Jennifer's Journal


Monday, March 27, 2006

What Makes a Writer?

Why is it that one person who wants to be a writer is successful and another is not?  One writes a book, sells it, get a nice advance, signs a multi-book contract, and goes on to become a national and international best seller.  Another just down the street writes book after book that wind up in the back of some closet, unseen, unsung.  Several qualities come into play, I think.  Talent is a huge factor, of course; some writers put words on paper in ways that make them sing in the reader's mind while the prose of others simply plods along with nothing to lift their stories above the common level.  Some, usually those who love reading and have been addicted to books for years, have an instinctive sense of story that is missing from the work of the unpublished; they "get it" without having to be told what makes readers turn pages.  Some writers have the luxury of time to perfect their craft; they aren't locked into a job that takes all their time and most of their available energy.  And then there's the question of confidence, drive, guts, determination--whatever you want to call it.  To my mind, this last is arguably the most crucial.
Let me tell you a story I came across while researching the backgrounds for the sword masters in my current historical series.  There was a young man who wanted desperately to be a champion fencer.  One day, he approached his fencing teacher.  "Maitre," he said, "do you think I can ever be first rate?  Will I ever win the grand championship?"  The teacher looked at him, rubbed his chin, then said, "No, my son.  You must look around you for another career, for you'll never be the best."  Well, the young man was crushed.  He stopped fencing, took a job in business, and became a rich and successful entrepreneur.  One day many years later, he came across his old fencing master.  After they greeted each other, he said, "Tell me something, Maitre.  How did you know I would never be a great fencer?"  "Oh, I didn't," the master said.  "That's what I told all my students who asked about their prospects.  The ones who had greatness inside them tried harder, because they were determined to prove me wrong.  The ones who would never be great stopped trying."
So it is with writers, I think.  The ones who are going to succeed try harder in order to prove critics and nay-sayers wrong.  The ones who aren't never complete their books or don't follow through with all the effort it takes to get them published.  Which are you?