It takes all sorts of qualities to be a writer. I personally suspect a certain amount of masochistic fatalism is part of the mix. Three more have occurred to me, and while they’re not the be all and end all, I suspect each and every writer needs to have all three in spades.
They are Fortitude, Perseverance, and Joy.
Let’s take fortitude first. It can mean physical strength; it used to mean the ability to endure pain and adversity; these days it’s more about moral strength and courage. I think writers need a pinch of all three. We need the physical strength to fight off tired eyes and weary backs, aching pen-hands, carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome (I recently learned about the latter firsthand), and all their nasty friends. We need to face adversity in the guise of rejections, criticism, and the demon self-examination. We need mental strength to coax out more words when we’re tired, jaded, locked in writer’s block, or trapped in an ouroboros-like plot. We need the moral strength to believe in ourselves and what we’re writing.
That brings us onto perseverance. The persistence in doing something in spite of delays, difficulties, and a downright lack of success. That ability to finish a chapter that you’ve become lost in. To write your way out a plot hole. To ignore rejections. To complete a project rather than abandoning it, even if it’s going to be crap, just so that it’s completed and you’ve learned something about yourself and your writing.
But there’s more. The word perseverance comes from (if I may borrow from the OED) the Latin perseverare ‘abide by strictly’; from perseverus ‘very strict’; from per- ‘thoroughly’ + severus ‘severe’. So perseverance means being strict with yourself. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read or heard the advice “just write” with minimum words or time a day. The fact that it’s true doesn’t make it any easier. Perseverance can also mean not being happy with something that’s “just OK,” not being happy until we’ve given it our damn best shot. Perseverance is forming writing habit and sticking to them. Thoroughly strict, strictly thorough.
It’s clearly important to have both of these. But to me it’s even more important to have joy.
Joy is the feeling of pleasure and happiness we get, not just by finishing a piece of writing, but by the act of writing itself. It’s nailing a scene, it’s coming up with a line of dialogue or a description that makes you laugh. It’s figuring out the perfect way to make all the pieces fit. It’s the realisation that your subconscious mind has actually known better than you do about what’s going on, and already laid down the track for the train of your conscious mind to run on. It’s the awesome idea, the silver particle of inspiration, the revelation, the epiphany.
It’s the fact that you love what you’re doing, and when you’re in the middle of it you don’t care whether anyone else reads a word of it or not because the joy of doing it is enough.
Of all the things you need to know or be able to do to be a writer, I don’t think I could – or would want to – do it without that joy. I’ve written this blog to make sure I don’t forget.