One of the perks of being on the playground is that we get to meet new and interesting people along the way. I think you're all going to enjoy chatting with Mary Castillo today. Please welcome her to the sandbox!
The Five Qualities of a Writer
I'm always asked what one needs to be a writer. It took me 13 years to figure out that answer because there are actually five things one needs to be a writer. They don't include high concept ideas, an MFA from a prestigious writing program, a good agent or the perfect query letter. This might make you roll your eyes at me but I'll say it anyway. The five qualities that I've seen in authors are: generosity, discipline, patience, joy and writing.
Each quality has helped me rise above judging myself too harshly, or getting tangled up in envying someone else's success, which only takes energy away from writing. Each quality helps the grown-up writer who obsesses over the market and if they have a good idea, to get back to the little kid inside us who loves making up stories. At the core, it's a child-like curiosity that makes us "special" compared to the average dude. One person might see two people kissing in the park; but a writer sees a story rich with conflict and emotional strife that has brought those two lovers together.
Generosity starts with you. When I write a really good line or chapter, I now take a moment to tell myself, "Good job, dude!" I used to think that praising myself was arrogant; that God would hear it and strike me down. But God hasn't struck me down and my writing hasn't gone down the tubes so I think it's okay to give yourself a thumbs-up when you've earned it. But generosity needs to go outward. When I read a book that moves me and lingers in my head long after I finish the last page, I love emailing the author to tell them. Being generous creates good vibes that can result in a pay off: by praising yourself, you build the confidence to keep writing even on those days when the work isn't so great. By praising a fellow writer, you spread the love and who knows, that author might return the favor.
A writing teacher once told me, "Discipline protects the talent." Every writer from the perennial bestsellers to the destined-to-be-published, share this quality. Discipline exercises the muscles, so to speak and prepares you for the inevitable tight spots we all get into. Discipline gives you the endurance to meet deadlines even though your house burned down, or in my case as I was writing Switchcraft, I had a newborn in the house and still finished the book. Although with the next one, I'll make sure to finish the book before he or she arrives!
Patience is truly a virtue. Not in that makes you better than everyone else. Patience saves your sanity. My friend Lynda Sandoval told me a story about her police officer training. She was taught that in a crisis, an officer can't get all caught up in the chaos. Instead, an officer has to wind down and focus. She applied that same principle when her publisher shut down her imprint. She patiently wrote a new book, waited for the right publisher to come along and then like that, she signed a six-figure deal with Harper Collins and then, a multi-book deal with Harlequin. Impatience is like that driver who cuts you off and then speeds down the street to arrive a red light two seconds before you do. Irritating, stressful and ultimately, dumb.
We all know how writing can be scary and difficult and sometimes, boring. But what keeps me going when writing becomes those things is joy … complete unfettered joy when my characters take over and it feels like I'm just the typist trying to keep up with the action. When that happens, I'm in the story. I'm not forcing it along. It's taken on a life and again, I'm a little kid dressed in my Wonder Woman costume chasing imaginary villains in my backyard.
Writing is self explanatory and ties into discipline and yet, whenever I tell people what I do they say, "Gee, I always wanted to write a book but never have the time." Someday I'll be brave enough to reply, "Gee I always wanted to do brain surgery but never had the time!" Anyway, the actual practice of writing is what gives a writer her street cred. No writing, no book. Period. Furthermore, if my publisher told me that they'd never publish another one of my books, I'd still write. I'd have to get a job and maybe change my name but I wouldn't stop. I don't think I'd know how.
Mary Castillo is the author of Switchcraft (coming out next week!), In Between Men and Hot Tamara. She profiles authors, artists and anyone who piques her interest at her blog, Chica Lit at http://www.marycastillo.com/.
One lucky reader will win a copy of Mary's In Between Men today. Just email her here with In Between Men contest in the subject line and she'll draw a name. Good Luck!