I have a grandniece who says she’s interested in being a writer and editor someday. Because she’s young, I know it’s likely she’ll change her mind.
Still, I’m trying to encourage her as much as I can. I write her letters and talk about my writing and reading activities. Just so she has a sense of how I conduct my writing life.
I have lots of advice I’d love to share with her, but I don’t want to overwhelm her. Instead, I’ll post some of that advice here, in case she someday looks over my blog. Perhaps this advice can help another writer. (And it might be helpful to refer back to my own words from time to time.)
I think writers need three traits to be successful.
The first is curiosity. Creative work requires asking questions. Why does this happen? How is that made? When did this become a tradition? All of our work as writers stems from observing what is happening around us and thinking about the reasons behind the events.
The second is empathy. To craft believable characters, writers need to be able to imagine what someone from a much different background and experience might think and feel in a given situation. We have to imagine the events that led our characters to the moments described in our work.
The third is a thick skin. That might seem counterintuitive to being empathetic, but it’s essential. (Perhaps it would be better to call this “stick-to-itiveness” or “perseverance.”)
As writers, we hear “no” a lot. We probably hear that word more than we hear “yes.” Sometimes, it’s a kindly worded “no” that offers suggestions on how to improve our work. Other times, it’s a form letter. Perhaps rudest of all is the silent “no.” It’s the response editors never send as if our work has vanished into a black hole.
I’d love to share this advice with my grandniece because it took me years to get comfortable with these three skills. Especially the last one.
I was the kid in school who loved to learn. Getting good grades came easily to me because I enjoyed studying, and teachers rewarded me. Perhaps more than they should have. I didn’t struggle as a student until college and graduate school, and those struggles derailed my career plans.
It took me too many years to learn that failing at something doesn’t mean I’m a loser or worthless. All it means is that I need to work smarter and harder. I need to figure out why I failed the first time. Then, I need to try again using the knowledge and experience I’ve gained.
I really would like to share these tips with my grandniece, but she’s probably too young to understand them. And perhaps she needs to learn them on her own if she’s to be a successful writer.
What about your creative work? What skills do you think are key?
P.S. I selected this week’s photo because I love looking at pictures of owls. To me, owl photos are amazing because they look both comical and disapproving at the same time. They just make me smile.