Why You’re a Bad Writer and Always Will Be

You’ve probably heard this story. It’s a common one. The one about how J.K. Rowling got like a million rejection letters for Harry Potter before a publisher finally accepted it.

And then every publisher that rejected her suddenly became an alcoholic once they saw the sales.Harry Potter

That story makes me feel good about myself. I love reading about how now-popular writers used to be destitute. Maybe I’m just semi-sadistic.

I used to think to myself: If they did it, I can do it too.

Before everyone knew their name, they still had writer’s block and wrote embarrassing similes.

But now they’ve made it.

Now their similes are flawless.

They used to be where I am today. I can be successful (whatever that looks like), I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and one day a publisher will recognize my talent.

 

This is why you can’t have nice things

That mindset that will ruin your career. If you look at famous writers and think to yourself, “That can be me one day. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll eventually get noticed.”

You’re kidding yourself.

Those famous writers were nothing like you before they got famous. They are simply more disciplined and better than you are.

They are better because they wrote consistently, especially when they didn’t feel like it. Do you?

They are better because they didn’t ignore the naysayers. They used it as fuel to become better, and to prove them wrong. Do you?

They are better because they were okay with an imperfect story as they wrote – they just needed to get words on the page. Do you?

They are better because they said no to other social obligations, and made daily sacrifices so they could write. Do you?

Writing Discipline

I think the only ones still reading this post are the masochists. If I truly am semi-sadistic, then we will get along swimmingly.

Stephen King collected rejection letters like medals, adding them to a nail on the wall. He is quoted saying,

“By the time I was fourteen… the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”

King writes 2,000 words a day and reads 4-6 hours a day.

To be a successful writer you have to have thick skin and big balls. Sitting back and saying “one day I’ll get there” proves that you won’t get anywhere.

Only while sprinting towards your goal are you allowed to say, “One day I’ll get there.”

But you aren’t allowed to say that when you’re on your ass.

 

Why are you being so mean and abusive to me?Always Be Closing

As writers, we as a whole have a reputation for not writing. I don’t know your daily schedule. I don’t pour your cereal – and I’d prefer not to because I’m grumpy in the morning and it would be an awkward, unpleasant experience for both of us…

But I do know that the people who are crazy enough to live like they already are a bestseller get further than people who constantly compare themselves with everyone around them.

Hate to break it to you, but the bestsellers didn’t get famous overnight even though that’s how it looks from the outside. Thousands of hours of hard work got them their break.

So to live like a bestseller means adopting their hard work ethic and writing habits that eventually got them fame.

 

Now that I’m sad and depressed, tell me what to do because I have no direction

Drop the victim attitude.

 

Now that I’m pumped up and angry, watch me roar Angry

That’s more like it.

If you want to be a less sucky writer, here are a few things that have helped me be less terrible. (It’s all about perspective. If for some strange reason you think you’re a good writer, then that just means you need to read more.)

  1. Read a wide variety of genres. And read a lot.
  2. Be disciplined to write. And if it’s hard for you, then suck it up and cut out all distractions so you can’t do anything else aside from writing. Yeah, the tough love just came out.
  3. Be disciplined to learn the craft of writing. Go to seminars, workshops, and read books on writing.

 

Wait, 3 points? I already knew those! Tell me something I don’t know

First, that was a little rude.

Second, I didn’t include those points to educate you. I included them to tell you what to freaking do.

Now is the time to start sprinting relentlessly towards your goal while wheezing under your breath, “One day I’ll get there.”

As Nike says, just do it.


Question of the day: What habits have you developed to help you become a better writer?

23 Comments

  1. Thanks for the advice Ben; especially as a younger writer, it’s good to hear that.
    I think one of the best things a writer can do is get more experience living, really. Obviously, you can always read more and write more, but there is a reason why authors go on research trips to mountains and cities– how can you write about the world if you don’t live in it? It’s something that I’ve thought about for a while, at least. Live in the world so you can write about it.

    • bdschmitt

      June 1, 2015 at 11:19 am

      Hi Bryce, thanks for the comment! I do agree with that thought, but I wouldn’t let that be a crutch for not writing in the meantime (which I’m sure you’re not).

      As Benjamin Franklin said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

      I say, what’s stopping you from doing both?

  2. To become a better writer I showed up at the keyboard every morning and wrote. Good, bad, whatever. Just wrote. Powered through NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) four times. Discovered my voice. Kept writing to hone it. Read. Took workshops.

    Notice all of what I just wrote is in the past tense. I broke the daily habit. Your email is right on target. Time to saddle up and get back on the ride!

    • bdschmitt

      June 1, 2015 at 12:26 pm

      I’ve actually never done NaNoWriMo! I’m doing it this year, though, so I’m eagerly anticipating it!

      I find that when trying to change a habit, I have to start small and gain momentum to have longevity. What’s the first step you’re going to take to saddle up again?

      • I write copy for businesses, but I had to put my fiction writing on the back burner. A baby step? Fifteen minutes a day, first thing.

        You’ll love NaNoWriMo. It’s intense, but rewarding. Make sure your loved ones provide you with snacks or food during the month!

  3. Another great post! I think to become a better writer you have to figure out what works for you personally. At present, I don’t write everyday, though thoughts about novels and characters are always brewing in my mind. Part of that is for the mental break, part is because I believe it is important in life to let things be for a while. Granted, at this point, I don’t go more than two days without working on something. Knowing your own voice is critical, I think. I would never have written my novel if I’d done it trying to create the next great American novel. You have to know what stories you want to tell, and then let the characters do the talking.

    Finding someone who can give positive feedback about what you do well and what you’re not so good at helps. Even the NY Times bestselling authors write horrible first drafts, and the final product gets there with a lot of help from trusted friends and editors. I’ve written and posted fan fiction (not telling what or where- lol) and have gotten some really good feedback that’s helped during my journey of writing my first novel. For example, I’ve been told that I’m really good at dialogue and creating believable characters. What I suck at is staying in the right narrative voice. Knowing that, especially as I go into starting a new novel, helps a whole lot.

    Practice makes perfect. 🙂 Looking forward to the next blog.

    • bdschmitt

      June 1, 2015 at 12:53 pm

      That’s a good point, Laura. I was just reading a few interviews with authors, and someone (forgot who said it) was saying that she doesn’t measure word count as a successful day writing, she measures the amount of time she lived in her fictional world as a success. A unique perspective – I like it!

      What’s your new novel about?

      • That is a unique perspective! I like it. I always feel pretty great after having high word count days, but I love the days where I really get to dig in and figure out the true heart of the story. 🙂

        I actually have two novels that are jockeying for time in my head, not sure which one will win the race. Both are contemporary fiction, but one has a romance slant and the other a mystery aspect to it. Still in early planning mode for both of those. 🙂

        • bdschmitt

          June 1, 2015 at 6:34 pm

          That’s great! To save you future hardship: put one novel on hold and only focus on one at a time. I’d set aside time to choose which one you’d like to go with, and then go full steam ahead with brainstorming and structuring.

          Staying in limbo for longer than needed just sucks time and detracts creative energy from the story you’re ultimately going to choose to write first.

  4. This article should be a sticky at the top of every writing forum where writers “constantly compare themselves with everyone around them.”

  5. I was able to sign every item in the “Do you” section and get it confirmed by my wife. Does that mean that I am a real writer?

  6. There is no moment in my life when writing, thinking of what to write, plotting, character development, marketing my material, or scribbling down ideas for new stories isn’t happening. My brain is working 24/7 even if my hands are still.

    • bdschmitt

      June 2, 2015 at 8:54 am

      That’s fantastic, TA. If you fully immerse yourself in the story, that can be far more valuable than a word count.

  7. I kind of feel like, after reading this, a weight has been lifted. Nothing here about, do this, get a blog, join this, email this, write this. Just the truth in 3 simple steps. Good job, and thank-you!

    • bdschmitt

      June 4, 2015 at 9:30 am

      I’m glad you found it helpful, Ashley! I try to cut out the gimmicks and just help writers.

  8. So…if I answered “Yes” to all of those questions, I must be on the right track 😀 And thanks, that was fun and slightly painful, but somehow…strangely motivational. Write on, Mr. Schmitt. 🙂

  9. I write consistently, I have a routine and have done nanowrimo three years in a row. I read a lot and widely not only because I enjoy it but also because I was told it would improve my writing. I’ve been to classes, over several years and have picked up quite a few tips. I have read countless books on the craft of writing, Stephen King’s on writing is my favourite.

    But having just received some professional feedback, I have to say that my advice would be that you can do all of that and for some people that will be enough. For others, they will have to employ three further steps.

    1. When you read a book, take time after to analyse how the writer has written, what they have done and how it worked. Write those lessons down.

    2. Get feedback, don’t worry about it being positive or negative, just get the feedback as often and as much as possible. It’s not easy, and it can be wrong but it’s always worth it.

    3. Use the feedback and the analysis to improve your work a step at a time. If it helps set short term goals and celebrate their achievement.

What do you think?

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