Numb bum and hubris

IMG_7588Last week Kristen Lamb wrote a post about whether some people lack the talent to be authors. It got me thinking too, do you need talent to make it as a writer?

When I first decided to take this writing lark seriously (in my mid 30’s) I started out with a course at my local TAFE. The author who ran the course pulled me aside at the end of the 4 weeks and told me I was good at this thing and to keep on writing. Maybe 5 years later I was doing a course at the Queensland Writers Centre and the editor taking the course critiqued my chapter and said I had something that could not be taught and to keep on writing. Does this mean I have talent? I don’t know. Perhaps. What I do know is a writer needs more than a natural aptitude.

I am so grateful to those two people for their encouragement. In those early days, their words gave me such joy and encouragement. I kept on writing, but as importantly I kept on learning. I think this is the gist of Kristen’s post too. Like Thomas Edison said “What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”

I often meet people who say they want to write a book. I don’t know if they have talent but this would be my advice regardless.

One – Get a numb bum

Sit in the chair and do it. Seriously, this is hard work. I am constantly planning my life around when I can be at my desk. It will always feel like you don’t have enough time to write. Always. Be prepared for this to be your constant companion. It will imprison you. One thing is certain. If you do not sit in the chair and write, it won’t get written. Perspiration. Concentration. Commitment.

Two – Hubris is your enemy

Don’t assume you know it all. No matter how talented you think you are, you have things to learn. I guarantee it. I have taken so many courses. The author mentioned above taught me how to balance dialogue, description and exposition. The editor above helped me to get better at showing instead of telling. There have been so many other wonderful teachers in my journey to publication. There is a wealth of blogs, websites, and books about writing craft. Find them.

Three – Feedback is fertiliser except when it is bullshit

Find a good writing group (online or face to face) and/or writing friends. But remember there are nutcases out there. I man told me I could not write my story in present tense. The story had happened and therefore had to be in past tense.  All stories in his world had to be in past tense. (Really????) I can ignore that advice.

One of the first lessons I learned in Writers and Critters, way back when, was about filtering  – she felt, she heard, she said. I realised it created distance between the reader and the story. I took this advice, but there is advice I used to ignore and I finally understand. In particular, some of my stories resisted having any actual story. I thought a story would spoil my pretty words. What an idiot! Hear what people say about your work. Really hear it, roll it around in your head, leave aside your belief in what you wrote and then decide if you will listen. Sometimes it will be fertiliser, sometimes it will be bullshit, sometimes it will just be the wrong advice for you, or just the wrong time, but you won’t know unless you listen. Some people never listen. Listen.

Four – You are weak!

Somewhere your writing will have a weakness – probably more than one. I never understood good narrative structure. It worked alright for me when I wrote short fiction but when I moved onto writing books I realised it is my biggest weakness (other than proof reading!). I read about it all the time. I am constantly learning and applying, relearning and applying. It is utterly fascinating to me. I hope some day it will become second nature to me. For now I have enough humility to accept I have a lot to learn.

Five – Get out of the house

This is the inspiration part of Edison’s equation. Be curious. Go places. Meet people. See art. See movies. Got to the football. Ride in a helicopter. Be deliberately inspired. Live life.

Do you need talent to be a writer? I don’t know. I do know you need humility, dedication and curiosity.

What have you learnt on your writing journey?

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