Are great authors born or can people build upon average writing skills to become great authors? I was interested to once hear Jackie Collins describe herself as a storyteller (with sales of 500 million this lady must surely be at the top of the storytelling game). She was drawing a distinction between her art and the writings of other authors who she would describe as great.
For sure, creativity is something you are born with. It runs in families. As an assessor of specific learning difficulties I know that where there is dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, etc, there is a strongly creative nature. With a plethora of conductors, composers, musicians, artists and poets, creativity certainly runs in my family, but everyone has worked hard at their art which has often had to come second to a day job.
I remember one occasion after I had submitted my second novel, one of my editors scribbled on my manuscript alongside a particularly laborious piece of prose, “I’ve just stabbed my eyeballs out with a spoon.” She even drew a little picture to demonstrate how tortured my writing was making her feel! I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then but know I have much further to travel. I often pick up a book, turn to the first page and think, I’d love to be able to write like that. I’m currently reading Jodi Picoult’s Lone Wolf and am absolutely hooked both by her storytelling skills and the effortless writing. Are such authors born or have they just worked very hard at their art?
I know that many authors would not want the greatness that is thrust upon them. The authors I know are private individuals who, whilst happy to see their work in print, are less enthusiastic about participating in the publicity that accompanies it! Increasingly these days an important part of the author’s role is self-publicity. Not only do you have to turn out a manuscript in an ever competitive climate that gets you noticed, you also have to demonstrate the ability to market yourself.
Of course, there are those ‘authors’ who have ‘greatness’ of a different sort and choose to cash in on their fame by putting their name on a book cover. For us plebs who have struggled for years to hone our art and secure a book deal this can be the most discouraging practice of all. I can happily take on board editorial criticism – pictures included! – as part and parcel of improving my writing skills; far harder to swallow are the tabloid headlines of £400,000 advances to those in the public eye to whom writing is not of any great personal importance.
But the pay cheque sure is…..