Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What are the things that make you a great writer?

I think this is a pretty relevant question: What are the requirements for a person to become a great writer? What are the qualities that are needed so that one can write better than pretty much everyone else on this planet?

In my opinion there are at least four things that are required: 1) having the ability to understand drama better than others 2) having the ability to read characters better than others 3) having an unusually creative mind and 4) being really competitive.

So let's start with the first point - having a sense of drama. This is one of the things that you can't really practice that much. When you have a good sense of drama, you have a clear idea about the things that actually matter in life.

Drama always comes from people, events and ideas. Good writer knows what's essential and what's not. Some people and some of their behavior is worth writing about. Some events are more important than others. Some ideas are good, some others aren't.

But having a sense of drama is not only about knowing what's important and crucial. It's also about knowing how to represent your case - how to pass information and facts to your audience. It's about making sure that people care about what you're writing about.

This brings us to your ability to read people and characters. In order to be able to create characters that we care about, you need to have an idea about how people behave in different situations. You need to have the ability to know what makes us tick.

What do we want, what are the things that we like, what are the things that we dislike? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What are the things that we feel strongly about? What are the things that we in general like and don't like to do?

It's about having the ability to recognize our strengths and vulnerabilities and knowing how to 'exploit' them. Whether you're writing drama or comedy, you need to know what to do with your characters in specific situations.

Naturally, having a reading ability is largely something that cannot be taught. When it comes to having a read about specific situations, you either have the talent or you don't. If you can't read people and their motivations, you shouldn't become a writer.

That leads us to the third point, that I think is also crucial - having a mind that is capable of creating good stuff. This is yet another instance where you either have it or you don't. Unless you were blessed with a specific type of brain, you can't be a great writer.

So what does that really mean? From a neuroscience perspective, I've read that in order to be really creative, you probably need to be at least a bit 'schizotypal'. This allows you to be more perceptive than others and allows to you think more clearly than the rest.

Not surprisingly, David Kelley (pictured above) has spoken about how he sometimes feels a bit schizophrenic when he's writing. Even though he's obviously joking about it, there's probably at least some truth to it too. After all, schizotypy is a milder form of schizophrenia.

In any case, my fourth and also the last point is about being competitive. In my opinion one really can't underestimate the importance of having the desire to compete with others. You need to be a competitive person in general.

For example (again) David Kelley used to be a professional hockey player before he became perhaps the greatest television writer of all time. He was the captain of his hockey team and even spent time in Europe as a professional ice hockey player. It prepared him well.

In my opinion being a competitive person is one of the very few things that might actually 'teach' you drama a bit. What makes it especially great is that it's not about anyone teaching you - it's about you learning by yourself while you compete.

Being a competitor is about drama - meaning that the stakes are usually high. You either win or you lose. You're also 'in the zone' and you likely get to experience 'flow' too. These are all important factors. After all, writing is about taking your audience for a ride too.

In the end it comes to this: if you have the ability to get drama, if you have the ability to read people, if you have a positively different brain and if you're a competitive person, chances are that you could become a really good writer - perhaps even the best in the world.

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