If you can walk, you can write
I have a secret to share with you. Good writing is hard – really hard. I’ve heard from many people who think they’re not good writers. They think this because they find it difficult to write, or because they read what they’ve written and they don’t like it. Neither of these are an indication that a person is a bad writer. In fact, they are two very good signs of the opposite.
Good writing is hard – hard like running is to someone who hasn’t done it in 20 years; hard like running up a hill is to someone who’s only been running on flat ground; hard like running a marathon is to someone who has only run 5Ks. My point is that it’s hard when you are reaching, when you are pushing yourself and stretching your boundaries. If it’s not hard, you’re not trying hard enough.
Becoming a good runner, swimmer, skier, biker or flute player requires that you spend time being uncomfortable. How quickly you improve will depend largely on how much pain you can tolerate. When you first started out – so long, long ago – just learning the letters was a tremendous struggle. Then you had to put them together to get words and then you had to figure out how to put all those words together into sentences. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t natural – a look at a first graders homework is a good reminder of the battle you fought just to have the ability to respond to this post.
Now, you can write at least basic thoughts (and probably some pretty complex ones too) without thinking too hard about it. Now, the challenge comes when you want to write lots of them together (for a book, perhaps?) or to make them sing a flawless song (a compelling blog post, maybe?) If you find writing hard, that is a sign that you are doing something that is moving you toward becoming a better writer.
What about those who don’t like what they write? This is a good thing. Why? Because it means that you recognize that something isn’t the way you want it — and that is the first step to being able to fix it. If you write something that truly is bad and you don’t recognize it, you won’t even realize that it should be changed. Yes, it’s frustrating when you feel like something isn’t good, and you are not sure how to make it better. That takes us back to the fact that good writing is hard. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes experimentation and being willing to look bad. You have to put your writing and therefore yourself out there for scrutiny.
The most important thing is to not give up. You can and will get better if you keep working at it. Read books on writing or just read any books. Read newspaper articles and blogs. Find a friend to help. Find a coach or an editor. As with running, swimming or flute playing, you need to push past the moments of discomfort. There will be times when it is easy, and it does feel natural. But that probably won’t last – at least not if you really want to be good — because as soon as you master one level, you move on to tackling the next