Merely Competent Writers

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he writes the following:

“…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”


Thank you Lord on behalf of all merely competent writers in the world.

I like what King says here for a couple of reasons.  First, what if, at some point in your life, you discover that what you want to do more than anything is tell stories? And what if, throughout your whole life, you’ve never once had a teacher tell you that you had real writing talent? What do you do?

Do you throw in the towel before you start? Oh crap, the literary gods didn’t give me the magic touch so I better not bother?


Chances are, if you really want to tell stories, you may just be a competent writer.

Not so terrible a place to begin.

That’s basically the place I found myself. I’ve always loved stories, loved telling stories, loved inventing stories, but never had anybody throughout my many years of school validate my writing ability. I was good at memorizing, good at studying, good at math, good at reasoning. But I never had a teacher tell me I was good at writing. My awesome but brutally tough European History teacher wrote on the top of my first paper “Dan, do you even know the English language?”  My guess is Flannery O’Connor never got feedback like that from her high school teachers.

The point is, real talent in anything usually rises to the surface(for instance I have a real talent for running into things at full speed and not giving a damn about what happens, it was a talent that was obvious to everybody my entire life, and I played college football because of it)…and a whole bunch of us didn’t necessarily manifest great writing talent early on.

Yet here we are, trying to make it. As writers.

And King tells us, it’s going to take hard work. And what’s more, if you are like me and fall into the ‘merely competent’ category, you’re never going to be Flannery O’Connor let alone the pantheon of geniuses like Shakespeare, Faulkner, etc…

But, if you read your arse off and write your arse off and get better at the elements of style and story structure. And if you revise, revise, revise.  And if you finish the damn book.

If you do these things, every day, then you and I…the merely competent writers of the world…may one day join a new group.

The good writers.

Good luck!