I’m Not A Good Writer
Occasionally, someone will read one of my books and exclaim, “Wow, who knew you were such a good writer!” It’s a kind-of compliment. But the words “good writer” always elicit my unspoken response, “Oh yeah? What does that mean?”
You see, I think most people are pretty good writers. They get through school able to hammer complete thoughts into sentences, paragraphs, essays. Most write thank-you notes (in emails these days), or tweets, or letters of condolence, etc. And their readers get the message – know what they’re trying to get across. Most people can translate what’s in their heads to blank paper and convey meaning – emotions, ideas, and purpose.
I find it easy to start a story with a clever sentence and a few witty paragraphs. But it’s hard to continue on the next page, and the 300 pages after that – after the initial flood of inspiration dries up and I’m still trying to build a plot then hold it together, introduce and develop the characters, misdirect, plant clues, keep the scenes straight, and so on.
In my experience, although it becomes easier to finish the story, like a slide downhill at the end of a roller coaster ride, the hardest thing of all is to finish it well, to end with the satisfaction that the job’s been done as best I could. And then there’s still the task of re-examining each sentence and each of the 90,000 words, to make sure I’ve done the best I can with language and grammar.
The phrase “good writer” means different things to different people. Most often, I think it means one or more of the following when it’s applied to me:
* Good story.
* Wow, you wrote a whole book.
* I enjoyed your book (I’m not sure what “enjoy” means either. I usually ask, “What did you enjoy about it?”)
* I didn’t know you could write at all, so by default, you’re better at it than what I expected.
Don’t get me wrong. I love hearing people say that I’m a “good writer” – whatever it means to them. But to me, on the measly two-syllabled shoulders of the phrase, rides an enormous weight of effort, and skill learned on-the-job. Those two words carry a lifetime of writing, reading, thinking, and experiencing…added to a year’s hard work for every book I complete. And when all’s said and written, I’m never completely happy with the result.
I don’t use “good writer” to describe myself. Not yet.