Saturday, January 12, 2008

Roald Dahl's list plus one

Here's what Roald Dahl thinks you need to be a fiction writer:

1. You should have a lively imagination.

2. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader's mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don't.

3. You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.

4. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.

5. You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to fire you if you don't turn up for work, or tick you off if you start slacking.

6. It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humor. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it's vital.

7. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble.

#8. (from Libby) Luck.

He doesn't mention # 8 -- maybe because he wasn't talking about getting published, only writing novels; or maybe he thought it was obvious. The list was in an essay called A LUCKY BREAK, which tells how HE started writing and got published: they happened for him at the same time, in the same lucky break.

So, adding luck (and remembering its importance in getting published, which is a pretty good way to keep from getting a swelled head), I think I agree with him -- even about #2. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Yes, they're all quite true... including number 8... though I think if you have what it takes and are persistent luck doesn't play such a big part.


Libby Koponen said...

I agree that the more talent and persistence you have, the smaller luck's role is...but I think it always does play SOME part.

And I think when it comes to whether or not a book makes it big (wins a big award, becomes a best seller etc.) luck -- or maybe chance is a better word -- is always a huge factor: timing, who happens to be on the committee, a chance story on NPR etc.