A writer's virtues: patience and persistence

Last month I recorded an episode about the problems writers have when working on long projects. It seemed to strike a chord, so I thought I'd write this follow-up piece.

Everyone's a writer

How many people, after you've told them that you are a writer, rather than ask you about your work, say that that they've always thought they might like to be a writer too?

It's more than a few, I'd like to wager. And yet, deep down, you know that most of these people will never be writers.

So why do they do it? Why do other professions and creative pursuits not illicit that same response? For example, when was the last time you heard someone who has never played the piano say, 'I've always thought I might have a concerto in me.' It doesn't happen.

Somehow, the piano is something we wish our parents had made us learn when we were younger, and yet to write a significant piece of work it's, yeah, I can do that anytime. After all, everyone has a novel in them, don't they.

Don't they?

Unsexy time

I think that the reason people who don't write often seem to think that they could, if only they were to find the time or give it a go, is because they've never done either of those things.

People that do write - and I'm guessing this includes you, dear reader - know that writing takes practice and an awful lot of perspiration, metaphorical and otherwise. Frankly, there's nothing remotely sexy about it, and yet that's the assumption.

The perception seems to be that sure, writing is difficult, but you know, not that difficult. Everyone writes. They're only words. Wouldn't it be cool to be a writer?

And that's all true, I suppose. In a way. But it's one thing to say and another very different thing to actually go on and do.

Up for the fight

First of all, writing is a craft. By that, I mean that you can always practice and improve. The idea that someone with no writing experience can one day start scribbling and produce a significant, credible piece of work is nonsense.

More than that though, writing takes patience and persistence. And these are the qualities that people who not only start writing, but actually go on to finish a complete work, posess by the bucketload.

Writing talent is all good and well, but if you don't have the stomach for a fight, you're completely shot from the outset. The truth of the matter is, no one has a novel 'inside them'. Or any other book, dissertation or collection of writing.

All creative work is tangible. Until someone actually puts in the hours to make something real, it's all ideas and pipe dreams.

The good will out

When you're deep in the middle of a particularly long and arduous writing project, it can be tough to keep going. Self-doubt creeps in and time spent writing can feel like time wasted, especially if it's replacing moments that you could be sharing with friends and family.

However, it may be tough, but you should be proud of the time that you spend writing. Actually, spend isn't quite the right word. Invest is better. That feels much more accurate.

If you show the commitment needed to see a writing project through from start to finish, you should see the toil and trouble as an investment. Because while you might not get much of a reward when you finally crawl to bed after another night alone with the laptop, the satisfaction of finishing is worth the wait.

Get what you give

The writing process is littered with obstacles. Being prepared to jump, traverse and roly-poly under those obstacles is what sets you apart all those non-writers with their notional novels.

Determination is often what makes a writer. Persistence and patience. The willingness to practice. These are our virtues.