Just because you write, doesn’t make you a writer.

I have recently discovered that writing has this in common with Photography.  Everyone who picks up a camera, takes pictures of their family reunion, and posts them on a Facebook Page they made; calls themselves a photographer.  That is a steamy load of crap.

Photography is an art form and requires a lot more then point and shoot.  Over the years, photography has been watered down by many factors:  Easy exposure, easier to use equipment, easy digital printing, and friends/family who won’t tell them they suck.  The result has been an over abundance of people calling themselves photographers and they have watered down the craft.  Add this to the fact that photography is a misunderstood art form (that is to say most people don’t know what makes a photo art), and the true photographers are ripping their hair out.

Writing is clearly not much different anymore.  First, most people won’t know good writing if it bit them in the ass.  I am not talking about styles, genres, or your own reading preference.  I am talking about a well written story.  There are plenty of books I don’t like, but they were written very well.  It was just not something I enjoyed reading.  Writing, like photography, is a craft.  It takes time to perfect each piece (though a true writer never reaches perfection).  But most people accept anything written on the page that is must be good to get published.

Writing is getting watered down now, just like writing.   Easy exposure, digital printing, easier to use equipment, and  friends/family who won’t tell them they suck.

Easy Exposure:

Anyone can create a Facebook Page.  I have four of them.  Anyone can create a blog.  Twitter, Google+, good reads, and much more.  Don’t get me wrong these are great tools for the Author to use, I use all of them.  However, anyone can slap “Writer of…” on their page.  It makes it harder to establish the true writer’s from the hacks.

Digital Printing:

Lulu, Create Space, and a ton of other print on demand publishers have made it so anyone with an email address can publish something.  Don’t get me wrong.  This, and the e-publishing for e-readers, is revolutionizing the publishing industry.  For years publishers have excluded excellent writers based on editors opinions, agents, and other such problems.  But it has also removed the filter.  This means we are getting all kinds of utter crap out their too.  It makes it harder to know who to buy from and who to avoid.  It has also put an undeserved negative stigma on self published authors.

Easier to Use Equipment:

Word Processors, writer’s programs, easy to use publishing software, and a slew of other programs to help writers.  They are great tools, but again they enable many people to fool themselves into thinking they can write because some program keeps track of grammar errors, or characters, or chapters.  However, most want-a-be writers don’t know anything about plot threads, prose, or even when to use bad grammar.  Have you ever read a book where every character speaks perfect English?  That’s horrible, because I have never met anyone who always speaks perfect English.

Friends/Family won’t tell them they suck:

This is where you can help out.  If you have a friend or family member who writes, and they are no good at it.  Please tell them to stop.  Thank you.

Truth be told, that is hard to do.  At the very least though, please don’t tell them they are good at it.  As the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  You don’t have to tell them how good they are.  Just don’t say anything.

The true problem here is that most want-a-be writers never show their works to other writers or join writers groups.  They assume they either don’t have to share, or they are delusional to their own abilities.

How can readers find good, real writers.

You used to have some level of trust, that if they made it to bookshelves they were at least somewhat skilled in the craft.  That is simply no longer the case.   Anyone can make their way on to Amazon.com.  How do we decipher the good from the bad?  It really is harder then you think.  Many great writers are self published.  They have great blogs, Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, and more.  So how do we really tell?

Well in many cases, it is simply trial and error.  You buy a book from them, they are clearly a hack so you never buy from them again.  Or you buy their book, love it, and can’t wait to get something from them again.  But there is something you can do to help with this.

Read the reviews.  The reviews will tell you what other readers thought.  Read them carefully.  Look for items that are simple opinion versus objective facts.  For example:  “I didn’t like that the entire book takes place in space.” (opinion) versus “There was an entire section of text that was formatted in red ink for no reason, punctuation is missing, and the Point of View changes mid-paragraph.” (objective facts).  Ignore the comments that simply say “it sucks” or “the best book ever”, neither of those gives you any insight to the book.  Lastly, remember rating systems (stars or number scales) are almost always opinion based.

But you, as the reader, need to go one step further.  Write a review.  Most people don’t write reviews on their purchases, despite the fact that nearly every online retailer has the ability to review.  Write a detailed review about why you liked, or did not like, the book.  If it was because the writing was bad, point out examples.  Share both your opinions and facts.  Say you liked it because of this reason and then point out the writing is strong with believable dialogue.  A good well written review helps the Author sell more books, but it also helps other readers know if they should stay away.  Bad reviews are just as important as good ones.  So write both.

I am trying to make it a habit of writing a review on everything I read.  I write reviews on Good Reads, and on the site in which I purchased the book.  You should do the same.  It really doesn’t take much time, especially in comparison to what you spent on reading the book, and it helps everyone involved.

There are a ton of good writers out there.  It is great that it is so easy to find and buy great writing from all over the world.  The downside is that some garbage is getting in too.  Hopefully more people will help the true writers filter out the hacks.  The hacks are what have given self-publishing a bad name.

Lastly, if any of you hacks are reading this.  Study the craft, work hard at it, and chances are you can be just as good as many writers.  Like any art form, writing needs to be studied.  The true writer will study his craft constantly, the hack doesn’t take it serious enough to bother.

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7 thoughts on “Want-A-Be Writers Vs True Writers

  1. Agreed on all points – writing is a dying art form, sadly in part because the real thing isn’t appreciated or recognized. Vocabulary shrinks with attention spans: the double-edged sword of digital media.

  2. Thank you for sharing your opinion. I am getting a lot a flack from some of my fellow writers about this post. That’s a bit hard for me as I respect their opinions a great deal. I think the point of this may be missed or not driven home hard enough.

    I have nothing against Social Media or Self Publishing. I have a problem with people who assume that writing can be done by anyone without much practice. That is simply not the case.

  3. That’s one great thing about free samples on Amazon for Kindle books. And most non-digital books have at least the first chapter accessible there as well. This is another way you can separate the wheat from the chaff. Chances are, if the writing in the sample is bad, it’s not going to get much better. I agree completely, though, Richard. Problem is, most people don’t even understand what the word objective means let alone how to be objective. And discerning the difference in some aspects of writing can be difficult even to a veteran of the craft.

    But still, if more readers left feedback more division would be made between those that take their work seriously and those that don’t. Because that’s where the line should really be drawn. Because any writer who takes their work seriously should have most of their bases covered when it comes to technical matters before publishing at all. And a serious writer is willing to go over their work how ever many times it takes to make it shine.

  4. I meant to comment on this when I read it first, but found it difficult to explain exactly why I think there is a world of difference between a writer and someone-who-writes. I write often, short stories, poems and reviews, but am a long way from calling myself a writer. I place a lot of value on that term and don’t think it should be used lightly. So I completely agree with this piece, and consider it well thought out and well written.

    Just yesterday, I read Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and was stunned by the novel. Just like I am every time I read something that I consider to be truly great writing. That’s when I realised exactly how I differentiate between a writer and someone-who-writes.

    There are many things, I’m sure, that separate the two, but what stands out for me is this:
    A writer cannot call themselves such unless they have, more than once, paused midway through a novel to say to themselves ‘what an elegant turn of phrase’ or ‘that description is lovely, and that character well-developed.’ A writer has to love the written word.

    Many people *beware: massive generalisation approaching* seem to write because they believe they have a story. And that’s a fine reason to write, and they should absolutely write that story, but ”I had this idea…” shouldn’t be the only reason for writing a book. There should also be a love of writing, a love of that same story, a relationship with your characters and probably half a dozen other ingredients that I’m forgetting or missing out on in my youth and inexperience.

    N.B. This is all just the considered opinion of a woman who loves writing but isn’t yet a writer.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I don’t even believe publishing separates the good from the bad. There are good writers who just don’t appeal to the right editors.

      Some of the greatest authors would likely never look back at their work and say it resembled anything of greatness. Authors are often their greatest critics.

      However, I think the definition of truly great writing is something that varies from person to person. Which is why I am glad you took time to share your opinion with us.

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