Paperback Writer has a really thoughtful post up about essential traits for writers. As I was reading the list, some of the points made more sense to me than others.
Perseverance, independence and courage: these go together. It’s hard work, sometimes, just remembering why you ever thought you could write another book. It takes courage to push through self doubt and low points, because for the most part, you’re on your own.
Wabi sabi is number two on the list, which is derived from Richard Powell’s book Wabi Sabi for Writers:
Powell also (loosely) defines wabi sabi, a Japanese phrase which originally meant “poverty” (wabi) + “loneliness” (sabi) but now seems to mean something more like “simple stuff found and appreciated during beneficial solitude.” I actually like the original phrase better, because writing for most folks is a poor, lonely business, but there you go.
I take this to mean that a writer has to not only tolerate, but to embrace the unavoidable solitude that goes along with the job. Sometimes this is harder than others. Solitude also has its dangers, especially for people with a tendency toward depression — and I would guess than a large percentage of writers do struggle with depression.
Simplicity immediately made me think of Ann LaMotte’s one inch frame. That is: focus on the moment. Not on what comes next, not on how you’re going to get your characters where they need to be, just on the right now, what is happening at this moment with this character.
Expressiveness is in some ways the most obvious trait a writer needs: a willingness to put hard stuff down, to wallow around in emotions and then capture them in a way that will put the right image in a reader’s head. Authors (fiction authors, that is) are by nature curious, observant of human nature, and interested in the quirky. The thing is, you’ve got to be able to express what you see.
A quote from Ann Lamott on this very point:
We write to expose the unexposed. Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut. But the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words – not just into any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues. You can’t do this without discovering your own true voice, and you can’t find your true voice and peer behind the door and report honestly and clearly to us if your parents are reading over your shoulder.
So I’ve been thinking if there’s any other trait I think is essential, and I did come up with two: perspective, and a sense of humor.