Recently I wrote a letter to a fellow writer who had become discouraged. How could I help her get her pen moving again—or her fingers to the keyboard? After thinking on it awhile, this is what I wrote:
Dear Discouraged Writer
There’s so much to learn, between writer’s guidelines and grammar and the struggle with making the words sound right, but if you’re comparing yourself with them, it will only make you feel bad. Every writer works hard, even the prolific author of the Harry Potter series who received many rejections before she broke into print. But what did I say about comparing oneself? Surely not to J. K. Rowling.
Like Learning to Ride a Bicycle
Consider this. When you learned to ride a bicycle, did you wobble a little at first? Did you fall down and scrape your knees? Perhaps your Mom or Dad held on to the back of the bike until you got started and then let go when you had the feel of it.
You really wanted to ride that bicycle, not for the sake of a prize or to win a marathon, but because you saw what fun others were having riding their bicycles, and you wanted to do it too. You got up and tried again and again until you felt more comfortable driving it and balanced better. And when you could do that and learned the rules of the road, the signals, and how to watch for traffic, you rode easily and felt freed by the speed and the wind in your hair.
Just as the bike wobbles when you first ride it, or you fall off, so too is writing. It requires work to get there. While there are rules of writing, grammar and guidelines to follow, you can have some fun along the way. And perhaps this is where the bicycle analogy breaks down, because once you learn to ride it, you’re off and away, whereas it will take longer to be successful with your writing and you will have to keep on working at it.
Readers may tell you that your writing inspires them, that it entertains or educates them. A reader may even send a message, unbidden, that your story or anecdote made her feel she was not alone. If that’s so, you’re making progress. Perhaps you feel whole and right with the world when you write a note of encouragement to another, just as I’m writing to you. And perhaps you also still need to figure out what genre in writing best fits for you.
Like the person learning to ride the bicycle, it takes time. So, too, does writing, and if you are freed by the writing and it inspires others, keep going. Do it because you want to, not for a prize—though if you win a prize for something well done, that’s a bonus. Keep on, do your best, because with practice, your writing will show it.
To the reader: Perhaps you know a fellow writer who is struggling with the right words or who has put down the pen, or left the computer sitting idle, and is waiting for inspiration or encouragement. What will you write to encourage her to go back at it?