Qualities of a writer | Factsheets
WritersServices Factsheet 10 by Michael Legat
Discipline. Very little gets written if the author waits for inspiration and makes no attempt to write regularly. It is important to keep what has been called the writing muscle in your mind in the flexible easy condition which is brought about by regular use. It is a very good idea to prepare yourself a timetable for writing and to stick to it.
Stamina. The idea of writing a book-length work may daunt you. However, if you write as little as 250 words on five days in each of fifty-two weeks you will have a 65,000 word book at the end of a year, and if you write a little more than 250 words and sometimes manage more than 5 days a week you’ll be finished that much sooner.
A love of words. English is a remarkably rich language, and you stand a much better chance of finding le mot juste than poor old Flaubert did, limited as he was to French. Playing with words until you find the ones which really express what you want to say is one of the great fun things in writing.
Observation. Writers watch people and events and store away material which they can use later. Reading and re-reading to see how published authors have coped with their problems is another essential form of observation.
Imagination. The need for this quality must be obvious if you are a novelist or short-story writer, especially since it can provide material which lies outside your experience and cannot be gleaned from observation. Non-fiction writers also need imagination in the particular sense of putting themselves in the place of the potential reader to make sure that their writing is lucid.
Experience. All authors who produce fiction draw on their own experiences, and so do those in the factual field.
Something to say. This need not necessarily mean that you have a message to put across, a desire to persuade others to share your own vision of life, or anything of that sort. It can be just a story that you want to tell, or an account of your back-packing holiday, or a word-picture that you want to paint.
Dissatisfaction and Self-confidence. You should never be satisfied with what you write – even when you have revised it thoroughly, it could do with a little alteration here, a tiny bit of cutting there, and other little bibs and bobs of change. At the same time, you must have enough self-confidence to decide that it is time to stop fiddling about and to send the material off in the belief that it is good enough to get published.
A Professional Attitude. It is good to stop thinking of yourself as a dabbler, an amateur – tell yourself that you are professional writer, and then behave like one. This means taking a serious attitude to your work (even if you are writing humour), trying to perfect your craft, learning something about publication processes, whether of books or of magazines, or any other way in which your work might be brought before the public, and generally meeting the criteria needed for success.
An Awareness of the Market. Although there is a lot of sense in the advice that you should write primarily to please yourself, virtually every writer also wants to please or instruct other people. Do your market research so that you discover not only where to send your work with the best chance of seeing it published, but to see what length your material should be, how it should be presented and so on.
© Michael Legat 2001
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