But writing is just like any field — no matter how inspired one is by the greats, there will be always be extraordinary writers, good writers, and folks who were just never cut out to be writers.
Early in my career as a proofreader, I got my hands on a manuscript, the title and author of which I will take to my grave. Calling this thing a piece of shit would be charitable, and actually insulting to pieces of shit. It was the worst, most God-awful piece of writing — if one could even call it that — I’ve ever read in my life. And the poor guy who sent it to me for an edit was next planning to submit it to publishers. I did my best to tell him that it — *ahem* — needed work, but in his mind he was already spending his royalty checks, so I let him be.
The takeaway here is that the author — again, if we can call him that — in question had no idea how terrible he was. Most people don’t. To be fair, many extraordinary writers don’t know how talented they really are, nor do the good ones know they’re good. But at least those people aren’t wasting their time. Or anyone else’s.
The trouble with bad writers is that it’s so hard to tell them just how bad they are. You don’t want to be responsible for crushing someone’s dream, but you don’t want to be any more responsible for hearing “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Can bad writers become good writers? I’ve seen it happen. But it means following an incredibly tough road — writing something, putting it out there, and accepting honest criticism. It’s certainly not for everybody, but if writing’s what you love and you want to get better at it, it’s the only way.
One last thought on the topic of bad writers: I myself was once a terrible writer. I can’t even stand to read most of my old stuff. Am I good now? I can’t answer that with any objectivity, but I can say this for sure — I’m a hell of a lot better.
By Steve Boudreault