Dear Agony Editor,
I’m seventeen and want to be a writer. But every time I write something, it’s never good. Nothing turns out the way I want it to. I start so many stories but never finish them. It’s frustrating, and I’m having doubts if I have what it takes. What am I doing wrong?
Dear Having Doubts,
Congrats on deciding to be a writer. It’s not an easy profession, and you’ll need to ensure you have a source of income other than your writing. Many writers lead a kind of “double life” which can make them seem a bit like superheroes, less the tights and capes.
There are a couple of other things you should know. First, writing is harder than you might think. That’s because it’s not just about writing words, but about what you do with those words. Put another way, a good novel isn’t so much 300 pages of writing as it is 300 pages of smart choices. And understanding how to make those choices can take a while. So give yourself plenty of time.
Second, you’re likely beating yourself up because your first draft isn’t perfect. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. No one ever needs to read your first draft. It’s for your eyes only and a way to tell the story to yourself. Aspiring writers often assume seasoned authors sit down at their laptops (or with their plume and jar of ink if they’re of a certain age) and the words flow like honey. That’s simply not true. In fact, giving yourself permission to write badly is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself as a writer. Writing takes draft after draft, revision after revision.
Some people assume talent is all you need to succeed. But successful people also don’t give up, even when they’re having doubts. So don’t surrender. Take that first draft, make it a second, make it a third, a fourth, and a fifth. Rewrite that story as many times as you need to until you start to feel magic. I promise it will come. Just have patience and don’t expect perfection to come too easily.