What’s the Difference Between a Writer and a Pretender?

I had a poetry lecture today, which I was dreading. Poetry for me brings back memories of exams in a dusty sports hall with the lingering smell of old socks; looking at pieces of writing that had been butchered with highlights and notes in the margin about form and theme and prose.

Imagine my surprise, then, when our topic of conversation wasn’t poetry per say.

It opened with this question:

What gives you the right to be a writer? Do you know more than anyone else? Do you know better? What have you got to say that hasn’t been said before?

This is a question that I think terrifies most newbie writers. Couple it with the schools of thought that there are only 7 stories, constantly rehashed or that nearly every book contains the same tropes, whether you want them to or not, you find yourself paralysed with fear.

Fear of unoriginality, fear of repetition but mostly: the fear of being a bit shit.

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How do I create something wholly new? How do I make sure that what I write something that’s good?

Bachelard tells us this:

All readers who have a passion for reading nuture, and repress, through reading, the desire to become a writer. When the page we have just read is too close to perfection, our modesty surpresses the desire

Which is great, right? We’re paralysed internally, thanks to our fear, and we’re paralysed externally, thanks to the hoards of awesome writers that have come before us.

So… how do we work up the courage to write anyway?

Accept the fact that everyone can write. Anyone could write a story if they wanted to, they don’t need to take a class or attend a Creative Writing Masters like yours truly.

Everyone can write, so what makes you special?

What makes you special is the fact that not everyone does.

Writing something – anything – whether it’s a blog, a poem or a book takes commitment.

It means you sit down and say “now, I’m going to write.” Not just once. But over and over again.

That is the difference between you and the potential writers, those with words in their minds but never words on a page.

As soon as you express yourself in the written form: that’s it. You’re a writer. Not an “aspiring writer” an actual, legitimate writer.

Now, returning briefly to the subject of originality.

I don’t believe that any writer truly wants to copy paste someone else’s work. Even the fan fiction pieces that distort and become something new are born from a desire to create. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit here and defend 50 Shades. But one of the problems people had with E.L. James was that “anyone can take someone else’s book and work it into something different.”


Yes, but they didn’t, did they? She did. She sat down for the hours, days, weeks, months it takes to write a book.

She wrote reams upon reams of words, stitching her story together.

(I’m not going to say she spent the same amount of time editing, given the amount of grammatical errors…) But know this: say what you like about the writing quality (I will whole heartedly agree with you) – she sat down and wrote a book. That makes her a writer.

Now obviously I’m not saying take something someone else has done and re-hash it. I’m saying the only thing you need to do to become a writer is write.

Check back for How To Be Original Amongst A Sea of Tropes coming next week…

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