How To Be A Professional Writer When You’re Not Good At Writing

Matthew Donnellon

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I have a confession to make.

I’m not that good at writing.

Like, really not that good.

I’ve never been good at writing. In fact, I used to dread writing.

In school, I actively avoided writing. It was my least favorite. I was also terrible at it. I still remember horror as I sat there in my first college composition class trying to not seem absolutely terrified. Nothing ever sounded right, and things that worked okay in my head did not seem great once I read them back.

I’m still not very good at it. I’m not a natural writer at all. To me, everything sounds clunky once it has reached the page or screen.

How then did I make a career of writing?

It took a lot of work.

I had a not so secret desire to become an author. I loved books, and I wanted to tell storied. The only problem was that none of the ones I wrote were readable.

So I learned the basics. Once one learns the mechanics, and no longer strives to paint a picture with words, but instead deliver clear, concise sentences, then writing becomes much easier.

I’m going to tell you a secret.

You don’t have to be very good at writing to succeed at it.

In academics thoughts are the most important and it is he who can convey information who wins. Academic writing is boring. But it should be.

Most commercial non fiction is the same way. Business writing, science writing, and copy writing all need focused, clear writing. Yes, there is some creativity here and there, but mostly it’s pretty dry. But that’s okay. It allowed a fledgling writer like myself to practice putting once sentence after another, and get paid for it.

Ghostwriting can help too.

One of my biggest roadblocks was that I didn’t really want anyone reading my writing, which is not great when that is your job.

I started as a ghostwriter. I was much more comfortable knowing no one would ever know the work was mine, and this freed me up considerably. Ironically, I sounded most like myself when I was pretending to be other people.

But what about fiction writing?

This is where bad writing will be noticed. But, you can make it if you’re a functional writer.

Know how to tell a story.

I can't tell you how underrated this skill is. I mean think about it. When you hear someone try to tell you a story and they're bad at it, it's miserable. But you're forced to stand there and listern. With a story, the reader doesn't. They can go on their merry way if they don't like what they're reading.

I find reading helps a lot here. Know what makes a good story. Also, be familiar with how narratives functions. One of my favorite things to do is watch Youtube videos of movie reviews and essays critiquing them. The critics look at why a certain story either does or doesn’t work, and it helps you avoid the same mistakes.

Now, if you know how to tell a story, and you can write just well enough to convey the story, then you can take a shot at fiction.

Now that's when it gets interesting. As telling a fictional story is harder because you have to make people care about a world that you just made up. It's hard enough to get people to care about things that have happened.

Worst case scenario is it sucks and you move on to the next piece.

I know I’ve done it a million times.

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Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories

Detroit, MI
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