It wasn’t Mary Lou’s fault that I snapped.

She’d told me, “You know, Cheri, I’m a speaker, not a writer!” many times before.

As had other speaker friends and coaching clients. Most notably (and most vociferously) the founder of Communicator Academy: Kathi Lipp, author of seventeen books.

But at 9:42 AM on January 12, I’d had it up to here with hearing “I’m a speaker, not a writer” from smart, accomplished, connected people — people with strong, unique voices who kept talking themselves out of writing.

So I leapt on my trusty soapbox and galloped off on a rant, trying to explain what it does (and doesn’t) take to be a real writer.

My outraged outburst was choppy and repetitive and almost completely incoherent. When I paused to breathe, Mary Lou said, “Thank you. That was wonderful. Nobody’s ever explained it that way to me before.”

She asked if I would put my rant into writing for her, so she could read it when she needed an encouraging reminder.

I promised I would.

As I did, I discovered that there are many speaker-not-writers lurking in the shadows, each one feeling too much like a fraud to actually step foot in the writer club*.

So, Mary Lou, I wrote this for you. And Kathi, you, too. And Kimberli and Shantell and every other speaker who has ever wished to be a better writer.

* * * * *

“I’m a speaker, not a writer!” you tell me.

I hear you.

“I don’t have to work at speaking — it just flows.”

“Speaking to a live audience is fun! There’s feedback, responses, you can gauge how it’s going, change course, or pace, whatever based on how they react.”

“HUMOR — it’s so much easier to communicate something funny verbally.”

I hear you. 

“I’m an extravert. I gain energy and inspiration from people.”

“I love connecting with people face-to-face.”

“People can hear the tone and emotion in my voice and see my facial expression when I speak.”

I hear you.  

“I was a slow reader and struggled with it starting in first grade. I was the only one in my family who hated reading. I compared myself to my dad and brother who could read a novel in a day, where I needed three months. I was sure it was because I was stupid. I equate writing with reading and just assume it’s too much for me. I got a 3.98 GPA in graduate school … but when it comes to writing, I feel incapable like I did in first grade.”

I hear you. 

“I have a learning disability.”

“I feel like everyone else is smarter than me … than I am? (See—I can never remember which it is!)”

“I feel stupid.”

I hear you. 

“I was scarred from having my writing criticized when I was younger.”

I saw so much red pen all over papers in college … on essays I was so proud of.”

“I got too much negative feedback, with no encouragement.”

“I was told I wasn’t a good writer.”

“I got bad grades in writing and English.”

I hear you.

Now please hear me.

On behalf of English teachers and Grammar Commanders everywhere: I apologize.

Knowing the difference between to, too, and two never made anyone a writer.

Neither has perfect punctuation. Nor has great grammar.

When, in our attempts to make you a better writer, we made you afraid to write at all?

We. Were. Wrong.

I am so sorry.

You don’t have to say, “I’m not a writer” any more.

Instead, you can say

I’m not a particularly good speller.”

I’m not much of a punctuator.”

I’m not a grammarian.”

You can say, “I’m a speaker and a writer.”

Because a writer is someone who clearly expresses a powerful message in words that end up on a page.

Sometimes this looks like scribbled ideas on napkins and church bulletins and Post-It Notes.

Sometimes this looks like a bullet-point outline for your upcoming talk.

Sometimes this looks like recording your speech, having it transcribed, and then revising it.

Sometimes this looks like sitting down with a co-creator and dividing up the work: you talk, and they put your best words in writing.

There’s no one right way to get your words on a page.

better writer

Another truth you may not have heard:

Writing is hard for all of us.

So when words — those same wonderful words that flow so effortlessly when you speak — when they suddenly play hide-and-seek as you try to pin them to a page?

It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Or someone else is smarter.

It simply means that you’re writing.

And if you’re writing, using whatever process works for you — even if it’s not the process your English teacher tried to drum into your head or the process the latest greatest Internet guru wants to sell you or the process that all the “real writers” you so admire swear by …

If you’re writing, using whatever process works for you:

You. Are. A. Writer.

Yes, you are.

Feel free to say, “I’m more natural at speaking.”

Feel free to say, “I’m a verbal processor.”

Feel free to say, “I don’t like writing alone — I’m a social writer, not a solitary writer.”

But don’t you ever let me hear you say, “I’m not a writer” again.

Because as long as the words God speaks through you keep showing up on a page somehow — in your own handwriting, through a transcriptionist, via collaboration, or any other of the myriad ways that real writers write — “I’m not a writer” is blatantly untrue.

No more saying that about you.

* * * * *

Click here to receive your printable copy of “To the Speaker Who Says, ‘I’m Not a Writer’.”

better writer

(* Note: There is no secret ingredient writer club. But that’s a rant blog post for a different day.)

better writerCheri Gregory is co-author with Kathi Lipp of Overwhelmed: How to Quiet the Chaos and Restore Your Sanity and founder of Write Beside You author coaching and manuscript development services. Connect with Cheri via Voxer (cherigregory), Facebook, or good old fashioned Email (





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