What Makes a Writer?   Leave a comment

71rYAYxfZsL._SL1500_There are many people who believe writers are born — that its a God-given talent and that being a talentless hack is a permanent condition.

This is partially true. Brain studies show that writers tend to use portions of their brains in concert with other portions of their brains more than non-writers appear to. When writer, both our left and right brains are engaged. Scientists have not yet ascertained if that is a cosmic accident or if writers just exercise their brains in this way more than do non-writers.

There is a place, however, where nature leaves off and nurture takes the lead. Yes, there are people who are born with natural talent, but you don’t have to be a prodigy to be a writer.

Writing is a labor of love. Novelists spend months, sometimes years, developing our works in progress. We have a passion for our stories that drive us to create. That doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself to succeed as a writer, but when writers aren’t writing, we’re thinking about writing. We’re describing our surroundings in teh voices of our characters, making critical observations and turning cliches upside down, eavesdropping on conversations to hear our real people talk to one another and … you should see where this is headed.

We’re not just curious about life and dabbling with writing. We’re passionate about it and we’re committed. We have an inquisitive mind that asks questions and keeps digging until we get answers. We pick the world up and turn it over and over until we understand it … or can at least describe it fully.

Writing requires dedication. Good, better, best, never let it rest. Nobody sits down at a keyboard and writes highly entertaining material the first time. Early writing is slow and labored and filled with doubt. And in the early days, you may not want to refer to yourself as a writer. Learning a craft like writing takes time. Improvement comes from massive amounts of reading and massive amounts of writing garbage followed by massive amounts of reading and massive amounts of producing mediocre writing, followed by more reading and finally starting to produce something you might want to let someone else read.

Notice how I highlighting reading as a writer’s tool. Every time you read something new you’ll begin reading it with the eye of a writer. You’ll come across something surprising or exciting, or scary and suspenseful, and you’ll wonder how the writer pulled it off. You’ll find yourself learning through mimicking.

Each writer tackles the steps toward being an author in an order unique to our own learning style and it’s not a straight path. Obstacles tend to multiply as you get better at your craft. Tenacity is necessary.

So is bravery. When I was writing The Willow Branch, I submitted my draft on Authonomy, more than a little concerned that nobody would like it. People did. Then I gained the interest of a notorious troll ont he site and he/she (depended on the iteration of this troll) ripped into my book. Ouch! I mean, PAINFUL! But you know what? That mean-spirited review actually contained some useful guidance. It took me in a direction that I hadn’t thought of before and made a better book. If I wasn’t a tenacious and brave person, I would have given up. Instead, I took his advice to heart.

We don’t tend to think of writing as a performance art. It’s not like my daughter — a dancer who is now traveling the Lower 48 as a bluegrass musician — whose art gets an immediate response from an audience that is right there in front of her. But in a way, writing is putting yourself out there, creating something to offer to the world and inviting commentary. SCARY! When you ask for honest questions, you often get them and that can be painful because everybody fancies themselves a literary critic, even neanderthals who have never held a pen in their lives.

That is part of the process. If you’re easily offended or defensive of your work or given to self-pity, this is where you might be tempted to stop creating. That’s your choice, of course, but if you can develop a thick skin, you can take that criticism, examine it honestly, find the value in it and make your book that much better. That doesn’t mean you have to make all the changes your critics suggest. Sometimes critics are cranks, but even cranks can have one or two good ideas. Readers who are not writers can often tell  you when something is wrong, but beware that they may not know how to fix it. My husband wanted Padraig, a healer, to engage in more sword play as an anecdote to what he (correctly) perceived to be a less-than-exciting narrative. But Padraig just suddenly attacking people with a sword, or alternatively being set upon by bandits for no good reason, would have destroyed the story. My solution was to mine the backstory of Celdrya and let non-healers engage in sword play. Brad-dear never saw that one coming.

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