by Malena Lott
Virginia Woolf. Edgar Allan Poe. Jennifer Weiner. Stephen King. All related. My fellow writers in the right sidebar of this page: familial.
Writers share some common traits worth mentioning on this the first day of November, the beginning of the worldwide NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month makes a month-long parade out of writing, complete with best-selling author cheerleaders, an online gathering spot, and incentive to reach word count. But who are these people drawn to such a formidable task?
What's in the DNA of a writer? What drove Virginia, Edgar, Jennifer, Stephen, you and I to sit down and write by pen or keypad each and every day? Certainly my list is subjective, though studying my own "kind" and reading books like King’s fabulous On Writing and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott have contributed to my assessment.
Obsession/Passion/Desire. A film agent in a workshop once told us that every writer he'd represented was a little OCD. They had to write. It was obsessive. It was compulsive. They would rather write than do anything else. They would decline dinner invitations and big events for time alone with their story.
Wonderment. A writer is a thinker. He gives himself permission to let the imagination go, like releasing a thousand butterflies in a tornado. We don't know where they will end up, but we will chase them just to find out. JK Rowling has said Harry Potter, and writing, saved her.
Transfiguration. It means a change in state to a more beautiful form. We do this via our characters, immersing ourselves completely into this alternate, make-believe world. The writer must transform her mind to that of the character's, to step into a wholly different life, to feel the wide range of emotions the character feels while dragging them through hell and high water (conflict!) to reach the conclusion. The journey is exhausting. They represent us a little or a lot. We sit back amazed at where our characters have taken us, as if they were the ones stringing us along and not the other way around.
Autonomy & Nonconformity. A writer must possess “freedom from external control or influence.” Writing gives us liberty to say what needs to be said, often going against the cultural norms or highlighting taboos. Great writers have their books banned all the time because they are saying something someone thought should not be expressed. Mark Twain ring a bell? While a writer may seem like your “average Joe” in the real world, they probably hold nonconformist thoughts that get to run buck-naked down the street in the middle of the day.
Not all writers had terrible childhoods or traumas, but many creative people have struggled in some way. Writing is both a balm and a fresh burn. The writing life is tough, full of self-doubt, rejection and disappointments. However, because of the unique DNA that requires that we write, we can't help ourselves no matter how many "smart" people tell us it's a waste of time, money and effort.
I believe in Purpose. A dentist can make a good living fixing people's teeth, but if he is called to write, he will put away the drill at the end of his workday, find a corner, open a vein and spill on the page.
Good luck to all of you participating in NaNoWriMo. As for me, I'm in the revision process of a young adult book, so I'll have to pass, though there is nothing like that first draft stage to get my adrenalin pumping.
Our head Girlfriend asked us to give advice to ourselves as a beginning writer. My note to self: From beginning to end, don't stress about it. Yes, continue studying craft and reading voraciously and revising, but let go of the stress and worry that it isn't good enough, or the nail-biting weeks or months on submission, or the pit-in-your-stomach feeling once your baby is out in the world being judged by reviewers or readers. Stay in the moment, and get back to your real calling, which is writing.
I'm looking forward to speaking at the Ozarks Writer's League Conference in Branson on November 20th. It's always a thrill to meet fellow writers and book lovers.