At one time, much of what you’re about to read here was published under the title “What Makes a Great Writer.” However, it became clear to me over time that the ingredients that make up a great writer are all quite different; rather, what’s more important to consider is where a writer comes from, since what molds a writer to be great goes far beyond what stuff with which they are actually made.
Mind you, I never dreamed of being the greatest writer ever, but rather, just that I’d be well-known and well-regarded enough for my words to be read and appreciated by a wide audience. My only ambition here is to prove to people that being a great writer goes far beyond the natural inherent stuff that some people like to call “talent.” In fact, the ability to write is a human ability not limited to those of scholarly stature, but one developed by building conviction and skill sets through tireless efforts.
Indeed, I didn’t learn to write the way I do simply through the benefit of devouring textbooks or furious note-taking in composition classes. In fact, my way of writing developed simply through practice. There is, of course, the beat-to-death cliche of “Practice Makes Perfect;” although, reaching absolute perfection is something of a lost cause. Still, practice is the best way to become more perfect at a given art, if you use the act of practice mindfully, meaning you’re always focusing on making incremental improvements. Since I practice writing more than anything, and always have found the little incremental improvements to make, it stands to reason I’ve become rather good at writing.
I’ve written on numerous occasions that my writing often comes as more of a reflex than as an act of careful planning and diligence. In my youth, I studied dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias for hours, perhaps allowing me to improve my reading level much more quickly than I would’ve otherwise. This was not an activity forced upon me – in fact, I simply enjoyed doing this because expanding my vocabulary seemed paramount to succeeding as a communicator. It seems the only thing I have ever really been skilled at is writing, and I knew this quite early on. So, when I do not have the words to convey what I need to, I’m left greatly depressed; believe it or not, my speaking ability lags far behind my writing ability. Since I’m no talented speaker, it seemed to be my life’s goal to instead be the most talented writer I could become.
Still, even as my skill in writing has grown by leaps and bounds year after year, I greatly envy those who work with such tact in their everyday lives spinning perfect oratories to wow people into seeing things their way. I can do similar things with my written words, I suppose, but it seems as my writing continues to evolve, the reading level of the general public continues to decline. This leaves me in a strange place, because although I may have my readers, most of them don’t have the ability to comprehend. This is why for many years I worked to dumb down my writing and write on topics that were more relatable, even if they were trivial, just in order to have more of an audience.
Even then, my social life has suffered greatly because although in writing am a very good conversationalist, in day-to-day meetings, I find myself to be a poor socialite. Perhaps, even if I spoke the way I write, people would wish to imprison me among the insane simply because I’d be communicating far above the heads of most people. Indeed, humans have an unfortunate tendency towards shunning that which they don’t understand. Therefore, it’s often a great struggle for a writer well-versed in rhetoric and graduate-level vocabulary to be able to communicate effectively with the masses.
Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that I long for a simpler time when written letters were the en vogue way to communicate. For many years, instant messaging was my way to bridge that gap I have between my oral and written abilities; even then, many times I found it exceedingly hard to find someone who’d pay attention to I’d have to say in a little digital window. When people simply stopped paying attention to me, I simply would walk away and find someone else. Eventually, as my frustration with society in general grew and my commentaries became much more blatantly honest and scathing, I began to alienate everyone, to the point I abandoned social media entirely. Now, as was true for much of my life, I became a writer who toils in obscurity, the last thing any serious writer actually wants.
Because of my many rejections and campaigns undertaken to discredit and embarrass me, I no longer simply “talk” with people about things. People often find me rather amusing because I have this uncanny knack of stating the obvious in my speech. Oftentimes, I don’t find it troubling, especially when I am enjoying the company of others; but, in some cases, it is incredibly debilitating, because suddenly I become comic relief rather than a serious thinker. As soon as you slip up and misspeak, no matter the importance of what you’re speaking about, you’re suddenly taken far less seriously.
I find it incredibly tiresome to write a fleshed-out dissertation every so often to express how I am feeling, but that’s what ends up happening, just to be able to get the more troubling thoughts onto paper and away from my consciousness. I must often lie to people that I am doing “Alright” because most of the time I am not. To explain to those who ask me, often relative strangers, what the “trouble” is would take so much of their time. It’s not worth the effort; this is a world in which we are so fixed to schedules and those ever pushy deadlines by which we must accomplish the mundane tasks that we are given in our Lives. People simply don’t have the time to care, even if otherwise they would.
In brief, this is my life story, and is from where this writer comes. To give you a more detailed history of myself as a writer is actually much less complicated than all that I have already written. True, I began scribbling this and that as early as four or five years of age. But, my true journey as a serious writer began in second grade, when perhaps my most influential teacher, Mr. H, had each in his class write a story. Understandably, many of the stories written seemed somewhat absurd; in fact, mine was more absurd than any of the others, but mostly because I got so into it and wrote so much. In the process, I even invented words, none of which caught on, unfortunately; still, it was a fine attempt for a second grader. In the years following, I began to write a lot of fan fiction, and granted, a lot of it wasn’t good at all. But, again, every writer has to start somewhere; greatness isn’t born overnight.
However, it’s in these years when I discovered that fiction, for as much as I’m enamored with creating it, isn’t really my calling. With all the great creative ideas I get going in my head, when I’ve tried to mold them into a story, I would never be happy with the way it came out. It is as if, everything in my head, though all part of the same story, were in a whirlwind of chaos. Therefore, my fictional works have become more limited as the years pass; despite having so many ideas on where to take my stories next, I can never seem to pick up where I left off without grand detours and retcons.
I’ve discovered that my creative flow seems much better suited to nonfiction writing. I cannot just write something and leave it there, come back to it, and work away at it. No, the bulk of my writing work has to be done in one sitting, or I need to have another burst of inspiration that carries me the rest of the way. In fictional writing, this leads to maddening, disjointed fantastical nonsense. In non-fiction, I can usually anchor my writing to some bit of reality that keeps me from completely going off the rails.
There’s one skill I have somehow mastered, and that’s the art of essay writing. Many writers work days on end for long hours constructing a good paper; yet, I am able to write a five-page paper in about an hour and a half, mostly grammatically correct and organizationally sound to boot. People find that amazing; I do not. I’ve simply written more essays, or pieces somewhat resembling essays, more often than I’ve written anything else.
But, for as prolific as a writer of articles and essays as I’ve become, I’m still finding myself lacking. What about those papers I couldn’t ever get inspired to write, whether they were assigned or not? For each of my successes, there are at least a dozen failures. The drafts that remain in their ugly deformed states sometimes leave me so depressed that I am literally brought to tears. Many of them have been purged from my archives, although others remain as guideposts to remind me that I still have much to learn as a writer, even until the day I pass on into the aether.
For all the teachers who have told me that I am already a great writer, I don’t believe that is necessarily true. Plenty more have said my writing is greatly flawed, and others have declared I shouldn’t call myself a writer at all. Indeed, I have seen my peers write much more detailed papers, much more carefully crafted papers that deserve greater accolades than my own. They’d put their heart and soul into what they write, whereas sometimes what I’d write felt somehow mechanical.
Oftentimes when I wrote a paper that received a good grade, it was as if what I have written came out of reflex, not my heart. It’s as if I said to myself, “Oh, bother, I should actually write this,” then out of nowhere comes this ready-to-go paper. I might as well have downloaded a paper off the internet and altered some words in the amount of time which it took me. Rather than write the best thing I could write, I simply wrote something adequate; nowadays, I won’t publish anything unless I’ve bled as much heart and soul as I can into it.
It’s extremely rare that I ever had a writing assignment which I’ve truly found myself inspired to take great amounts of time to perfect it; alas, even when I have written something that most people could never dream of writing as quickly as I did, it is far from perfect. Sometimes, I find it a productive task to try and perfect these scholarly essays, with greatly varying results. Still, when it came to academics, I very often lacked a true source of inspiration. To be a great writer, you must find inspiration; otherwise, the words, as pretty as they may be, will eventually fall flat. Eventually, my time as a freelance article writer came to the same conclusion; my inspiration was choked and it was time to move on to more esoteric and imaginative thought-streams, greatly incompatible with making pennies on the internet.
So, what then makes a great writer? I believe it’s inherent in every human being who practices enough at the skill to become a great writer. Every person has thoughts that need to be expressed. Intelligent discourse is the only way in which the human race can survive; therefore it is good that our society stress writing skills to a greater level. Even when academics do stress the importance of writing, it’s often gone about the wrong way. Schools often teach a singular method, one way to write for everyone. Unfortunately, when you try to force everyone into a formulaic routine method, you strangle creativity. Without creativity, you simply can’t grow as a writer.
Thus, people need to develop their own way of writing on their own. One reason why I suffered as a writer during in junior high and my first two years of high school is that they stressed the importance of writing a five-paragraph essay. While this method serves as an excellent tool for outlining a paper, to force students to write that way on every assignment is criminal. Perhaps it is the only way, some believe, for some people to learn how to write. Not only I do I not believe this is so, but a writer comes from within, not without.
It wasn’t until I came to my junior year of high school that I realized these things. We finally moved on to writing without that imposed structure. I found that I could for the first time just let my thoughts flow freely. It was also during this time that I learned the importance of improving editing skills. Perhaps my true accomplishment in my high school and college years was being able to produce a paper completely on my own without any outside influence, thanks to becoming a strict self-editor. However, my lack of organization and extreme stubbornness perhaps also stunted my growth, as I refused outside support as most of the time, the feedback and criticisms were overwhelmingly negative. Looking back, I realize that my writing was far from perfect, but not at all deserving of the nasty remarks I endured.
While perhaps being such a stubborn person allowed me to deal with an unfair academic environment, I don’t condone locking yourself in a room and typing until your fingers fall off out of spite. In fact, I encourage people to use others as sounding boards in composing their written work. Sadly, I have only done this sparingly; perhaps, I only get away with flying solo so often because of the incredible speed in which I’ve always been able to work. However, other people’s opinions and ideas can make you a better writer, as long as you come to understand that what they say is not the absolute truth. You must carefully consider the comments and criticisms you receive in discovering the truth on your own.
My greatest failing is that I never took criticism well; over time, well into my thirties, I’ve finally come to be objective with it. After all, failure is the only way in which you can truly be educated. You must make your own connections; do not let things be simply preached to you. Writing is actually a great way to connect with others; perhaps, in the ways it can help you to reflect and organize your thinking, it might even be the best method of education.
What makes someone a great writer is not how beautifully they craft a sentence, although that’s a great skill to master. Perhaps, “master,” in verb form, is the most important word that I can stress to budding writers. Never concern yourself with being perfect; you will only drive yourself crazy. Nothing in this world can ever be perfect, even if theoretically you can be close. The drive for discovering the truth is what makes a great scholar and therefore a serious writer. It’s the greatest of a writer’s obligations to share their own angle with the rest of the world. We can all approach truth from various angles, and a great writer comes from an angle while appreciating many other angles.
We live in a time where relativism is king, in which the idea that reality is different for everyone is an inescapable conclusion. But, no matter what, the never-ending search for the absolute truth should be king; we must learn to take our varying perspectives on reality and reach a consensus on what the truth really is. What is truth? That should be the goal of every writer to answer.
Do not simply regurgitate facts and ideas that you read in a textbook. Criticize everything that you see, hear, and read. You may not consider yourself a great writer in terms of “talent,” but it’s the journey of how you grow as both a communicator and a person is what inevitably will make you great. You’ll find in time that the talent to share knowledge and ideas to the world isn’t simply a gift given to those extraordinarily proficient in vocabulary and composition. Indeed, writing is something that through practice and effort can be your greatest skill. All that matters to become a great writer is knowing where you came from, and never letting anyone forget that, no matter where you end up.