When I teach writing classes at the university or workshops for the general public, I always get the same question from students: Am I a good enough writer to, well, be a writer?
I honestly never know how to answer this question. Sometimes I answer the question with a question – “What do you think?” – followed by a long pause as they wait, breathless, for a real answer. Some writing students start out with, quite honestly, little talent for storytelling. But often these students become the best writers. Why? Perseverance. Stick-tuitiv-ness. They read, read, read, take time to hone their craft and never lose the desire to learn. In contrast, the person a class might deem the “best” writer of the group might never write another word in his or her life. Does that still make them the “best” writer? How can you measure talent or aptitude without a regular practice?
“I believe that if it were left to artists to choose their own labels, most would choose none.”
― Ben Shahn
Whether aspiring writers become “real” writers, successful writers, whatever that means, is perhaps less important than just showing up. Showing up means scheduling a regular practice of writing, as Anne Lamont says, “-whether there are dirty dishes in the sink or a dead body.” A regular practice brings not only knowledge and understanding of craft, but also confidence, which for many writers, is much more difficult to gather than skill. You can’t be if you don’t do, and doing will help build confidence in your skills and abilities.
Avoid buying into the desire to measure your progress or talent against another. You are unique, with unique talents as well as challenges. I know successful writers who don’t need to work for a living and others who work full-time while raising three kids. Each is a unique situation which may or may not affect the amount of time and energy one has to write. For many of us, we look to others for the scale of how to measure ourselves when the only scale we should use is our own.
“The battle you are going through is not fueled by the words or actions of others; it is fueled by the mind that gives it importance.”
― Shannon L. Alder
Are you good enough? I can’t answer that. No instructor can. Or I could have answered, “Yes! You are good enough!” Avoid putting so much weight in my or other’s opinion that you let it affect your actions. I do know if you write with attachment to the outcome – that you’ll be published or famous or the best writer in your class or the world – you’ll miss out on the joy in the act of writing itself. If you truly love writing, that’s a joy I’d hate for you to miss out on.