“Writing … is the greatest of meritocracies”

by Anne Wayman

writers choiceRuth E. Thaler-Carter sent this quote to the American Independent Writers list I’m on which she found in the Sunday’s Book World section of The Washington Post, written by Maria Arana:

“Writing … is the greatest of meritocracies. You can either do it or you can’t, and the evidence soon becomes excruciatingly apparent. No amount of education will give you the gift or drive; you cannot be born into it or bequeathed it. But if it’s there, you’ll chase it until it finds you.”

I’ve always felt my ability to write is a gift – once I learned to read and write I wanted to express my thoughts on paper for others to read.

And I know what it’s liked to be chased by writing. Fortunately I’ve allowed it to find me, more than once. Or in many ways.


I’ve written personal essays, which led to a newspaper column. When I got my first computer the manuals frustrated me so much I sold someone on the idea I could write better ones which put me in tech writing until I couldn’t stand to write ‘press return’ one more time. When I was asked to edit a church magazine because of the questions I asked I said yes, even though I was poorly paid. That led to being asked if I could take over from a ghostwriter who wasn’t getting the job done. Again I said yes even though I hadn’t written anything longer than 2,000 words – tech manuals don’t count that way. The web arrived and after a day with a Dummies book or Idiot’s Guide I realized the web was another publishing platform.

Writing has continued to find me and I’ve continued to say yes even when I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s all learnable. Or it is if you’ve got any innate skill at all in putting words togehter.

I suspect that many, even most, of you reading this blog have been gifted with at least some writing ability. My hunch is you’re pretty articulate when you speak and that you speak mostly correctly.


If anything’s missing it’s noticing that writing is trying to find you and following through on that recognition. It’s taking some risks, and they aren’t big risks really. Nothing life threatening. Sure you may be rejected. So what? Sure it hurts, but if you’re being called to write what does it really matter in the long run? We write because we can and because we must and anything that we let get in the way of that is just avoidable nonsense.

What’s you’re response to this quote and mini-rant of mine?

BTW, you can follow Ruth on Twitter at: @WriterRuth She knows her stuff.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Ahlam September 27, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Anne, this post resonates so powerfully with me. I’ve tried to walk away from writing, but as you say, it just keeps coming back into my life. Thanks for the quote, it brings it all together.

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Anne September 28, 2011 at 11:21 am

Yeah, Ahlam, it rang my chimes too.

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Amelia Ramstead September 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I’m still working my way around and finding my niche, but I’m so determined to make this happen. Part of me is furious with myself for waiting for so long and letting circumstances dictate my life, but another part of me is accepting that it just wasn’t the right time then.

I’ve found that the more I push, the more doors open and sometimes I just happen to be in the right place at the right time. I’m not a particularly religious person, but this is something I’ve always found in my life — when I’m on the right track, the doors open. When I’m on the wrong track, it’s like fighting an uphill battle. Hmmm. I think I smell a blog post coming on…
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Anne September 28, 2011 at 11:08 am

And sometimes a specific niche doesn’t really matter as long as we keep writing and rewriting and marketing.

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Nicky Parry September 27, 2011 at 9:55 am

More great commentary and comments! Further support for the fact that if you believe you write well, then you have to suffer the rejections until you latch onto something. It only takes “one” to get you started. The rest is a product of your persistence and self-marketing. Ugh, the marketing….!
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Petra September 27, 2011 at 3:40 am

This could be one of the most useful blogs we have ever come across on the subject. Actually excellent info! I am also an expert in this topic therefore I can understand your effort.
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Steven Threndyle September 27, 2011 at 2:16 am

I have just discovered your blog, and am pleased by the encouragement it offers. However, I have found- as a middle-aged (55) writer approaching what should be retirement age – that businesses (which pay money) and society (which values knowledge) no longer pay writers what they’re worth outside of perhaps the technical field. And… I think a lot of that is due to technology; many learning styles now are predicated on ‘watching a video’ rather than picking up a manual. Also, virtually everyone is ‘passed’ in elementary/secondary school when it comes to language arts these days; therefore ‘everybody’s a writer.’ (Not so with maths or sciences; the ‘rules’ governing what is a right answer and wrong answer are far stricter).

These days when companies want to cut costs, they trim fat from the marketing/communications teams first (seldom ever in the HR departments; now I wonder why that is?). The last two corporate gigs I’ve worked have been a disaster – writing projects are routinely passed around to six or seven pretty intelligent people, all of whom feel the need to weigh in with their input (just FYI – these are actually pretty successful companies). The writer is more of an aggregator/editor than a true wordsmith, and the final product often shows it. Bland, stilted language that no-one is happy with.

I read a lot of that truly most valuable and American of literary art forms – the narrative, long-form non fiction story as found in the New Yorker, Sunday Times Magazine, Harper’s, Atlantic, and even Vanity Fair. But these magazines (and no, the stories are NOT difficult to read) continue to suffer declining circulation and ad revenues. I guess everyone’s on Facebook, or commenting on blogs. Sigh.
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Anne September 27, 2011 at 11:42 am

Steve, welcome. Glad you’re here. And, as you might imagine, I totally disagree. Yes, many companies pay less, but many more pay more – all those who cut writing staff now have to outsource the tasks and will pay good rates. You’ve already got a built-in specialty with skiing. Who needs writing about skiing? How can skiing be used as a metaphor for other stuff? You can get paid a good amount. Your age has absolutely nothing to do with it. I promise.

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CJJohnsonWrites September 26, 2011 at 11:35 am

I’ve let writing find me, slowly. I have always been a strong writer but never considered it for a vocation. Now, after lay-offs, and dead end jobs, I decided to let writing be an instrument for professional achievement for me. I am pursuing writing at full speed and not looking back.

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Wade Finnegan September 25, 2011 at 1:13 am

For me I like both. Writing has always been something I’m good at and I like doing it. Now, I like the challenge of the business. I enjoy competing and there is a competitive aspect to freelance writing that I’m really enjoying.

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Jake P September 23, 2011 at 7:08 pm

You’re correct, Cathy–and please don’t mistake my comment for saying that everyone has to love the business aspects. But they do have to accomplish them at some level.

My experience (if I’m allowed to climb on my itty-bitty soapbox) is that “just let me write/design” folks are endlessly frustrated and constantly on the brink of financial disaster. (If you saw the unabridged comments in Freelance Forecast, you’d know what I mean.) In many cases, they’d surely be better off working for a company that finds the business for them, rather than beating their heads against the freelance wall. It’s not *that* glamorous, eh.

Have a great weekend!
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Anne September 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Soap boxes allowed here Jake. And you’re so right… just wanting to write while ignoring the rest of what it takes to be in business is, well, silly.

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Cathy Miller September 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I think I took the most circuitous route possible. :-) But, like you, Anne, I’ve allowed writing to find me in many ways. I believe we all have unique talents and it’s the noise around us that keeps many of us from pursuing those talents.

And, Jake, there are many who would say just the opposite-keep the sales and marketing, the negotiating – just let me write. That’s what makes individuals so darned interesting. Who am I to judge where you are? (the euphemistic you, Jake) ;-)
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Anne September 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Well said, as usual, Cathy.

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Jake P September 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm

To a certain extent, I envy the people who absolutely LOVE to write. I don’t, really. I don’t enjoy doing creative writing in my spare time, for example. I’d rather go play golf or do yardwork or go for a bike ride.

That said, it happens to be where my skill set landed me, and I consider myself lucky in that respect. But just as writing is a meritocracy, I’d reckon that freelancing is, too. You have to enjoy the sales and marketing, the negotiating, and, as you point out, the process of educating yourself in a topic, business or industry. That, to me, is where the fun is. Putting together the words is simply a vehicle for that.
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Anne September 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Well said Jake. My recreation reading, kayaking and such like that. I do like to write however,and have learned to do the marketing and business stuff to support that.

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