People do not tend to look at a surgeon performing open heart surgery and say, “I could do that!”
They do not see an NBA player swish a contested three-pointer and say, “Pssh. The problem with today’s society is that there aren’t any good NBA players.”
But they will pick up a bestseller in a bookstore and say to themselves, “What a piece of junk. How hard could this be?”
There’s just something about writing. Sure. You have a command of the English language and a laptop. You can write a sentence. But that’s like saying you have an old Spalding in the backyard and a hoop above your garage, so surely you can be the next Steph Curry.
I’ve been reading unpublished manuscripts for twenty years now, and the two absolute surefire ways I can tell a manuscript is going to be a heaping mess are 1) the author implies that everything else written these days is trash and/or 2) they preemptively tell me their book is good.
Yes, hello Dunning-Kruger effect. But what is it about writing that leads some people to think they can just sit down, crank out some words, and await adulation and bestsellerdom?
There’s a reason it’s rare for writers to find publication with the first book they write. It usually takes a while to get good at it. Knowing how to write a sentence is not the same thing as mastering a craft.
No one sits down and simply paints the Mona Lisa. Whether you realize it or not, you’re going to start off writing the equivalent of crude stick figures.
Now, that isn’t to say that writing must be an unremitting slog. I know plenty of authors who love every single minute they sit down at a keyboard to build their worlds and feel nothing but joy. I don’t count myself as one of those kinds of writers, but I don’t mean to suggest that writing must be pure drudgery to be effective.
But writing is an art. You can spend a lifetime doing it and still learn new tricks and find new insights.
If you’re starting with the mindset that you’re already great, you’re never going to get there.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes (NEW!), my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
And if you like this post: subscribe to my newsletter!
Art: Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich
Neil Larkins says
Absolutely right, Nathan.
JEN Garrett says
Lol, I always say writing for children would be a whole lot easier if they were my only audience. Most children do not have to tell me they could write the book better than me. Sometimes, I wonder if most children could write the book better than me!
Ernie Zelinski says
“I COULD HAVE WRITTEN THAT BOOK!”
After I self-published “The Joy of Not Working” in 1991 and after it became a true international bestseller (over 100,000 copies sold in print), people would actually tell that to me in person. “I could have written that book.” My response was, “Look, I first had the idea for this book in 1981 after I got fired from my Engineering job. So, I gave you 10 years to write it — so why didn’t you? Truth is, if you could have written this book, you would have. You didn’t and that proves to me that you could not have written it!” They normally shut up after I say that to them.
It was a dark and stormy night when I had this thought: Being an international best-selling author is easy — except for the getting there! As the old adage goes, “If it was easy everyone would be doing it.” Indeed, millions are trying to do become international best-selling authors but few people succeed. Sure, a lot of frauds on the Internet and on Amazon use the term “international best-selling author”. Do a thorough check of these authors on N. Bookscan and you find that their books sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Indeed, some have sold fewer than 500 copies, often only 75 or 100 copies.
Karen Cioffi says
It’s so interesting that writing seems to be an undervalued skill. I’m a children’s ghostwriter and had a couple of clients who spent over $10K on illustrations, but tried to negotiate over the story itself. It can be frustrating.
Jackie Morris says
Based on how hard I find it I ought to be good at it – which is what I tell myself when I’m trying keep the faith on all the days I really don’t feel very good at all. Writing is by far the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done (but also the one I get the biggest kick from if I ever manage to complete a story).
Chris Bailey says
The outrageous comments stick. “If I ever have the time to sit down, I’m going to write a book,” an acquaintance once told me. Because that’s all it takes, right? A minute of peace with a notebook? Anyway, haven’t seen that book, but wishing her the best. Nathan, thanks for addressing this experience. Back to writing! Which is a roller coaster ride of excitement, dread, thrills, and who-am-I-kidding moments. Happy writing, everyone!
Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt says
“1) the author implies that everything else written these days is trash and/or 2) they preemptively tell me their book is good.” Maybe if the book is finished after twenty five years of writing and learning. Not all authors let early work out of the basement.
Stories and universes may need to grow first like Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
I can’t seem to talk people into sitting down to write that promised-to-themselves book, even when I offer assistance through the self-publishing maze.
Erin Kinney says
I’m just getting into the field after 15 years of being a full time professional photographer and I swear- both writing and photography attract the same kind of people. People who want to snap their fingers and instantly become successful, no elbow grease necessary.
Nathan Bransford says
I believe it!