Two days a week I work at a community centre in Yanchep, an outer coastal suburb of Perth, WA. It’s located some 25 minute drive north from my own suburban existence and approximately 56 kms away from the city. To get to Yanchep, I take the scenic route, enjoying a long, winding road through thriving market gardens, majestic state pine forests and the beautiful bushland of Yanchep National Park.
As soon as I hit the open road, in go my ear phones. But its not music that I crave (although I’m certainly not adverse to a good tune). Instead, I listen to a podcast from the Australian Writer’s Centre. It’s called ‘So you want to be a writer,‘ and I love it. I crank up the volume and listen to writing tips, interviews with authors and general news about the writing world. At the same time, I take great pleasure in the solitude, my surroundings, and some guilt-free ‘me’ time. It’s heaven. I don’t ever want to get to work.
However. A few weeks ago, the ‘feel good’ factor that usually accompanies my journey was interrupted by a discussion – on said podcast – surrounding a blog post about the one crucial skill that all good writers should apparently have. I was intrigued. Did I have the skill? What was it that both (intelligent and successful) literary hosts believed so wholeheartedly a writer should possess? Was it the ability to create a good character? Perhaps the skill to plan a complex plot? Perfect grammar, maybe, or a strong voice?
Nope. None of the above. I should have known really. Of course, it would have been too perfect for me to have the skill they were referring to, honed and ready for action (like all the other skills I listed above, ahem). It would have been WAY too convenient. Also, the trouble is, I’m not sure I’ll EVER have this skill. I’m nearly 38 years old and probably as far from mastering this skill as I was when I was born.
What is it? Well…..
It’s just that important: without this ability sunk deep into your daily habits and perceptions, without this skill coming as second nature in every aspect of your life, you’ll never be a writer. You’ll never write truthfully or specifically or well. You’re dying to know what it is, aren’t you?
It’s the power of observation.
…well, bugger… it’s observation.
It’s a shame because I have none. And I’m not exaggerating. I’m about as observant as a horse with blinkers on. In fact, I’m the type of person who won’t notice her child is drawing faces on the lounge room walls… with a permanent marker…. for AGES. I don’t notice people’s new hair cuts, I ignore friends who wave at me in shops, and I back cars into wheelie bins… I’ve even been known, for goodness sake, to continue feeding my fish, for quite a large number of days, despite it being a skeleton (if you’re wondering, he died and was eaten by my snail). I mean, honestly. I’m terrible.
So, as you can quite possibly guess, I was devastated to hear this revelation from two people I look up to. In fact, I’m still devastated. Now, not only am I (quite regularly) the butt of jokes in relation to my failings as an observant person, I’ll also have to accept I will never (sorry, CAN never!) achieve my dream of becoming a published writer. What a nightmare. I may as well chuck my draft manuscript in the bin and join my partner watching ‘American Restoration’ on the couch. In fact, I think I will.
But first. Let me say one more thing:
BOLLOCKS! I just don’t believe it.
You want to know what I think the one crucial skill is? The one crucial skill you need to be a writer?
PPS. If you actually read the blog post on Writerly Life, the skill of observation is not portrayed as black and white as I’m making out. But it makes for a good rant.
PPS. What do you think is the one crucial skill a writer must have? Tell me in the comments ☺️