Welcome to my Yeah, Write! series. I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts busting through some of the mythology and false expectations writers have when starting out. The journey of writing is tough enough without a bunch of misconceptions dogging your heels. Although these little essays are primarily for new writers, my hope is that even experienced creatives will be able to see a little of their own journey in these words.
Today’s topic: How much do I have to know about writing to be a writer? A lot less than you think. And if you have any writing talent at all (and I’m sure you do), you’re already well on your way.
So, Is writing a talent or a skill?
Trick question: it’s both. Talent is innate. Skill is not. Both must be developed, although in different ways. I’ve often found that talent is more a process of surrender, whereas skill is more a process of control. Like force and form, talent and skill are the yin and yang of most artistic expression, divided along a shifting line, with a seed of each in the other.
Talent begins within and travels outward, seeking to be made real. It is the dream born with the vision of how to attain it. It is pure inspiration. The spark that becomes a flame, kindled in the darkness that births every truth.
Skill takes the opposite path. It begins externally with effort and practice, attempts and failures and further attempts. Through the process of doing, we reach a point of gnosis with what we are trying to learn. And the skill becomes as much a part of us as the talent ever was.
Every time we sit down and practice our craft, we summon talent and skill to accompany us on our next literary quest.
Is this where you tell me writing is a journey?
Yes, but I’m not trying to be cliché about it. I actually have a point. If writing is a journey, then how is it possible to ever reach the fixed point of “knowing enough”?
What is enough? Enough for who? Enough for what? Enough to begin? Enough to know what you’re doing? To look like you know what you’re doing? I hate to break it to you, but enough is the football that Lucy keeps jerking away from Charlie Brown. Your muse will tell you she’s not going to do it this time, but that bitch lies.
The truth is you will never arrive as a writer. Writing is the journey that takes a lifetime. You will never get to write all your ideas. You will never perfect all your techniques. You will never reach a point where you know it all.
For every pinnacle of perfection you think you have reached, there is a slope to come back down in search of the next mountain to climb. You may pause, catch your breath, enjoy the view. But if being a writer is tucked in the marrow of your bones, you aren’t going to stay on that peak. And you aren’t going to want to.
How is telling me that I’m never going to get there supposed to motivate me? Worst ted talk ever.
If there’s no such thing as knowing enough, then there’s no reason not to start. If it’s all about the journey, then don’t waste another moment standing still. If it’s about developing talent and learning skills, then that automatically implies you don’t know everything and are expected to learn as you go.
What I’m saying is that the idea that you will ever know enough is as dangerous as a mirage in the desert. It is nothing but an illusion. Chase it, and you will wander into the wastelands instead of turning towards what will feed your soul.
All you need to know to begin writing is this: