What does it take to be an author?
If you answered, “talent, desire, a good command of the English language, an understanding of readers’ expectations,” you’d be right. All of those are important, but it’s been my observation that many who want to become published authors and who possess all those characteristics may begin to write a book but will never achieve their goal, because they’re missing the critical element.
What is that element? Grit. Are you laughing? It’s all right; go ahead and laugh, but then keep reading.
Of Oysters and Authors
My dictionary has a number of definitions for “grit,” the most important of which for writers is “sand or gravel.” At this point, you’re probably either wondering if I’m crazy or asking yourself what sand could possibly have to do with authors. The answer lies with oysters. Like oysters, writers create pearls, but just as not all oysters produce pearls, not all would-be authors produce a book. Grit makes the difference.
To understand why, let’s talk about pearls. They’re formed when a grain of sand enters the oyster’s shell and irritates it so much that the oyster coats the sand with layer upon layer of nacreous material, all to stop the irritation. Eventually that coated piece of grit becomes a pearl. Quite simply, without irritation, there would be no pearl.
The Importance of Irritation
I propose that without irritation, most books won’t be written. Inspiration is important, but it’s irritation that keeps authors writing until they reach “The End.” Just as an oyster forms a pearl not because it wants to but because it has to, irritated authors have to write.
So, what constitutes irritation for a writer? It varies by the individual, but in each case, what’s important is that that irritation is strong enough that the author feels compelled to write, because that’s the only way to ease the irritation.
For me, irritation has included:
* Characters whose story must be told. A minor character from a book I’d just finished woke me in the middle of the night, announcing that he needed a bride. I agreed, but oh, did I make him struggle to win his bride. That was the price he paid for disturbing my sleep.
* An unforgettable location. This is a corollary to the first form of irritation. Several months after moving to Wyoming, my husband and I visited Fort Laramie, and I was so fascinated with it and the fact that it bore very little resemblance to my idea of a western fort that I couldn’t forget it. That trip became the impetus for my Westward Winds trilogy. I simply had to tell the stories that started whirling through my brain that day.
* Personal goals. For almost as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. At first my goals were nebulous, but as a teenager I set a goal of selling a novel before my thirtieth birthday. That seemed so far in the future that I only wrote sporadically, but a month before I turned twenty-nine, I realized that if I was going to meet that goal, I’d better get serious about writing. That was the irritation I needed. And, yes, I did sell my first novel a week before my thirtieth birthday.
I urge you to look deep inside yourself and see what irritates you. If it’s strong enough, it’ll sustain you through the inevitable difficult times between the first line of your book and “The End.” That’s the power of grit.