Can anybody write? I say yes. Before people communicated by mobile phone, landlines and emails, hand written letters were the main form of contact. People got really good at it. Now there is Skype and the Internet and a myriad of other ways to communicate that are beyond my comprehension. Once it was a vital and sometimes only link between family members who were separated by distances, sometimes oceans. Now there is Skype and the Internet. And if we must write (what a bore of a chore it seems these days) we contract our words and convey as much as we possibly can in a handful of sentences.

Thankfully, there are still people scribbling stories into their notebooks or sitting at their computers creating prose (or poetry). Writing is like any other art or skill: as aerobics instructors say, use it or lose it. The art of letter writing is dead which is a shame. These days we click the send button and find ourselves unable to recall our hasty words. Fast communication can be a blessing or a curse.

Practice, practice, practice is my motto, and you are bound to improve. But writing is like learning the piano or learning to play chess. You can pick up the basics and with practice, impress your loved ones but not everyone is going to be a concert pianist or a chess master no matter how much they practice.

And even when writers are able to please perfect strangers with their prose, it doesn’t mean that they will be prolific, make a mint and be good at everything they put pen to. When I tell people that I write they automatically assume that I write novels. Even discovering an affinity for prose hasn’t made me a novel writer. And I’ve discovered that easy children’s picture books aren’t so easy. There is a lot of skill involved and a certain mindset that I just don’t possess.

Having an idea for a novel is one thing, using thousands of words to develop the story and characters without boring the reader is another matter altogether. I discovered some time ago that sooner or later each writer finds his or her niche and sticks to it rather than agonising about something that will never be. Some people find they are good at creating convincing advertising blurb, others make a living writing restaurant or movie reviews. I write articles. But I have to at least know something about the topic and have an opinion about the issue before I attempt it. Research will only get you so far. That is the difference between a freelance writer and a full time writer who is paid to write articles on demand and to a deadline. How do they do it? (Practice, practice, practice?)

Still, I prefer to write about topics that interest me. And I like to choose the publication that thinks as I do on issues. Last but not least, writers can’t lean back and rest on their laurels and expect whatever talent they possess to do the work for them. They need to promote their work and find the right market that suits their style and their particular take on issues. And they need to prove to themselves that the last article (novel etc) they wrote was not a fluke.

2 thoughts on “Can Anybody Write?

  1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Charles. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the electronic highway seems to be killing communication? I know that each generation wonders and worries about the next and the next so far has managed just fine, but I watched my two year old grandson flick his way through an iPhone to find the family photos. He seems to know more about it than I do. I worry. 🙂

  2. The idea that anyone can write is another one of those double-edged swords. I would certainly want to convey that confidence to a classroom full of young children who may already be developing a fear of self-expression. But having worked for a long time as a freelance writer, I know that there are many clients out there who think that the act of typing words is the same thing as writing. By that definition, I’m a chef, photographer, carpenter, and baseball player, as well as a few dozen other things. I agree with you that writing is a skill that requires constant practice and a desire to improve. But like the handwritten letter, such patience and dedication are becoming harder to find.

    This is an excellent post, Mary, with a lot of good advice.

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