The Secret Sauce to Being a Good Writer (posted on legendary publishing expert JANE FRIEDMAN'S BLOG)
*On October 27, 2022 I was beyond honored to have my essay on writing (The Secret Sauce to Being a Good Writer) published on Jane Friedman's blog. If you don't know who Jane Friedman is click HERE. I'll start the essay here and you can link at the end to Jane's blog to read the rest. As always, please check out and subscribe to my Substack Newsletter, "Sincere American Writing" (CLICK HERE FOR MY SUBSTACK).
The Secret Sauce to Being a Good Writer
Honestly, the No. 1 thing is: Ignore 99.999% of the industry fluff you hear about online. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony I am demonstrating here.) It’s not that people online are trying to fool you on purpose, necessarily, but rather that they all have their own agenda. (And, frankly, bottom lines.)
Here’s a controversial opinion: Writers are born, not made. You heard me right. Let me unpack that.
If you’re a natural-born writer, then you’ll write your ass off either way. If you’re not, no amount of classes or workshops will change that in a fundamental way. To be clear: Sometimes it takes “real” writers years, even decades, to succeed.
A great example is my good writer-friend Allison Landa, whose memoir, Bearded Lady: When You’re a Woman with a Beard, Your Secret Is Written All Over Your Face was finally just published by Woodhall Press after a 17-year (yep!) journey to publication, which had begun while she was still in the MFA program at St. Mary’s.
This doesn’t mean that because you have the internal drive to write but haven’t pumped out profound prose that you “aren’t a writer.” It probably means that you simply have to try harder or in more efficient ways. But sometimes, sadly, yes, there are people who wish they were writers, who enjoy writing sometimes or even often, but alas are not writers for one simple reason: They don’t have that deep, driving force which animates their lust for communication with other human beings via words on the page.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Not everyone is meant to be a teacher or a doctor or a lawyer. Not everyone, ergo, is a writer. In our contemporary culture of constant uplift and positivity, I think what sometimes gets lost is the torn, ragged flag of reality. Because some people are writers and others aren’t doesn’t make this statement pretentious; on the contrary (as Dostoevsky would quip), it makes it honest. (Of course, just my humble opinion.)
The second thing about being a writer is: My God, read a LOT. I mean A LOT. And in multiple genres.
Here’s a gold quote from Stephen King’s classic memoir/writing instruction manual, On Writing: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
This is a tough one, isn’t it? Especially in the frenetic, busy landscape of contemporary life. Besides your day job, you have kids, a mortgage, or rent, student loans, podcasts, TV shows, friends, enemies, and of course the insipid omnipresence of everything ONLINE, from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn, etc. Choose your poison, really.
My point is: We are blanketed in and constantly pounded at by distractions. It’s incessant. The crucial key here is: Find the time to read. (And to write, of course; you’ve got to write as often as you can.)