Can Anyone be a Writer?

Nat RussoBasics, Process, Writing 58 Comments

[Updated March 19, 2015]

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I have a schedule of writing “tips” that I tweet semi-regularly. They often spark thoughtful conversations on the craft, which is one of the reasons I started them to begin with. But there is one tweet in particular that I receive no end of grief for publishing:

Writing is a learned craft, not a mystical gift from the universe. You can learn. Practice. Read. Write. Read some more. Write! #writetip

That sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? Read on to feel my pain…

And God Created…Writers?

You’d be surprised how many people believe writers are born. These are the same people that believe you’re either given the talent by God or by god you don’t have it. Period. If you’re a talentless hack now, you’ll always be a talentless hack, so don’t even bother trying, they say.

They’ve subscribed to the commonly held belief that James Scott Bell, in Plot & Structure, refers to as the Big Lie. They believe that writing is something that can’t be learned. They believe the ability to write is some cosmic accident or blessing and you’ve either been initiated by the universe or you haven’t.

They couldn’t be more wrong. Not even if they fell out of the Wrong tree and hit every branch on the way down (sorry…couldn’t resist).

Are there people who are born with natural talent? Of course. But there is a difference between having some talent and being a prodigy. You don’t have to be a prodigy to be a writer.

So what do you need to be a successful writer?

First and foremost you need passion. Writing is a labor of love. Writers of novel-length work spend months, sometimes years, with their work-in-progress. If you’re not passionate about your writing, you’ll never succeed. There are a lot of obstacles. There is a lot of rejection. But cheer up! Passion is the easy part! If you weren’t passionate already you probably wouldn’t be concerned about what it takes to be a writer in the first place. But let’s be clear: passion comes from within. No one can give you passion. There are no magic formulas.

You don’t have to open a vein and bleed all over a page to prove you have passion. But I’ll tell you this much about writers: when we’re not writing we’re thinking about writing. We’re using our environment as a tool to perfect our craft; describing our surroundings in the voices of our characters, using the “Idea Net” I talk about in my article How Do You Come Up With Story Ideas, making critical observations and finding the story hidden within, taking cliches and turning them upside down, eavesdropping on conversations to hear how real people talk to one another, and on and on.

In short, you know if you’re passionate about writing or just curious. The curious open a word processor, hit an obstacle and say “guess I’m not a writer.” The passionate open a word processor, hit an obstacle and say “I’m a writer, dammit! I can solve this!”

An Inquisitive Mind
You have to ask a lot of questions. And you have to be the type of person who isn’t satisfied with the first answer you come up with. In each of our minds is a box of cliches. Every time we come up with an idea, we reach up into that box, pull something out, and put it on the page. It’s our instinct. It’s a pretty big box, and it’s in the way of the good idea box. And the edges feel the same, so, you know, it’s easily mistaken for the good box when we’re groping around in the dark.

If you’re not constantly asking questions, the cliches will go unnoticed and your work will suffer. What sort of questions? Take a look at that link above, about how I come up with story ideas. I go through a step-by-step process, starting with a simple observation, working through the cliches, and finding the story hidden beneath the surface matter.

You’re not going sit down at the keyboard and produce mind-blowing material. Not at first. Your first steps are going to be slow and labored. You’re going to be uncertain. You’re going to doubt yourself. You’re going to be afraid to refer to yourself as a writer when talking to other people. You’re going to read what you’ve produced and think it’s garbage (or at the very least, not as good as you’d like it to be).

Learning the craft of writing is a time-consuming task. The way you improve your writing is to write…and read…and write some more. Every time you read something new you’ll begin reading it with the eye of a writer. You’ll come across something surprising or exciting, or scary and suspenseful, and you’ll wonder how the writer pulled it off. You’ll find yourself learning through mimicking.

These are the steps all of us go through, and each of us tackle them in an order unique to our own learning style. And just when you think you’re on the right track, you’ll read something that has you questioning yourself again.

You’re going to face obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. If you’re not tenacious you’re not going to last.

When I was writing Necromancer Awakening, I sent my favorite author (and internet friend) Raymond E. Feist an early draft I thought was ready to be queried. After he read it, he told me I had a lot of work to do before it would be ready for publishing. I was crushed. That manuscript represented my absolute best effort at the time, and a pro was telling me it wasn’t good enough. If I wasn’t a tenacious person, I would have given up. Instead, I took his advice to heart. I scrapped any thought of querying the manuscript right away and spent the next two grueling years learning and improving my craft. Now, after more than 2000 books sold in its first month, and being listed on more than 4 Amazon bestseller lists, I’m thankful I have a tenacious nature. The hard work and tenacity paid off.

Skin of Stone
Writing is about putting yourself out there. You’re creating something, offering it to the world, and inviting commentary. That’s scary. You know what happens when you ask for honest opinions? You get them. And guess what…many people are going to think you should stop wasting your time. They’re going to compare you to their favorite writers. Each of your friends, who up to this point have never held a pen in their hands, will suddenly fancy themselves a literary critic. They’ll know exactly what you’re doing wrong…and they’ll tell you.

This is all part of the process. Look, when someone tells you they didn’t like your book, how can they be wrong? You can’t “argue” them into liking your work. The bottom line is you failed to deliver an experience that they would find enjoyable. End of story.

If you’re the type of person who is prone to feeling sorry for yourself, or gets easily offended, this is the point at which you’re going to be tempted to get off of the roller coaster ride. If you haven’t developed a thick skin you won’t progress to the next level. What is that level?

It’s asking yourself if you can learn from the criticism you’re receiving. If you’re sharing your work with friends and colleagues, ask them why they didn’t like it. Ask them for specific details. If they can’t provide any, then fine, chalk it up to stylistic differences. But if they come at you with a laundry list of issues, you’d do well to hear them out. They’re telling you what would make your work stronger in their opinion…before an agent or publisher has a chance to reject it.

Does this mean you have to make all the changes your critics request? Of course not. But it would be pure foolishness to not grant them a proper hearing. Weigh the criticism. You’re going to find much of it is spot on. But you won’t get that far if you dismiss it out of hand.

And you certainly won’t get that far if you just throw in the towel.

 [Update: March 19, 2015] It occurs to me I failed to mention one key thing: Readers are nearly always right when they tell you something is wrong. But they’re nearly always wrong about how to fix it! The reader is a driver bringing his/her car to an auto mechanic and saying “There’s a clicking noise up front! I bet it’s the fuel pump!” They’re right about the clicking noise. After all, they heard it. But they probably don’t know a fuel pump from a fist pump.

Remember, writing is a learned craft. A master carpenter didn’t pick up a set of tools and build a house the first time out of the gate. That carpenter had a lot of learning to do. They probably served as an apprentice for many years before being trusted to tackle the tougher jobs.

Writing is no different. Everyone learns at different speeds, but learning is a must unless you’re some sort of prodigy.

Prodigies are rare and unique. The rest of us get there through determination, hard work, countless hours in front of a keyboard, and personal sacrifice. No mystical gift required.

Now, if the universe decides to hand you some talent, then don’t look a gift horse in the mouth! Until then, keep typing.

I’d love to hear your story about how you became a writer. Please share it with us in the comments below!

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 58

  1. Nat Russo, good advice any writer, at any stage of their writer-hood. Writing, like any profession, takes work–blood, sweat and tears. This will come as a revelation to some and serve as a reminder to others. Still others, will toss the keyboard and run! The exciting news, as you say, anybody can learn to write. Thanks!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it +A Long I think of all the elements, passion is probably the one I’d rank the highest. Passion drives all of the others, and without it none of the others will count for much. Once I discovered my inner passion for writing, everything else snapped into place.

  2. I would say that not all can write. People naturally have tendency towards somethings they are good at. Some are good at maths while some others just hate it. Interest matters here. The challenge to become good at what we do is the constant hard-work and passion that drive us to be better than yesterday.

    I have always had this passion or the will to write but I never knew it is something I can be good at. Only now I made the effort to actually start writing, and guess I’m really really loving the outcome!!

    Talent and interest are something to be discovered and to be polished with hard work! Only then you can become a good writer!

    1. Talent is very important. Having a natural ability in anything should inform our goals. But without passion (strong interest that drives us forward), any latent talent one has will amount to nothing, because the sweat and tears it takes to be successful will seem like too much effort.

      Like you, Jasveena, I only recently discovered my passion for writing (a few years ago). Until then I made several attempts, but the passion was lacking, and when it came time to do the really hard work, I didn’t have the desire to put in the effort.

      But that’s ok. Now I’m older and wiser and have a lot more to say 🙂

  3. Writing is a muscle. You can expect to walk into the gym and start throwing around weights like a Tank. No pain, no gain I guess and sitting at a keyboard in front of a blank page can be very painful at times. But once we get through the sweat and tears the page is full.

  4. The same is true for the visual arts. I get so tired of people putting themselves down when I show them my art saying, “oh I couldn’t draw to save my life.” I usually ask if they ever tried much or perhaps there is a another medium that would suit them better like clay or paint. Every single person is born with that creative spark, even the left brain folks! All it takes is a willingness to try and learn and practice, and then practice some more no matter what the discipline.

    1. That is such an insight regarding the visual arts. I’ve often told myself, over and over, I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. You’ve inspired me. I just may start down the path of learning as much as I can. Have to start somewhere!

    2. Yes! I so agree with you. I hate it when people tell me they can’t draw. If you can write then you have the fine motor skills to draw, it just takes practice. What they’re really saying is they don’t like to draw.

  5. One need only look to children for proof that writing can be part of us all. Who as a child hasn’t told a “tall tale” or written a creative essay about purple monsters and knights or princesses? We may lose sight of our inner writer child as we grow older, but it never leaves us entirely.

    1. Absolutely. I’m always amazed out how creative my son’s short stories are. All we have to do is tap into that inner creativity that we all have and let it flow onto the page!

  6. I can relate to the part where a passionate writer is always thinking about writing. I am forever on the lookout for particular scenery, situations, things people say, and noting things that catch my interest for later induction to a scene.

    Your interest in how some of us got into writing…it’s always been an itch for me, since I was little, but never put the time or effort to make anything of it until a year ago. A stroke retired me early in life, and after moping about feeling sorry for myself, my wife kicked me in the butt. ” Do something with all of the time you now have on your hands ! ”

    So, I gathered year’s of odd-starts and notes and put my first manuscript together. With my wife’s help, we shopped it around and low and behold, I now have my first ever publishing contract…for an 8 part YA series !

    From a dramatic, life-changing event came something good, and I have found the sense of self-worth that the stroke had taken from me. Interacting with writers like yourselves has been a joy, and I thank you all.

    1. Mark, thank you so much for sharing your story. What an inspiration! And congratulations on the contract!

      I, too, owe a lot to the writer community on both Twitter and Facebook. What a warm and welcoming bunch of people! They help keep me motivated to do my best every time my fingers touch the keyboard.

    2. I can’t agree more about the strong support from the writer community online. I had just been convinced to write a book about my dog’s life by an author I was beta reading for when I learned that little landing on my head thing was not going away. Worse, it’s affecting my vision such that The amount of time I can spend looking at what is close enough to read is very short followed by a long break during which I forget the two sentences I read. And I have a hopefully soon to be diagnosed auditory processing disorder… Meaning things really do go in one ear and out the other. So I can’t compensate for the incoherent crap I can dictate or type without looking by using my ears instead. And it just gets more complicated from there. The worst part is I started writing to untangle my head so it gets worse the longer I can’t write creatively I think.

      Yet… Even though my book is on hold until I can do it and not have my very kind editor disown me with the estimated date of trying again at “someday,” I’m in a hospital room for video EEG monitoring and a sleep study, on a 30′ leash attached to my head and my in-laws are keeping me company. I think “well this will help with the whole first-dog perspective thing” and try not using my hands to untangle myself.

      My dog, used to a house, immediately claimed a closet in both apartments we lived in. We worked around his space… He didn’t like having his picture taken and somehow knew when they put a camera in the iPad. The new one, camera never used, got pointed at him and he went to his closet. This was repeatable! Act like you’re taking his picture with the old one and no response. Point the still unused camera on the new one toward him, he left every time.

      At the time, I’d established and maintained a boundary with my in-laws after getting tired of them getting upset when their bombardment of unsolicited medical advice was met with “tried it, didn’t work,” “thanks; this part is a problem, can you solve it?” “actually, that is for something I don’t have and it’s similar but won’t work for me,” or simply “thanks” when they knew that meant “if you’ve heard of it, 99.9% chance I knew about it years ago and I’m trying to politely blow you off…” The boundary was “I’m grateful for your help so to maintain the good relationship we had before we bought a house close enough to unexpectedly feel like I was the wife in ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ please don’t play doctor and keep the help in the supportive realm like letting me stay with you when I’m severely allergic to something in the air as a result of our fire escape window in the bedroom being replaced and then it was the wrong one or driving me places, physical labor, etc.” OK I didn’t include the part about the TV show but it wasn’t needed. There was one exception – dad is really good at noticing suspected absence seizures so I asked him to push the red button that day because I don’t know they’re happening 99.9999999% of the time. And I didn’t kick them out when my neurologist came to see me, hoping his answers to my questions might help them understand things a little more since nothing they didn’t already know was going to come up. They knew the reason he left the EEG hooked up the whole time was related to me landing on my head over a year before and a favor to the people treating me for that, and the subject did come up. I was assaulted by a stranger in November and had to put my dog out of his misery and say goodbye in December. Those two months had a lot of bad events. This guy was a sleep specialist in my case. Mom read this as “free-for-all” and I love her to death but some of the dumbest things I’ve heard have come out of her mouth… This one took the cake though: “Would hypnosis to erase these memories she’s stuck on help her?” Aside from the boundary issue, enough on its own to piss me off even tho the lines were a little blurred right then and there, that question is wrong on SO many levels like the difference between stuck and unresolved, I prefer knowing why I’m not the same, wrong specialty, I could go on but basically WTF. I watched that doctor use some superpower and politely shut that down for good with one sentence and then RUN lol.

      Normally I’d leave with a self-handcuff move grabbing each wrist with the other hand and tightening my grip with every thought of flying across the room and punching her. I’m not a violent person and not going to let the combo of emotional dysregulation and poor impulse control that came with this injury (on top of the same from ADHD too) change that. And I became acutely aware that everyone else could come and go but my head was attached to the wall, and thought well this must be what all those pictures while on a leash were like and yeah I’d photobomb stuff too as revenge. I retreated to my closet (the bathroom) to calm down.

      This book wasn’t my idea. I don’t know how to write a book! I said no until I could SEE a certain author jumping up and down through her tweets (don’t think it was her idea either). Then when the book was on hold, I found myself amazed at how hard it is to untangle yourself without hands. If I couldn’t read and write, I could keep researching whenever I had an opportunity. Now, I’m a little less limited and can write poetry – I can edit a single verse and poetry that makes no sense is artistic – but I can’t write a short email that makes sense and dictatation and listening is hitting another roadblock that may eventually get that auditory processing issue diagnosed at least.

      So where am I? Still writing short poems on my blog with a goal of once a month and usually not posting for the month it actually is… Just to keep writing SOMETHING. Finding out my writing, and technical writing is something I was very good at before, has suffered even more than my speaking. And not just keeping the book in the back of my mind, looking for anything I can use, but more determined than ever to write it. I’m going to have to work up to adding to the story in my blog. But if I end up learning Braille to do so, I’ll do it. Writing isn’t my only passion, and the same injury that took it away allowed me to feel passion, but not doing it is driving me nuts. Not having the skills to write a short chapter in my story is killing me and given the roots of that story, likely making the problem worse. I’m walking around telling people, especially those who say I have to set a date or it won’t happen (sorry I can’t control my recovery beyond doing my best and no date CAN be set because I can’t know what will work when) that I’m going to write that damn book or die trying and it WILL get done. If my vision isn’t going to come back enough, I’ll find something that DOES work instead. I owe it to my dog, those who have so kindly offered help that will still be there when the time comes, and most of all myself.

      A little passion there? And I said no at first but overwhelming support and encouragement from the writing community changed my mind. And now that I have much more standing in my way, it’s become that much more important to me. I know it’s going to take baby steps and the writing part has to wait until the baby steps that will get me there happen. I’m willing to let it wait as long as it takes. But it will happen or like I said, I will die trying. But I’m pretty sure it will happen.

      And I got started quite by accident. That story in my blog wasn’t intended to be what it became. I’m not sure why I put it on a blog. Maybe it’s because a cloud was something you looked at the sky to find and this let me work on it anywhere. I just started describing something in my head as an animal that doesn’t exist in nature, starting with what he looked like. I was trying to figure out this thing I didn’t understand. Our interactions needed a place so a small world developed and he started gaining personality. He had a name from day 1. Then the story, while retaining some personal relevance, kind of came alive. And I got followers. I don’t know how.

      And I’m glad I did things like take Drama to get out of any class called “English” and photo to get out of any class called “art.” Hearing you can’t or getting bad grades so often because of the subjective is bad for kids. Just because I don’t conform doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I’m forever grateful to Mr. Parker, the photo teacher who loved my “group of 3 or more” assignment, saying a frozen pond full of seagulls was creative and refreshing and everyone turns in portraits of their friends… He pushed me in the right way, encouraging my creativity. And it turns out I can draw too, given the right instruction, which I found in a book. The most important thing I learned from my photo tech degree is you learn the rules so you can constructively break them. Had I learned creative writing first, it would be forever ruined. Instead, it’s a supportive writing community helping me learn. Same with skating and Hip Hop. And those worlds keep becoming more and more intertwined.

      A line from the poem I’m writing: When they say you can’t, I won’t hear them

      That’s because “they” don’t share my passions and I have such overwhelming support from those who knew my passions before I did. I got lucky… That’s how I got started.

  7. I suppose I have always been a closet writer, that is to say not many people ever really knew, with the exception of a few friends and family it’s been kept relatively quiet.

    I have seen it more as a hobby or interest along with all my other hobbies and interests over the years and although I do have my name to a number of articles for metaphysical magazines, games magazines and across numerous websites I don’t consider myself a published author, although others will beg to differ on that point.

    Over the last ten months and having a bit more time on my hands the idea of completing a couple of large writing projects has become more of a obsession than a hobby and become a far more realistic prospect of it happening.

    So why have I started now? Well to answer that we will have to go back to Christmas 2012 and while having friends over for the holiday break I was sorting out some old files to show some of my old artwork we had been discussing and came across an old file named as ‘story drafts’ most of these go back to the eighties and has been moved from pillar to post ever since.

    I do like to reminisce every now and again so proceeded to go through the old files, the friend of mine that happens to be involved in publishing was present disappeared with one file and was found half an hour later reading an entire draft so old it was written with a typewriter complete with hand written alterations and side notes, there was probably about 20 pages he got through before he ran out and loudly exclaimed, “Where’s the rest, I can’t stop now”, there wasn’t anymore the draft came from the early eighties and never continued with it.

    I told him the rest was still in my head even after all these years and he has pestered me ever since to finish it, in the mean time after Christmas I had been asked to write a regular monthly article for a new metaphysical magazine which I now do and enjoy immensely, on top of that another writing project relating to board top war games came up and I was asked to create a set of rules and a story line for what is known as a futuristic battleground and two opposing factions, this I had to research and also got involved in the Warhammer scene, all in the name of research of course!

    This has been completed but from it a new story line emerged and now creating a complete story line worthy of creating a good book and now along with the original manuscript of Past Tense from the eighties which is now being written to the computer and reaching what I call first draft, really do have my hands full.

    I know it’s a long reply but have a habit of rambling on

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Peter! I’ve had a similar experience with unfinished stories. Friends will accidentally come across some and get to the point where I stopped and wonder where the rest is 🙂 It’s a good problem to have, I suppose.

  8. Loved the article and enjoy your tweets! I’ve worked with a lot of people who were incredibly passionate about something and had a lot to say but couldn’t string a sentence together on paper and never would have thought of themselves as writers… but in time, with coaching, hard work and determination, they started to write their own articles that needed less and less editing.You have to want to do it and then you’ll find a way.

  9. Fundamentally I agree. Writers may not necessarily be born to write. I wasn’t. I didn’t even know whether or not I could or wanted to write until a few years ago. I’m forty-six. Even now, I’m going for it with tenacity, thick skin and a relatively curious mind. But passion? I may be alone in this but I’ve had a varied ‘career’, mostly in the arts. At the moment, writing is just the thing I’ focusing on. It might only last as long as my acting, music or furniture design careers did. Also, it’s about opportunity. I’m in a good position to be concentrating on writing now.

    And I do believe one can be taught to write, just as anyone can learn to sing, paint, dance or skip stones.

    Thanks for the thoughtful posting.

    1. Post

      I’m glad you liked it, Jon!

      My take on passion is that it isn’t necessarily a constant. If you have the drive to learn a new skill, and you stick with it through the “incompetent” stage until you’re over the learning curve, I believe that took passion.

  10. As an aspiring writer at the age of 19, I have always had a doubt at the back of my mind to be able to put my imaginative ideas to paper, and transport readers into my own world… even if it’s just my dad. Your article has put my mind to rest and I now believe that you don’t need to be Isaac Asimov to be a good writer or have been to Oxford uni. I particular loved the “Passion” section of your article. Thank you for giving me the boost I need to be able to continue with my novel, it means a lot.


    1. Post

      Best of luck to you, Shawnie! (And on that note…remember that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation.)

      Keep writing. Keep perfecting your craft. One of these days you’ll have a catalog of work to show for it!

  11. Thank you Nat! It seems that up until your article all I came across were pretentious writers claiming that “a writer doesn’t want to write, he needs to write” and that their profession is only reserved for those who possess “the gift”. I think that if you have passion (just like you said), you can at least try to create. With hard work and determination you can get better. What’s important is to never give up. I thank you for the words of encouragement – they mean a lot, especially coming from a REAL author. I will follow your advice and hope I’ll follow through on my work. 🙂

    1. Post

      Thank you Sarah!

      I believe this *to my core*. You CAN be a writer if you’re willing to put in the hard work and you have a passion for it.

      Just this last Saturday I had the opportunity to see Eddie Izzard in concert here in Austin, Texas. After the show, I was privileged to be a part of a Q&A session with him. He addressed this very topic (with much the same opinion I have), and I’ll be writing an article detailing some of the things he said.

  12. “when we’re not writing we’re thinking about writing” I loved this whole article, but I think this was my favorite part! SO true. Writing is a part of us as writers. Can’t turn it off, can’t quit, even when things get tough. That’s a good thing, I think. 🙂

    1. Post

      It absolutely is a good thing!

      It’s very rare that I’m not observing situations and asking “what if?” When conversations are going on around me, I’m usually listening in and pulling apart how real dialogue sounds.

      It’s a full time job! 🙂

  13. Great article, Nat.
    I think to a certain extent you show that great writers are born not made – in that you have to be born with the characteristics of passion, inquisitiveness, tenacity and a thick skin in order to turn your ideas into great writing! If you don’t have those innate characteristics in your personality, then no amount of raw talent will make you a successful writer.
    I would add a further characteristic – the joy of creation. The joy of making something exist that didn’t exist before (i.e. not clichéd) and knowing it is good – I find that is a powerful driver that keeps me motivated and keeps me wanting to write.

    1. Post

      Absolutely, Jonathan! For me, the joy of creation is part and parcel with Passion. The desire to create something is what stokes the fire of passion for writing (for me).

    1. Post

      Thanks, Lee! Hope you enjoy the other article. I mention something in that article called the “Idea Net”, which is a technique I recommend developing. “What If” is one of the most powerful questions a writer can ask.

  14. I shied away from writing for a while because I didn’t have that god-given talent. In the end I couldn’t stop the ideas forming in my head and had to write them down. They formed the first draft of a novel and I’m currently doing research and hoping to get back to editing when kids are back at school. In the few years I have been a ‘writer’ I know that my writing has got better. It’s all about practice and I don’t think we can ever be done with that. Write, write, write and write some more. Oh and read too! 😉

    1. Post

      You hit the nail on the head, Morgan! It’s all about working at the craft and practicing. Like any other skill set, you’ll get better with more work and time.

  15. My writing story could be described as a negative arc. When I was sixteen my pride was broken when my science and math marks weren’t the best anymore. So I took to another talent, (excuse the word) writing fiction. I write better in English than Afrikaans so I poured my heart into my essays. I still had my pride and when I found out my stories were second best I felt broken. No friends and no individual pride left, I wrote a story during a social study class. My brother always told me I should write. 8 months of little writing I have 60000 words. I love my characters.

    1. Post

      That’s great news! You’re so far ahead of the average person. Very few people who get the idea in their head that they want to write actually produce 60000 words of anything. In fact, I speak from experience when I say you’re approximately 60000 words ahead of the average “wanna be” writer!

      Keep at it. Keep reading and writing, and I promise your skills will improve.

    2. Thanks man. I was sure I would hit a wall in some time, but my secret to beating the block was contemplating the ending and ever since I had a general idea, the words kept flowing. I have to admit I am a pantser. But I guess I plot a lot in my mind which helps. Thus far, I consider you and KM Weiland my two great teachers. Keep blogging and writing.

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      Those are kind words, Stefan. Thank you!

      Your experience is exactly what I discovered. Once I understand the ending of my story, the words flow from scene to scene. The ending is one of the first things I contemplate before taking the plunge. Only under the rarest of circumstances do I start writing before knowing the end. I’ve tried, and I never manage to close the loop.

  16. Nat, your writing is fabulous. I love this blog. I think I have all four of those ingredients to greater and lesser degrees. I am glad to know I don’t have to rely on some gift I was given. I had a wonderful education growing up with writing, literature and Latin at the core. I am glad for that today. I can see why you got flack for this one. You used the G word and people freak out about that. Hahaha! You are so straightforward and tell it like it is! That’s one of the reasons I follow you closely. Plus you make me laugh. I like your courage too. Your writing tips help me tremendously. They also encourage me to keep writing because I am doing many of the things that you write about well. Please keep ’em comin’.

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  17. A really good article, well written 🙂 enjoyed reading it. I kind of slowly tricked myself into admitting I was a writer, just playing around with flash fiction and a WIP I only daydreamed on, but always putting in my best. With other life commitments I’m still years away from anything and I don’t place pressure on myself but I still never stop thinking about potential stories 😉 the four year old in me demands it!

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  18. I am not sure if I am a writer or I just love words….. someone once wrote “if you really want to read something and it hasn’t been written yet,
    you must write it yourself!!!”
    A writer is never born, a writer is well read!!
    *I read to write*

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      Very true! In fact, I tell the writers I mentor that the single most important question to ask themselves is “do *I* like this story?” I believe that if you write what you truly want to read, you’ll be successful once your story finds its audience. Because if *you* enjoy something, you can bet there are many other people out there who do as well.

  19. Pingback: 5 Interesting Links for 12-19-2014 | Tales to Tide You Over

  20. I dont know how on earth did I came on this page. I just googled “can someone be a writer?” and with the many results I clicked on this one. (God’s will I think) At first I thought it would be a tiresome article but as I read on I found myself grasping on word after word until I read everything even the comments and replies!

    and I envy you all! I envy how each one of you unlock that potential. I envy how each one of you proved not only to others but to yourself that you can write! I envy how you guys surpass the “self doubt stage” .

    I, too wish I can. And I think I can now with the help of this blog. Thank you words are so powerful I’m really glad you used it in the right way. May your words continue to touch many lives.

    And please will you be my mentor? Please.Please.Please.

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      So glad you found us! I’m always happy to answer any questions you have.

      I can tell you that writing is like exercising a muscle, or set of muscles. The more you do it, the stronger you get and the more confident you get. Self-doubt, unfortunately, is something that stays with us to some degree. I think it’s because we’re far more critical of ourselves than another person will ever be.

      I hope you enjoy the articles!

  21. Perhaps this is an older article, however it is extremely relevant and helpful. My son’s incredible imagination inspired me and we started working on a Fantasy novel together, with myself doing the research, education, and actual writing. I “gave up” about two months ago after receiving very good, relevant, helpful, yet depressing feedback.

    One of my heroes, Terry Goodkind, says on his blog that he believes you are either a writer or you are not. I believed that for a while, as I respect him highly as having produced books I love. I am a computer programmer, and I have come to learn that limitations are not evil, they just are: if you have one foot, I feel it is unlikely you will become a professional soccer player. If you can’t understand the first thing about algebra (or just logic in general), I find it unlikely you will become a programmer. Admitting this does not mean you have low self-esteem. It means you are acknowledging your limitations.

    I felt that if I do not possess a solid “foundation” of natural, given-at-birth writing talent, then no matter how much I learn to use the tools of carpentry (writing), the house I build on top of that cracked foundation will never turn into a solid house (book).

    My goal was to write a book that I, myself, would enjoy reading. Not to be a prodigy, not to be a millionnaire. Not even to replace my day job. I gave up when that appeared to not be possible.

    Then my good friend and programming mentor – who is also an avid Fantasy reader – knocked some sense into my head.

    I also remembered that as much as I like Terry Goodkind’s books, he’s one of the “prodigies” and also tends to come across as arrogant; so I might not want to base my ability with my whole new passion on such an opinion. 🙂

    Anyway, I’m going to learn more and practice more, and start back up this long weekend. I have ideas!!

    Oh, and for the record, to your comment about always thinking about writing: starting to write has totally ruined me. I can NOT watch a movie or read ANYTHING now without trying to analyze how they did it and if it “followed the rules” I’m learning, and if not, why it still worked. I can’t just sit back and casually enjoy anything any more. 🙂

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      Thank you for sharing that with us, Susan!

      The very first thought that popped into my head when you mentioned Terry Goodkind was “Oh, no. He’s one of the outliers. Not the best model to use.” I was happy to read further and find you’d come to the very same conclusion. 🙂

      Your last paragraph cracked me up. My wife is always elbowing me and telling me to “shut up” during our TV shows, because it’s gotten to the point I can predict with fairly good accuracy when certain events are going to happen (and even what those events are)!

  22. Even if you have talent you still have t study hard to be good at writing. It is like any other art or skill. There are no shortcuts, only hard work. This is the truth that most people don’t like and don’t want to believe.

  23. Mr. Russo,

    Thank you for a wonderful, true motivational piece! A word that comes to mind is “Inspiration.”

    I’m a Marine veteran; I served honorably for 14 years as a “ground pounder” not such a fancy way of saying infantryman, machine gunner. However, I did climb the latter and finished as the main battle tank commander. I have been deployed to various parts of the world combat & noncombat missions. In August of 2010, I was released from active duty with memories that will last forever.

    Coming out of the military was a bit concerning as to employment opportunities. Nonetheless, as a squared away Marine, I wrote my resume. Naturally, I thought it was the best thing since slice of bread; boy was I wrong! One employer said to me, sorry pal we don’t have an openings for merceneries…

    I thought to myself I’m literally screwed, and becoming a cop wasn’t a feasible option at that time. I did, however, consider FBI & DEA, but then I was diagnosed with a major disorder “PTSD.” As you can probably imagine my world came crumbling down, hopes and dreams vanished into the abyss…Surely I wasn’t just simply going to give up, so the next endeavor was college. I graduated with B.S in Corporate Homeland Security, and I’m currently working for DHS. Certainly it is a commendable profession, but the contentment is not up to par with my character and morals.

    Also, something worth mentioning is that I took a liking to reading and writing while in college, just then in dawned on me, I started to appreciate the verbal expression. As a combat Marine, I wasn’t exposed to higher education nor exceptional literacy. Frankly, the thought of college was non-existent, not to mention I barely got through high school, and cap it off English is my second language.

    Who ‘m I kidding, I can’t pull this off. Perhaps, my dream of becoming a writer is unrealistic, a perception beyond my ability, but I’m willing to put forth end effort. Should I write a short story or a novella, this will complete me in the sense of self-worth. Again thank you for the fantastic article, should you respond to this post please be frank and honest, I can take a punch or two.

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      Bart, thank you so much for reaching out to me. Also, and I’m not just repeating hollow words here, thank you very much for your service. I spent much of my career as a defense contractor for the US Army, ultimately being embedded with (at first) 5th Signal Command in Mannheim, Germany, then ultimately V Corps G6 in Heidelberg. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had was witnessing, in some small part, what our military is capable of during the UV/UE exercise in Graf back in 2005. I wish all Americans could have that experience. It was the first time I had ever met leaders I would willingly follow onto a battlefield. And while I never would have seen that battlefield (I was one of the nerds who kept the automated systems up and running…the guys who worked in Saddam’s palace in the green zone in Baghdad), they made us feel as if we were a part of something larger than ourselves. I’ve yet to recapture that experience in corporate America, and I doubt I ever will. Most of the so-called “leaders” there have no comprehension of what real leadership is like. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.

      Now, on to writing! I never would have guessed, until you mentioned it, that English is your second language. My advice is to try a little bit of everything. You’ll find that short stories require a different skill set than novellas, which also require slightly different skills than novels or multi-book series. It all comes down to how you individually experience “story”. Some of us are long-winded, and we need a ton of space to lay things out. Others are just the opposite.

      But first, absorb absolutely everything you can about the craft of writing. I’m not one to deny that there is such a thing as “talent” that some people are born with. But I can say with 100% certainty that writing is a learned craft. Just like building cabinets. The first time you step into a woodworking shop, there’s a good chance you’re going to hurt yourself if someone with knowledge and experience doesn’t guide you through the safety rules of the equipment. It’s similar with writing (though perhaps less life-threatening 🙂 ). The first time you sit down at a word processor, it can be a bit overwhelming. But with the right guidance, you can sit down at that word processor with purpose, confidence, and the skill to back it up.

      I strongly recommend starting (as I did) with a book called “Plot & Structure” by a writer named James Scott Bell. That book was a life changer for me, and it’s the reason why after 20 years of failing I finally managed to finish my first book.

      Also, makes friends with as many writers as you can find. If you do the social media thing like I do, Twitter and Facebook are overflowing with writers and writers groups. Many of these are incredibly helpful. One in particular I’d like to call out is a Facebook group named “The Dragon’s Rocketship”. You won’t find a more helpful and friendly group of writers and readers all together in one place.

      This blog is also a decent resource. You’re precisely the person these articles are written for. So, take some time and look through the archive (or bookmark it for later when you have specific questions about particular areas of writing).

      Then…and this will take some time at first…once you’ve got a grasp of all the basic rules, you’ll come to the realization that there are no rules. Just helpful guidelines of things that have worked for us in the past. And none of us really know what the hell we’re doing. 🙂

      Just know this: with enough time and dedication, you will be a good writer. I have no doubt about that. But you have to keep reminding yourself of that because it takes some time to truly embrace.

      Best of luck! And keep writing!

  24. I sketched and painted all my life. Until 1997 when we had a bad ice storm and were without power, in the heart of the Canadian winter, for nine days. With three disgruntled teenagers. We had to keep the fire in the wood stove going 24/7 to keep the house from freezing. We melted ice and snow to water the animals. After that I couldn’t paint anymore. A year later, I took a Creative Writing course with my son. I never looked back.

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  25. Hi Nat,
    I am new to reading fiction literary books and was wondering if you have a recommended reading list? I wanted to get in the habit of reading a lot of books before I start writing my own.

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      Welcome to the blog, Nadir!

      I can definitely help you in terms of fantasy and speculative fiction in general, since that is my genre of choice. The books that first got me interested in reading (and eventually becoming a writer) was a series by Raymond E. Feist called The Riftwar Saga It begins with a book called “Magician” that is sometimes split into two books: “Magican: Apprentice” and “Magician: Master”. I highly recommend starting there. These books will give you an idea of what it means to write “cinematically”, always being aware of the location of the “camera”, so to speak. It will also give you a master class on character development. Feist continues writing in that story universe through multiple sagas, and I recommend them all. Just be aware it’s some 20-odd books spanning 30 years of Feist’s career. But, they’re broken up neatly into 3 and 4 book mini-series.

      I also recommend “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. This will show you how speculative fiction can be used masterfully for satire. It continues in a series of 3-4 additional books, and I recommend them all. I do NOT recommend the movies that were based on these books. The thing about Douglas Adams’s writing is that much of the humor is in the narration, which does not carry over into the films. So, the films will give you a false impression of what the books are like.

      I recommend you read just about anything from Robert Heinlein. It’s old-school science fiction, but it’s incredibly thought-provoking and sometimes mind-bending. “Stranger in a Strange Land” is one of the classics and one of my personal favorites.

      For more satire, you can’t go wrong reading Terry Pratchett.

      For classic epic fantasy that spans eons of time, don’t neglect to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”. The movies are nothing more than the “Cliff’s Notes” version. If you want the real Tolkien experience, you have to read the books. The Lord of the Rings will show you what a milieu-driven story is like where plot is not important or even necessary.

      Finally, I’ll be a little self-indulgent here. I recommend reading my books (Necromancer Awakening, Necromancer Falling, and The Road To Dar Rodon) if you’re interested in what metaphysical fantasy has to offer. These are fast-paced stories that are sometimes action-oriented and almost always philosophically grounded. I like to play with dialogue, so you’ll find they’re light on narration relative to a lot of fantasy out there.

  26. I second the recommendation for Raymond Feist. His work is amazing and got me into the genre. I struggled with the first Magician book. I almost walked away from that book because it was too slow for me, but for whatever reason I stuck with it. I’m really glad I did, because it got better. So much better, in fact, that I’ve read all of his books!

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