, if you’ve chosen to be a writer, it’s more than likely you are not no good at writing in the conventional sense.
But what if, even with the knowledge that you’re a competent writer, you still think you’re no good at writing?
At the time I wrote the headline for this, I thought (again) that I was no good at writing. This was after reading (for about the 8,359th time) the first three chapters of my first novel. I’m sick to the arse-end of it tbh, am desperate to improve it and struggling for ideas after being so close to it for such a long time but the writing is not that bad. It’s ok. I’d go so far as to say it’s good in places. And therein lies the problem.
It’s not enough.
I want to be better at writing than I am.
For me, ‘no good at writing’ means ‘not as good as I wish I was’. What I fear – what I think a lot of us fear – is mediocrity. My name is Ann and I’m terrified of being mediocre. There. I said it.
We all have our own internal struggles, right? This is one of my biggies. I know other people with the same issue. In a rational moment, we know that no one can say definitively who or what is or isn’t mediocre, and what does it even mean or matter anyway? The main thing is, we love writing and we want to be the best we can be.
But what if the best we can be isn’t good enough to satisfy us? (I hear my subconscious cry).
Well, maybe it won’t be. But how will we know? Who’s to say how long it will take to get there? All we can do is keep going. Keep writing. Keep getting better. And stop talking ourselves out of it.
Persist, persist, persist some more.
Telling ourselves we’re no good at writing is one thing. Believing it and using it as an excuse not to write is quite another.
Here are some ideas that might help shift perspective and create a more positive and productive mindset:
1. Be more specific. What do you really mean by no good, or not a good writer? By identifying what’s actually bothering you, you can work out what is within your control to change how you feel. Whatever the problem, some of the suggestions below may help…
2. Remember something you were proud of writing and read it again, reminding yourself how you felt when you wrote it and why you wrote it in the first place.
3. Meet with other writers. Join a local writers’ group or set one up. Writers are incredibly supportive of each other and it can be helpful to talk things through with others who understand and who may share your fears.
4. Join an online writing group. This is perfect if you’re shy or don’t know any other writers in your area. This way you’ll have access to hundreds of other writers, all at varying stages and abilities. You’ll get support, critique if you need it and reassurance that you’re not alone with your insecurities. A friend of mine completed her book with the help of the online community website, Scribophile, which is for anyone serious about their writing. She swears by it for support, encouragement and motivation.
5. Write using a focus timer such as The Pomodoro technique. This time management method encourages you to work uninterrupted on one thing at a time in bursts of 25 minutes followed by a five minute break. It’s useful if you’re prone to procrastinating when negative thoughts start to creep in.
6. If you’ve tried all of the above and are still struggling, take a break. If you’re blocked and haven’t written because you feel you can’t, taking time out from even thinking about writing for a while might help. The ideas and the urge to write will come back when they’re ready. This can be hard to take but a change of scenery and time out will give your creative side a chance to heal and recharge itself, and that can only be a good thing.
A final thought: you ARE good at writing. You might not be meeting your own standards but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be better. For some reassurance and inspiration, this short piece from Ira Glass is worth watching. It’s pure gold.
Write more. Read more. Write more again. Repeat.
Thanks for stopping by and reading. If you enjoyed this, please check out my other blog posts, such as those on rejection, resilience, showing up and how not to give up. If you want to know what fear sounds like, series one of The Terrified Writer podcast is available to stream and download. If you’d like to get in touch, please leave a comment below, contact me via social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org