I’m Not a Great Writer

Taking a break from our scheduled programming because I am frustrated. I am not a great writer.

Writing, like other creative endeavors, is such a unique profession. In most jobs, you grow at a continual pace in the day-to-day functions, with no hard evidence of what you were like in your first or third or even thirtieth week. Writing has that special talent for constantly reminding you that your work is trash.

OK, that might be an exaggeration. But words are so powerful, and I have yet to feel like I know how to harness them. I think because speaking comes so naturally to me I feel my vocal skills should easily translate to writing. Hahahanotexactly.

I started reading when I was four. I remember this moment in preschool where I was reading “Silly Sally Went to Town,” a book that I had memorized (as many children do), suddenly realizing that the words I was saying were the words on the page. I don’t know how it worked but in that instant, reading clicked. The preschool teachers thought I was reciting the book and gave me another text to try (a good teacher move on their parts). I remember looking up at their faces as I read that one aloud, their faces which said holy shit. Though I’m guessing 4-year-old Emily used other language for that interpretation.

That’s one of my earliest, favorite, and most powerful memories. I saw a door open to an entirely new world. From that moment on I could read everything—and I certainly attempted to. I couldn’t get over how authors could make words come to life and tell a story. Writers were magicians, and I knew I wanted to become one.

Even when I said I wanted to be a teacher, even when I was a teacher, I always said that after teaching, I would become a writer. That transition happened a lot sooner than I expected, which leads me to where I currently stand.

“I know what great writing is. I also know I’m not doing it.”

I love writing so much. I hope to never lose my love for the art. But there’s this thing that drives me crazy in the best way possible. It’s infuriating and amazing all at once. It’s knowing that what I’m making is not great—because I don’t want good, I want great—while not knowing how to make what I’m producing great. I know what great writing is. I also know I’m not doing it.

Like I said, there’s something so frustrating and wonderful about this knowledge. This video sums it up beautifully (as is true for basically anything involving Ira Glass).

The catch-up is real. I see my boyfriend’s writing and am in awe. He is the best writer I know, and I don’t say that out of personal bias. He’s had huge successes in his career because he knows how to write and has dedicated years to becoming a great writer. I’m not jealous; it inspires me. But I’m reminded that while he spent five years in college learning how to write while also writing (and being the editor) for magazines and newspapers, I was learning something else. When I started writing full-time at the marketing agency where we met, he had been working there for seven months.

I’m not a great writer. I may never think of myself as one. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to get better. 

Here’s to knowing when my shit stinks. Here’s to creating volumes.

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