A Writer’s Traits by Meredith Bond
Are you a writer?
Just putting words down on a piece of paper or computer screen does not necessarily make you a writer. Writers are known to have certain traits. You don’t have to have all of them, but most writers have most of them. Some of these traits, if you don’t have them, you probably should if you want to be a successful writer. I include five here and I’ll finish this off with five more next week.
These are not in any particular order. Enjoy!
- Tenacity. To be a writer you need to write—no matter what. That means that if you don’t feel like writing, you still need to sit down and do it. That means that if you don’t have an idea in your head and have absolutely no idea what you want to write or what you should write, you still need to sit down and put words on paper.
It also means that when you’ve written something and the world comes back to you and says it’s a piece of crap, you still need to sit down the next day and do it some more – or perhaps go back to what you wrote and see what was wrong with it and fix the stupid thing.
No matter what, a writer writes.
- Self-discipline. This goes along with the tenacity. Not only do you need to sit down and write no matter what, you have to have the time and determination to do so. That means you make a schedule and stick to it.
It’s easiest to decide on a time when you will write than just say, “Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday I’m going to write.” When on those days will you write? For how long—will it be for an hour or until you reach a certain number of words? Decide in advance and don’t stop until you get there.
Without this sort of self-discipline all the tenacity, hopes and dreams in the world won’t get your book written.
- Anticipate the future. How can anyone possibly anticipate the future, you ask? Well, by going through all the possible outcomes you can think of. And why? Because when your character does something, it’s going to have consequences. You have to know what those consequences might be. Consider all of the possible consequences of their actions and have your other characters, or your world, behave accordingly.
Happily, most of the time, you get to decide which consequences actually happen, and which don’t. But remember, if you don’t think about this beforehand, two things will probably happen: 1) you’ll be caught off guard later when you go write those scenes where those consequences will be felt/seen, or 2) you’ll have readers screaming at your book or worse, closing it and not picking it up again because they see what the consequences should have been and that isn’t what you wrote happened.
One side note to this: actually making a list of all the possible consequences of your character’s actions is a great way to plot and figure out what’s going to happen in your story. Just remember to take into account how your character also needs to grow and try to make their growth tied to those consequences.
- Neurotic. Writer’s hear voices in their heads. We see people who aren’t actually there. We watch movies that no one has made. People who don’t actually exist talk to us and argue with us—and they demand to be heard. If you’re a new writer, welcome to the nuthouse! 😊
- You love People and telling people what to do. I have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t find people fascinating. We need to in order to create them. We need to delve deep inside of the people of our creation. We need to know what makes them do what they do, how they were damaged as a child and how they can grow and get beyond that hurt.
And, need I mention, that as a writer, you are constantly deciding what your characters are going to do. Now, they don’t always listen to you (see #4), but you can try and might even need to try to tell them what to do.
- Like being alone The funny thing about being a writer is that we tend to write when we’re not actually with anyone else. Yes, some writers write best in a coffee shop or when surrounded by other people, but you’re not actually with those people. Writing is a job that you do by yourself. We can have other people help us. We can even have a co-writer, but it’s still pretty much done by yourself.
The wonderful thing about being a writer, however, is that despite the fact that you are alone writing, doing it by yourself, you’re not actually alone. You are with the people of your story. You’re surrounded by them, living them, hearing them in your head as your fingers tap out their words, their movements, and their story.
Writing is the one job that you do entirely by yourself and yet are never really alone.
- Thick skin No matter what you write or where you publish it or who you show it to, someone is going to say something negative about it. That’s just life. You can be the best writer in the world, have been on the New York Times Best Seller list—whatever—but someone is still going to say something not nice about your writing. Someone is going to criticize you.
This is the hardest thing for new writers. It hurts.
You put so much time, energy and yourself into your writing and then some idiot comes along and tells you that it sucks, or it needs work, or it is somehow not as wonderful as you thought it was. How dare they? Don’t they know how hard you worked on that?
Sadly, it doesn’t matter. And it also doesn’t matter whether they’re right or not. It’s the words, the comments. They hurt. And sadly, you have to accept their words, if they’re constructive, and look at what you wrote and know that the person (hopefully) is telling you this to make you a better writer.
Being a writer is a practice, like being a doctor or a lawyer. We practice at it all the time, getting better (hopefully).
So, accept the criticism you get, put a good spin on it in any way you can, and use it to make yourself a better writer. If it’s just pure meanness with nothing constructive in it at all, then know that that person has nothing positive to add to the world and dismiss them (or feel sorry for them, up to you).
- Self-belief Going along with that thick-skin you’re developing, you need to believe in yourself. You are a writer, dammit. You know what you are doing! Or you don’t, but you’re going to learn and get better. Who cares what other people think? You know that you’ve got a story to tell or an idea you need to get across and you are going to do your best and work really hard to make yourself heard. You go for it! You know that you’ve got this.
- Imposter syndrome or Self Doubt We’ve all got it. That niggling little voice in the back of your head that says “You can’t do this!” “Who do you think you’re fooling? “Yeah, don’t even try because you just aren’t talented enough.”
Did you ever hear that voice? I do… All. The. Time. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve published. It doesn’t even matter if your last book was a best seller. Your nasty little brain is still there telling you that you can’t do this, or the last time was a fluke, or whatever other poison that little voice is spilling into your head. Don’t listen to it. Honestly! Stick a strip of duct tape over its mouth in your imagination and get on with your work.
- Open to your creativity To be a writer of fiction, you need to open yourself to those voices we talked about earlier. You need to let them flood into your mind and out your fingertips. To write in a deeper point-of-view, you also need to not only allow the voices to speak, you need to get inside the head of the one who’s speaking. Who are they? How do they think? How do they see the world? What do they want, but aren’t telling anybody?
You need to become that character (in your own mind) so that they can talk and move and act on your page. Open yourself up to them and they’ll come. Accept them with open arms and an open mind and they will talk to you and give you beautiful words and amazing stories to put down on your page.
Is it easy being a writer? Hell, no! Is it a lot of work and involve a good deal of hair-pulling? Yup. It also involves lots of long walks, closet cleaning and whatever else is your choice of mindless activity—because all that activity your brain is still working on your story and when you sit back down at your computer those voices are going to speak to you and you’re going to write down their stories.
So, tell me, are you a writer?