Emily McKay, Writers and Writing

Tonight I happened to be talking to someone The Geek works with about my job as a writer. “It must be great to be able to write like that. To have that gift,” he said. I stammered a bit and didn’t quite know what to say.

Partly, because I’m two weeks out on a deadline on a book unlike anything I’ve ever written. This is my favorite part of the writing process. It’s when the book starts to really take shape and feel like a book. But it’s also the time when I’m putting in extra long writing days and it feels like the book is just kicking my butt.  So at the moment I got the complement, it didn’t feel like I have a gift.

But the other reason the complement made me uncomfortable is that I generally don’t think of myself as having a gift. No, I’m not fishing for complements. I’m not being coy. I just don’t see it that way. I know a lot of truly gifted writers. People who write gorgeous poetic sentences and will make you want to weep. I’m not one those people. My friend Skylar White is like that. Omg, her writing is so beautifully lyrical, sometimes all I can do is shake my head. My friend Tracy Wolff/Tessa Adams/Tracy Deebs is like that too–oh, and she’s prolific too, if you can’t tell from the grocery list of pseudonyms. Sherry Thomas is another writer I know who’s like that. Just gorgeous prose! And she’s not even a native speaker of English.

All of these people can sentences so pretty they make you cry. Metaphors that make your heart sing. Me? Not so much. Me crafting a metaphor is a bit like those apes at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and everyone just wants it to end so we can get on with the story.

That’s what I mean when I say I’m not a gifted writer. I don’t do that pretty prose thing.

What I am, is a determined writer. I have wanted to tell stories since I was a kid. Telling stories is the thing I was meant to do. It’s woven into my brain and my blood like nothing else. My entire adult life has been about learning to tell stories well. Not so much because I wanted to be published (but, yeah, that too), but because I want to do justice to the stories  and characters in my head. I want them to be as vivid and real to other people as they are to me. It’s that determination that brings me to the keyboard everyday.

Sometimes, I wish like hell that I was a gifted writer, but I’m learning to make do with my determination. Determination probably will never earn me literary accolades, but it’s won me friends and fans. And I’m damn proud of that. My journey as a writer has taken some interesting twists and turns this year, partly because I’ve stretched and grown and tried new things. Partly because I’ve wrestled with issue of writerly gifts. There’s something to be said for making peace with your limitations. For embracing them even. I hope that doing so will make shore up the bedrock of my strengths.

Are there any gifts you wish you had?



26 thoughts on “

  1. eli yanti says:

    a lot of books with signed by author 😀

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      Ha! Yes, Eli, that is a great gift!

  2. Suzanne says:

    Love this post. Im in your camp, not gifted but damned determined. And I believe that that makes me a better writer.

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      You know, Suzanne, this is a tough business to be in and damn determined will keep you in the game even when things get hard. That’s worth a lot.

  3. Quilt Lady says:

    I wish I had the gift of being a speed reader, then I could get more books read and try more authors.

    1. EmilyMcKay says:

      That is an awesome gift, Quilt Lady. One I wish I had too. Man, I’d love to be able to read more.

  4. Sandi in OH says:

    You have to remember that gifted writes did not start out being gifted writers. They had to work at it and they probably don’t think they are gifted either. I’m a gifted reader. I’m a writer for my 3 grandchildren. I write one page stories about my little dog, Chewie, and enclose it with a letter to them. I figure it helps them with their reading. They are 9, 8, and 6. My son was never getting married and never having kids. He was wrong on both counts. I am a pretty good baker so I guess that is my gift.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Sandi, I love the idea of writing stories for your grandchildren. What a fabulous gift for them!

  5. Shana Galen Shana Galen says:

    I feel the same was about my writing. It’s just hard work and not really any giftedness at all. I wish I could hear and sing harmony. I have to really work to hear it. I envy those people who can just harmonize with anything.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Shana, I can’t sing at all. My singing can drive away wild dogs, so I’d love to be able to sing at all. And it’s nice to know I”m not alone in this gifted-writer thing.

  6. Turophile says:

    I am in the middle of a book called “Talent is overrated” The basic thesis of the book backed up with good research is that what we often mistake as someone’s innate talent or gift is actually the result of sustained, deliberate practice. So rather than thinking you don’t have the gift (because no one really does), think you’re a good writer and you’ve worked darn hard to get there.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Turophile, I may have to go look for that book. Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. Kristin Noel Fischer says:

    Emily, as an aspiring pre-published writer, I really appreciate this post. Thanks for sharing. I wish I had the gift of being an organized Saint because when people find out about my big family, they always say, “You must be a Saint, and you have to be organized.” Dang! Should have thought of that before I had the kids.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Kristin, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And I know what you mean about the kids. i remember thinking that when we first met. “Wow, she must be so organized!”
      You’re probably more organized than you think, but I suspect with that many kids, it’s a sisyphean task!

  8. I totally disagree with you, Emily!!
    You ARE a gifted writer. Just because you don’t write like Skylar… just because you don’t create words and phrases that stand on their own doesn’t mean you are without a gift. Storytelling is a wonderful gift. It’s not easy to put a story together cohesively in a way that anyone will want to read or hear. You do that exceptionally well. It IS a gift!

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Ah, Margo, thanks! I actually teared up a bit there. That’s such a great complement. And I think I really needed to hear it as I head into the final scenes of this book.

  9. CateS says:

    Even with a ‘gift’, it’s doesn’t happen until you use it. Have you ever asked those ‘gifted’ writers that you admire if they have to ‘work’ at their ‘writing’.. You write wonderful books and I’m glad that you are willing to work so hard to get them down on paper. Thank you.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      CateS, you are very right. And I do know that those writers I mentioned all work extremely hard. I see it first hand. And I didn’t mean to imply that they don’t. Just that they do something I can’t seem to master.

  10. Kathryn in Montreal says:

    I would love to be able to sing. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I would love to be able to belt out a song like Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner… not asking for much, am I???

    1. Emily McKay says:

      Kathryn, I’m with you on the signing thing. I’d love to be able to sing.

  11. Reading this post, two things are clear, Em: one, you do have a gift; and two, I agree with you wholeheartedly! Determination is much more important than being gifted, and all the gifted writers I know would agree with this (including lovely Sherry!). I think everyone who sits down to write a book has a gift of creativity in some form or fashion. Some have plot creativity, some have a way with words, some have both or more…but nothing will come of that without some true grit. So preach it, sister! And don’t sell yourself short.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      thank you so much, Kristan! That means a lot to me. I’m totally going to have to come back and reread all these comments in the next week while I’m finishing the book. 😆

  12. RobynDeHart RobynDeHart says:

    I love the blog, and I agree with everything, but that crap you said about you and metaphors. You are fantastic with symbolism of any sort in your books, it’s one of my favorite things about your writing. Just because writing feels like working at the coal mine doesn’t mean you’re not making magic. You are gifted. That being said, I totally get why you don’t feel like it’s a gift. I never feel that way about my own writing. As for what gift I’d like to have – other than being more of a wordsmith, I would love to be a great singer. I’m decent, I can carry a tune, but to have that amazing voice…that would be awesome.

    1. Emily McKay says:

      yes, working in the coal mine is exactly what it feels like. And you used the perfect word — wordsmith. That’s the kind of writing I mean. And thank you for the praise.

  13. Emily this is an awesome blog. I so know what you mean — I’m that determined writer too. There have been times when I felt the writing bug was more curse than gift!

  14. Emily McKay says:

    Yes. I agree, Jan, about it feeling like a curse sometimes. Why couldn’t I have been bitten by the engineering bug? At least that would come with a steady salary and dental. 😆

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