Nowadays, I try to pay some of that inspiration back by encouraging people to write.
But every once in a while, a thought creeps into the darkest region of my mind: Are certain folks just not cut out to be professional writers?
When I ask this, I’m not talking about my teenaged writing students. Those kids are young, their talents haven’t fully developed, and while some certainly appear to be further along or more naturally gifted than others, I would never consider telling any one of them to give up on writing.
Every year, as I gaze out on a new batch of students, I know a handful of them probably write poetry or short stories for fun. An even more select few may aspire to be journalists or real, published novelists someday. On the other end (or usually, in the back of the room) we have the kids who hate writing, have never been naturally good at it, and are willing to suffer through the class only because the New Jersey public school curriculum says that they have no choice. The majority of each class are what I like to call the the “in-betweens”–they don’t think about writing one way or another, and they’ll likely spend the next four years of their high school career figuring out which extreme best suits them.
These years are delicate, and though I may have an inkling of where each child stands from the first in-class essay, I would never, ever tell a single one that he or she isn’t meant to be a writer. No, my job is to encourage each one to find their own, natural writing voice, and every year I’m pleasantly surprised by snatches of brilliance, especially from those kids who typically sit in the back of the room.
So, just to be clear, when I ask if some people are not cut out to be writers–it’s the adults I’m talking about.
I’m not proud of feeling this way, believe me. I’ve spent almost a year here on Magnificent Nose, encouraging struggling writers to push through their fear and make their creative dreams come true. I’ve even declared, on more than one occasion, that mediocre writing is better than no writing at all. And I meant it all. I really did. Zero writing never helped anyone, right?
But it’s one thing to write for fun, or to blow off steam. It’s another thing entirely to write with goal of publishing in mind.
And sometimes, some people truly believe they can publish when really, I suspect that they haven’t a popsicle’s chance in hell. Again, I don’t want there to be people like this in the world–but I’m not sure how much longer I can pretend they don’t exist.
Years ago, when I was still in college, a boyfriend of mine was, ahem, overly-confident in his abilities. He saw that I could write, and he decided it would be fun to try his hand at it, too. Promptly, he went to work on an inspiring tale about a young high school student who eventually became the Earth’s greatest hero by battling both aliens and gangsters, sometimes in a single day.
I have not laid eyes on this story for over ten years, so I can’t give you many specifics. But I do remember that the childish, cliched, ridiculously over-the-top writing style didn’t help our relationship any. To be as fair, my then-boyfriend may have believed that his story was considerably better than it was, but I don’t remember that he gave any serious thought to publishing. Still, if he had–what could I have said? What would I say to him now?
The truth is, when it comes to making my living, I often depend on people who are lousy writers. When I’m not teaching or writing for Magnificent Nose, I’m working hard as a freelance writer, crafting web content for people who tell me that they can’t write. When a prospective client asks if I might write an About Us section for his new landscaping website, do I tell him, “Don’t be silly–there’s a writer inside of you. You just need to find your own creative voice!”
No. I write the darn thing for him, and collect my payment. I’m a copywriter, after all–and I’m allowed to keep doing what I do, because everyone in the world isn’t equally good at writing.
And yet, I’m going to go on encouraging people to write. Because in the end, I’d rather encourage ten bad writers than accidentally discourage one deceptively-brilliant one. After all, I don’t have ultimate knowledge. For all I know, my college ex is making a living right now under a pen name as a prolific science fiction writer. A lot can change in ten years, can’t it? And who am I to squelch anyone’s creative dreams?
But as I come to the end of this post, I’m still curious. To all you writers and editors out there: how often, if ever, do you come across people who think they can write, but can’t?
And more importantly, have you ever told them this?
Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.