I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve heard people tell me, “You were born a writer.” And there’s a fairly good chance you’ve heard that quite a bit, too. Well, here’s the thing about this little compliment we all tell each other: it’s a lie.
No one is born a writer.
Writer’s are made, not born.
There are people out there who are born storytellers. Those people have vibrant imaginations, a knack for capturing an audience, and can create characters in their minds faster than most of us can recite the ABCs. That’s a natural born talent.
But writing is something much harder. It’s a skill you have to develop and work hard at. It’s a muscle you build up through strenuous use and if you don’t maintain it, it’ll fade. I love telling people I’m a writer. It’s an empowering, almost mystical sensation, as if the words themselves make it so. You say it, and think, Yeah, that’s right. I am a writer. Totally. But saying you’re a writer doesn’t make you one automatically, so what makes a writer a writer?
Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to:
All writers are DAFT. I don’t just mean odd—we’re all definitely a little of that, too. But here, I’m using it to say that, when it comes down to it, writers:
Writers are Disciplined
I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “writers write.” It’s a pretty popular mantra. I’ve had that one on a sticky note above my desk for years, alongside “Write for yourself, then revise,” “Don’t wait for your inspiration, it’s off having an affair with your muse; write anyway,” and the ever-encouraging “You’re not Brandon Sanderson, get over it.” (I’m my own best boot camp sergeant.)
But the thing about being a writer is you really do have to write every day, or at least be forming passages and creating scenes in your head. A few weeks ago, I hit a rough patch in my novel. I was in the dreaded middle bits of the story, and I just couldn’t resolve the quick change in character motivation for one of my main players. So I walked away. I stopped writing for two weeks. I focused on this website, did a few edits for clients, read some books—I did all the things they say you should do if you get stuck, but I didn’t write. Now before this point, I’d worked it into my schedule to write between an hour to three hours every day, yielding about 1,200 – 3,000 words a day.
After my brief walk-away, I sat back at the computer and just stared. I spent five hours on 800 words. It was miserable. I was out of shape, the story wasn’t coming to me, and I spent so much energy being frustrated at myself that I couldn’t focus on the scene at hand. My muscles had softened.
Writers are Ambitious
It doesn’t matter if you have an editor giving you deadlines or not. A serious writer sets deadlines for themselves, even if its just “I want this short story finished before I’m 30.” Give yourself a deadline that’s feasible yet challenging, and push yourself to meet it. The only thing that separates a professional from an amateur is ambition. Not being published, not having a blog you sometimes post on, not calling yourself a writer instead of an “aspiring author” (though that helps too). Ambition. Set yourself a goal, and chase after it. Which brings us to our next point…
Writers are Finishers
Can you really say you’ve written your fantasy novel if you only have a few odd scenes tucked away in your documents? Hand in hand with ambition, part of being a writer is learning to finish what you started. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It doesn’t have to deserve immortal study by less-than-thrilled high schoolers. It just has to be.
Every story reaches that point where you realize what you’ve written doesn’t match your vision. The characters are strangers, the plot is Swiss cheese, and that beautiful theme you planned out just isn’t shining through. But that’s okay. That’s what revisions and editors are for.
My friends, trust me on this one: a portfolio of finished drafts is always more satisfying than a box full of unrealized ideas.
Writers are Teachable
A true writer knows that they’ll never have mastered it all. Writing as an art revolves around examining the human condition. As we learn more about ourselves, about love, family, grief, and change, our perception on stories will evolve. A writer is always asking questions, and seeking answers from multiple worldviews. Just because another has been writing for less time than yourself doesn’t mean they don’t have something to teach you. Be open to the stories all around you, and you will grow as a writer—and a person.
There you have it. We all aim to be a little daft in life, don’t we? What do you think it means to be a writer? Let me know in the comments!