Why I hate writing, Part 13: katdish, dream crusher

You are not a great writer.

You may be a talented writer. You may a gifted writer. You may be a very good writer.

But trust me when I tell you, you are not a great writer.

And you probably never will be.

I think I’ve shared with you that I’m not a huge fan of writers writing about writing. Although I will readily admit that some people do it incredibly well and there is a wealth of helpful information for fellow writers, for me, it just seems counter intuitive for someone to spend large chunks of their time advising others about their craft rather than actually practicing it. Sort of reminds me of all those no money down real estate seminars they’re always hawking on late night television. If they’re so good at it, why are they wasting their time trying to sell you their secrets? Oh, it’s not that I think writers writing about writing are in any way dubious or trying to sell a bill of goods to unsuspecting wanna be writers, I just think we waste a whole lot of time waxing poetic (read: navel gazing) about writing rather than actually writing. There are obvious exceptions. Writers like King, Pressfield, White, Leonard and a few others have the gravitas and resumes to tell us what constitutes good writing because they’ve put in the hours. They are best selling, critically acclaimed authors, recognized, seasoned authorities in their field. They’ve done the work; bled on the page.

I read a post recently on a popular writing blog. The writer claimed that what sets the great writers apart from the good ones wasn’t skill or talent, but proper writing habits–a claim I vehemently disagree with. What separates great writing from good writing has EVERYTHING to do with skill and talent, and to suggest that all any person needs to be a great writer is proper habits belittles the craft.

Before I go any further, I will tell you that I don’t consider myself a great writer. I don’t even consider myself a good one. Heck, I barely rise to the level of mediocre except on my very best days, and even that’s a stretch, because I believe the word great when attributed to the craft of writing should be reserved for a very select group–a group I don’t even dare to aspire to be apart of.

I have no problem with someone claiming, for instance, that what sets a good sandwich apart from a great sandwich is fresh baked bread rather than store bought, because it’s just a sandwich, for crying out loud!

But if you were to ask me to provide a list of great writers, it would contain names like Hemingway, Poe, Tolstoy, O’Connor, Steinbeck, Dickens, Irving, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Dante, Homer…

So unless you can read Anna Karina and declare Tolstoy a hack, you could rewrite A Christmas Carol with a better ending, you could edit Dante’s nine levels of hell down to six and make them more compelling and terrifying, you are NOT a great writer, and by my definition, you never will be.

And before you accuse me of getting hung up on semantics, remind me that there are varying degrees of greatness and I’m being overly legalistic about the word “great”, consider the true greats that have blazed the trail before you, and remember that the proper use and placement of words is part of what good writing is all about in the first place.

So yes–always strive for greatness, but be humble enough to accept the fact you’ll probably never attain it. That’s okay, being a good writer is a noble and worthy aspiration not to be undertaken lightly.

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind or heart. You can come to the act with your fist clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.”

~Stephen King, On Writing

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18 Responses to “Why I hate writing, Part 13: katdish, dream crusher”

  1. Annie K June 5, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    Okay, who pissed you off? Snort!

    • katdish June 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

      Would you like this list alphabetically or by order of importance?

      • jake June 9, 2012 at 3:22 am #

        Perfect answer. The blank page is a bit**. I hate it, but at the same time, it can be lovely. I’ve had a HELL of a time writing lately, and much of what I’m putting together won’t be seen by anyone else, which is sad, but oh well. I hate writing too.

  2. Amy Sorrells June 6, 2012 at 7:33 am #

    Amen, girlfriend!!!!!!!

  3. Alise June 6, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    I don’t mind at all looking at the habits of great writers and emulating those, but I don’t think for a minute that by doing that, I’m automatically also a great writer. It certainly can make me a BETTER writer, but greatness is pretty elite.

    I’m a better writer today than I was a year ago. I hope I’m better a year from now than I am today. I think sometimes we get so hung up on being great that we miss being better. Which is unfortunate, because that is something that we really CAN do.

    Great thoughts! (Ha! See what I did there?)

    • katdish June 6, 2012 at 9:30 am #

      We can always be better. Writing well is like playing golf. There’s no such thing as perfection. There is better, and much better.

  4. Maureen June 6, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Pressfield’s new book ‘Turning Pro’ is out.

  5. floyd June 6, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Ummm, I think you forgot to include Louis L’amour in that list of great writers, you know, the writer of cowboy or western paperbacks from the 70’s and 80’s…
    While I’m trying to be funny, the truth is opinions are all subjective. I know for sure my dad would have argued that LL was great, my mom would opt for your list.

    I don’t write to be great, I write because it connects my brain and heart in a way that feels like a gift from God. Oh I want to be better, but I’ve learned it’s not about a title or destination, it’s about the journey, the striving… I like it.

    • Amy Sorrells June 6, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      And don’t forget Ray Bradbury. If the internet is right, he passed away in the last couple of days. May he RIP.

      • Audra Krell June 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

        I was just going to mention Ray! RIP to a great writer. So if I’ll never be great, is it possible to be brilliant? HA!

  6. Angela Wade June 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    That quote is one of my favorites from that book! I love it. The whole book. It’s the only writing book I’ve ever read, and I think it’s all I need. Beyond that, I’m just praying and writing. (And not washing the car.)

  7. SimplyDarlene June 7, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Ya know, the fact that I know I’m not ever gonna be a great writer has been a big chunk of my self-imposed whiney-butt-whaaa issues with my writing. But to know that good writing is still appreciated, now that gives a girl hope.

    And like you said, it keeps the one behind the pen (even if their routine is haphazard and all askew) humble. I see a parallel here to our walk with Christ. He is The Greatest. We are not. Never gonna be. But than sure as shootin’ should not stop us from trying.

    Thanks miss Ranty Kathy. We all need a proper spank on the bottom every now and then. (Did you leave a comment at the blog or just let out the steam whistle here?)

  8. DynaLou June 7, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Hi Kat.. Well sometimes there comes a point where we hate writing and we are actually aware with it.. Anyway, this post is a help for us..

  9. Megan Willome June 9, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    Preach it, Katdish. And I love that King quote.

  10. Karenee June 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    You inspired a response, but I blogged it: How not to be Great Thank you for saying it in just that way.

  11. Taylor June 10, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    Very well said! I agree with you. Why try to write about writing when everybody has their own style to be good?

  12. Duane Scott June 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    Amen, amen, amen.

    You go, girl.

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