Creative Writing Tips - Fear of Starting

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Recently, I saw a post on Facebook by a beginning writer. He had just finished his first short story, and he was excited!

But the very next day, he posted on Facebook again in despair. After comparing his story to other writers' work, he felt that his wasn't any good. He had therefore concluded that he didn't have what it takes to be a writer.

This is a common reaction in beginning writers, but it doesn't make any sense. Imagine the following scenario:

Someone picks up a violin for the first time, but the sounds that come out aren't as beautiful as performances he hears on the radio. He therefore concludes that he doesn't have what it takes to be a musician.

Or imagine someone attempting to dance for the first time. She tries some twirls and leaps like the ones she's seen professional ballerinas perform, but she can't pull it off. She concludes that she has no talent as a dancer.

It takes time and practice to become good at anything. People generally understand that when it comes to music or sports or nuclear physics. But for some reason, people sometimes seem to forget it when it comes to writing.

They expect great writing to pour out on the page the first time they try. But that's just not how it works. Writing becomes great with revision. And writers become great over time with practice.

The psychologist Anders Ericsson wrote an interesting book about the "science of expertise". He studied peak performers in various fields, including music and dance. What distinguished the top performers from the mediocre ones? What was the biggest predictor of success?

Talent turned out to be much less important than most people believe. But there was one clear difference between the top performers and the others. The best musicians and dancers consistently spent more hours practicing than their colleagues.

That was it. That was the only consistent difference that he found.

Beginning writers often ask me if I think that they "have what it takes" to write. Talent is what they have in mind, but talent isn't the most important factor.

The most talented writer in the world won't produce anything of value unless he reads and writes and develops his skills.

So what does it really mean to "have what it takes" to write? It means having the persistence to keep trying.

If you're not satisfied with what you've written, then you can rewrite it -- or you can write something new that you like better. If you're not satisfied with your ability as a writer, then you have to keep writing, and reading. That's the only way to get better.

The more you read and write, the better you'll get.

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