A while ago, I found myself flailing around on the internet (never a good thing) with the sole purpose of wasting time so I couldn’t possibly do the work that would pay the bills.
I ended up on Medium, flicking through headline after headline of how to write this, how to earn this much money, why you’ll fail as a writer unless you do this, why you’ve already failed but you just don’t know it yet, why Medium now sucks and is full of awful writing articles (those are their opinions, not mine).
One article (not awful) in particular is still churning around in my head. It’s premise was something like, ‘If you weren’t writing as a child, you won’t be a good writer as an adult’.
This one really stayed with me. Normally when I read these things, I have an immediate opinion. A gut feeling one way or the other, but not so with this one.
(And I apologise profusely but I can’t find the article now! I’ve looked!)
Over the years, I’ve disagreed with the sentiment.
Anyone can be a writer! At any age!
And yet, at the same time, when someone gets chatting with me and says, ‘I’m going to write a book!’ and I say, ‘Marvellous! I didn’t know you write?’ They would then often say, ‘No, I’ve never done any writing, but I want to write a book.’
That would be the moment I would nervously back away from the conversation, terrified of saying something that might upset them.
The truth is, anyone can write a book.
Especially in this age when self-publishing is so damn easy.
But people seem to have become so consumed with whether they can, they seem to be ignoring whether they should.
(High five, bonus points and a gold star if you got that reference.)
Do I believe that only the people who wrote as children should be writing as adults?
What about the children who wanted to write but were made to feel ashamed?
What about the children who wanted to write but weren’t supported?
What about the adults who suddenly discover a joy of writing?
Because that happens. It happens with lots of things.
In adulthood, you can discover a joy of gaming, a joy of baking, a joy of hiking and running and swimming.
Because that’s what life is. Or rather, that’s what it should be. Finding out what you love, what brings you joy.
But that wasn’t the point of that article. The point was that ‘if you haven’t grasped the art of language as a child, you never will.’
I’m going to cry bullshit.
Writing and language are skills that can be learned and, as with any skill, it takes time to learn them. People who write as children (hello, I’m one of them) have a head start, sure, because they’ve been practising this skill for so long.
But that doesn’t mean that an adult can’t start learning later on in life.
So why did I have so much trouble with this article? Why couldn’t I cry bullshit on it the moment I read it?
Because she has something of a point.
Writing and the use of language, storytelling in particular, must be learned.
You cannot (and I stress, CANNOT) just sit down, write and think that’s it. But sadly, that’s what a lot of adults do in their quest to become an author.
These things take time.
These things take pride.
These things take joy.
You must write because you love doing so.
THEN you must edit.
The editing is vital. Not only does it provide an extra learning opportunity for your writing but it will make your writing sharper, you’ll catch all those pesky typos, it’ll read better.
Which is why there should be at least two rounds of editing for everything you write (I’ve edited this three times).
Editing makes your writing something you can take pride in.
As time goes on, your writing will improve because you’ll spot your own little foibles and correct them as you go. You’ll learn from past editing sessions and incorporate those lessons into your first drafts.
You’ll still need to edit, but you’ll be levelling up your writing and editing skills each time.
Because that’s how you learn to write a book.
Whatever your age.
Whatever your background.
You can write a book.
But if you’re not going to take the proper steps to learn, to find the joy in it, to take pride in it, then maybe you need to step back and ask yourself if you should.