What does it take to become a successful writer?

I’ve been reviewing the journals I’ve kept over the years. At the time I wrote this one, back in 1979, I was still ambivalent about my calling as a writer. So I was eager to hear what published authors had to say.  In this case, I was fascinated with what I took away from a talk I attended by Robertson Davies, a Canadian writer.

Though the material wasn’t original or earthshaking, and my reading of his novels didn’t hit that soul gripping level for me, he was a majestic presence with his mane of white hair and flowing beard. He resembled a Shakespearean character.

But most important, he had some interesting things to say that made me more accepting of my writing vocation. He observed that a writer’s talents are always being discovered. He said, “It’s in the act of writing where our abilities unfold and we release the buried skills.”

These ideas grabbed me and made me more willing to commit myself to writing. It reminded me of something I had read recently by Aristotle to the effect that by doing something, we learn a craft or trade or even virtue. As I wrote in my journal, “Now all I need is the motivation to set free these talents of mine, to discover them, something that I continually put off because it sets off so much conflict.”

Davies also discussed the difference between an abstract thinker/scholar and the imaginative writer: the “child of Hermes,” the enchanter. After hearing this distinction, I was hungry to let this impulse in me live, to acknowledge once and for all that formal scholarship alone doesn’t interest me and isn’t necessary to do the kind of writing I wanted to do.

It also helped me to stand up to the inner voice that tried to make me function as a formal scholar. It told me I should be doing more reading, more scholarly research, more analytical writing, while something in me yearned to be set free, to have the chance to express ideas in stories, in fantasies, in parables, in whatever imaginative way I possessed.

Thank you, Robertson Davies for freeing me to become the writer I am today!



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