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The Two Traits You Need To Be an Author

By February 2, 2010October 8th, 2010One Comment

driving at night

“Writing is like driving at night with the headlights on.  You can only see two feet ahead of you, but that’s OK.  You can make the whole journey that way.”

That’s E.L. Doctorow describing what I believe to be the only route to getting a novel or memoir written.

Start with a word.  Then get five or six words in a row.  A sentence!  Suddenly, you have your opening paragraph.  And pretty soon, after a lot of fiddling around, you’ll actually be finishing the last paragraph on the last page.  But it won’t be a straight, smooth line.  You’ll make a little progress, then take a wrong turn.  You’ll find yourself moving forward.  “Great!” you think.  “I’m on my way!”  But then you’ll get lost again.

So what keeps you going?

You need driveness.  Every book has a point beyond which you simply cannot go.  And then you go beyond that.  Usually, when you find yourself stuck and the words are flowing like glue, it’s because your subconscious has more work to do.  When this happens to me, I turn my attention to the world’s best encouragers:  published authors.  I read the books that can teach me how to do the thing I need to know in order to move to the next level.  I read the books that teach me the very thing I don’t yet understand.

But, just as you need driveness, you also need indifference.  You must be indifferent to whether or not your book will sell.  You cannot care whether or not your writing will be appreciated — by family members, friends, creative writing teachers, agents, editors, or reviewers.  Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life.  Edgar Allen Poe sold very little.  Most of us toil away in obscurity.

When you focus on your craft instead of your career, when you persist in spite of everything pulling you in the opposite direction, you’ll find yourself maturing as a writer and also enjoying the quiet pleasures only the actual work can bring.

One Comment

  • Interesting article and one which should be more widely known about in my view. Your level of detail is good and the clarity of writing is excellent. I have bookmarked it for you so that others will be able to see what you have to say.