I am not a great writer.
My resume might tell a different story; ask me if I have writing experience, and the proof is out there if you go looking for it. My blog archives span over a six-year time period (!). My Wrimo participation borders on maniacal.
As far as full-length “novels” go, I have completed, and possess proof copies of, four. (Side note: of those four, three were crafted during JulNoWriMo, may you rest in literary peace.) And these works don’t count the hundreds of articles my brain has tricked me into formulating for young adult audiences who like food and working out and want to become sophisticated, young professionals.
There has never been a phase of my life that did not somehow involve storytelling. Dancing tells a story through movement; art, through pictures. Stage performance slips you right into the middle of the action. And when I toyed with other potential career paths, in attempt to imagine an unpredictable future, I wrote about them, casting myself as the twenty-something main character.
I published my first creative writing piece my junior year of high school, the same year I participated in my first NaNoWriMo contest. It was a terribly structured realistic fiction piece, and Teen Ink didn’t even use my real name in the print issue. My creative writing teacher (in all seriousness, God rest his soul), was the one who introduced me to Teen Ink, and after my first two semesters enrolled in his class, hungry to improve upon my underdeveloped skills, I enrolled again the next year.
It was my three straight years of that creative writing elective that jumpstarted my “career,” and even though I swore back then I never wanted to be a journalist, in college, that’s essentially what I became. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write, and the more I wanted to write, the more that desire to create became a desire to create well.
So what’s with the curriculum vitae? Do you really care about the fictional love story I tried and miserably failed to “subtly” base on my life? (Please. Don’t.) You’ll never read the story a 2012 romantic drama totally ripped off of my book (I will continue to swear by it until they admit it), or the one about love and loss and Starbucks baristas. Or the one about bees (and songs about math). But maybe you’ll eventually find my current project on a back shelf in Barnes & Noble. It won’t be the best book ever written. It won’t win a Nobel or be made into a movie. But it’s better than a story I might have written 10 years ago.
I am not a great writer. But I’m better than I used to be.
Some things have not changed. I am still terrified that no one will ever like what I write. I’m still self-conscious about my dialogue, and even though I’m much more careful about the words I use, sometimes I still don’t feel they’re exactly right.
What has changed, over time, is my hunger to tell stories. You don’t have to limit yourself to fiction, either; in my literature classes in college, I analyzed the most obscure themes I could find, tying the complexity of a language back to an element I admired. Those authors challenged me to put a new spin on old literary methodology, to write not because I’m always looking for someone else to read it, but because there are stories that need to be told. If I happen to be the one to write some of them and share them with readers, fine. If not, I’m content entertaining myself.
The ability to write, and write well, is not a “gift” or even a “talent.” I was not born with this ability. Neither were you. I’ve had to try, fail, study, practice, fail again, and have had a multitude of minor successes go miserably unrecognized. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Over time, my life as a writer has evolved. And not without effort. I’ve had to train myself to believe I am in tune with the rhythm of language because I have worked so many years to recognize the beauty within its complexity.
If you think writing is hard, you are not wrong in your assumptions. It is exhausting. It can take hours to revise a single chapter. And to write the original draft, that takes bravery, because ideas come to you that are uncomfortable, and upsetting, but they come to you because they need someone who will dare to put them on paper. Even the exciting, brilliant ones aren’t always that easy to put into words. It is a constant challenge. I am constantly afraid that the hours I spend intertwined in the worlds of my characters will be hours wasted.
But they won’t be. Because above all else, what the past six years have taught me is this: if it makes you happy, if you lose yourself in it, if you’re not the best but that doesn’t bother you, then you would be foolish to ever think of letting it go.