Monday, December 12, 2011

Requirements for success as a writer

1)      Talent (Vision)
2)      Craft
3)      Experience (reading, writing, critiquing and editing—plus life experience).
4)      Attitude (perseverance, intensity)
5)      Luck

Factor 2: Craft

The main focus of this blog is mechanics: the tools of the trade. This, and other creative writing blogs or classes (plus reading like a writer), will tuck these tools into your tool belt where they will remain handy to you. You’ll find that these skills become second nature the more you use them.

Reading, reading, reading and writing, writing, writing are the only ways I know to work on your technical chops. This blog offers peppy advice only to boost your resolve to GO FOR IT (that is, write, write, write).

Factor 3 & 4: Experience and Attitude

A couple tips about experience: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Aristotle). That’s why we reflect and read and write. “The unlived life is not worth examining.” That’s why we’ve got to live large.

This invitation to live large means to be unafraid of life—to be unafraid of pain and pleasure---to be on friendly terms with the maggots and the stars. Freud talked about “pleasure anxiety”—even too much pleasure is scary. It might just overwhelm every structure you think you are. I’m not recommending that you go out and try everything, no matter how destructive. I’m only recommending that you be completely born. Don’t hold back. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Being fully here—paying attention to the taste of water—is living large.

Joseph Campbell famously said, “Follow your bliss.” First you have to know what makes you blissful, and be very honest about this. Once you know what lights your lantern and you have followed your path for some time, you can finally obey the sage advice to "Write what you know."

Factor 5: Luck
Of course, nobody owns Lady Luck. But producing compelling stories coupled with hard-headed perseverance tend to (sooner or later) twist fate in your favor. Thanks to the remarkable connectivity of the worldwide web and its venues for "discoverability" through social networking, luck is not so "iffy" a factor anymore.  

Factor 1: Vision

Once you’ve completed your writing apprenticeship (Five years? Ten years?) and developed your craft and gained some depth and breadth of experience—then what?

Then it’s all vision, baby. And nobody can add a penny to your treasury. Although many others may help awaken you to yourself, what you find when you open your eyes is uniquely your own.

The tools of writing are secondary. These pliars and hammers and trowels are only here to enable you to convey your VISION. Vision is the first factor—it’s primary.

Who are you?

What is your experience?

Oh, stop it with the clichés and the conventions. I said, What is your experience? Who are you?

So you can see the double edge to this art. Orson Scott Card says, “Tell the truth well.” I wrote this down on a Post-It note and for years it hung on my computer monitor. Both edges have got to be sharp enough to cleave bone. “Tell the truth; and tell it well.”

That means that simply reaching deep—going beyond cliches, finding your vision, becoming an authentic human being—is not enough to complete your transformation into a writer. Such work might turn you into sage—or an interesting nutcase—but vision alone won’t make you a successful writer.

Your writer’s gift to us is to get us to see life as you see it. For this you need the craft to make us feel your hopes and fears and loves and hates. With enough skill, you can tell the truth about who you are in a thousand ways, so that we get a better idea of who we are.

Nobody said it was easy. Or that it pays the rent. My advice to beginning writers is to marry someone in a health profession.

If you feel compelled to write as a career… Damn! Better sleep on it and see if the emotion goes away. But if the drive to write won’t pass—then I agree with Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss.”

And welcome us to your universe.

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