A Shortcut to Writerdom

1Back when I lived in Poland, I used to teach English as a foreign language to children. I remember one year, when a mother of a seven year old girl approached me. It was September, we have just started the classes on the beginner level, and that mother asked me whether at the end of the school year her daughter would be fluent in English. “You see,” she said, “next summer we’re moving to United Kindgom where her father works.” I looked at the woman and hesitated before giving an answer. Would the girl be fluent? No. Yes.

With only one hour class a week it was impossible and it wasn’t an intensive course for adults, these classes were bringing the concept of a foreign means of communication to the children. But if that mother ensured at the same time the girl watched cartoons in English, listened to English songs and worked with her mom on daily basis to learn new words and grow the girl’s linguistic confidence, then yes, that little seven year old would be able to communicate in English. As you can guess, the mother didn’t like my answer.

Why am I writing about this? Because recently a question asked on one of the Facebook groups made me think about it. One of the users sparked the discussion about writing in a second language, a topic I’m personally interested in. There was a lot of useful advice given to the user regarding both the use of the language and the writing skills in general, and I shared some thoughts too. I said that I wrote my first serious work in English when I was about 28 and these 120,000 words were somewhat useless. That six years later, having finished my third novel in English I can see the difference in my style. That I went from “no thank you” short story rejections to occasional “no thank you, but hey, your writing is good, send us more”. That I’ve spent these years reading not only fiction, but also texts about writing. And that I somewhat had a head start because I learned a lot about style and storytelling while writing in my native language first.

The question that came after that was: “What worked the best for you?”

And just like when the mother of my student asked the question, I hesitated before giving an answer. What worked the best for me? Several things ran through my head, but before I’d pick any of them, I understood that the question was actually about something else. It wasn’t a question of what worked for me, what helped me to get where I am now—still struggling with the foreign grammar at times, but all in all satisfied with my progress—but a question of what that person should pick to get to the same point the quickest way.

And that’s why I gave the only one possible answer: patience.

1

Sometimes I feel that people neglect the most simple truth: you don’t become a good writer overnight (in fact, you don’t become good anyone overnight). Yes, overnight you can choose to become one, you can start your first story or a novel, you can even call yourself a “writer”. But to become a good writer you’ll need time, patience and hard work. And if you wonder when exactly you’re going to become good at putting words together: it depends on your inherent skills, on how much time you devote daily and how much effort you put into your goal.

There’s no shortcut to the Writerdom, there’s no shortcut to learning how to use language effectively and how to entice the readers with one’s stories. There’s no easy way to learn the craft. There’s no instant solution, no “writer-in-a-box: just add water” recipe. You just have to take the long path, straining at times, challenging and discouraging, but it’s also full of self-discovery, growth and beautiful landscapes of the words you craft better and better. And if anyone is telling you otherwise, if they are pointing towards shady shortcuts, offering instant solutions (such as vanity publishing) or arguing you’re a good writer without taking the long path, they are most likely trying to get your money.

Only writing and studying the craft will make you into a writer.

6 thoughts on “A Shortcut to Writerdom”

  1. Agreed it takes lot of work and patience to become good at something, but for some it also takes necessity.
    For instance I would love to learn a new language.
    If I needed to do it then it would be somehow much easier, because I would then be using the skills I’ve learned and cement them in my brain.
    Learning a language because I want to just doesn’t seem to be something my brain is OK with because the skills aren’t being used.

  2. I love this so much! I want to teach English as a foreign language in a few years and I can’t wait to start. There really is no shortcut to being a writer other than dedication and patience. Great post!

    1. Thank you, Amanda! 🙂 And good luck with you becoming a teacher – it’s not an easy path and not an easy skill to learn (especially for a native speaker: the things you find easy are difficult for non-native speakers and the other way around), but a lot of fun and satisfaction!

  3. When I worked as an EFL teacher many adults approached me with similar question. They usually wanted to become fluent in English just after one-two years of learning with minimum work involved because hey, they were BUSY earning MONEY. I usually answered that I personally know one patented fail-proof method of achieving fluency in a foreign language and I call it the Chancellor Bismarck method. Those unfortunate ones who didn’t recognize the name and asked for elaboration were given just four words: blood, sweat and tears. Nothing worth having comes easy.

    1. One would think that people working so hard to make their money would be first to understand this rule… I guess some people never change and they’ll always try to find the easy, cheap and quick solution first.

Leave a Reply