I grew up with a limiting type of mindset: you either have it, or you don’t.
This idea got me from singing and acting to corporate talks and workshops before I made up my mind about that one thing I’ve always wanted to do —and for which I believed, I wasn’t good enough.
My relationship with writing starts like those silly love stories where you fall in love with a girl that doesn’t quite love you back because she has better matches. Like, J.R.R Tolkien, G.R.R Martin, Quentin Tarantino or Paul Schrader (Top-tier handsomeness.)
Who the hell has that much R’s in his name, anyway?
Yet, as in any other love story, I decided to get the girl.
I decided to become a writer:
Even when I wasn’t writing in my native language
Even when I had no money
Even when I wasn’t a Natural
The myth of The Natural
Getting Writing to love me was difficult. And not being a Natural was the biggest of my concerns.
See, in my mind, I would categorize people into two oversimplistic groups:
The Hard Workers
The thing is we’re drawn to Naturals. We love them. These are the type of writers who wrote a book when they were 2 years old and still at a pre-verbal level.
But why do we love them? Why are naturals so attractive? A good explanation would be that they don’t seem to be trying. They almost seem effortless. And who doesn’t love a bit of comfort?
I first realized this as a Psychology undergrad when I was studying Mihály Csikszentmihalyi concept of Flow. And later, in Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Angela’s studies completely changed my mind about what I needed to become a successful writer. In her findings, she found Naturals to be sometimes surpassed by Hard Workers. And the reason behind this can be traced to something she calls deliberate practice.
Deliberate Practice and Writing
It doesn’t matter how many hours a day you rock that chairs of yours. Or if your word count is high enough to shine on a neon leaderboard.
You are not getting better if you are spending your time repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
So what do you do? You go for deliberate practice.
But, what is that?
In Angela Duckworth words:
“Rather than focus on what they already do well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses”
The renowned social scientist also manages to break down deliberate practice into 4 basic requirements:
There’s a clearly defined stretch goal (like improving your dialogues or character design)
Full concentration and effort (not watching Instagram, texting or walking the dog while you write)
Immediate and informative feedback (find some beta readers, an editor or anyone with a neutral point of view)
Repetition with reflection and refinement.
To improve your writing. Take your Work In Progress (blog, book, screenplay) and read it thoroughly focusing on what you’re doing wrong instead of what’s right.
It’s better to do a 10-minute practice of anything you haven’t grasped yet, than a 2 hours practice of something you are really good at.
How I started making money as a writer
With deliberate practice, the good news was my writing was getting better. Bad news, I was still broke. And that intensified a number of doubts (and debts) I had with me.
So, it was settled. I had no money and I wasn’t making any as a writer. I thought about going back to my old job. Rock that 4×4 cubicle with my best suit and tie. Power up that corporate wheel like a cyborg hamster. It was a sad ending to my love story.
Until I got an offer.
Have you tried copywriting?
Oh yeah, I have copy-pasted before.
No. Copywriting. Sales. Advertising. Mouth-to-mouth Marketing.
Would I be able to write poems?
As long as you sell
So, I signed the contract and I was in (Ta-dah). The best part of the job was that I was actually making a living from writing. And copywriting, with its own structure and ways, helped me:
Outline my stories
Understand my audience
Put my rear-end on the chair to write like a mad man.
In 6 months I racked a total amount of 180,000 words on blog posts and articles. That’s basically a thriller (100,000) and a mystery novel (80,000).
And on top of that, I was actually making enough money to pay for my Screenwriting Diploma plus my own domain (this one site you are reading right now).
In a few months I stopped caring about not being a Natural, and writing, well, she winked at me the other day (you can tell we’re pretty much dating).
Don’t worry about not being a Natural. All of these guys you love and admire had insecurities too. But they didn’t hide under a blanket to make their problems go away. They practiced. They did the right kind of practice.
So, what are you waiting for? A little effort can do big things to help you reach your goal. Quoting Csikszentmihalyi:
“Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.”