Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Makes a Writer

After twenty-five years of teaching students how to write, and teaching teachers how to teach writing, I decided it was time to begin practicing what I’d been teaching all those years. Yet, when I sat down at my computer I experienced brain freeze. All these ideas were inside my head, but nothing would come out. What was wrong with me? Doubt—I doubted that I had the talent to write a novel that would sweep people off to exotic settings, catch them up in the turmoil’s of the hero and heroine, and a write a plot that kept readers riveted to the pages until reading, “The End.”

It wasn’t until I listened to Jaclyn Collins say in an interview that, “every person has at least one good book in them.” Okay, those words resonated loud and clear, and that statement became my mantra.

I began to ask myself—what makes a writer? Why is it that one person who wants to be a writer is successful and another isn’t? One writes a book, sells it, receives an advance, and goes on to write and sell many more books while another never get published, or becomes a one-book wonder.

I’ve pondered this and think I’ve figured it out. . .perhaps. Here’s what I’ve come up with. Talent is a huge factor, of course. Some writers put words on paper in ways that make them sing in the reader’s mind while the prose of others simply plods along with nothing to add zing to the story. If I had to give you an example, it might be some novels are like eating a boiled egg without salt and pepper.

There are those who talk about writing and those who actually sit down and write. It takes energy, confidence, drive, guts and determination to stay the course. What makes a writer is the one willing to educate h/herself about the writing process, the submission process, which publisher wants what genre, keeping abreast of changing trends, and then there is the willingness to research, develop the characters, spend hours rewriting, and adding layers to their story.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that many a good manuscript died in a slush pile, and a talented writer had to wait a little longer to be discovered. So, luck and timing plays a crucial role in who becomes published. And those writers, not willing to stay the course, and who allow discouragement to befriend them, either never realize their dream or take a little longer getting there.

I don’t know where I read this excerpt, but I liked it so much that I wrote it on a poster and put it on my wall: “If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find, and doing the best you can to understand and communicate with the reader, this will shine on paper like its own little beacon. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there SHINING!”

So in my very humble opinion, it is the same with writers. The ones who are going to succeed are willing to spend hours honing their craft, and try harder to get the attention of an editor or an agent. Those who never complete their books, or don’t follow through with all the effort it takes to make a novel the best it can be will never truly shine.


Debby Mayne said...

You made a lot of very good points, Loretta! I agree that good writers continue to learn craft.

I.J. Parnham said...

Whenever I get asked a variation on the - I want to write what should I do question I always start with the mantra that: writers write.

It follows though that writers also read, and not just read, but try to work out why what they're reading works, or not. And then they do the same to what they have written themselves and strive to create a little self-contained feedback loop of write, leave a bit, read, analyse, learn, write.

Oh and getting published is 50% hard work, 49% luck, and 1% creativity. And as Gary Player, I think, said, the harder I work the luckier I get.

Elisabeth Rose said...

Good point Ian. I never thought 'what should I do to become a writer?' I just wrote. It never occurred to me I couldn't. :) The only "official" writing training I've ever done was way back in school. Of course I've absorbed a lot of info through romance writing conferences and workshops but it never occurrred to me to go somewhere to get a certificate saying I ould write. I sought out the info I neeeded to progress when I realised I needed it.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Debby, thanks for dropping by. And aren't we fortunate to have our wonderful writers group.

Ian, you made some excellent points. As I was reading I was thinking, "Gee, I wish I'd said that."

Elizabeth, thanks for sharing.

Helen Hardt said...

Hi Loretta! I absolutely love this post. Whenever an aspiring writer asks me for advice, I say, "Self-educate, self-educate, self-educate." There's so much more to writing a novel than knowing the mechanics of good clean writing. And like you said -- sit down and write. As Picasso said, "Inspiration does exist, but it must find us working."


Loretta C. Rogers said...

Hello Helen, so nice to hear from you, and thanks for sharing Picasso's words. They, too, are an inspiration.

Mary Ricksen said...

I couldn't have put it into words any better then you did Loretta. Persistence, drive and hard work, that's what it's all about.
Love the quote Helen!

Ashley Ludwig said...

Loretta, this is beautiful.

It's amazing, all these quotes have one thing in common -- no one's sitting around waiting for a contract to beat them over the head! Every one of us is working -- in some way -- to improve our craft. WE are all works in progress! And, you've got a better shot getting help, if you're seeking it.

Well written. LOVE the hard boiled egg analogy! Glad to have found this blog.


sherrinda said...

I needed this post today. Thanks.

Carol Hutchens said...

Great post, Loretta. Very inspiring.


Loretta C. Rogers said...

I agree, Ashley, WE are all works in progress!! Well said.

Thanks to everyone who dropped in and left a comment. You are an inspiration.