Wednesday 18 May 2011

What is a writer?

I've always had a vivid imagination and can remember when I stayed with my best friend telling her stories in which we were the main protagonists. Going to bed and resuming whatever tale we were involved in was often more exciting than the time spent mooching about the small seaside village where she lived. However this storytelling wasn't translated into physical writing until I was in my late twenties. Being trapped in a rural cottage with a small child, and no such thing as daytime TV in those days, I started to write a steamy romance just for myself. I was the heroine and became totally absorbed in the story pouring out my frustrations and fantasies in this book. It was then I decided that I was a writer and one day my books would be published and other people could read my stories too.
This is my personal list of what makes a writer.
1. To be a good writer you have to be articulate. If you've ever been to a writing conference/festival/or an RNA party, the first thing you hear is people talking. They're not gossiping, they are sharing writing experiences, explaining the latest plot of their books, bemoaning the state of the publishing industry or giving an unpublished writer some sound advice. (Of course – a certain amount of gossip will no doubt be shared as well.) I've never met a writer who couldn't talk fluently.
2. A writer also has to be able to listen. This might seem a contradiction as we are all such big talkers but if someone is talking then there must be someone listening. It's essential for a writer to observe in order to make their characters real.
3. A writer has to be single-minded. It's a lonely occupation – many hours spent in front of the computer. It's especially hard in the summer when it would be far more pleasant to the outside. Sometimes the book itself will drive you on and it will be hard to drag yourself away even to have a cup of coffee. At other times its deadlines, editors, or agents that keep you pinned to the keyboard.
4. You have to be borderline obsessive about writing. House work, sleep, food, socialising, even family become secondary when you're in the middle of a project. It doesn't matter if this particular manuscript never sees the light of day or is sent to a publish – writing it consumes you totally.
5. A writer must love what they do for its own sake and not for the monetary rewards. Believe me many of us could earn considerably more working in a supermarket. Being published is fantastic but the real reward is knowing thousands of readers are sharing, and hopefully enjoying, your story.
6. It is inevitable that you face rejection and bad reviews. There are very few of us who sent out the first manuscript to an agent or editor to receive an immediate offer to represent all publish. Therefore, another thing the writer needs is a thick skin and an optimistic approach to life. You must always believe that if one book fails the next one will be successful.

This is my personal take on what makes a writer. I think of all these points the most crucial is that you write because you have to, because you can't stay away from the keyboard. Of course we all want to be paid for our work, to be recognised as good at our craft, but for the vast majority of us this isn't why we write. We would do it anyway – being published is a bonus.
It used to be said that money should only go one way – to you – the writer. That you should never pay to have your book published; if it is good enough it will be picked up eventually. With the arrival of Kindle self-publishing has never been easier. Of course you will pay a professional editor and artist to prepare your script and cover. This is quite different from paying a vanity publisher and ending up with a garage full of unwanted hard backs.
If you have any other definitions of hat makes a writer I should love to hear them.
Fenella Miller


Barbara Elsborg said...

That's a very comprehenseive list, Fenella. I'm not so sure about the being articulate though, for me at least. If someone asks me what my book is about, I tie myself in knots trying to describe it. I have no idea why!

Fenella J Miller said...

Yes - but I bet you can talk about anything else with fluency and passion. I dislike pitching or promoting face to face -find it much easier to talk abut wip.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Good post, Fenella, thanks. I'd say optimism was one of the greatest strengths we can have - and perseverance!

Fenella J Miller said...

Met a writer last night who waited 15 years - an agent had her book for four! Now she has a two book contract with a major publisher and they have option on a third. This is the same book that didn't sell. She just carried on writing. So patience is also essential.

Anonymous said...

Great list
A writer for me is someone who has to write no matter what.
Are you doing the Friday Romance writer's flash fiction? :O)