You Don’t Have to Be ‘Good’ At Writing (Right Away) to Be Successful

It’s true. All of it.

I know, I know, you had to reread that headline a few times to make sure you weren’t just seeing things. Yes, I am suggesting that you don’t have to be a good writer to succeed in writing. AT. FIRST.

Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. I promise.

If you’re new to this blog and don’t yet trust a single word I’ve written so far, take a deep breath. Give my advice a chance. You won’t be quite so skeptical by the time this post reaches its end.

These days, it’s nearly impossible to visit a writing Facebook group, follow a stream of writers on Twitter, or browse books on Amazon without realizing there are people releasing new books EVERY WEEK. Some of them are even REALLY GOOD BOOKS!

Why aren’t you doing that?!

Why aren’t you publishing good books? Why hasn’t it happened for you yet?

All this makes it really difficult to remember that not all good writers started out as good writers. Even I sometimes feel discouraged when I read a really good book. As happy as I am for the author, there’s always a part of me that really, really wants to also write a good book. (I will, eventually. I just haven’t yet.)

The key to writing success, it turns out, is remembering that you don’t have to be a good writer when you’re first starting out. You just have to WRITE STUFF.

In case no one has ever offered you this friendly reminder: There isn’t a single writer who does not start out writing terribly. Every single one of us starts out telling simple stories full of cliches and predictable plot twists. Every single one of us spells things wrong, uses bad grammar, and has no idea how to vary sentence structure in a way that makes a paragraph flow pleasantly from beginning to end.

These are all things we learn ONLY through experience. People can feel they were born “to” write, but NO ONE is born knowing how to write, especially not well.

There is a reason my philosophy is that you cannot call yourself a writer unless you write, and you may remain a writer as long as you keep writing. The only way to learn to write is to write.

If anyone who wants to be a writer starts out writing terribly, then how do some people become exceptional writers and others never do? Because some people stop writing. They lose interest, they find other hobbies, choose different career paths. OR, as I’m sure has happened to at least one person reading this post right now, they get discouraged because they don’t feel they are making any significant progress toward their writing goals. So they quit.

They QUIT! They STOP WRITING. And therefore, they stop improving. And their dreams only die because they never gave their ambitions a chance to fully form.

You can’t just wake up one morning, decide to write a novel, and write a good novel in a day. It’s not possible. You probably already know that. But while your impatience is in some ways irrational, in many others it’s completely justified. We want good things to happen to us and we want them to happen to us NOW! We want to write a book and publish it NOW! We want all our hard work to pay off RIGHT NOW NOW NOW.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this whole writing thing. You’re not immune to instant gratification’s temptations. You don’t want to wait for success, even when you know you have to. Some of us just go off and write other things for the sole purpose of distracting ourselves from the fact that the good things we’re waiting on haven’t happend yet and it’s torture!

Whatever keeps you sane in this creative mess of a life, I suppose.

Learning how to “write good” takes time. If you’re going to learn anything when you first step out into the world as a writer, make sure it’s that. Good writing doesn’t just “happen.” It is a skill, and therefore it grows, slowly, over many years.

If you keep writing during all that time, though, you are fully capable of gradually learning to improve your writing. There are people who think they can’t wait that long. They think that because they aren’t skilled writers now, they never will be. I wish that weren’t the case. I wish everyone knew that if they spent enough time and energy on their writing, they could become the “good writer” they’ve always wanted to be.

Some writers start out writing terribly. It’s not as uncommon as you might think. The cool part about this is that many of these writers go on to become successful and fulfilled creatives throughout their lives. And that’s because they don’t quit. They acknowledge that they aren’t writing as well as they would like to be, and then they sit their butts down in their chairs and they keep writing until they start getting better. And then they KEEP GOING.

Some might argue it’s actually a good thing to suck at writing. At least this means you have a lot of progress to make and it might be easier to tell when you start sucking less, right?

All joking aside, success is every writer’s end goal. How they get there — and how long it takes them to get there –is completely dependent upon their style, choices, and capabilities. There is no set timeline that will guarantee success. There is no list of set rules you “must” follow in order to 100% ensure you will get where you want to be.

All we can do, in this unpredictable career path, is our best. As long as we’re always striving to be better than we were yesterday — and doing everything in our power to accomplish that goal — it will be worth the effort. It always is, in one way or another.

Keep going. Write, even when you don’t think it’s good. Write, even when you’re not sure where it’s going. Moving forward, in the beginning, is all that matters.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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2 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Be ‘Good’ At Writing (Right Away) to Be Successful

  1. I needed this kick in the pants. I’ve been working on my house and doing my to-do lists again and doing everything but writing–even took a few days away from the blog, for crying out loud. I hit a slump of “am I kidding myself?” and couldn’t get out.

    Well, I knuckled down and talked to some people today, one who’s always known what to say, and one I hadn’t talked to in a while and I didn’t know how to talk to them anymore. But we had some good chats, and it seems that there’s room for improvement and to keep on going.

    That’s what I’m working on this week. Can’t wait to get back to writing. The Artist’s Way’s coming off my bookshelf this weekend and I’ll be poring through my notebooks to see where I was going and what I can restart. I’m tired of being bored with life–time to make it magical and interesting.

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