The No. 1 Ingredient
ALL Writers Must Have

One requirement for writing anything substantial stands above the rest. Hands down. It’s simple, but if you don’t have it, you’d be better off enrolling in air-conditioning school.

by Hyphenman on Mar 30, 2013

Your fate and your future as a writer depend primarily on one thing. If you have it, you’re on the road to success. If you don’t, you’re headed for oblivion.

If you work hard enough, you can overcome just about every shortcoming you might face, even an absence of talent. But without one core ingredient, you’re wasting your time.

What could possibly be more important than talent? Or knowledge and skill of writing? Or the innate ability to turn a clever phrase? Or a vivid imagination? Or a gift for storytelling?

One thing trumps them all. What every writer, regardless of background, education or knowledge, must possess is this: passion.

Passion is more than desire, dedication or determination. Passion is a fire that burns inside you. It heats up all that desire and dedication and determination and keeps them flaming hot until you’ve seen your project through. And then it returns – though, in fact, it never leaves – to motivate you for the next one.

I know the power of passion by experiencing it firsthand. But I also have seen its [CONTINUED] absence in others, people full of untried ideas rather than accomplished actions, people who let their moments of inspiration evaporate into the air.

The good news is that almost all of us are passionate about something. The bad news is that we sometimes don’t know what it is.

That was the case with me. I floundered around for years, researching an article that invariably led to a dead end, time after time. The focus of my research was a historical figure I first encountered in college, a person I bumped into almost by accident. A synopsis of his intriguing life was part of an off-campus lecture I had decided to attend years and years ago. He has stuck with me ever since.

I was determined to track him down, to gather the illuminating details that had either eluded historians or held no interest for them. But I failed. My determination was not enough to find what wasn’t there or was so deeply hidden as to be undiscoverable.

Through an odd turn of events, I was guided to fiction, to tell what I felt rather than what I could prove. It was the best decision of my life. And it opened my eyes to the dormant passion inside me, the passion that had burned dimly but resolutely inside my head, my heart and my soul.

The novel that was the result of this circuitous journey is still unfinished, relegated to a back burner by more pressing priorities. But it doesn’t matter. I know I will finish it not because I want to or I am determined to, but because I don’t have a choice. I simply must.

That is the power of passion. It is neither a passing whim nor a fleeting idea. It is constant, as much a part of your being as your skin or your heartbeat.

Once you’ve found it, all that remains is to follow it and to feed it. All the other things will take care of themselves.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Hopkins April 12, 2013 at 12:09 am

I understood your point for the first time when I interviewed Howard Nemerov, the only poet I had met at that time many years ago. I asked him why he wrote poetry. “I can’t not,” was his reply. He let it hang there as its full meaning soaked in.

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2 Hyphenman April 12, 2013 at 12:37 am

Thanks, John. I hope he led you to finding and following YOUR passion.

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3 Irene Acosta November 6, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Passion is exactly what you show in this post. You are completely right. Without passion, journalism has no sense, and journalists cannot be called journalists.

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4 Hyphenman November 6, 2013 at 3:44 pm

As a longtime journalist, I know that passion is far easier to come by in journalistic writing than in writing fiction. That’s because in the former case, the passion is generated externally, by witnessing tragedy or loss. But in the latter case, the passion must come from within. It’s almost never right in front of you.

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