On Writing: Forgive Yourself, Take Your Time by Frank Johnson

Post date: Nov 16, 2016 5:21:10 AM

One of the most common things I hear from writers who visit the writing center is: “I’m just not a good writer.” I always respond the same way: “It just takes practice.” Though it echoes of a tired cliche, I like the response because it is simple truth. Writing is one of the few human skills for which no level of talent constitutes a real proficiency. You cannot be a good essayist without writing essays. It takes time. The craft is so complex, you can only improve bit-by-bit.

This might at first seem grim. One might think it better to throw in the towel rather than grind at the mill for hours. However, the fact that good writing can only come as a result of practice lifts the burden of production from writers at any stage of their learning. It frees them to forgive themselves over and over again during the process, which we find to be neverending.

That forgiveness can be key to moving forward in a project quite often. When you keep hearing the same corrections come from a consultant, or you procrastinate too long leaving no time for revision, or you can’t figure out how to formulate a thesis, take a breath, remind yourself you’re learning, and forgive yourself. Try to let go of the sense that the words should be “good enough” and write whatever comes to mind.

Writing can be a lot like running, or any cardiovascular exercise. It is inarguably good to do though it is often unpleasant at first because it is unusual, uncomfortable, and challenging. However, in the case of either task, once one gets going, the experience can feel automatic, you get “in the zone.” Further, if one takes up writing or running consistently for a period, even just a few months, the task becomes considerably easier and more pleasurable.

It is worth it to consider writing the way one does running in that both are good for one’s well-being, especially as society becomes more technologically advanced. Increasingly as human culture develops, we will write our identities. Through social media, text messages, email correspondence, and other web-based media, we will be characterized by the language we use and how we use it, specifically in its written form. With that consideration, it’s worth it to work those language muscles into shape. Just take it slow and remind yourself that you’re learning.