When I was first trying to establish myself as an author, I came upon a quotation from the theatrical agent, Peggy Ramsay, which I copied out and stuck on my study wall. She said that talent was not at all unusual; what was unusual was having the character to develop it.
I was really struck by that, because the biggest struggles of my early career were not in developing my writing skills – I had been writing about pretty much everything that happened in my life since I was six – diaries, poems, stories – and my voice and style were already quite well-developed.
But the process of moving from being someone who loved writing to someone who could earn their living from it was very character-building for me. Here are five qualities I had to develop in myself.
1 – Self-belief, aka a thick skin
You won’t last five minutes in this business if you’re sensitive to criticism or can’t take rejection. Way back when I was starting out, one of the agents I approached with a sample of my writing replied, ‘I regret to inform you that we only accept clients who either have some writing ability or something interesting to say.’ See what I mean?
2 – Patience
The wheels of publishing move exceeding slow. Nuff said.
3 – Flexibility
If you can’t sell an idea in one form, you may be able to sell it in another. Most of the ideas I couldn’t sell have turned out to be recyclable in the fulness of time (patience again!)
4 – Trust
Lots of writers have to learn to trust their creative process, but that’s never been an issue for me. Tapping into dreams every night makes you aware of the abundance of stories going on all the time beneath the surface, which can never dry up. However, I have found it challenging to trust I’ll stay solvent on such a haphazard and sporadic income.
5 – Luck
You might say, what’s luck got to do with character? It’s random, right? But you make your own luck, to some extent. You have to be able to create and spot opportunities, and willing to consider any door that opens up, even if it’s not one you might have considered before.
I know from my workshops that talent is not unusual. Everybody has a unique voice, and an interesting story to tell. I feel really humbled by some of the writing people produce in half an hour, round my kitchen table.
Trying to make a career of it is different. Not everyone who loves writing will want to embark on that path. If you have done so, what qualities did you have to find in yourself? If you are trying to, what qualities do you think you will need?