1. ILoveWords
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    ILoveWords Member

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    Is a writer something you're born as or something you make yourself?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ILoveWords, Feb 12, 2014.

    Hey everyone,

    I've started writing a novel around a year ago and yet I haven't written even one chapter. I have around 18,000 words in total, but they form mostly detached scenes that I hope to place somewhere in the finished novel, but nothing fluent and coherent has been formed yet.

    Stephanie Meyer managed to pen down the entire Twilight book in about three months, I've heard, and apparently, most authors need around the same time span to have at least written a first rough draft. Besides, we all know the stereotype of the possessed artist who absolutely needs to write all the time for the sake of his sanity. The guy who makes words gush out of his pen like it's second nature.
    So it's a little demotivating for me, given how slow I am in comparison.

    The thing is that coming up with a good story looks like it's mostly an innate talent than skills you can work on. Inspiration just comes when it wants to come. It's not something that can be controlled to me, but some people seem to be more inspired than others people (like me, who can't manage to come up with a good idea more than once every century).

    I'm currently studying a heavy subject that needs a lot of time dedicated to it in order to not fail the year and yet I'm freeing some time in my schedule just to write, hoping I'll reap the fruits of my efforts in the form of a published novel one day. But the more time goes by, the more this seems like some crazy wild dream I should have abandoned when I outgrew my childhood naivete (along with becoming a princess, you know?). I find myself staring at a blank page. And doing just that.

    So, is writing interesting novels a talent that one just has or hasn't or rather a skill that is developed through hard work?

    Do you think someone that uninspired just doesn't have The Talent and should rather not bet on writing too much?

    Or have you endured endless trudges through that despairing place inspiration is unknown to and yet still managed to finish a novel of publishable quality in the end?

    How long does it take for you to finish writing a book, from the moment you come up with a concept to the final draft?

    Thanks for reading! :)
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Both, I think. It looks like there was something physically different about Einstein's brain that may have led to his prowess in physics. The same may be true about accomplished writers. I've always thought that being able to visualize scenes was a very important skill for a writer, and that skill may have to do with the brain's configuration, at least in part.

    That said, nurture is also very important, I think. Several folks on this and other writing forums have asked if one needs to be a voracious reader to write well. I think the answer to that question is a resounding 'Yes!'.

    The most important part of the equation is perseverance. Writing fiction can be very hard work, and you have to be ready to slog through the difficult parts.

    As for you specifically, I have to say your lengthy post, which isn't rife with spelling and grammatical errors, gives you a leg up on many who come here to ask similar questions. My suggestion would be to use your spare time to write short stories and post them here (when you've fulfilled the requirements) for critique by the community. I have a feeling you'll be pleasantly surprised by the reception you get.
     
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  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure if you need talent to come up with an idea for a novel. More a creative mind, but even though you come up with the most fabulous ideas it's no guarantee that they will be good when written. I don't mean to be negative, absolutely not. But to get ideas you need to be curious about the world around you, about situations and people and events and everything that goes into a good story. You need imagination first of all, then I think it's a mix of talent and hard work. Writing, for me, is both an art form and a craft, and the craft is something you can learn.
     
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  4. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Hi there...In my opinion the right response to this is there is a mix of both, natural talent and learned skills. There are simply gifted people out there with a deeply-embedded creativity which they feel compelled to express in the arts, whether that's through the visual arts or the written word.

    Of course abilities like these can be nurtured, but it takes practice, practice and more practice. If you look at many great writers through the years you'll find from an early age they're steeped in literature, surrounded by books and usually parents who encouraged reading. By the time they've reached adulthood they've already learnt the basic tools, if you like. They've absorbed the vocabulary, developed it more, studied the rhythm of prose etc - and all this is done by reading great stories by great writers which enables them to go on to develop their own original works.

    Doing this can only take you so far, in my opinion. Originality is key. I believe it takes imagination, your own ideas, and you will find an exceptionally creative person's head will be flooded with ideas and stories, along with the language which opens the door for them to tell the story. You can borrow from other writers but inspiration comes from within, too, taken from your own observations and your philosophy on how you see the world and the people you meet.

    It's a strange mix, and if you struggle with flashes of inspiration regarding a story, I always find it does no harm to leave the story and let it sit, even for months at a time. You can then go on to something else and return to it. The Coen Brothers, for example, ran into difficulties when writing their film Miller's Crossing, and in the meantime they went on to write The Big Lebowski, which I think is a great film.

    It also does no harm to brainstorm for stories...Write down words that come to mind, associated words that float in your head that's related to your story and think of the language you might use and the situations you might use. The thing about brainstorming is you don't have to use all that comes out of your head. Some of it might be crap, but this is in no way a bad thing. It will allow you to sift through the muddled thinking and come up with something coherent and interesting.
     
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  5. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I think I that I was born to be a writer, but that the writing gene did not "Kick In" until I was older I did not write my first book until I was 20 years old to be honest.
     
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  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it requires some level of talent - but unless you work at developing and training that talent, you'll go nowhere. How long it takes someone to write their novel has very little to do with either.
     
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  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Remember that Harper Lee wrote only one book.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    "At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance--that is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is, curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got that or not."
    - William Faulkner
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2014
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  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    There's talent but there's also editing, editing, editing. I've seen some of James Joyce's drafts and they look like mine - for a book that feels like it flows like syrup - he had to do a lot of editing to get it that way.

    I think talent is both an underated aspect and an overrated one. Overrated if you think talent alone can write a book. Underrated if you think you can write a worthwhile one without it.
    I think you need a desire to tell a story, talent in working with words but drive to find the right way ( not always the correct way ) to put them down.

    - Samuel R Delany
     
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  10. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    The most important thing is to want and to enjoy telling stories. Orally, in writing, in mime, it doesn't matter. First is the desire to tell a story. Second is to have a story to tell. The story you have in your mind need not be a marvel of grammar and rhyme. Things like that come with time and practise. Imagine you are sitting under a tree with group of old friends. You say, "Listen, I have a story to tell you - "
     
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  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    From personal experience, (not from extensive knowledge), I suggest you write those detached scenes out as complete chapter drafts and worry about ordering them later.

    Who cares? Everyone's different.

    However, if your scenes don't belong to a story, however vague, you may want to change tack. Stop writing scenes and work on a rough outline of the story you want to tell.

    It can be either. Some people crank out stories with ease, some people only have one or two stories to tell. I would not worry about novel #2 until you create novel #1.

    Again it's both. If you are staring at a blank page, perhaps you are doing a wee bit too much wishing and hoping and not enough thinking about the story you have to tell.

    It can take months, but it's not unusual to take years. I can't tell from your wavering here if you have a story concept. If you do or you can grow your thoughts into a story concept, you can work on it a scene at a time. I do, I even wrote many of the scenes out of order before they found the order they needed to be in.

    But if you don't have a story idea (it doesn't have to be complete, it may not yet have an ending, you might not be sure how to begin the story) then that's what you should work on next. Put the scenes aside and ask yourself, what is the story you want to tell.

    Is it about a character? How they grow, what they go through?
    Is it about society?
    Is it purely just a fun story?

    Asking yourself questions like that is where I suggest you start.
     
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  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    both... it's been proven scientifically, that good to great writers really are born with a talent for wordwork, where others may be born with an ability to compose music, or a gift for creating works of art... or with a brain that can do the kinds of things with mathematics and a sense of how things work, that einstein had...

    but, just being born with the 'ability' isn't enough... one then must do the work it takes to learn how to put it to use...

    this doesn't mean that those who were not born with an innate ability can't also succeed as writers or whatever, but just that they'll have to work harder at it and may not reach the same heights as those who were...

    so, i'd say having an inborn talent certainly helps, but isn't a 'must'... a strong will and dogged determination can bridge the gap... and often does...
     
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  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    If you are struggling, then what have you done to advance your knowledge of the craft of writing? What have you read that has really spoken to you, and how does what you write compare to it?

    To begin with, how clear an idea do you have of the story you want to tell (this gets to the heart of the questions that @GingerCoffee posed)? Where does it start? Where does it go? It's fine to write "by the seat of your pants" and just "go where the story takes you", but you need to at least have an idea of where you're going. Start with a character. What does he want to do? What is keeping him from doing it? How does he overcome that?

    Good luck.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @EdFromNY. You don't necessarily have to start with an outline detailing every event of the story. I just start with a character and a situation he's in that he wants to change. Either he doesn't have what he wants and acts to get it, or he has what he wants but someone or something threatens it. That's enough to get me writing. Most of the story comes as I work, which is why my first drafts are so full of wrong turns.

    One thing I'd caution you about: Don't compare yourself to other writers. Don't think you're doing something wrong because Stephanie Meyer wrote Twilight in three months. That way lies madness. You're not Stephanie Meyer (I hope you're a lot better!), so don't try to be.

    I do believe some people are born writers. That doesn't mean they're born with writing talent or skill; it just means they're born with a form of obsessive-compulsiveness that makes them write, write, and write some more. If they have talent and good brains, this can be wonderful and you get an Isaac Asimov. If not, you get one of those hacks who churn out hundreds of novels, none of which are any good.

    I believe most writers, though, are not born to write. They discipline themselves, train themselves, and work, work, work. Many of them don't even really enjoy writing - what they enjoy is having the finished book in their hands, something fine that they can be proud of. I often find writing agonizing, and I'd rather be doing almost anything but. Later, though, when I read over what I've written and it works, I feel a glow inside I can't get any other way.
     
  15. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    If it's true you're screwed because you would already have written and sold a novel if you had it in you. But then, if it was true people who have that gift wouldn't have to be taught to read, or write, or grammar, or punctuation. In the real world talent is the name we give to the ability to learn some field more quickly than most. So maybe you have talent for writing fiction and maybe you don't. But you'll never learn which it is till you take steps to train that talent.
    Yeah, right. with no effort on our part it just comes to us and we sit down and turn out deathless prose. Seriously, did you do anything toward finding out what the pros have to say about that? Have you missed the fact that they offer four year degree courses in professional fiction writing? Don't you think that at least some of what they teach might be necessary?

    Get rid of the belief that the story idea is what's needed, because story comes in a distant second to writing technique. And that's a learned skill. Unless your writing in and of itself, can capture the attention of the reader they'll desert you before the end of page one. And what good will that good idea do you if they never get to it? You, like everyone else who went through the public educational system spent twelve years of your life learning a general skill we call writing. Before you can write as a pro, you need the knowledge that a pro takes for granted. In that, the fiction writing section of the public library is a great resource to at least make you know what you need to know.

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” ~ Mark Twain
     
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  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Jay, I agree with your entire post except this. Both are needed, or it's no sale.
     
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  17. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    Couple of random thoughts...

    1) You have a collection of detached scenes. Have you ever tried to do an outline of your story? I dismissed outlines for years as a colossal waste of time. I also didn't complete a single novel, until I did a rudimentary outline of a story and made notes about the characters, etc. That was back in August or September. I finished my first novel in December. :) The outline gave me a road map to follow, and the individual 'scenes' in my head were far easier to assemble with it.

    2) The time it takes to write will vary greatly, simply because everyone spends a different amount of time working on a project. I've worked diligently for 3-4 hours every single evening; longer on weekends. I've also let the thing sit for a week when I felt I needed a break. Some people only have an hour a day to write. Others may have an entire day, every day. You can't put a clock on writing a book.

    3) Worrying about your project being 'interesting' is a waste of time. If it's interesting to you, then it's interesting. Your next task is to make it a desirable 'telling'. I didn't get my first, best idea until I was 47, and I'd been wanting to be a writer since I was in high school. It came to me in a dream, and it took me 2 years to even start writing it.

    4) Do you need talent? Yes, I think so. I have a 'gift' of wordcraft. Don't know where I got it, but it's there. The ability to string words together fluidly doesn't necessarily make me a good storyteller though. I think that is a bit of talent, but can also be learned by reading others. The ability to use words can also be learned, but you also need some talent there, too. I think the OP has the ability to write, but may need to hone the storytelling aspect.

    5) Final thought: when the magic happens, you'll know it. The entire novel won't write itself, but you'll start filling pages in a way that just feels natural and right...and you'll know you're onto something. When, exactly, that will happen no one can tell you.
     
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  18. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    Apologies if this reply is overly long, but here goes ...
    From experience and talking to various writers over the years, whether a novel will ever be written let alone published, depends on four basic things:

    How do I write?
    Writers can preach the different methods but in the end it's what works for you. I know writers who meticulously plan the whole story like it's a business plan rather than a work of art. Having tried it, planning tells you if you have a good story and removes those dead-ends, like someone giving you the solution before you go into the maze. But that spoils the fun - there are few surprises when you plan. And then some writers really don't have an idea beyond a handful of characters and they hope or believe that the idea will come along during the writing. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't and they write 90,000 words of nothing but characterisation without a plot. But then having a good idea without good characters, or, as mentioned a few times already, without the skills to write the good idea into a good book, won't help either. Especially if you don't have the time or space to learn those skills ...

    Where do I write?
    Your writing environment can be as important as all the talent and skills in the world, because from my own experiences, having the time to sit down with a clear head is a big factor as to whether you can actually get the book written. If you are tired, distracted, demotivated, it doesn't matter if the book will be great because you'll never get the chance to write it. Writing with kids on the arm, with neighbours playing loud music until three in the morning, writing on the bus or train, in a crowded room, can't be easy either. When you've got illness in the family, or you have an erratic illness yourself, either physical or mental, can greatly affect your writing. Depression is the killer of motivation, and sometimes writers can get depressed because they can't write, which means they write less, a vicious circle worse than writer's block. Then there are stresses in the working life, such as too much pressure from management, the threat of redundancy etc etc, or pressures in personal life with relationships or the lack of relationships. Like all the great scientific discoveries, the environment for writing appears to be a big factor with its success. It effects whether you are even allowed to sit down at the keyboard or put pen to paper. And that's even without another big factor: motivation…

    Why do I want to write?
    I've seen it in other forums, though not as much here, but there are a lot of writers who think to themselves "I want to make lots of money like JK Rowling, or Stephanie Myers. They write books, and it can't be that hard to write a book, can it?" That may be simplifying the thought processes of some, but I'm amazed how many aspiring writers are only writing because they want to be like Myers, Rowling, King etc. because, like entering the lottery, they believe that one day they'll earn millions.
    Don't get me wrong, there are authors out there who will only write for money, and confess they wouldn't even bother if they weren't being paid (Jeffrey Deaver springs to mind). But there are also writers who would write even if they weren't paid because they have a love of story-telling and the written word (Stephen King springs to mind). I'm not going argue one approach is better than the other (if it's right for them, then it's right) but I'd argue writing purely for profit does little for motivating aspiring writers when the going gets hard.
    The advice I've been given and passed on since is that there are easier careers than writing. If you are smart enough to write a good book, you're smart enough to get a well-paid job, and the odds of being in a well-paid job are better than being a writer earning a similar amount. In other words, if you're only doing this for money, the odds of you earning enough to live on are about the same as winning the lottery. Really, your heart won't be in it. And writing is about passion. Passion is a great motivator to sit down every day and write, whether the writing works or not.

    If that passion springs from an earlier desire to write from youth, that might be enough to motivate you to write when you get older, but there is no guarantee you'll capture the same inspiration and the will to write you had when you were younger. In fact in can do the opposite. I have a friend who was a prolific writer when he was a teenager, writing a book a year. Now he's lucky to finish one every five to six years, yet he is always comparing that productivity which does him no favours, sinking him into a deep depression whenever he looks at his writing. He recognises that his environment has changed, but still the spectre of that prolific writer haunts him, even though now he is a much better writer.
    Which brings me nicely to …

    Can I write?
    I'd go with the argument that writing can be taught, either in the class-room, or through interaction with writers on forums like these, and through reading lots of books, and through writing regularly. Also the advice of professionals is important (again through forums like this, but also through their own writing-books; I'm reading a great one at the moment called Wonder Book by Jeff Vandermeer).
    The skills (or tricks) of writing can be learnt by reading and doing (doing is really important - it's like playing sports; reading about how you can execute a perfect jump on a snowboard is a different world to actually trying it yourself), but I would also go along with the ability argument: if you are born with it, it can make life easier. I say ability, not talent, because having a vivid imagination didn't feel like a talent when I was growing up, suffering horrible nightmares and living with irrational fears as a child. Yet that vivid imagination has certainly benefited my writing and my creativity.
    I am lucky that I've inherited a dogged determination to succeed, to sit down and work hard at my craft. I don't have to will myself to sit at the laptop; I do it without any struggle, because it's natural to me. I inherited also, a certain objectivity to take criticism with a practical eye, rather than personally (though I'm the first to admit to being enraged by non-constructive criticism!).
    All of this helps me as a writer, sometimes more than the skills-set I've learnt along the way.

    ~

    During my time writing and talking to writers, I've discovered there are no right or wrong ways to write or be a writer. There are just ways. And I can't speak for everyone here, but many aspiring writers, professionals too, have questioned whether they should continue writing.
    At some point what you'll need to ask yourself is whether writing is for you, and whether being a writer appeals more than the writing itself. If the latter is the case, then personally I wouldn't pursue it further - as the pros say, a writer is someone who writes; a dreamer just dreams about being a writer and could be happier spending that time doing something else.
     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well ...this is just about the best post I've ever read on this forum. I especially liked the bit about needing a decent place/opportunity/mindframe to write. People who beat themselves up because they can't keep to a writing schedule because 'life' gets in the way should cut themselves some slack. There is a lot of difference between just thinking/dreaming about writing, making elaborate plans and outlines that will never amount to much—and fitting snatched writing moments in around a busy life.

    This post should be a sticky. I'll certainly read it more than once.
     
  20. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I'm writing my first book at 39.
     
  21. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Excellent post. Younger writers on this forum, take note...

    Much of this can be summed up with one sentence: you need the discipline and the passion to be a writer
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'll add to that, there is no age limit (minimum or maximum) for the inspiration for a story to develop.
     
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  23. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I once took a course on John Milton (Paradise Lost, etc.), and I remember the professor talking about how agonizing the craft of writing was for him. I don't remember the details and should look it up to refresh my memory, but apparently he slaved constantly and had a difficult, difficult time. Obviously in the end he produced an English masterpiece, but there is probably a good reason why some of the best writers are also the most tortured.:)

    Perfectionism is something you have to take into account, too. Many of the best authors are also very driven. Talent makes it easier, but without the discipline to hone what you have you may as well not have it.:(
    Also, there is such a thing as a dry spell among writers. Harper Lee comes to mind first, but I think Fitzgerald had a lot of trouble, and David Foster Wallace took a lot of time between novels, too.

    Anyway, try not to get discouraged. There aren't any rules, but it is a general pattern in life that real quality takes time. It's better to wait and get it right than rush a book before it is ready. Writing that is forced produces a 'forced' product, too.
     
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  24. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    Just a little side note: Don't let Stephanie Meyer of all people discourage you. She may have written twilight in a short period but it really, really shows. Some authors take years to write their novels. One of the things that saps inspiration the most is trying to rush it.
     
  25. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Life sometimes gets in the way. If you didn't have the distractions maybe you would be further. But priorities will always get in the way. Now once you are established and being paid, then you count the time you are writing as work. Getting more done.
     

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