Well, I’ve returned from Germany, my Followers of Fear. All in three pieces (don’t ask about the other two, you won’t like the answer). It’s good to be home, to say the least. A little weird after so long, but still very good. I enjoyed seeing my parents and my sister waiting for me at the airport and teaching them naughty German swear words (and my parents are rabbis, by the way. Scandalous!).

Of course, now that I’m back that doesn’t mean I can just slack off and do whatever I want. I’ve got a number of things on my to-do list today, and while I’m working to get those done, I’m taking a moment to talk about writing. Specifically, what are three qualities that writers need to actually write and get work done?

And I mean besides the actual imagination to come up with a story and the ability to transfer that story from the mind to the printed page. Not only does that go without saying, but a lot of people have very active imaginations and can write well enough that if they tried they could come up with a very good first draft. So why don’t they? What keeps people from actually acting out that writing dream?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since yesterday, when I spoke with someone on the final leg of my journey home who had tried writing but found himself unable to do it. I found myself wondering why that is, and I think part of why some people can write and some find themselves struggling to do so may stem from three needed qualities or skill sets: confidence, focus, and perseverance.

Now by confidence I don’t mean confidence that your story is going to succeed and will make tons of money. I mean confidence that you can actually get it done, that you can write out an entire story from start to end. Never mind whether it’s any good, first drafts are notoriously terrible because that’s how they’re supposed to be. You have to have the confidence that you can get that first draft done, and then maybe we can talk about the next draft and everything else that comes from that.

Think about it: even if you prefer to only work on short stories, that fitting an entire story in a space between a thousand and ten-thousand words. Even to me, that’s a little daunting, and I’ve become much better at writing short stories over the years (though I could always be better). Imagine how it might feel for someone who wants to write a novel but then finds out that a novel is at least sixty-thousand words! You can’t just say to yourself, “I’ll try and see where it gets me” when it comes to this sort of task. You have to have some confidence in yourself and that you can get all those words out on the page.

Otherwise you may falter around three-thousand words when you realize that getting a story out is not as easy as you think and may not be able to continue from there.

Another thing writers need to get work done is focus. You have to be able to focus on a project and get the work done. The person I spoke to yesterday on my flight told me this was his problem: he tried writing a story, but in the midst of writing that story he would come up with another story and then want to work on that, and his first story would languish. Then he’d have an idea for a third story and want to work on that, and then he’d have two stories being put on the shelf for later. So the cycle went and he had projects that just never got done.

Even if you juggle multiple projects at once, like I do (three novels at various stages of the editing process, one collection of short stories on the way, working to find a narrator for an audio book, etc), you have to be able to sit down and focus on one project for an extended period of time. Maybe even months or years. And other projects may demand to be written (believe me, I’ve got lists of story ideas, and some are pretty vocal in my head about wanting to be written), but you have to get some out of the way first before you can focus on others. Better to have just a few projects at most to work on and several ideas waiting to be turned into stories than a lot of projects just lying about not even a quarter of the way finished because they all demand to be written.

And this brings us to our final quality: perseverance. It’s an understatement at the very least to say that life is not easy. Take my life, for instance: I’m trying to ensure I have a job so I don’t become a bum in my dad’s guestroom, I have bills to pay, tasks on my to-do list to do, etc. So many demands that it’s hard to find time to write or edit. And when it comes to doing either, especially at the beginning of a project, I may sometimes have trouble getting the work done. All those words can make it hard to getting it all done.

Without these qualities, writing can feel like a Sisyphean feat.

To write, you have to accept that you have to work through all those difficulties before you can get through all those stories, and then do it. It’s never easy, and life will find ways to get in the way. Even when it does, you have to be willing to get through what life throws at you and then sit down and get through all the writing and editing and everything else you have to do. If not, then those stories you feel so passionate about will languish for so long you may never pick them up.

It’s these three qualities–confidence, focus, and perseverance–that make the difference between those who want to write and those who actually go out and do it. Each of us struggles with them at times–focus in the short term can be troubling for me–but in the end I think those who can command these qualities are the ones who can at least get the stories written out and polish them enough for publication.

But what do you think? Have I got the right of it? Did I miss something? Did any of these speak to you? Let’s discuss.

In the meantime, I have to focus on the other things on my to-do list like visiting the dry-cleaner’s the barber shop, and persevere through cold and possible rains at the same time. Still I’m confident I can do it, so I’m not too worried.

Still, wish me luck. I might need it later.

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Comments
  1. I think you’ve got it! For me the hardest part is having the… I don’t know what word to use (ironic, I know) but the chutzpah to say “I’m sorry. I cannot go to your house/watch TV with you/go to the park/etc etc because I have WORK (aka writing) to do.” If the work was outside the house, at a “job” location then no one would ever expect a person to just not work to do any of those things, but since it’s at home people have this attitude of “it’s just fun for you. You can skip it for now to do ___.” And most of the time I’ll sigh and go along with it because it’s easier. That’s how I end up with last minute panics – though at the last minute I can suddenly say “Look, I have work, back off!” LOL!

    • Ugh, I hate it when people act like writing isn’t a job. If it requires a ton of time, concentration, and hard work, and it helps pay the bills, it’s a job. No one ever says that to JK Rowling, but to us…it’s pretty annoying, to say the least.

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