One of my standard pieces of advice for aspiring writers is:
There are two parts of being a writer
1) The ability to sit, alone, for long periods of time, behind a computer, makin' stuff up.
2) The craft. All the skills you need to write a good book.
Now the SECOND part is huge and at Seekerville we’ve been writing blog posts in large part about that for almost three years now, THAT’S HOW HUGE IT IS.
But the thing is, you can LEARN the second part. The FIRST part though, that’s different. I think you’re either born with that or you’re not.
My mom is a really talented pianist. She’s the organist in our church. And she tried so HARD to get all of her eight children to play the piano. NO LUCK. The thing I’ve noticed about my mom is, she LOVES playing the piano. She loves it. I think people with a gift for something almost always, also have a love for it. My mom talks about how she loved to practice the piano when she was a kid.
I hated it. Poor mom.
But I love writing.
I’m so delighted that someone is willing to pay me to do it because I can’t seem to stop. I think, if all my writing contracts dried up, I’d probably still write for the rest of my life.
When people are frustrated and heartbroken and crazed because they can’t get a book published I tell them if it hurts that bad then QUIT. Just quit. Why put yourself through it? The bottom line is: Quit if you can.
Most writers can’t.
I’ve been thinking (always dangerous) about what exactly goes on in the head of a writer.
The Seekers and those who hang around here, we are all different from each other.
Some have jobs outside the home. We have city and country, metropolis and small town. Young and old. (well not THAT old, c’mon!) We have different churches, little kids, grown children, grandchildren, different number of children. Some of us have nice houses, some live in a mold-riddled, rodent infested, drafty, 90-year-old ranch house from which there is no escape (no, I’m not bitter!)
But there’s a common thread.
So what makes a writer different than a . . . let’s go ahead and say the word shall we?...NORMAL person?
Since the denizens of Seekerville are for the most part writers, I want to spend today asking, "What makes a writer a writer?"
I really consider myself an almost completely (and boringly) normal person. I mean a REGULAR person. By that I mean, no great trauma in my childhood. Nice parents. I’m from a huge family, true there were eight brothers and sisters, but that’s pretty typical really for a baby boom era family. I’ve never had a life threatening accident or illness. Good health. I’ve got four really lovely children. A nice husband—(well maybe not during the busy season, but that’s another post altogether). Only ONE husband. We’re neither rich nor poor. I’ve never come close to starving to death (refer to my alarmingly OVAL shape as proof).
But I like to sit behind a computer and make up stories.
I don’t just like it. I LOVE it. It’s really fun. Honestly, think about it. Almost all the PAIN of writing comes from the PUBLISHING end of it. The writing is fun, it's getting published, pitching to editors, attending conferences WAY outside your comfort zone. The dreaded public speaking. The editor directed revisions, deadlines, marketing, obsessing over sales, will I get another contract.
All of that is fraught with pain.
But the WRITING, that's just fun.
I did it for ten years before I got my first book published. I was typing away before we had internet at the house. Before I discovered writer’s organizations or writer's contests or critique groups. Before the Seekers.
Those years when I labored along in mole-like anonymity, what made me do that? I mean I can sort of remember what caused me to start writing, what made me type, “It was a dark and stormy night. . .” for the first time. But why did I stick with it?
I think there is only one reason. I love it.
I like my own company (Why not? I have plenty of imaginary friends).
I am a day dreamer.
I am, despite the way I act online, extremely shy. I have it under control. I recognize it and overrule my knee jerk withdraw reflex, but it’s there. I’m just perfectly content behind my computer. ALONE!
I think that’s NOT normal. Is it? Someone please answer.
But it feels normal to me.
A lot of writers talk about ‘people watching’. Sitting and watching the world go by and getting character ideas from that.
I’m tuned out most of the time. I'm living inside my head.
I think it might be at least somewhat a learning disability and I ’m not kidding about that. I have some strange glitch in my short term memory.
I can be asked to do something, for example, by my husband, “Can you turn the water off in the cattle tank in about an hour?”
Husband:“You’re not going to remember.”
He writes it down, on the bathroom mirror. When next I am in there, OOPS. Cattle waterer.
It's completely gone until then. But when I see the note I remember he asked.
That's not right.
It’s just how I am. Things bounce off my memory and I can actually almost PHYSICALLY feel things when they click over into my long term memory at which point I'm going to remember to go somewhere, do something, mail something, buy something, without making a note of it and sticking that note somewhere I will be sure to see it. (I totally get Sarah Palin writing things on her hand btw. To me it's a survival skill)
Is the learning disability a factor? Maybe my mind is uncluttered with useless information like
YOU HAVE A DOCTOR'S APPOINTMENT!
Shyness--short term memory hard-wiring failure--daydreamer?
What is the common denominator between us?
What makes a writer a writer?
Mary Connealy writes romantic comedy with cowboys. She is a Christy Award Finalist, a Carol Award Finalist and an IRCC Award finalist. She is also a 2011 RITA finalist.
This post first appeared in Seekerville September 6, 2010.
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