1. G_C
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    G_C New Member

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    How Do You Know if You've Got It In You?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by G_C, Dec 6, 2009.

    I believe Stephen King wrote in "On Writing" that you can make a competent writer out of a decent one. You can't, however, make a decent writer out of a bad one, and neither can you turn a good one into a great one (at least, not by reading and applying "On Writing").

    With that said, how many of you ever found yourself wondering whether you've the way with words necessary to be a competent writer? I firmly believe that a certain degree of talent is essential (although, of course, there's a lot to be said about practice and application).

    If you ever had these doubts, how - if at all - did you overcome them? Did you just post your story somewhere and assume that positive feedback means it's something you should persevere at (as I'm tempted to do?) Or did you use some other sort of litmus test of your writing ability and potential?

    Curious to hear your thoughts,
    George
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think I am a competent writer, at times good, and I can spin a yarn about quite a variety of subjects.

    But I'll never be great.

    It's taken a lot of years to admit this to myself, but now I'm at peace with this idea. Before, most of my stuff ended in the wastepaper bin. Now at least I finish it, and I can live with (and actually submit) the result. And enjoy myself more without the agony.
     
  3. G_C
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    G_C New Member

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    Madhoca,

    I think you make a good point - that one can still be comfortable with their writing and get published - without being a great writer.

    The example of Terry Goodkind comes to mind - in my opinion, he's anything but great, and that doesn't stop him from getting published and having a NYT bestseller list series. Certain he's got nothing on George Martin or, to a lesser extent, Robert Jordan.

    But the question still stands - how do you even know whether you've got the basics necessary to one day become a competent writer? Having written my first story at the age of 6 (and I still blush whenever I think of it - a massive fortress on wheels was the least of that story's problems) and now, twenty years later, the notion of creating my own little world, to play with, mold, change and shape as I see fit has not yet left me.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Since publishing is a business, a lot of publishers look at how well the book will sell rather than the book's quality. That explains a lot of the bad stuff that has appeared (and will continue to appear) on bestseller lists.

    My first works were pretty bad. But I've noticed that I've improved over the years and will continue to improve as long as I keep writing. Of course, I can't tell right now if I'll be a great writer or not, but I definitely won't become one if I don't try.

    I wrote my first short story in third grade. A couple of my friends liked it, so I decided to continue writing. I think all writers need at least some sort of encouragement from others.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I work as an interpreter and while the accurate transmission of meaning is the prime directive of those in my profession, exact word for word translations are rarely the route to that prime directive.*

    In English when we speak of details, we are speaking of the small things, but there is an included sub-meaning that these small things are of importance.

    In Spanish when we speak of detalles, we are speaking of the small things, but there is an included sub-meaning that these things are not important.

    In Russian when someone is explaining something to us and we have understood and we would like to politely stop them from continuing the explination, we say хватит (khvatit) which literally means enough.

    I’m sure I don’t need to explain that that would not fly as a polite interruption in English.

    Why do I mention these things?

    Because being an interpreter is not as simple as speaking more than one language. Millions and millions of people are so blessed. To be a successful interpreter you have to have an innate ability to hear past the words. And more than ability, you need a concern for why it is important.

    I think the same holds true for writing. You need to have a concern about your interpretation. Isn’t that what writing is? An interpretation of meaning and intent, tone and color, place and time?

    Your connection with the client (your reader) must matter to you. That is what you must have in you, to address the OP's original question.

    If you don't have that, and there is no concern about the relationship with your reader then it’s just verbal masturbation. A game for one. A good vocabulary and a grasp of diction and syntax and punctuation are the basics, but without a concern for why you have these basics mastered, then...
     
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  6. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I like what Robert Jordan said in an interview. He pretty much said, “if you want to be a great writer, become a technical writer.”

    I agree with his statement. The writing process and all its intricacies are important and can be fun to learn, but without a commitment to storytelling, you’re not on the right path to becoming a novelist.

    Btw, Terry Goodkind may not be a great writer, but he is a hell of a storyteller.
     
  7. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Great post by Wrey.

    Re the title question: if you have the ability to quickly improve (in all aspects of writing).

    I think most writers who remain mediocre either lack motivation and willpower or write without the concern for interpretation Wrey spoke of. The latter in particular marks the difference between those who strive to produce great work and those who would rather be known for it.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    curious george...
    i've known/been told by all and sundry ever since grade school, that i write much better than most, so never had any doubts... which means i can't help you, sorry to say, since i didn't have to overcome any...

    however, i can offer to take a look at what you think is your very best piece of writing and let you know if you seem to 'have what it takes' to be a good writer, and if not, can learn to be a 'competent' one, at least... drop me a line, if you'd like to do that...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com

    ps: welcome to the party!
     
  9. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    A short P.S. to my last post. . .

    I don't think anyone should take the opinion of one such as SK too seriously. You'll probably find that few super-egos like his are ever in total agreement. His is an undeniably mixed bag of green banannas, mouldy apricots and succulent peaches alike. He sells delicacies and garbage indiscriminately and seemingly without care for how any of it is received. As such, he's not in any position to definitively state whether a morsel is edible or not, or what might happen in the ripening process. The last SK dish I ordered turned out to be a rotting fish with side order of dead flies and stale crackers. (Needful Things)

    Maia may well be the best judge of skill and talent in our little community, but even so, only you can say for certain what your future might hold.
     
  10. Joseph K.
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    Joseph K. Banned

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    Good writers are almost always good readers.
     
  11. Roby
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    Roby New Member

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    It's interesting to gauge everybody's opinion on the issue when really the issue at hand is not whether you are great writer, but whether people think you are a great writer or a good one or a competent one. Yet people thinking you are good does not guarantee publication or socially accepted greatness. An reverse example of the point I am trying to make is that even the likes of Jane Austen, J.R. Tolkein and Stephen King just to name a few have being criticizedand portrayed as mediocre writers at best. Whether they are or aren't is not the issue here, its all about the subjectivity of our society and what is generally viewed as good or great. This is the reason why so many best sellers can be rejected by many publishing companies before they even get a publishing deal. Its impossible to predict what people will want to read. Trends tend to dictate these things but then again a new novelist might just end up being trendy because they are new, while another up and coming even more original novelist is not noticed at all.

    Timing is key and timing is virtually impossible to predict. Yes even greatness needs the helping hand of lady luck. Really the only advice I can give is do your best or at least do what you think is your best and hope for the best. Ultimately the REAL REASON you should be writing is because you have an insatiable desire to write or storytelling so really anything else should be only of consequence.
     
  12. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Artistry and craftmanship are two different things, some have one in abundance and none of the other, and some are somewhat inbetween, having more or less of both things in them.

    I tend to prefer the artistic writer. The one who has something to say and says it with great imagination -- if the prose is good at the same time, then all the better. But I'm just not moved by words in themselves.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    imo, they'd all have to be...
     
  14. FrankB
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    FrankB Member

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    Good is subjective and so, to a somewhat lesser extent, is great. The passage of time often serves to differentiate between them.

    Like maia, I was told at age 10 that I wrote better than most adults. I was a voracious reader since the age of four and have no doubt that reading much is the best way to become a good writer. How else can one develop a facility with language, grammar, spelling and a sense of what constitutes a good plot peopled with believable characters?

    There is no other way.

    Writers can always improve their spelling and grammar. Those are mechanics. Good mechanics will get you read by people who can further your career. Bad mechanics can sink your ship before it leaves the dock.

    If you can write well, it follows that you're reasonably intelligent. If you can write well and you're curious -- willing to learn about everything and anything -- you can become a published writer. Nonfiction markets are fairly easy to crack for anyone with the aforementioned abilities.

    If you can write well, are curious, possess an active imagination, are determined (and lucky) you might be able to join the ranks of your favourite fiction writers.

    Whether you think King is a great writer or not (I think he can be and sometimes is) doesn't matter. He's successful. He's at least a competent writer who doesn't need to think much about the mechanics in order to tell his story.

    The better you are at the mechanics, the easier it is to succeed.

    Read.

    Write.

    Repeat.
     
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  15. Sir Rhosis
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    Sir Rhosis New Member

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    I think I'd agree that 'good writing' is very subjective, and is impossible to quantify in any useful manner. Even ignoring different styles and genres, it would be short sighted to sell yourself short and declare yourself a no-talent hack.

    Personally, I don't even strive to be a great writer as it pertains to art and form. I'd rather be a very good storyteller with a fair grasp of the language and a way with a turn of phrase. I don't want to be a Journalist, and I don't want to be the next "Great American Author." I only want to tell a good science fiction story or Fantasy tale that is believable within the context, easy to read and enjoyable.

    To somebody that wants to write a literary masterpiece and go down as the greatest writer of the century, the goalpost would be in a different location.
     
  16. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that's a very healthy mentality, Sir Rhosis.

    A decent writer can write decent books just fine.
    A decent writer who attempts to write a masterpiece is more likely to write a pile of pretentious garbage.
     
  17. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never much thought about a yardstick for ability as a writer. I always figured the way to know if you've 'got it in you' is if you can't get it out of you. That's not exactly true of course. Many people can't stop writing - but, perhaps, should. I do believe, however, that, just because you believe you are good at it and, even if and when you sell a book or three, you will always have that self doubt. I believe it was Kurt Vonnegut (though, if I am wrong, somebody please correct me) who once said (and I am paraphrasing slightly), "You're always waiting for the day when 'they' discover you really can't write. That the last book was a fluke and 'they' all know you are a fraud."

    Nobody is immune from self-doubts so, don't fight it. Just accept it and keep doing what you love to do.


    Oh, Kas. God love ya! Thank you for stating the obvious re: Mr. K.
     
  18. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Success = Talent + Work

    It's possible to make up for the lack of talent with a lot of work, but someone who is both talented and a hard worker will be able to go places that others can not.

    That being said, don't give up as soon as someone tells you that you don't have the talent, no matter how "authoritative" they may be. Just because your story about a radioactive dog who saves the world wasn't so hot doesn't mean your next story won't be stellar, and your writing in it better, so don't listen to anyone who tells you that you don't have the talent after having read just one sample of your work. To really measure someone's talent, you need to look at multiple stories, preferably written at different points in the author's life, and see what the trend is. I'm willing to bet you that even the best authors today wrote a few bad stories when they first started--ones we've never seen, moldering under their beds or sitting on an old hard drive--so take heart, and read the quote in my signature. That's the best advice I can give you.
     

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