6 Virtues of the Writing Life

The Write 100 Challenge is a long haul, and the writing life even more so. These coming weeks have the potential to shape you, as a writer and as a person. But how will they shape you?

These virtues of the writing life are foundational for the work we seek to do. Make it your aim in the coming days and weeks to practice these virtues, to cultivate them in your habits, behaviors, and thoughts. They will serve you well not only during your challenge but in your pursuit of the writing life as a whole.

Persistence

n. firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

Persistence is a vital characteristic in a writer. If a writer is someone who writes then persistence is central to who we are as writers. Persistence means keeping at it day after day. It means putting one word after the other.

Writing, particularly if we hope to do it well, is a time consuming task. Most of the time we can see very little of the finished project in the work at hand. But persistence builds on itself. Each day that you faithfully lay down another page or paragraph (or even a single word) takes you nearer to the goal.

But as the definition above points out, persistence isn’t just about keeping to a task. It meets the inevitable friction, the resistance whether internal or external to our actions, and continues on in spite of it.

As you’ve probably noticed already, writing for 100 days brings with it plenty of that resistance. The persistent writer works not in absence of the resistance but in its presence. Often, the times when you most need to write are the moments when you feel the least like doing it.

Resilience

n. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

When you fail, how do you respond?

If you’re not sure how to answer the question, you’ll have the chance to find out because you will fail. If you haven’t already, you’ll face failure eventually. Failure, in its many forms, is part of the journey. (Check out R. Gremikova’s Write 100 post on fighting with failure.)

Resilience is about how you react when failure comes your way. The resilient writer accepts the failure as it comes but does not admit defeat. When faced with rejection, frustration, disappointment, and many other forms of failure, he climbs back on his feet, dusts himself off, and gets back to work. No matter how many times it happens.

Courage

n. the ability to do something that frightens one.

I can’t tell you how often writers bring up the topic of fear in relation to their work. Once again, the fear takes many different shapes, but we all experience it. The measure of our courage is how we answer those fears. Do we listen to them? Or do we speak the truth to them and boldly get back to work?

It takes guts to write. With each word committed to the page there’s a measure of self-exposure and plenty of risk. Courageous writers are willing to face the fears because they know that they labor for a worthy purpose.

Wonder

n. a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Writing is a way of seeing. It’s our honor and privilege as storytellers to help others to see even as we are learn to see for ourselves.

Wonder is the fuel of writing. A wonder-less writer burns out quickly, emptied of ideas. Let us, instead, be wonder-filled writers. A writer must be attuned to the world around her. A writer must be ready and willing to be astonished and delighted by even the mundane moments of ordinary life. (In fact, the mundane is often where the great stories and poems and essays have their beginning.)

Make efforts during your day to watch, to listen, to pay attention. Carry a little notebook around to jot down the wondrous moments or thoughts that pop up around you. Believe me, they are there. Make it your habit to watch for them.

Self-Awareness

n. conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

A writer must know herself. Or rather be willing to learn.

Practicing self-awareness as a writer encourages you to ask questions of yourself as you go about the process of writing: why are you doing this? what do you hope to accomplish? what excites you? what are you afraid of? It’s important to know these things as

Likewise, you need to acknowledge (and seek to identify) both your strengths and weaknesses, as a person and as a writer. Understanding your predilections as a writer will help you to set yourself up for success.

What tends to get in the way of your writing? What doubts and excuses come creeping into your thoughts when it’s writing time? Name them. Call them out. On the flipside, what encourages you to write? What environments do you find most conducive to your creativity? And so on.

As you consider craft, observe your own writing. What elements of writing are your strengths? Is it imagery, character development, diction, etc.? When you’ve identified strengths, continue to hone them. Knowing what you do well will encourage you as well as give you guidance to understanding your own work.

But we can’t stop there. We have to ask the follow-up question. What aspects of your craft do you find most challenging? Once you’ve picked out your weaknesses, find the writers–whether its someone in your critique group or a favorite author on your bookshelf–who do it best. Become a student of their technique. Hone your instincts through practice (write, write, write) and learning (read, read, read).

The self-aware writer is well-equipped to understand his or her own work and grow out of that knowledge.

Discipline

v. train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.

A professor of mine often reminded her students that writing was a choice. Her words have returned to challenge me nearly every day since I sat in her class. Will I choose to write today?

You will always have something else you could be doing besides writing. There will always be other demands on your time and attention. Good things, too! You have to choose to write. When you make that decision, be committed to it; and, when you choose to honor your other commitments, be all there.

The disciplined writer understands the necessity of this choice and chooses with care. Such a writer prepares in advance for the choice and proactively makes room for the writing to happen.

What writerly virtues will you pursue during this challenge? What would you add to the list?

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