Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Insecure Writer And Knowing If You've Got the Skills To Be A Writer


Today is April's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I still wonder if I'm one of those people who'll never be a good/,average/passable writer. no matter how much I work at it. 

I’ve read posts and listened to podcasts that say anyone can be a writer if they work hard enough at it, but I know that’s not the case. We may not wish to discuss it in public, but the truth is some people will never be able to grasp the concept of being a writer—whether it’s an inability to write coherent sentences, or a lack of imagination, or being unable to describe a scene so that someone other than the writer understands what’s going on, or any of the dozens of other skills a writer must have. 

I have a knack for chemistry. I don’t know why; I just do. It makes sense to me. It’s not always easy, but I can solve complicated problems because I don’t have to worry about the basics. I used to think that anyone could pass a chemistry class if they worked hard enough, but after years of teaching I was forced to admit that some people will never get it. They might be smart and/or hard working, but chemistry will never click for them. And that’s okay—assuming they’re satisfied with never being a chemist. 

It’s the same for writers. Even passable writers wield words in a way that are beyond the ken of non-writers. They breathe life onto the page without consciously thinking about it. They may struggle at times, but the basics come so naturally to them they don’t even think about them anymore. Unfortunately, there will always be those aspiring writers who will never "get" these basics, no matter how hard they work. 

I’ve met all sorts of aspiring writers at meetings and conferences. Their skill levels vary widely, but I can see the understanding in their eyes. But I’ve run into a few people I know will never have that understanding. They’re enthusiastic and attend conferences and read books, but after speaking with them for ten minutes, it’s clear they’re never going to get it. I recall helping someone with their synopsis once and when I asked her to explain what her story was about, it was an absolute mess. When I suggested her story needed some kind of conflict she just stared at me like I was an idiot. 

It's a dirty secret, but some people will never be writers. It’s not their fault, and I feel bad for them. My only question is: Am I one of those people? 


Oh, by the way, I'm one of the IWSG co-hosts this month. Don't forget to stop by the other co-hosts too.   Olga Godim Renee Scattergood Tamara Narayani 

ChemistKen






61 comments:

  1. Oh, I know this insecurity well :-) You're definitely a writer though. Just look at this blog post - you've conveyed an idea well and made me want to read more.

    Thanks for co-hosting this month :-)

    Cheers - Ellen | http://thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com/

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  2. You mean not everyone can cook? (Name that movie!)
    We hate to break it to them, but it might not happen.
    You understand though. Don't give up.

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  3. Thanks for voicing this. To one who is both critical and self-critical, it's my personal hell. But as The Cynical Sailor says above, there's no doubting you're a writer after reading your post.

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  4. I'm thinking writing and chemistry use different parts of the brain. I admire your ease with chemistry. I only took one class in high school and it was a struggle--thankfully I didn't need to take it in college. But I also don't believe it's an all or nothing thing where some people will never get it. I think we can all improve with hard work, though maybe not to the point of great writing.

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  5. I think the basic abilities needed to write or craft a great story are skills only some are born with. Some of us can tell a great story and others can't. No matter how much I practice or study, I know I will never go above basic mathematics. I just don't get it. Those astrophysics courses I dreamed of doing one day won't happen. That's okay. I've accepted it. However, I do think if you have the basic skills needed for something, you can become great at it with repeated practice. It's clear you can write, just from reading your blog post. Please don't doubt it!

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  6. I ask myself that question constantly. I like to think that I'll get it once I get over my fears of rejection, but who knows? I'll still keep trying. Thanks for co-hosting this month, Ken. You rock. Eva

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  7. Keep working at it. It's the love of reading and word-crafting that usually makes or breaks writers...and I know you love both.

    Years later, if you feel you're striking out, maybe it's your genre. Or maybe you'll be great at creative non-fiction, etc. May take some playing around with.

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  8. I know that feeling. I get it sometimes too. Yet if you enjoy writing, keep pushing ahead with it. Thanks for co-hosting this month. :)

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  9. I think we all go through that insecurity, especially when it seems like everyone around me is publishing left and right and I can't seem to finish a simply short story or edit one novel. Still, I can't NOT write.

    I agree with Elizabeth: if it's still a challenge, try switching up genre or style. I tried so hard to write straight fantasy and it was flat until I turned to horror. Don't as me why but that breathed a lot of life into my words (there's probably a metaphor there somewhere...)

    Thanks for co-hosting!

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  10. You are a writer for sure. You've struggled, questioned, and have all the doubts a true writer has. Some folks don't even know enough to have those doubts. You'll do this and you'll be amazing, and amazed!!!!

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  11. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Sometimes, it's important to explore this possibility.

    I've run a writer's group for the last five years. I've seen many accomplished writers and want-to-be writers. I've learned writers need to listen to comments, work with good editors, and study.

    I have a lot to learn, in the meantime, I keep studying and do my best to write entertaining stories. Thank you for hosting this April IWSG Blog-Hop.

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  12. I believe there are people in every field who are natural-born to do what they do - certain teachers or nurses come to mind. Those who get up every day knowing they're doing what they were meant to do with their life. There are some tremendously gifted writers who fall in this category. But, I also think people can learn a craft, refine it with study & practice, and ultimately deliver a great finished product if they're willing to put in the time and work.

    If writing makes you happy, Write On, Ken! I enjoyed your post. Thanks for co-hosting this month!

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  13. That's a tough question. It might depend on how you decide to measure your success. Do you like your writing? Have you submitted you writing to a contest or agent or posted it somewhere for critique. Some of these avenues might give you a clue, but then that awful work "subjective" comes up and muddies the water again.

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  14. This is an insecurity that is probably familiar to many of us - I know I have these doubts! You're a writer, Ken don't give into the doubts!
    Thanks for being an awesome co-host this month too.

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  15. The answer is you're a writer. You get what writing is all about. That's how you're able to see what's missing in the others. It's not a mirror; it's wisdom. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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  16. Graduate writing workshops. OMG, sometimes I wanted the instructors to finally tell some of my classmates they simply weren't writers. And then I worried that, if the instructors won't tell other students, would s/he tell me the truth if I were no good? Agony.

    There is a persistent myth that anyone is capable of anything they put their mind to. That if you try hard enough, you will succeed. This simply isn't true. We can get better at things, but some of us just don't have what it takes in some corners of life.

    A writer is someone--anyone--who writes. Whether they do it well... That's a sliding scale and a matter of opinion. We can "grade" people on grammar and spelling, and on how clearly they get their ideas across perhaps, but everything after that is subjective. Still, as in everything, some writers have a knack. Others may never quite get there. But so long as they're satisfied with their work, and they've defined success for themselves in a way that makes them happy, I guess that's on them.

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  17. I think we all ask ourselves that, Ken. Is what I write good? Will I get better if I keep trying, or am I stuck where I am because I just don't have the talent? I hope you're using your knowledge of chemistry in your stories. I'm always fascinated by stories that incorporate science. Great post and great co-hosting today.

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  18. Some people are just mildly interested in writing and thing they are really good. But there is both skill and a bit of natural talent inclination to doing it well.

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  19. Based upon this thorough, cogent analysis of the craft, there is no doubt you "get it." We all doubt our talent along the way. Ironically, one can find several examples of writers who don't get it, but still got published. Thanks for co-hosting today.

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  20. Thanks for co-hosting this month. You make a valid point, but in making that point, I think you eliminate yourself from the equation. You totally get it. You are a good writer. Not everything you write will work for everyone, but no writer can produce something like that. I often ask myself these same questions; as long as I'm still asking, I know there is always room to grow. I've found that I need lots of work in some areas and very little in others. Regardless, I keep writing.

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  21. I've always known you to be thoughtful about storytelling. I have no doubt that you get it and that you're more than capable of being successful at it.

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  22. There are some people who I would swear couldn't be writers but they're published and prosperous so how do you know? That line isn't red and is always moving.

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  23. I'm not the only one who thinks this? And then worries that it totally applies to me? That's oddly comforting. Thanks for co-hosting this month, and for getting this conversation going.

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  24. Thanks for co-hosting. I worry sometimes that I am one of those always aspiring writers, not because I don't get it but because I have not done it yet. Finished something.

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  25. I think one of the telling traits of a "real" writer is worrying that you're not a real writer/good enough, so I think you're okay. ;)

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  26. I always just got chemistry too. Math and science were always my best and favorite subjects except I loved reading anything. I've always been worried because so many writers are not the math/science kind of thinkers. I believe in you.

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  27. LOL! I think we all feel that way to a degree. It's a question of time, success, feedback, and growth that eventually leads to thinking otherwise. Do you know how many years it took of home schooling full time before I admitted I was a teacher? Too many. (Like 7.) Fake it until you make it. Let the readers be the judges, eh?

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  28. I dropped out of chemistry. I think if I went back, I could do it, but you're right, not everyone is going to excel. I took it in French, so that was part of the problem. Great post! Thanks for co-hosting!

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  29. You are so right! I feel that not everyone is cut out to be a writer. I just, like you, hope I am not one of them, but only time will tell... By the way, Stephen King says that in his book about writing, and I didn't like reading that, but think it's true. Thanks so much for co-hosting!!

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  30. Thanks for co-hosting. And I know that feeling well. I really doubt that I have the passion or ability to be a published writers many days.

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  31. I never had chemistry, but I took Algebra 101. There were people in there taking the class for the 4th or 5th time. Sometimes it just doesn't click.

    You understand what goes in to writing, so I'd say you are on the right track to be a writer. If you want it and are willing to put in the work, you got this!

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  32. Oh! And thanks for hosting, Ken!

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  33. I never liked chemistry. I only took it in high school and got my single C - my lowest mark at school. But I'm a writer. I have this knack for making up stories. In other words: I hear voices; my characters arguing, or joking, or crying, even when I don't know who they are or when or where.
    Even before I started writing or thought of being a writer, when I still worked with computers and considered writers a different breed altogether, I made up my own stories, and my characters always had to have some obstacles in front of them. I knew intuitively, before I took any writing classes, that without those obstacles, my stories would be dead. I didn't write anything for the first 40+ years of my life, but now that I do, I don't have any doubts. I'm a writer.
    This little spark inside us, the ability to make up characters who are alive, and to present them with difficulties, is what makes us writers. Anyone can learn skills. But not everyone can be a writer.
    I don't think you should worry on this account, Ken. You're a writer.

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  34. You've cheered me up – there are aspects of writing which I once had no idea about, but now do without thinking.

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  35. You're probably not one of them as this post was easy to read and enjoy, so I wouldn't worry. Plus, I know those people you're talking about and it's easy to tell right away (which is terrible to say, but we all have our strengths and weaknesses.)

    So, I was an awesome student. In advanced classes and Gifted classes and spent most of my life as a student believing I was one of the smarter ones. Then I took chemistry. It was the only class I actually CRIED in because it just didn't click. I didn't get it. At all. I remember thinking how stupid I was for not understanding the concepts, but my mind didn't work that way, and that's okay. It took a long time for me to come to terms with that. (I had to share this since you said you understood chemistry because it is my KRYPTONITE)

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  36. Great post, Ken! There’s a bell curve. Where we fall depends on factors like natural ability, study, and practice. Some people will never master storytelling, or they don’t want to try. Most of us will move around the middle points through study and practice. The middle ground is not a bad place to be. When you read along the timeline for a writer like Stephen King, the improvement is obvious. Study and practice.

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  37. Based on how well you wrote this post, the answer is easy. Yes, you are a writer. But pertaining to your comment about the woman who didn't understand what you meant by conflict? That just may be it! She didn't understand what you meant in the way the word is used in the writing world. When I first started trying to write fiction, I didn't understand the term either. (To me, conflict meant a fight!) I had to study writing in order to grasp the terminology. (It took a teacher saying to me" "What's the worst possible thing that could happen to your character before I got it).

    I think most people who want to can learn to do something reasonably well, whether it's chemistry or writing, but it takes a certain passion to excel.

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  38. You know, I think it is sometimes the know-it-alls that think writing should be done this or that way that make life miserable. I wonder what Faulkner would have said or Henry James or Mary Shelley. I believe I read somewhere that someone told Henry James, he'd never be a writer! It is a good thing that his sister encouraged him to keep writing. I have to be admit I don't know what makes a writer great. I don't even know if one person's talent to write is passable or not passable. What I do know is that if a person feels call to write and doesn't do it, he or she will be miserable.
    Your post made me think. Thank you for posting it and thank you for being a co-host.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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  39. Your blog is so neat, Ken! Thanks for co-hosting the IWSG question this month. You know, I worry that I'm one of those who struggle to write creatively. As for chemistry, I survived it in college, but I know I'll never be a chemist. More power to you, sir!
    http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com

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  40. I totally get it ... and often have the same worries. But we’ll keep working at it!

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  41. Thanks for co-hosting, Ken. Like so many of my fellow commentators, I agree you are a writer. This post is concise and clearly conveys your point. Unfortunately, insecurity thrives regardless of talent, ability, or effort.

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  42. What you describe here probably sounds familiar to a lot of writers (who do get it, or think they do). You know about synopsis and conflict, so I"m sure you're not one of "them".

    As for myself, I know (or have been told) I write well, but, to be honest, I do have a hard time describing in one sentence what my WIP (a memoir) is about... Hmmm... Maybe, I"m one of "them"!?

    Thanks for co-hosting!

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  43. Sometimes your doubts are your own worst enemy. I think you're a writer; keep at it!

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  44. A thought-provoking post, Ken. Thank you for voicing an uncomfortable truth. I, for one, think that you are a writer, and I encourage you to keep at it as long as it brings you fulfillment. I always enjoy your blog posts, and your posts make you a writer, even as you explore other genres. I have writing talent, I know I do, but I struggle with feelings of inadequacy all the time. I often have to beat back the "What makes me think I can do this ~ I'm not good enough" bogeyman. I think most writers struggle with these thoughts. Hang in there and don't give up!

    I wish I had a knack for Chemistry. Chemistry underlies our physical universe, and I can see the intellectual beauty in it, but I just can't get the mathematical part. I had a horrible time with Chemistry in university ~ not going there. Even worse time with Math ~ not going there either.

    And what am I reading right now? A basic book on the history and uses of chemistry with an emphasis on the periodic table. I get, for example, that a molecule of glucose undergoing fermentation yields 2 ethanol molecules and 2 carbon dioxide molecules, and I can even balance the formulas, slowly; but when I start thinking about the relative molecular masses of the molecules and how much ethanol a kilogram of glucose would yield, my eyes start spinning and my head hurts. And that's the simple stuff! I can't wait for the chapter on Avogadro and the mole. I used to have nightmares about that damn mole! LOL

    But I see Chemistry's beauty and practicality, and I won't give up making another stab at the understanding the subject which is fascinating. I'm never going to be a chemist, and I'll likely always suck at it, but the process of trying to get it gives me a sense of fulfillment. As long as you are deriving fulfillment from writing, don't give up, even if you have to work hard at it! Thanks for co-hosting, btw. Sorry this is a long comment!

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  45. Thank you for co hosting. You had me reading the entire blog post even though its a to z month and I'm strapped for time, so I'd say you definitely have it. You are a writer.

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  46. I guess you need a very honest person to read something you've written to tell you if you have potential. That's all I can say. But, I deal with similar insecurity of feeling like I'll never finish and publish anything I write. I can't even worry about whether I'm any good at the skills of story telling and writing if I am chronically unable to even finish anything I start.

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  47. I think the worst mistake any writer can make is to compare themselves to other writers. I'm not brilliant with making the words sound poetic, but I can still make the characters come alive. Everyone has something their good at, and the rest is either a learned skill or their own voice shining through. That's the most important thing about being a writer though...finding your own voice. Good luck and keep writing! :-D

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  48. Always learning the craft and reading great writing books will hopefully help us all to aspire to literary greatness!

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  49. Write your heart out! I think you do it quite well. If everyone wrote the same way, someone would be cheating ;-) Don't look around. Just tell your story, your way.

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  50. I think that's a question we all ask ourselves at one point or another. I always remember some wise words from a Whoppi Goldberg movie (her words hit a different profession but same idea and went something like this)- If you wake up in the morning, and you can't think of anything but 'writing', then you should be a 'writer'. Lol! But of course, we think of other things too ;)

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  51. When Woody Allen was asked, "What made you such a great director/writer?"
    He answered, "I showed up."
    I think that's half the battle for all of us. We just need to show up and do the work. I try not to over think it, but it's hard. Thank you for co-hosting!

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  52. Ken, you are a writer for three reasons: 1- you show up and write. 2 - you work at your craft and you care about it. 3 - you don't give up.
    BTW - if you can help someone with a synopsis, you definitely get it. Think of Tolkien. He took a long time to write LOTR and it's beloved.
    Thank you for co-hosting!

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    1. BTW - I think science is really cool. I scared my college Chemistry teacher and my lab partner. I could memorize terms and do well on written tests, but labs ... oh, I can burn any elements.

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  53. From your writing on your blog, I'd say you're not one of those people.

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  54. A question we all ask ourselves. I'd say it's up to the readers to determine that.

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  55. So many people talk about writing a book, read how to write a book, but never sit down at the desk or table and actually write any words. It just takes time and determination. Oh yes, and good and patient writers like you who can offer great advice. Thanks for co-hosting!!
    JQ Rose

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  56. Ken, just by reading your post, I would call you a writer! You write well and get your point across. Yes, you definitely are a writer!

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    1. I forgot to say, thank you for co-hosting this month!!!

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  57. If you can see this in other people and can tell one type of writer from another, you are definitely a passable writer.

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  58. I do think most people can learn the basics of writing, but to become a storyteller takes something more. Not everyone can do it. And some of us won't know if we're one of those types who can't write until our work gathers an audience.

    Thank you for co-hosting!

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  59. Thanks for co-hosting this month. I’m one of those people who’d never got Chemistry. Did much better in English and History. But the fact that you can understand why certain people just don’t get it means you also understand what’s needed to be a writer. From their, despite the insecurities you’ll face, you can improve yourself from passable to average to good to great.

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