There is a well-known myth that talent is something people are either born with or without. Successes in careers and skills of all kinds are too often attributed to natural talent. This is especially true with the ability to write. Many people believe that well-known, successful authors were just the lucky ones who were born with talent. The idea that some people are born good writers, while well-intended, actually does much more harm than good. It discourages people who want to learn to write and teaches those who find it easy that they don’t have to work to improve. A more practical idea is that good writers are made through perseverance, humility, and the right mindset.
In her essay “Some People are Just Born Good Writers,” in the book Bad Ideas About Writing, Jill Parrott says that “good writing instruction… can only occur if the person believes that they can become a good writer” (74). Without the core belief that improvement is possible, there is very little chance that a writer will progress. This is the foundation of the growth mindset. Developed by psychologist Carol Dweck, growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and skills can improve (mindsetworks.com). The right mindset is fundamental to anyone who wishes to become a good writer. When people are taught that writing ability is set in stone, one of two things will presumably happen. If someone believes they were lucky enough to be born with this natural talent or ability, they are not likely to work at it or seek out opportunities for improvement. On the other hand, if they believe that they were born without it, they will feel discouraged and never even make an attempt, leaving them stuck where they are. With a growth mindset, an aspiring writer will focus on their improvements while embracing challenges to improve on weaknesses.
It can almost be guaranteed that everyone learning to write will be told not to give up more times than they can count. It’s probably the piece of advice heard the most by aspiring writers. It is often said as if it is simple or easy to follow, when it can actually be one of the hardest aspects of developing a skill. Picking oneself up after failure and persevering through challenges is a never-ending struggle, but according to writer Jeff Goins, it makes all the difference. In his article “The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers,” Goins says, “Bad writers quit. Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it” (goinswriter.com). As stated before, this is much easier said than done, but he makes a valuable point. That is, if you keep working, taking the time to practice, you will advance in your writing. Goins believes that bad writers do not improve because they believe their writing has “achieved a certain level of excellence” (goinswriter.com). They settle for whatever they have written so far, and do not challenge themselves to write something better. ‘
Probably the most overlooked quality of good writers, humility is a key aspect of becoming a good writer. While confidence is often viewed as an important characteristic of successful writers, humility is rarely mentioned. Without humility, a person would not think to ask for feedback on their writing. Instead of seeking out and listening to constructive criticism, they are closed off and ignore what others have to say.
This reluctance to accept feedback often stems from a fear of rejection or failure. Katharine Brooks, a provider of career services at numerous colleges throughout the U.S., believes this fear is what holds most people back in their writing. In her article “Writing Anxiety and the Job Search,” she says her colleague, Neil Johnson, sees a lot of “fear of rejection. Fear of not doing a good job. Fear of writing in general” (psychologytoday.com). Once those learning to write can let go of that fear, they can learn to be humble and to use their setbacks as learning opportunities to progress. Editing, revising, and rewriting are all crucial parts of the writing process, but bad writers decide that they do not need these. Skipping these steps leaves their writing mediocre and scattered.
A concept not discussed here, but equally important to improving writing skills, is the concept of metacognition. Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes, or, simply put, thinking about thinking. Improving metacognitive skills requires reflection on one’s work and their thoughts about that work. Anyone learning to write, at any age and at any point in their writing journey, can benefit from learning about metacognition. To learn more about metacognition and strategies to improve it, visit http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/metacognition-and-learning/.
Parrott, Jill. “Some People are Just Born Good Writers.” Bad Ideas About Writing, edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe, Digital Publishing Institute, 2017, 71-75.
Goins, Jeff. “The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers.” Goins, Writer, 24 Nov. 2014, goinswriter.com/the-difference-between-good-writers-and-bad-writers/.
Brooks, Katharine. “Writing Anxiety and the Job Search.” Psychology Today, 30 Jul. 2010, psychologytoday.com/us/blog/career-transitions/201007/writing-anxiety-and-the-job-search.
“Decades of Scientific Research That Started a Growth Mindset Revolution.” The Growth Mindset – What Is Growth Mindset – Mindset Works, www.mindsetworks.com/science/.