I was puzzled. She has extensive experience as a technical writer and is paid to write for a living. People value her output. But her training and background is in engineering, so she doesn’t feel like she’s really a writer.
Here’s a clue: if someone is paying you to write, and if your job performance depends on the quality of that effort, then you can genuinely say that you’re a writer.
My friend is not alone. Many people have difficulty considering themselves writers. Somehow, they feel that to be a “real” writer, they need to have a completely different background, and possibly an alternate identity.
We are all susceptible to a common myth that writing is a destiny, rather than an acquired skill set.
The Destiny Myth
The Destiny Myth would have us believe that a specific, unique subset of individuals are natural-born writers. They master grammar, sentence construction and vocabulary, in service of creativity granted from above. The rest of us are merely pretending to be writers.
Clearly writing comes more easily to some people than others. Our writing ability is influenced by verbal intelligence – what some might call talent. And it is nurtured through our educational and cultural background.
But here’s the secret: everyone who writes well learned to do so. No one is born with the ability. As Angela Duckworth points out so effectively in the book Grit, talent is just the starting point. Achievement is all about effort, and effort can outrun talent.
Good writers develop through intentional effort.
The Destiny Myth often afflicts people who, like my friend, write as part of their jobs. The content she creates is functional in nature. Few people read a project proposal or technical document for the sheer fun of it. We read it for a reason: to get something done.
Let’s not denigrate workplace writing. That writing may serve a more important function than the novel you read on the beach. Business writing may operate by a different set of rules than fiction, but the people who work on the craft are no less writers.
The Dangers of the Destiny Myth
Believing in the Destiny Myth gives you an excuse not to work on the craft of writing. You can lower your standards; people shouldn’t expect much from someone who isn’t a writer, right?
The Destiny Myth can also damage your career prospects if the people around you believe in it.
- If you are not identified as a writer, you may have to actively volunteer for opportunities to write.
- If you are the defined writer, you can end up the dumping ground for all writing-related projects. This may limit your ability to take on other projects.
You can use the Destiny Myth to avoid doing writing that could benefit your career. I cannot write a blog post, because I’m not a writer.
How to Defeat the Destiny Myth
The first place to tackle this myth is in your own thoughts. This is what it might sound like:
“I’m not really a writer.”
When you find yourself with that thought, start questioning it. The truth is probably more specific. You might narrow it down to “I’m not a fiction writer,” or “I’m not paid to write.” More often, it’s “I’m not confident in my writing skills.”
Those are all things that can be addressed, if you choose. It’s in your control.
Writing is a destiny you choose yourself.
More Myths and Misconceptions about Writers
People have a lot of crazy ideas about writers. When I say people, I mean everyone — even people who are by definition writers.
Myths make great fodder for summer movies. But in real life, believing in myths can prevent you from taking the actions that lead to success.
For more on the writing myths, see The Workplace Writer’s Process.