In her engaging, funny new memoir, Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog, Etc., Delia Ephron, author and sister to the late Nora, writes about how she became a writer after her divorce. A therapist told her that a writer needed discipline and suggested a writing routine that would get her to her writing desk every day.
Magic formula? There isn’t any…
This got me thinking about the writers we’ve hosted at our Writers Write dinners over the years. I always used to take copious notes, hoping to find that elusive magic formula for success. After listening to the same advice come out, just in a different way, I realised there are three qualities that emerged in just about every single interview.
- A writer must have discipline. Sporadic and uneven writing produces sporadic and uneven results. I know. It’s how I tend to write – in fits and bursts. You get to live for the highs, like a publication date of a short story or doing well in a scriptwriting competition and then live off the euphoria. A director once told me, ‘Don’t chase the highs – work steadily even when nothing seems to be happening.’ That means having a schedule and sticking to it.
- A writer must have stamina. I guess we could say mental stamina – the ability to go under, like a submarine, and focus on the book in front of you. When I was under deadline this year, I wrote for twelve hours at a time and had to learn – painfully – to stay in the zone even when my eyes felt like bleeding. It was a good lesson to learn. Of course, we could say you need physical stamina too. Natalie Goldberg suggest taking up running because it teaches you to stay in the zone similar to writing. What we need to learn to do is take better care of ourselves.
- A writer needs recognition. Nothing kills talent, spirit or motivation more than being ignored. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a blog or showing your pages to a friend, you need some validation to keep going. Some good reviews in a paper or an encouraging email from a writing buddy keeps me going when I feel like giving up. Don’t isolate yourself – be brave, send your stuff in the world. We tell stories to make sense of the world. We also tell stories to connect with others.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention talent.
Pshh! Talent on its own is like a car without fuel or wheels. It won’t get you anywhere. Many famous and rich authors have built careers on very little talent. What set them apart is the ability to keep going until they saw the finish line – and then found the bum-glue, grit and innate belief in themselves to start the race again.
If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course.