Can you write? Who are you kidding?

I stumbled upon this blog posting by someone called “Offbeat Girl” while checking out the Pick the Brain motivational site. She was talking about writing and voiced the same old myths that you can improve and eventually be a great writer if you wish hard enough, write nonstop, copy certain bloggers, and pick up some sure-win techniques of successful writing.

Here’s an excerpt from Offbeat Girl (note the fake modesty and not-so-subtle way she boasted about being a guhhh-rreaat writer):

Does my writing suck? It’s all a matter of perception, isn’t it? Some might respond, “Are you kidding? You are a guhhh-rrreaat writer!” and it might be very true, because not everyone can write well. But there will also be others who have read a great deal of books, and studied various forms of writing, who might peer at my work and go, “Meh. Could do a lot better.” Here’s my personal answer to my own question: I think I make a decent writer, but if I don’t add value and improve this skill, then yes, I will eventually suck.

I’m still a big piece of work-in-progress, really. There are various types of writing technicalities and methods that I still do not understand. And as far as blogging goes, I wish I could be a great content marketer, a la Brian Clark of Copyblogger.

I couldn’t resist posting a comment. This is what I wrote:

Your writing doesn’t “suck” (whatever that means) but, in your own words, you’re adding nothing of value to the string of words. But why am I on your site? I stumbled on it simply because I read and value Pick the Brain thoughtful articles and saw a side link to your site with an intriguing headline about learning.

Since I’m here, I might as well add some unsolicited comments about your naive assumption on writing.

You don’t just write and write or adopt a certain writing “method” or follow certain “techniques”  to be a better writer. What you need is to have something worthwhile to reveal – a secret formula to make a million dollars, the discovery that the Earth is an egg not a globe, that Colonel Gaddafi was Tony Blair’s long-lost twin bro, that when you send your dress for dry cleaning, they merely vacuum it, iron it and charge you a fortune.

Then you hire a mean newspaper-type sub-editor to plough through your text, and to cut, cut, cut all the longwinded parts (i.e., 90 percent of it) and ask you insulting questions on every single meaningless phrase that you wrote: “What do you mean by saying, I eventually suck? Eventually means when? When you are 90 years old? Suck what? Are you implying something filthy?”

The only person I can remember who wrote seemingly endless, meandering streams of text but where every phrase is a gem of humour and insight is Mark Twain. But you and I are not Mark Twain, so we need unfriendly sub-editors to re-sculpt our words and reduce a chunk of stone into a compact, crafted, meaningful narrative.

If you can’t afford a sub (they’re paid S$6,000-$9,000 p.m.), be one yourself. Take your own text and regard it as a piece of shit from someone you dislike. Then slash through it and see if there’s anything left that is worth publishing.

The above was first published on July 11, 2009. Since then, I saw a posting on the same subject, by another blogger:

Following rules is a complete waste of time if you've got nothing to say. But if you’ve got something to say, then rules are irrelevant.

Most writers, musicians, artists, and film producers are just piglets eager to suckle the teats of some corporate pig as they dream of dollars, with dreck-mongers like Stephen King, Spielberg, Lucas, Eric Clapton, Madonna, etc, as their role models. There’s not one single original thought-provoking expression between the lot of them.

Let me put it this way: stupid people suck, it doesn’t matter what rules they follow cos whatever they say is still going to be stupid.

I fully agree with his observation that Stephen King wrote horror novels dreadfully, using the most silly plots to scare readers.


Writing that sucks