Last week, I got involved with the good folk at Campus Diaries in their content development program. To kick things off, they got all their interns and young writers to send me a list of questions. I answered them all, of course. Then I thought it will be nice to feature some of the longer questions and answers as posts here on the blog. We’ll start with the following question.
What, according to you, brings out a budding writer’s talent? Experience, or inspiration?
Three things help a budding writer the most.
1. A willingness to write as a habit
That means to sit down at the desk and write SOMETHING every day. It could be an email, a memoir, a journal entry, a poem, an essay, a short story – anything, as long as you’re wrestling with the written word. There will be times when you will feel that it’s all futile, that you’re not ‘getting anything’ from it. But that’s the point of a habit. You do it even when you feel you’re wasting your time.
You’re not wasting your time, of course, even when it feels that way. Sometimes words don’t come. But the way in which you struggle and make things work on bad days will keep you in good stead. In sport, there is a common saying that it is when you’re out of form that you learn the most about yourself. The same applies to writing.
2. A willingness to fail
Writers, like practitioners in all professions, should be willing to be wrong, to fail, to not be good enough. You need to accept that when you begin, when you’re still ‘budding’, you’re most probably not that good. Most people react with despondency when told they’re not good enough. But it’s natural. We all start off being crap. In fact, all of us sit somewhere on the ‘crap ladder’. We’re all above some people and below some other people. What’s the big deal?
The idea is to find out where you sit on the ladder and aim to move up a rung or two day after day, week after week, year after year.
For what it’s worth, my story of publication began with not one or two, but three failures. The first three books I wrote have not yet found a publisher, and I doubt they ever will. But that’s okay. If I had not written those three books, I would not have written Murder in Amaravati (my first published book) either.
3. A drive to improve
Third, you need to examine your work, find areas to improve, and design exercises for yourself that will achieve that goal. For example, if dialogue is your weak point, pick out dialogue scenes from your favourite book and study how the author has created the effect he had on you. And then implement those same things into your dialogue. You will fail to reach the mark at the first attempt, but you will improve.
In this sense, writing is the most convenient form of art because you can learn from many masters. The work of authors from Homer down to Dan Brown are all available to you, in black and white, as printed letters on paper. There are no hidden props. What you see is what you get. All you need to get started on your self-improvement is desire. What words does the author use to create atmosphere? What is his paragraph structure like? How do his scenes begin and how do they end? How is he handling plot? How is he building his characters?
No matter what question you ask, you will find an answer if you open your favourite book.
What about inspiration?
Inspiration is too airy-fairy. I don’t rely on it. I don’t know many professional authors who do either. I often find references to ‘inspiration’ and ‘writer’s block’ among beginning authors who are just feeling their way around. Professionals can’t afford to wait for inspiration. They have to go after it.
So fine, if you’re writing for fun or as a hobby, feel free to rely on times when you’re inspired to write. But if you have dreams of one day becoming a professional author, you will be served well by assuming that inspiration has no effect on the quality of your writing.
Does this apply only to writing?
This was not in the original answer, but in the course of constructing this post, it struck me that these three things that I listed apply to all fields of human endeavour, for anyone who wants to achieve proficiency or excellence. We must make a habit out of doing it. We must be prepared – or even expect – to fail. And we must consciously, deliberately practice.
I just realized that I slipped out of ‘writing advice’ to ‘life advice’. Oh, well. Advice is cheap anyway, isn’t it?
Now, over to you.
How do you approach a new task or hobby or activity? How do you react when you fail to make the grade? Do you have any tips to share on how we can tackle something that we’re not good at? How do you deal with fear of failure? Please make yourself heard in the comments section below.
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