Back 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.
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.