I moonlight (by day) as a book editor and if there's one thing I've learned it's that, while everyone might have a book in them—all humans have stories to share, and share they should—not everyone should actually be writing one.
I don't say that out of malice or meanspiritedness. I say that as an editor who has spent countless hours wading through endless pages of absolute dross, trying to knock them into some kind of shape.
Sorry, but, hey, let's all get a grip. We need to know our limitations, surely? We can pretend to live in a world where everything is possible, but actually it's not. Not really.
I can't run more than a few metres without giggling and spluttering, so I'm not entering any racing meets anytime soon. Nor should I. I can't waitress to save myself. I tried it, several times. My tips were brilliant—only because I was so appalling, the poor punters felt sorry for me—but I was bloody hopeless. As I snapped corks inside wine bottles and splashed sauces all over patrons, I quickly learned, this was not the job for me. Which was a pity because I was backpacking through Europe and really needed the cash. But I stopped and applied for jobs on the local rags instead, where I flourished.
Similarly, I'm pretty sure I'd make a dreadful nurse, accountant, engineer and architect. I can't play a tune to save my life so music's out, and don't get me started on my building, gardening and PR skills.
Some things are out of my scope. Some things are beyond me. And while I can always have a crack, I'd be better off hiring someone to do all of the above for me, and focusing on what I do fairly competently - writing, editing, self-publishing and journalism. I'm not saying I'm brilliant at all of those things, but I can pull them off. Some people can't even come close.
Yet still they try
So many people think that writing is one of those things that everyone can do. It's no longer deemed a professional skill, which it once was. It's now open slather. A cinch!
Got a great story in you? Just jot it down and make a motza. Start a blog. Write your memoir and bore family senseless with extraordinarily poor writing, sentence structure, punctuation and descriptions.
This flippant attitude to writing is, frankly, patronising to those of us who do it for a living. And it's annoying as all hell.
My experience editing other people's books shows, in no uncertain terms, that you can put lipstick on a pig but that doesn't change the fact that it's still a pig. Oink, oink!
Sorry, that's the truth.
And yes, sure, good on you for having a go! Really, it does take time, effort (blood and tears), or it should if you're doing it properly. But if you're failing at it, if it's just not working, if there's more red ink on the page than black, it's okay to admit that you JUST CAN'T DO IT. So wave the white flag, hand the manuscript over to a professional, and get on with what YOU do best. Your day job, I'd suggest.
Stephen King said it beautifully in the bible on this subject: On Writing: A Memoir
"No matter how much I want to encourage the man or woman trying for the first time to write seriously, I can't lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers. Some are on staff at your local newspaper… Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive-voice constructions behind them…
It is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer… it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one."
Just say no
If you are a bad writer—and, deep down, you probably know if you are—then pop your pen aside, hand your story to someone else to write, and get on with something else. King suggests washing the car (ouch!)
Harsh? Yes. True? Yes! And the truth can really hurt.
What do you think?
Jot me a comment and join the debate. I'm always keen to hear from you, and I promise I won't criticise your writing, at least not in the comment section :-)
Happy reading (and writing if it's in you), everyone!