Anyone can run, but not everyone’s a runner. Similarly anyone can write, but not everyone’s a writer. What is it, though, that makes someone a writer instead of just someone who can write? Like a runner, a writer will train themselves. They learn discipline and discover techniques, they invest in equipment and training courses to improve their performance. They put themselves on a good (literary) diet, and, most of all, they practice.
A good runner is sometimes built to run: they have the musculature and bone structure to give them an edge over their competitors. Similarly, writing talent can be inherent – not everyone is born to write. This makes writing easy for those thus endowed, even if they’re not particularly drawn towards writing. But as we see in competitive sports, it’s not all about natural talent. Talented people are rare. What makes the average person a good writer, in the same way it makes someone a good runner, is a love for what they do. That and lots of determination. They have to work harder at it, they have to apply more discipline and invest more time. For that reason, they may become better at it than someone for whom writing is a doddle. If a person has no need to strive, they never discover their faults and thus, never correct them.
The process of becoming a good writer, for those like me who aren’t naturally talented, is a painful one. More than that, it’s paradoxical. A writer can start out believing they’re the best damn author the planet has ever seen, and at the end of their journey wonder if they’ll be able to write anything of any worth, ever. That’s improvement? From conceit to humility in six easy steps.
No. Not easy. Not by a long chalk. And where did the six come from? Try six hundred.
The first of those steps, however many there actually are, is perhaps the most painful one. It’s the one that, if you’re going to fail as an author, will get you every time. It’s the one that makes you mad, puts your back up and gets you defensive, all at the same time. It’s the one you least want to know about, yet the only one which will push you forward.
What? My work’s not perfect? After I spent x number of hours slaving over my word processor to get it just right? Impossible! What do these idiots know, anyway? They’re just picking on me. They’re jealous because they can’t write like this. If they just read another chapter, they’d get where I’m coming from. What makes them so great? I’d like to see them do better.
That was my reaction to my first piece of criticism. Looking back, I think that particular critique was a little on the kind side. I just wasn’t used to it. Hearing that my work wasn’t perfect was a deeply uncomfortable experience. I felt humiliated, ill-used. It felt like a personal attack.
But that critique, and subsequent ones, eventually made me realise there were improvements I could make in my technique. Ones I hadn’t spotted or wasn’t tuned into. I soon learned. Having corrected those problems didn’t make things any better. My critters soon found other things I could improve on. And others. And still others.
Receiving criticism is the first step on a long journey, and it hurts. It hurts a lot. But so does that first run. Your lungs burn, your legs scream, your heart feels like its bursting and you wish you hadn’t started. But next time you put on those running shoes, it’s somehow less painful. Over time it becomes easier, your technique improves, the pain subsides and you discover your power. As you run, as you write, you become a honed, sleek, badass machine.
So, set yourself a finish line, aim for it and run.