Writers come in all shapes and sizes, from all personal backgrounds, all walks of life, and all cultures and countries. We’re a varied bunch, but we all have something in common: in order for any of us to make it past first base in this business, we have to possess three elements for success as a writer. These traits are non-negotiable. If we don’t possess all three of them, we’ll never be writers, and we’ll certainly never find marketable success.
What are these traits, and how do we solidify them in our lives?
Trait #1: Talent
In some ways, talent is the easiest of the three, since it’s something over which we have no control. We’re either talented, or we’re not. Generally speaking, talent incorporates one or all of the following:
- An aptitude for words, which can include (but isn’t necessarily limited to) an understanding of language and a perceptive ear for powerful and rhythmic phrasings.
- An instinctual understanding, however raw in the beginning, of story structure.
- An insatiable curiosity, a desire to discover truth, and a willingness to be audaciously honest about the human experience and the world in which it takes place.
I consider talent the least important, simply because it’s the only one of the three traits that is useless without the other two. Still, it’s important to recognize that without that original kernel of talent, all the watering and weeding in the world won’t cause the growth of a burgeoning tree.
Trait #2: Learning
I use the word “learning” instead of “knowledge” because “learning” indicates more than a static pile of facts stored in our brains. Learning encompasses the following ideas:
- An ongoing process that suggests a mindset in search of enlightenment more than a simple checklist of facts to be mastered.
- A hunger for knowledge that is further stimulated, instead of sated, by the actual discovery of knowledge.
- A willingness to devote an endless amount of time and energy to studying the craft.
Even the largest measure of talent can only carry an author so far. We must study to show ourselves approved by reading widely and voraciously, researching the tenets of the craft as seen by other authors who have proven themselves through their own devotion, and seeking and accepting the wise criticism of readers, editors, and other writers. Writing is a skill that can be learned by almost anyone, and it is in the learning that we raise ourselves above raw potential to refinement and eventual mastery.
Trait #3: Diligence
Finally, we come to the most important of the three traits, the bottom of the pyramid, the foundation for the previous two. Without diligence, we will inevitably lack the ability to grit our teeth and put our innate talent or our sought-after knowledge to practical use. Writers who possess diligence are able to bring the following to their writing desks:
- A commitment to writing, even in the face of its difficulties.
- A certain amount of hardheaded tenacity that allows them to keeping marching right past the inevitable discouragements.
- A consistency is showing up for work every day, no matter what else has to be sacrificed.
The writing life is filled with setbacks and even outright failures. Without the determination to persevere, no writer will make it past the starting gates. We have to be willing to devote our time and energy to pursuing our craft, polishing it, and loving it even when it isn’t lovable.
In order to call ourselves writers, we have to act like writers. We must recognize our responsibility to our talent. We must open our minds to studying and perfecting the art of writing. And we must be willing to do these things day in and day out. Writing isn’t always a hobby; it isn’t always a career; but it is a lifestyle. If we can devote ourselves to pursuing these three traits, we can wake up every morning with assurance that we are writers.