Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to be a good writer

At last, there's really good news for writers, particularly new writers.  Everything you've been told about needing talent or a gift is wrong. It seems that what our mothers said (about piano lessons, baking, tidying our rooms, etc, etc) - that is, 'practice makes perfect' - is right after all.

What this means for any writer is that you'll have a good chance of success if you write regularly, learn how to improve your writing and apply those lessons.  Then, of course, you'll have to write some more - preferably every day.

These revelations are from two books:
  • The Genius in All of Us - Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent and IQ is wrong, by David Shenk
  •  Bounce - How Champions are Made, by Matthew Syed
Matthew Syed is a British table tennis champion and he started his research when he wanted to improve his game and understand why some so-called "promising" players didn't reach top performance.

He says, "I give innate talent almost no weight at all. That’s a controversial view and I know it’s a radical and rather subversive view, but I think the evidence backs up that assertion. If you dig down into the narrative histories of anyone who has reached a high level in virtually any task with a certain level of complexity, what you find is they have spent many, many hours, many months, many years building up to that level."

Source of Matthew's quote: Table Tennis Blog
Photo: Matthew Syed at the 2000 Olympics (Wikimedia)

Both writers back up their claims with good research and examples.  There's more to it than simply 'practice makes perfect', of course, but that's a good starting point.  David Shenk is the more academic of the two writers, but both are easy-to-read.

These books should be available from your library. For those who live in the greater Auckland area you can request books from the library's catalogue via these links:
The Genius in All of Us

So, stop holding yourself back by thinking that you're not good enough or don't have a 'gift'. Every successful writer we know has to work hard at it. It will be the same for you.

Keep writing!


  1. I only started writing a few year's ago and it was pretty atrocious, in my opinion, but since then I've been writing every day and there's been a huge improvement. I always felt inadequate because you read or hear about the 'genius' or the 'born writer'. I'm not a genius or anything but I definitely believe in 'practice makes perfect'.

    Thanks for the recommendation; definitely going on my TBR pile.

    Joanne G.

  2. Hi Joanne,
    Many thanks for your positive comment. You're right, a lot of us have been made to feel that we'll never succeed because we don't have a so-called 'gift'. It is liberating to break free from such constraints. Keep writing.