You need many abilities to be a writer: Storytelling, voice, a grasp of grammar, be able to evoke emotions, plot…I could go on. And on.
But these are skills. They can be learned, or at least improved upon. This is a tough gig. It can take decades of work to create a worthy work of fiction. What is the bedrock need that drives a person to put in those years of work? That is the most essential piece.
I believe the most important skill a writer needs he/she has to be born with.
And I don’t just mean the normal kid-questions, like why is the sky blue? I mean a fascination with things around us, and the drive to find out how this complex world works.
I wasn’t one who always wanted to be a writer. My aspirations never dared go that high. But I was a dreamer. My mom would wake me up for school, only to come in fifteen minutes later to find me sitting on the bed with a sock halfway on, staring out the window. I take the hard road; not listening to advice, but having to find out for myself by making mistakes until I stumble onto the correct way (I don’t recommend this approach-it puts on a lot of miles).
Ever since I discovered as a kid that other houses didn’t run just like mine, I’ve been riveted by people different than myself: the tough personalities, the odd, the fringe–how and why did they get that way? Why is it that, given the same set of facts, they come up with a different conclusion than me? What is it that drives a person to addiction? Homelessness? Psychosis? Is it events or something inside? Or a combination of the two?
You have to go way deeper than ‘what if’ questions. What if there IS a zombie apocalypse? That’s plot, and you need it, of course. But to me, the story comes alive when you see how this effects different people. What makes one person give up, and another fight? Reluctant heroes, tortured villains, unlikely leaders – those are the stuff of imagination, and they bring a story to life.
That’s why I loved novels by Arthur Haley: Airport, Hotel, The Final Diagnosis, Runway Zero Eight. His books set the scene with a problem, followed by little vignettes of how different characters reacted in totally different ways. That’s why I love Stephen King novels, too. His unlikely heroes are usually children, and their strength is their innocence and willingness to believe. That’s arresting stuff.
If, like me, you think that writers are way smarter than you, and your aspirations don’t reach that high, look inside. You may have the essential ingredient you need, already.
I challenge you to explore it!