Your Ten Best Faults

We writers must celebrate traits that in other people would be considered outright failings. Here are the top ten flaws that writers must cultivate in themselves.

A habit of daydreaming on the job. Do you sometimes disappear in the middle of conversations with other people? When my family finds me inaccessible, my husband says I am in “fiction-land.” As much as I regret how these travels and absences affect my loved ones, all the useful stuff comes to me on these trips.

Persistent psychoanalyzing of your friends. Nobody likes a pop psychologist, but every good writer is secretly brilliant at guessing what motivates the people around her. If you understand why your friends behave like maniacs, you will paint characters who are believable.

Anxious “what-if” inner monologue. It surprised me when I finally learned that not everybody is always anticipating the worst. Surely, People, it must have crossed your minds to wonder what would happen if someone on this train suddenly started screaming for no apparent reason. No? Then perhaps you were busy thinking about how the woman next to you would behave if the train ground to a sudden halt and the raggedy man on her left began issuing commands.

Antisocial behavior and loner-ism. If you like being by yourself, if you don’t mind long stretches of solitude, if the inside of your own head is disturbingly fascinating to you, then perhaps you do not have a personality disorder but have only not yet discovered your fiction-writing self.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Instead of re-counting your change, washing your hands repeatedly, or returning home to check that the stove has been turned off, why not write? It’s such an uncertain market that more than one writer has been known to announce that no one should write fiction unless she is compulsively driven to do so.

Deliberately tormenting others. Creating good conflict means constantly torturing the characters you love most. Tie them up. Force them to confront their worst nightmares. Hold their feet to the fire. And then do it some more.

Ignorance. No one would try to write and publish a book if she knew the exact likelihood of success, the number of rejections she would ultimately receive, or the dark doubts she would suffer for days on end, in unpredictable bursts alternating with the manic conviction that she is a scorned genius.

Arrogance. And speaking of that manic conviction—it is your best friend. You must be capable of believing, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that you have something worth saying and that you have said it in a way worth listening to.

Blind faith. On a related subject, you must not subject any of this to scientific scrutiny. If you look too closely at it, if you study the numbers, if you read too many craft books, if you become too left-brained, you will crumple under the weight of reality. If, on the other hand, you somehow manage to believe that when you sit down at the computer, the worthy stuff will come out, you’re set.

Mindless stubbornness. In most people, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting different results. In a writer, that same thing is the definition of courage, the main ingredient of success, and a necessary condition for publication.