I first wrote this essay for an adult writing class I was teaching, outlining what I believed to be the most important attributes of a writer. However, as I recently reread it, I realized that these attributes – patience, perseverance, reflection, and self-forgiveness – also applied to being a teacher. Actually, the truth is, I probably learned them first in the classroom!
We all know that good writing takes lots and lots of time, which means lots and lots of patience. Time to grow an idea. Time to write a first draft. Time to take the first draft and shape it into something that approaches your original vision.
Of course, it takes patience to develop and complete a single piece. Even though we want to plow ahead on a project, sometimes the best route is to patiently study mentor texts, to experiment with different approaches, or set a piece aside for a bit to allow a fresh perspective later on. It takes time and patience to revise and rewrite over and over and over again.
It also takes patience to allow ourselves the time required to improve. To try different
strategies, to take classes, to analyze our success and failures, to come back to the page after a piece has been rejected.
As a writer, I know that growth is an ongoing process, that there is always something new to learn. But living that truth takes patience.
The good thing about patience is that if you think of it as a skill to be learned, you can work on learning it. And that too, takes patience.
The ability to keep yourself going through the highs and lows of writing requires perseverance. I often find it difficult to keep myself motivated and moving forward when there is no deadline or daily reward. It takes perseverance to keep at a piece of writing day after day, to keep writing after a story, which I have patiently worked on, is rejected multiple times and to stick with a project that is unyielding and hard to crack. It takes perseverance to keep going when you are overwhelmed, and when you don’t feel like you are doing a good job. It takes perseverance to face the page every day, whether you feel like it or not.
I honestly believe that my ability to reflect on my process, on my content, on my successes and struggles, is one of my most valuable tools. My writing journal is my place to reflect. A place where I articulate where I am in the writing process on a specific piece. A place to ponder what is holding me back. My writing journal is the place where I figure out what I’m trying to accomplish with the piece as a whole, or with a specific scene. When I am stuck, reflection done through writing, about my writing, is what I do to analyze why. And when I succeed, reflection helps me understand what I did to succeed so I can repeat it.
And finally, a writer’s most important attribute of all is self-forgiveness. As we try to live lives rich with patience, perseverance, and self-reflection we will inevitably fail. And it is self-forgiveness which gives us the strength, in the face of failure and self-doubt, to bring ourselves back to the page and start again.