Traits a Writer Should Possess

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
– Carl Sagan


I receive and send e-mails on a regular basis to another writer and am often challenged with opinions/ideas and questions by him.  Recently I received a question that I found to be a challenge and interesting.

What a Writer Should Possess?

My answers are as follows:

1. Patience would definitely be one – an understanding of the publishing industry – how slow they are.  When they reject you – they probably haven’t even read what you sent (many send out form letter rejections – have their quota for the month or whatever makes them chose a manuscript).  It is not personal.

2,  Love what you do.  If it’s a ‘chore’ or causes too many undesirable feelings (depression, anger, frustration – then put it aside. This would be learning to ‘separate’ reality from fiction.  Say you write a depressing chapter – after you finish it – stop and do something ‘fun’ or enjoyable?  Then go back and read it again – this time if you feel sad or depressed again – you’ve probably done a wonderful job and it just needs polishing? I think this is a learning process – and something I’m learning myself in my story ‘Angels’.  I’m ready to start writing it again – but the feelings it was causing had to be put in the right perspective.  I am now ready to separate my two lives – my reality from fiction.

3.  Make your characters realistic (unless you’re writing fantasy).   I know people who absolutely hate Lord of the Rings – and many times when talking to them It seems it’s because they can’t ‘relate’ to that world – or the characters in it.  But there are many, many who love it – taking it for what it is.  To enjoy it you really have to place yourself in a ‘different’ world.  It is one of the best ‘fantasy’ worlds I’ve ever seen created.  If you aren’t writing fantasy then your characters have to be realistic.   No one is completely bad and no one is completely good but authors often write as though they are.

4. Don’t take your writing as ‘written in stone’ and always write with some lightness inside – although I personally love humor when reading too.  A story can be too intense or serious – but sometimes a little humor will lighten it – and make the reader relate a little better.  I don’t think many people like a completely depressing story or horrible incidents one after another with no relief.  It might be better to insert a ‘hope’ scene – where something is going along great – then if you want – it goes wrong again?  If you make a reader depressed after reading your book – that type of book could make the story very boring or at least irritating because they obviously don’t have the ability to stop and ‘smell the roses’ or solve problems.  I think that’s a mistake many horror stories have and why to me they become boring. I will pick Jason in Friday the 13th – why does he keep coming back – why is he so strong and others so weak.  I keep thinking – send Arnold Schwarzenegger after Jason if he’s so powerful. Stories like this stretch my ‘beliefs’ beyond the ability to ‘go inside’ and consequently I can’t take most horror shows seriously – and since it far from scares me – it does not have the capability of performing its’ job – to scare.

5.  This may seem obvious – but could be one reason publishing companies might not read at least the beginning of your story – research/edit/polish.  There is nothing more disappointing than reading a book with many errors either grammatical or facts to pull you out of the world you were intended to enter.

Sean’s answers are as follows:

1.) Read.  No writer can become successful if they do not read books. And don’t just read, but study. There’s nothing wrong with reading a book multiple times. Many feel that, until you have had at least two readings of a book, you have not “officially” read it.  I agree with them. You need to understand how the book works, how it functions, the way that the characters are introduced, the reasons behind why a writer did something. Essentially, every word is in a book for a reason (if the book is any good, that is). The aspiring writer’s job is to try to understand what those reasons are.

2.) Observation.  No writer can get away without observing life. Whether this comes from talking to people, reading and keeping up with the news, people watching from a far, looking at the book market, and/or studying yourself (meaning trying to replicate your feelings and emotions on paper), all writers must be looking if they are to have anything to report.

3.) Passion for the subject. If a writer does not care about what they are writing about, there is no way that the audience will ever care about it, either.  Also, a lack of motivation could result in abandoning the project completely.

4.) Understand that quality is subjective.  Just because one person doesn’t like your work does not mean no one will.  It’s a cliché to say that the audience “wasn’t ready” for the writers’ “vision”, but this can sometimes be true. Great pieces of work demand multiple readings because they work on so many levels. Even so-called “entertainment” books should have this. (Though the hope is that the audience is interested enough that they naturally go back and reread the work).

5.) Energy.  Writers are probably labeled as crazy because so much of what they do—trying to recreate their version of the world on paper in solitary for months/years at a time—requires extreme patience, determination, and imagination. Once the energy leaves, the project suffers.

Sean’s conclusion:           Now that I think about, it’s really hard to just stick to five. I suppose if I looked at this question another day, I could write about five completely different traits. There’s so much required to be a great writer. Though do you think the really great writers were intending to be great, or did they just follow their passion and work real hard? Did Tolstoy intend for his books (like Anna Karenina or War and Peace) to be masterpieces or did he just work really hard to perfect the vision that he saw in his head?

My conclusion:                     Sean’s e-mails always lead to yet more questions to ponder and more answers to be discovered.   I enjoy his observations and discussions very much. My answer to Sean’s question was no – Tolstoy did not write his works intending them to be masterpieces.  He wrote because he loved writing and had an intense knowledge in his creations.  To say he intended to write ‘masterpieces’ would have destroyed the greatness – and made him somewhat shallow – (In my humble opinion).