In my effort to read 75 books this year, I just picked up two books from my local library: "letters to a young journalist," by Samuel G. Freedman and "Letters To A Young Novelist," by Mario Vargas Llosa.
I decided to start Freedman's book first. Logic behind it: I worked as a journalist for more than a dozen years before working on my current project - seven modern fantasy novels I call the Mall Demons Series.
I reached Page 7 of Freedman's book when I came across a sentence that forced me to re-read. The number seven has always been my lucky number, and it is considered a number of spiritual perfection in the Bible. I know, I digress. But I believe today of all days was the day to begin reading this book and come across this sentence because I just witnessed it in action in the classroom and was pleased.
The sentence lauded two qualities above another for achieving excellence. For me, considering my experience in the writing classes I've taught during the last few years, these two qualities are the ones my most successful students have possessed. What is funny is that some of my best students have confessed to me after the first day of class that they "hate writing," or "have never been any good at writing."
However, they possessed these two must-have qualities that helped them, by the end of the term, achieve writing success. The great thing about these two must-have qualities is that anybody can cultivate them. So, back to Freedman's book.
In this section of the book, Freedman shares about his experience as a first-time professor at Columbia University. In his discussion of that first class, Freedman says this: "I was affirmed in my belief that intellectual curiosity and a relentless work ethic matter infinitely more than natural ability in achieving excellence."
I did a double take. Yes! "Intellectual curiosity and a relentless work ethic." These are the two qualities my best writing students have possessed. I have had students who seemed to possess a natural ability to tell a compelling story. But many failed the course because they couldn't complete the work.
I was inspired today by one of my students who turned in a draft early. This student confessed early on in the term that "writing was not her thing." While the class took a quiz, I pulled out my orange pen and marked up the pages she gave me. I didn't spare one sentence. But I knew she would appreciate my meticulousness. All term she has examined and highlighted the writing textbook, asked question after question, and submitted draft after draft for my approval. On a few occasions she sent me e-mailed drafts hoping for an immediate response. "Before next class." All this from a student who admits she doesn't like writing.
Intellectual curiosity. Relentless work ethic.
After the quiz, I returned the draft to my student. Her eyes widened for a second at the sight of all the orange marks on her paper. Then she asked questions. "What does this mean?" "How do I fix this?" And then she said something that made me very happy. I forget her exact words, but it was something like, "It'll be great when I can get back a paper that has no orange marks on it."
That made my day.
Do you want to be a writer? Ask yourself: "Do I possess these two qualities?" Intellectual curiosity. Relentless work ethic. If not, cultivate them now.