“There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.”― Shannon L. Alder
The number one question I get asked (bar “Are you OK with talking about ‘X, Y or Z sexual thing?'”) is “How do I become a writer?”
When I answer, “Start writing”, people scoff, but seriously, that’s what you need to do.
If you want to become an artist, you need to draw. If you want to become an engineer, you need to start taking things apart and learning how they work, and if you want to become a writer, you need to write.
The silent ‘good’ in the question is always what people fail to state openly. “How do I become a good writer?” “How do I become a successful writer?” “How do I become an instant hit?“
I’m sorry to say; the answer remains the same: Write. Write whenever you can, and don’t stop.
As Mary Karr put it, “I was 40 years old before I became an overnight success, and I’d been publishing for 20 years.”
You will never become an expert unless you practice and you won’t succeed unless you’re willing to put in the work. Just as we don’t expect a child to understand how to walk instantly, we can’t expect ourselves to be able to write a best-selling novel immediately. Yet, because we are adults, we place this pressure upon ourselves.
The Myth of Perfection
If you were anything like me, growing up, you set yourself impossible standards. You were expected to be the ‘best’ at everything, and you only reinforced that idea by pushing yourself to be that. You never stopped to imagine what it was doing to your psyche or how it would impact you later on in life because failure was not an option.
I was the class’ swat’. I always had an answer to everything, and I feared failure above everything else. Never mind that I was on antidepressants when I was 14; I was winning. I was perfect. People were proud of me.
I genuinely believed that the only reason people liked me was that I was clever, good, and never let them down. I never did anything that I didn’t believe I wouldn’t succeed at because the idea that this impossible façade might crack was terrifying.
You can only imagine what happened when I left the safety of academia.
The rude awakening that awaited me in the ‘real world’ was a hard pill to swallow, but it was the best I’ve ever taken.
I Learned How to Fuck Up
It took a long time, but I started to relax once I’d wrapped my head around the idea that fucking up wasn’t the worst thing you could do. With repeated mistakes (and boy, were there some doozies) came a kind of freedom I’d never dreamed was possible. Understanding that not being ‘perfect’ was a skill in and of itself, suddenly unlocked a well of creativity that I’d never known existed before.
I hadn’t realised that expecting myself to be ‘perfect’ at everything the first time I tried it had been holding me back. I hadn’t known that I’d placed invisible barriers around me and backed myself into a box that was so limited that it was stopping me from achieving my dreams.
I’d spent so long focussing on an imagined image of myself that I’d ignored my reality.
My perfectionism was preventing me from ever being good at anything. It was stopping me from trying.
I was scared of joining new groups because ‘what if they think I’m no good?’ I wasn’t putting my work out into the world for fear of criticism, and I never shared my art because people might not like it.
In reality, the very critique I feared was what I needed.
So, You Want to Be a Writer? Well, Take The Leap
What’s the one thing all writers have in common? Yeah, that’s right, they write! The number of people that tell me they don’t have time to write, yet want to be a writer, is utterly astonishing. They ask me how I do it and when I tell them that I sit down and write 300 words a day, every day, come hell or high water, they look at me as if I’m an alien. When I tell them that I started with 100 words a day, I become an alien with a duck on its head.
It’s as if the concept of steady progress is an anathema to them. I should either be able to write a novel in a day or not at all, but that isn’t how life works.
Three hundred words a day is 109,500 words in a year. That’s a novel. An entire novel. You can achieve your goal in a year; all it takes is twenty minutes of writing a day. Half an hour if you go slow, and in that time, you’ll discover that your writing improves significantly.
If you can find ten minutes to scroll through your social media feeds, you can find ten minutes to write 100 words. They don’t even have to be good words – after all, that’s what second drafts are for – the very fact that you’re doing it is what will change you.
Once you start doing the work, you’ll find that you’ve become the writer you always dreamed of.
Small progress is still progress, and the satisfaction of seeing your project gradually forming before your eyes is worth every second. You’re already ahead of those too scared to start, so why not keep going? It’s your story to tell, so go on, let yourself fuck up and keep going anyway. You might even discover that it’s fun!
Want to know my rates? Of course you do, I’m AWESOME and I’ll write you an AWESOME story too!