Old Writers Never Die, They Just Revert To Type

I made that up so I could discuss having ‘it’ and losing ‘it’.

They always tell you to define your terms first but, that’s the thing with ‘it’, I’m not really sure what ‘it’ is. ‘It’ is the ability to write. ‘It’ is ethereal, wispy, indefinable. ‘It’ is what draws you in as a reader. ‘It’ intrigues and entrances so that the reader cannot think about anything other than the book, even when away from it, doing something else.

Some writers, like Alice Thomas Ellis, have ‘it’ novel after novel. When that happens, ‘it’ seems a lot less like luck and a lot more like talent. Some writers have ‘it’ sometimes, like Anne Tyler with A Slipping Down Life, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and If Morning Ever Comes, but ‘it’ is not there in everything she’s produced. Still others, who may remain nameless (but I’m sure you have your own private list) have ‘it’ for a debut novel of brilliance that they can never live up to again as long as they live.

This is the scary part for any writer. Will they ever have ‘it’? Does their WIP have ‘it’? If they’ve created something broadly regarded to have ‘it’, will they ever be able to reproduce that heady mixture of wonderful and clever another time?

This brings me to another, closely linked, question: do we always know when we have ‘it’ and do we know when ‘it’ is gone? (No wonder so many writers turn to drink.)

I think being able to assess one’s own ‘it-ness’ is a problem for anyone who writes. What is better quality or quantity? Should we always strive for our best? (I think so.) Or, if someone is willing to publish anything we do, should we just churn it out?

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4 thoughts on “Old Writers Never Die, They Just Revert To Type

  1. Interesting musings. I think one of the most striking examples of having”it” and then losing “it” is Edith Wharton, who wrote two, perhaps even three, superb novels: The Custom of the Country, The House of Mirth, and maybe Ethan Frome,but is praised for the less good Age of Innocence, and also wrote some real potboilers. Interestingly, you can tell from the very first page of one of her books which category it will be in. But it’s not a time related issue with Wharton; Mirth is late.
    Losing “it” has to be a fear for serious writers, but I suspect they can’t always tell. Alice Munro, one of my top favourite writers, has finally, in her eighties, lost “it”, but I’m sure she doesn’t realise that. Similarly with Anne Tyler, except that with A Spool of Blue Thread, she has found her mojo again. Hooray!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure if it’s our job as writers to figure out if we have “it” or not. That’s for readers and critics to decide, I guess.Our job is to just keep writing, and put out the best writing that we can do at the time, and let the world decide. Of course, that’s easy for me to say, since I haven’t published anything yet. If I ever do, I’d probably be a wreck trying to figure out what I did right and to keep doing that! Interesting questions to ponder.

    Liked by 1 person

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