11.8.11 | By: Megan Langham

Day Ten of Fifteen Days: Answers

Yes, yes, I know it ought to be day eleven. I'm doing this all backwards and forwards and topsy-turvy, but since the order doesn't matter (each post being quite capable of standing on its own), I won't wax too apologetic.

Now then. This is the question I shall attempt to answer:

What is the most important thing to know about writing?

I could set down a lengthy list of helpful tips here, bolded and bulleted; I could package up reams of advice into neat little dosages ready to down with a glass of lemonade. So extensive is this question that I could easily (well, maybe not easily) write an entire book on the subject--but I won't do any of those things. Instead I'll say what first sprung to my mind on hearing the question, and that is this:

Writing defines not the sort of thing you do, but the sort of person you are.

I am not saying that anyone who was not born with a mine-lode of raw talent inside of him must instantly despair of ever being able to write well. The exact nature of raw talent is disputable anyway: what we do know for sure is that it is by no means the only thing required. Anybody can be born with long legs; this does not mean he is therefore an expert runner.

There are, however, certain traits that characterize all writers worthy of the title. One is the innate ability to see life through the eyes of others. A writer can always look beyond the obvious nature of reality to the ideas and motives and emotions that bring it about. For a time he will be able to step out of himself and into the skin of another person--thinking with her mind, feeling with her heart, seeing with her soul. If he is well-versed in this art, he may slip in and out of multiple minds within seconds. Because, you see, such a trait must be practised as well as inborn. Quite possibly you have that sort of second-sight within you but have chosen, half-consciously, to dull it; and with good reason, as it is not at all a "practical" trait to have. Not practical, but essential if you are going to be a myth-maker.

Another crucial characteristic is the mind to persevere. If the life if a writer is truly your calling, then much of the time you will not really have to worry about this. You will be constantly pressured (from within, if not without) to keep up, to jot down, to birth the character who has been slowly forming, to water the seed of an idea that has sprung into your head. Oh, there is precious little danger that your writing will fall by the wayside--because regardless of your current mood, your instinct to scribble will not let that happen. 

(Of course there is the possibility that you'll simply choose to ignore this internal pressure by drowning it with all sorts of aids to procrastination. We all do this from time to time, but we do not make it a regular habit. If we tried that, we should almost certainly be driven mad.)

Last worthy of mention is the writer's ear, similar to a musician's ear but different in that it is actually a sharpened sensitivity towards the way words sound--alone, in phrases, in sentences, even in whole paragraphs. This trait, like the last two, must be developed even if the seed of it is already yours. It isn't difficult to develop. I'm sure you know how already, but just to be sure: read good books. By "good" here I mean "well-written". Read books by dead people--we've forgotten most of what we used to know. Read poetry, even if you don't care for it--poetry is like music in the form of words. The more you read of excellent authors, the easier it will be for you to differentiate between mediocre prose and language that sings. And when this instinct is sure, when a wrongly-placed word jars you as instinctively as a wrongly-played note, when a simple sentence ebbs and flows like music in your head, then you will be on your way to writing well, and writing with your whole heart.

There, it would seem I've given you an essay! As I mentioned earlier, though, just be grateful it isn't a full-length book. ;)

5 missives:

Meghan said...

Hey-I loved your post! LOL I had trouble thinking up an answer for that day!

Miss Inkpen said...

Wonderful post, Megan! I can tell you are a simply fabulous writer even through the way you write your posts! :) Great advice! I often find myself watching people and wondering about their stories...often making them up to satisfy my curiosity! :D ~Rachel

Katie said...

Any MeganPost is welcome. MeganEssays most definitely included. And you've put this so wonderfully well—there's nothing to add. So I'll just nod and nod and take some time to soak up your words.

(I awarded you over on my blog. So consider yourself doubly hit by the Liebster Award. :P http://katie-writingblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/liebster-award.html)

Megan L. said...

Meghan - I know! That question had to have been the most challenging yet; it's hard to be concise when addressing something so comprehensive.

Rachel - Why, thank you. ^.^ And I do that, too - making up backstories for random people I see on the street. I think it must be a writer thing. Outlet for creative energy, and all that. ;)

Katie - My friend, you inflate the old ego dreadfully! Completely unrelated, I love you and I think I'll keep you around. Your sweetness is contagious. ^.^

shieldmaidenthoughts said...

Hello, Megan!!
I awarded you over on my blog :)
~ Mirriam

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