Monday, August 2, 2010

Are You Qualified?

"Proficient in observing human nature and in recognizing writing rules in order to break them."

What the heck is that, you ask? It's uhm, my qualifications. My skills. You know - - to be a writer.

It's an odd set of skills a writer has. Unusual not just for their characteristics, but because they don't often get written down. When would they? It's not like they are are the kind of skills that go on either a resume or go in a query letter. Unlike a pitch for a 'normal' job, where people want and expect you to tell them your skills (a different sort of skills), pitching writing is more about providing proof.

What if conventions were switched around? In a reverse situation, it strikes me as interesting that summarizing a writer's qualifications or skill set in a few sentences that say "I can do this. I'm qualified because I have these skills," would look decidedly odd written on a resume. It would feel odd to write them too.

It occurs to me that this inability to define a skill set and speak it out loud goes a long ways toward explaining writers being tentative for claiming 'writer status.' Putting those skills down in black and white is part of what gives you confidence. For instance, bear with me, but I have a "summary of qualifications" section on my resume (in my former life):

Proficient in law firm procedures such as filings with courts, client file maintenance (opening, closing and dead storage tracking), working with vendors (travel agencies, catering services, copy services, court reporters, etc.), attorney time keeping, expense report preparation and dictation. Software proficiency with Microsoft Office applications, Docs Open, MacPac legal.

This list of facts says I can do the job. I could even read this out loud without feeling too silly. Sort of. LOL It also gives pretty obvious clues as to the identity of my job. It shouldn't be too hard to guess legal secretary.

But how do I summarize and declare my writer skill set? How about ignoring convention and writing your own "short list" of writing qualifications?

I actually believe my short list is true as a basic skill set for a writer. When I think about what a writer must be skilled in, I do think, he/she must be:

1. Proficient in observing human nature. This seems obvious, but we are writing for humans, even if that human is ourselves. Our number one task is simply to write about what other humans can identify with and relate to as a shared experience. Then, because it is human nature, the reader will "need to know" more - - page by page. Sometimes it seems like a psychology degree is a pre-requisite, but a finely honed skill of observation is all that's required. Not all of us pay attention to this talent, but a writer is trained to observe not only the reality, but to also see the possibilities or contradictions of every situation. Donna Cumming's blog says it best on the her site All About the Writing with the blog: Observing Humans in the Wild

2. Proficient in recognizing writing rules in order to bend them. Yes, bend them. First, you have to know what conventions you're bending, but it's in the choosing to bend known rules that your voice comes through with the most clarity. The blog from Edittorent In Defense of Modifiers gives some great examples of breaking a few rules with a purpose. As for knowing the rules in the first place, that's a longer journey.

* * *
That's it. Only two skills are necessary to 'qualify' as a writer. I can claim these two skills as much as another legal secretary can claim my legal secretary skill set. It doesn't make me 'special' but it does make me a writer. And, in a business of 'proof' before skills are acknowledged, it's important to feel a part of the occupation.

What I do with the skills is a choice - - the same choice as any other job. That's not to say that being a writer or not being a writer is a choice (some days it's a curse), but the question of skill shouldn't be one of the doubts holding a writer back.

I think when we figure out a way to believe in our skills and even say them out loud, then it's a step to claiming 'writer' status with more confidence.

If you had to write a short summary of only two skills necessary to be a writer, what would they be? you meet them?


  1. Melissa, thanks for including my post as part of the "writer skill set". I'm flattered!

    I'm also laughing at how being a writer is a curse some days - it certainly seems that way!

    You're right that we have to claim our writer status, by saying it out loud -- and that took me a long time, not to mention quite a lot of bravery (or maybe it was bravado at first!)

    I think two "desired" qualities for a writer are a) persistence and b) a willingness to learn. These apply to a lot of careers, but they are truly invaluable for a writer. :)

    Great post!

  2. Donna, your post inspired my post. :) I loved that one and I hope lots of others will see it, but I don't think you'll be inundated with too much traffic from my blog. LOL

    And when writing seems like a curse some days, persistence and willingness to learn are good things to fall back on!

  3. Well, for me I'd say a wicked imagination and a willingness to use it.



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