Today I was asked a rather serious question and it took me quite by surprise. I was asked, “What is the most important thing that a writer should know?”
I was stunned to say the least. I simply don’t see myself as a bastion of writer’s wisdom, not do I see myself as a professional writer, as I still grind out most of my days in the usual dead end job. However, is was a serious question and I believe that it deserves a serious answer.
So, I put my feet up, sipped on some coffee and gave the question some serious thought.
The first things that came to the forefront of my mind were the usual suspects; grammar, spelling, vocabulary and proper usage.
I am a bit of a grammar Nazi, so it isn’t all that surprising that grammar was the first thing to come to my mind. It is after all the key to clear communication and that is what writing really is all about, connecting to your audience and communicating your ideas and stories. Sharing one’s vision with the world is next to impossible if one’s audience cannot understand what is being said. So, yes, grammar is an important thing, it is not THE most important thing. Excellent books on grammar are a dime a dozen, and it only takes a little bit of practice to master it. The same goes for proper usage.
It is almost the same with spelling and vocabulary. As a writer type person with mild dyslexia, I can firmly testify as to the usefulness of the modern spellchecker. While the spellchecker may be your friend, it is my lifesaver. On a good day, I might be able to spell my own name, just maybe. On a bad day, I count myself lucky if I don’t misspell every single word. This of course doesn’t stop me from writing. I still have tales to tell and I am not going to let a little thing like bad spelling stop me. Though I do hate my vocabulary to be limited to what I can spell. Along side my trusty spellchecker, my dictionary is my best buddy. I have even been known to sleep with one, cuddling it like a teddy bear.
So, if the usual suspects are not the most important things, because they can be worked on and around, what is?
All of the more advanced skills, character development, finding good solid plot lines, dialog ect. can all be learned and mastered with a bit of determination and a whole lot of hard work. They can also be worked on and around.
I sipped some more coffee and stretched my legs out and look up at the painting hanging off my wall. I found it.
A long time ago, when man still lived in caves, I used to be an artist. I could paint the most wonderful and beautiful images. The only difference between now and then, is that now I paint those pictures using words instead of colour. As a painter, the one thing that is more important than everything else, is for the artist to finish the work, to be sure that each and every painting is utterly complete. It doesn’t matter if there is flaws in the picture. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always do better next time and if you paint enough, you will get better. You will improve. Being perfect, isn’t the most important thing, finishing what you start is.
In this respect, writing, is exactly like drawing, painting and all of the other arts. It doesn’t matter if ones story isn’t perfect, or if there are a few awkward spots. Even a few run on sentences could be overlooked as long and the work is complete and fully finished. In all things, the artist, in this case the writer, with get better over time.
The most important thing for a writer to know, is how to finish the work, and make it complete.