I Don’t Know How To Write (And That’s OK)

I’m just now past the half-way point of NaNoWriMo.  Though I probably should be learning things like character development, plot progression, and how to add humor in an other-wise sad tale, I found my biggest lesson has come not in the form of how I should write, but how I am writing.

And I’ve learned I don’t know how to write.

I don’t know any magic formulas to make my story better.  I don’t have a one-size-fits-all character checklist that guarantees a well developed protagonist and antagonist.  I don’t have any special words or phrases that will hook my audience into reading more.

All I have is a story.  And for me, that is enough.

I started writing as a hopeful novelist about ten years ago.  I was in the middle of college and studying history and the theatre arts, both areas of which have little to do with creating novels.  My writing training consisted of two intro to college composition classes as a freshman, and that was it.  I had no formal creative writing training save that one week my third grade teacher had us write our own picture books.  

So when I first started writing seriously, my story generally followed this formula:

“Character A said, ‘Blah blah.’  Then Character B said, ‘Blah blah blah.’  Then Character C sat down and drank some tea.”

Yeah, it was captivating.

But as time went on, and I wrote some more, my writing style started to change.  I began to (slowly but surely) find what is called “the writer’s voice”.  It’s that writing style you really can’t learn from books or lessons but something most of us discover ourselves after writing for awhile.  It’s the style of writing that makes you unique-the ways you phrase your words and dialogue that lets people identify it as your story simply just by reading it.

After about five years of writing, I started to develop my own voice, and it’s been evolving ever since.

One of the biggest answers I get as to why people don’t write, even though they want to, is this: “I don’t know how.”  They’re not trained writers, they aren’t good at grammar, they’ve never been able to write anything before, etc.  I’m willing to argue, though,  that having that “I don’t know how” mentality can be a good thing.  When you write, and don’t know how, you develop your own style and voice.  It’s not something you’re taught-you develop it after trial and error-what works and what doesn’t work.  

I’ve seen some writers who have been trained in writing.  They’re good, don’t get me wrong.  They know lots of tips and tricks that make their writing phenomenal.  But I’ve also seen some phenomenal writers who aren’t trained, who haven’t taken the creative writing lessons or stuck to writing by formula.  At first their writing may be simple and boring (mine certainly was), but in time their writing develops into something unique and beautiful.  You can’t find the formula they used in their story.  It simply comes out of their heart, a story that is pure, untamed, and full of surprises.

I look at my writing from ten years ago and can’t help but laugh.  It really, really is bad.  But ten years ago I thought it was the best writing I could do.  Boy, was I wrong.  It had a long way to go!  But time and practice has taught me a lot.  I learned what sounded good and what sounded terrible.  I listened to feedback I was given by people who read my stories.  I read other stories and studied why I thought their stories were good or bad.  Was it the characters?  The plot?  The setting?  All of the above?  And I won’t be surprised if ten years from now I come across my current writing and call it mediocre (or even terrible).  As writer’s, we’re always learning and always growing in our craft.  It’s like that with any artist-with time, we become better.

So if you don’t know how to write, that’s OK.  I’m in the same boat, as are countless numbers of other writers.  But if you have a story in your heart that just can’t help but come out, let it out.  Write it down, even if it isn’t grammatically perfect or has a few plot holes.  Time (and spell check) can help.  That “mediocre tale” has a chance of becoming a story that can change the world.  Don’t let a lack of training keep a good story hidden away.