Charity Singleton Craig quoted Russ Ramsey in her article about becoming masterful:
What are you mastering? What are you practicing in order to make clear what you don’t yet know? If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you reach points where you begin to wonder if it might just be easier to plateau. And if not plateau, then quit altogether.
Don’t. Please. This world is short on masters, and consequently short on joy too.
That sent me back for a peek at my list of Five Writing Strengths, to see if I would change or add anything—to see if I can still draw from these strengths to continually improve and move toward mastery.
1. The ability to sit still for long stretches of time
Not everyone can do this, you know. Some people get antsy, restless. After a few minutes of sitting still, they fidget and have to get up and make hot chocolate or call a friend. Writers need to be able to sit still for hours in order to get their work done. Dorothea Brande in her book Becoming a Writer said:
Writing calls on unused muscles and involves solitude and immobility. There is not much to be said for the recommendation, so often heard, to serve an apprenticeship to journalism if you intend to write fiction. But a journalist’s career does teach two lessons which every writer needs to learn—that it is possible to write for long periods without fatigue, and that if one pushes on past the first weariness one finds a reservoir of unsuspected energy—one reaches the famous “second wind.” (71)
I can’t help but think of that famous advice writers hear at conferences and in books: How does one become a successful writer? Apply one’s bottom to chair (unless, of course, one is using a standing desk). I admit that I do head into the other room to grab a handful of nuts now and then, or fix a cup of tea. But I can sit still when need be.
Each person I meet knows something I don’t—I can always learn something new if I ask the right questions. All it takes is a little curiosity. Whether working for a newspaper or corporate client, finding interest in some aspect of a new industry, person, story, or methodology is a strength—if I myself am interested in it, the way I write about it will probably be more interesting, as well. I value curiosity so highly in writing and in life, I publish a monthly Curiosity Journal, documenting and sharing my discoveries.
3. A Commitment to lifelong learning
I’ve abandoned the pursuit of higher education in a formal sense, but Autodidact Ann lives (and reads and researches) on. The more I learn, the more I have to write about. And guess what lifelong learners possess in abundance? Curiosity.
4. Love of reading
Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are suspiciously interrelated. It might seem that I’m taking one idea and stretching it out to fill space—which might be yet another strength in itself—but I do think they deserve to be singled out. Curiosity often leads to learning and reading, and one often learns via reading. But there are other ways to learn and satisfy curiosity, and there is more than one motivation to read.
Yet (and this is the point) reading inevitably enhances writing—the content may inspire (or not), the writing style may be worth imitating (or not). Either way, reading widely only helps a writer. In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. (139)
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. (142)
Storylines linger, nonfiction facts inform, ideas from texts co-mingle with others in my mind to form something new. A writer who doesn’t read is doomed to compose in a narrow style and draw from a limited library of ideas. I relish a good book, and I believe that makes my writing richer.
Never, never, never give up. Stick with it. Persist. I may not have been born with the greatest writing talent, but I’ve stuck with it. I work to improve and learn from mistakes, forging ahead a little smarter, wiser, and more skillful. As a friend of mine said (I paraphrase), the most successful writers are not necessarily the ones with the greatest talent; they’re the ones who persevere.
It’s your turn. I’m posing the same question to all who write:
What five writing strengths do you possess?
- Five Things a Freelance Writer Needs to Succeed (Ep 63)
- One Thing Every Writer Needs to Succeed (Ep 21)
- Want to Be a More Creative Writer? Get Curious! (Ep 35)
- Open Your Heart and Let Your Reader In (on vulnerability, Ep 52)
- Go Ahead and Play to Your Strengths (Ep 57)