The Blank Page is a new weekly series on Novelty Revisions dedicated to any writer who is just beginning their journey or starting again after a long pause. Check back every Monday for more tips and inspiration.
When I held my violin for the first time four months ago, there was a small part of me that wished I could just start playing my favorite songs without breaking a sweat.
I did sweat the first time I played, though. Seriously. Playing the violin is not physically natural. The struggle is real.
The same thing often happens with beginning writers who are just getting the hang of all the processes involved in telling a story from start to finish. They just want to be able to write a gosh darn story without having to stop every ten seconds to question every single word they’ve just written.
When experts say starting is the hardest part of learning something new, in most cases, they’re right. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to teach yourself how to play the most challenging instrument or struggling to write a book as good as the best one you’ve ever read. Starting something and sticking with it — especially when you’re honestly just terrible at it — just happens to be something not everyone can do successfully.
But what separates those who succeed from those who don’t — those who can keep squeaking away until they start to play real notes or continue to write bad stories until they accidentally crank out a good one compared to those who can’t?
It’s not money. It’s not even talent or the resources you do or don’t have available to you.
It’s resilience — something you can only build through failure.
I’ve always been the type of person to seriously consider quitting the moment I make a mistake. That doesn’t make ma a bad person, it’s just the way I am. I don’t like feeling like people are judging me for just being me, so when I mess up, my primal instinct is to run and hide and never expose myself to that kind of imagined humiliation ever again.
There are a lot of people like this. Many people just don’t want to admit they’re bad at something, especially something they enjoy and want to be known for doing well.
Which makes “being a beginner” extremely challenging just from a social perspective. I’m not going to play my violin in front of a bunch of people right now because I’m still learning. But it’s a slow process, and some days I do wish I was ready to “play well.”
This is what makes writing so lonely for so many people. You know you’re not great at it yet (which is OK!). You know you don’t have a story others will enjoy reading yet. So you just sit alone in your room and type away on your laptop hoping that with each passing day you get a little better at doing the whole storytelling thing.
But you run into one of those moments when you just want people to read your book and like it. You don’t want to keep sitting alone writing nonsense. Yet that’s what you keep doing, because you know — I hope you know — the only way to “get good” at writing is to write and write and write until you figure out what good writing looks like for you personally.
And then you STILL keep writing hoping it will pay off at some point. Maybe.
It’s rare that a person learns a new skill quickly enough that they don’t face the mental struggle that comes with it, that sense of urgency that makes you think “I have to be better at this soon or nothing good is ever going to come of it.”
That’s a lie, of course. Getting to the finish line faster as a writer doesn’t make you a better writer, it doesn’t increase your chances of getting published. It doesn’t guarantee your success.
You may not want to hear that it’s the slow growth that makes the most difference, but we’re here to talk about the truth whether you like it or not. You’re just not going to be a good writer when you’re first starting out, maybe not for a very long time. I sure wasn’t. Heck, I look at some of the things I wrote a year ago and cringe. You get better the more you write, the longer you stick with it. It’s just how it works. The more intimate your relationship with words, the better you are at shaping them into stories that audiences can connect with on a deep, personal level.
That’s what you want, isn’t it? To say something to a bunch of strangers that makes them think and engage and maybe smile or cry or rage? You can build that audience from nothing. People do it all the time. The same way you can formulate a story from nothing but a blank page and your brain.
But you have to be patient. You have to keep reminding yourself that to “get good” you have to “get to work.” And keep working. And keep working. Day after day after day. Not every consecutive day, but you get what I mean.
You will get there. As long as you keep writing. As long as you don’t quit before your dreams have the chance to take off. This will be a long process. You’ll face many moments that all this seem pointless. But it isn’t. You won’t see that until much later, but trust me. It’s worth every word. Every time.
Just starting out as a writer or returning from an extended hiatus? Let me know how I can help. Just drop a comment below with your questions/concerns — I am here to serve.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.