“Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. Then the moment you bag something big… you think, This one is a keeper. This is a trophy brought back from the future realm, the kingdom of perpetual glistening night where we know ourselves absolutely. This one goes on the wall.”
– Kate Braverman, American novelist, short story writer
I’ve seen and read plenty of writing amateurs. So have you. Any yahoo who can hold a pen or sidle up to a keyboard and bang out a “story” – no matter how tired, painful, incoherent or purple prosed – may consider themselves a “writer.” God bless ‘em. Most of these folks haven’t the foggiest. They think wowing an occasional audience with a few lines, short stories or even the penning pages of their next novel makes them a “writer.”
Solitude and Single-Mindedness
Writing is hard work. Think hauling a 40,000-lb. logging truck with your teeth. Scaling Mount Everest. Or childbirth. Laboring to bring forth a full-formed, intelligible plot, believable, three-dimensional characters and engaging dialogue – as opposed to the trite, hackney sort – is a creative endeavor unlike any other. Because of the amount of blood, sweat, tears and patience required to do write well, few undertake it for the long run. Add this to the fact that writing is a solo act by definition and requires solitude, single-mindedness, and devotion on the order of all the tea in China, and you’ll understand why some view Real Writers as neurotic geniuses. So, how do you tell the difference between say, an amateur “writer” and a pro? (Whole books have been devoted to answering this question. I’m not going to reproduce the entire discussion here. This is a “Cliff’s notes” version.) A few tell-tale signs that differentiate Writer Wannabees from the Real Deal may include:
- Real writers write. This may seem self-evident, but you might be surprised at the number of “writers” who don’t actually write anything. They may talk about writing, read about writing, plan on writing, but they never seem to sit down and actually write. Real writers do. Constantly.
- Real writers understand that writing isn’t about fame, fortune or even “I have something to say,” but mindset.
- Do you see writing as a past-time, frivolity, luxury, or hobby, or as your real job – (paid, unpaid, full or part-time, self-supporting or still working at selling your first piece)?
- Most real writers are keen observers of the human condition. They notice things most others don’t. Are you always on the lookout for your next idea, springboard, platform, inspiration or epiphany?
- Writers see events, people, conversations, conflict, or drama as opportunities to “connect the dots”- usually in places and settings where others may see thin air. Or less. Do you?
Outside of Mozart, how many ‘creative geniuses’ can you name who can crank out a perfect magnum opus on the first try? Real writers may spend hours, days, or longer searching for just the right verb, phrase, or context. They’re not satisfied with “close” or the first notion that pops into their head, whether it works or not. Real writers know that Rewrite is imperative, not optional – and they’re willing to pay their dues. Real writers actively pursue opportunities to improve, learn and grow as people and as craftsmen. Do you?
Real writers have stamina. They know that momentary inspiration does not necessarily a writer make. Obviously, a poem or short story doesn’t require the amount of time a 300 or 400 page novel does. But all writing takes time and effort. For example, a novel takes a lot of preparation: character development, setting, dialogue, conflict, showing instead of telling, choosing a POV, etc. Each writer moves at their own pace, depending on many external and internal factors. It took Natalie Babbitt ten years to write Tuck Everlasting, a 140 paged book. J.K. Rowling spent 3 years on her 800 paged book.
Your Own Voice
It may or may not take you this long to find your own voice. The point is, don’t try to sound like someone else. Develop your own unique style and writing “persona.” Be patient with yourself while you’re in the process. Also keep in mind that:
- Real writers always have their writing ‘antenna” up. Do you seek opportunities to “chime in” every day, every where you go? Are you on the look out for new ideas and fresh material?
- When you’re out on the trail, mid-sentence, at the theater, mall, restaurant, playground, office or work site – are you chomping at the bit to get to the nearest recording device and capture that epiphany in print so you can continue later?
- Finally, and most importantly, do you see writing something you do, or as who you are?
More next time. Stay tuned.