The Most Important Hallmark of a Good Writer

Sometimes, like it or not, you have to practice what you preach.

In a writing class I’m teaching, we talk about finding inspiration. My advice to anyone struggling to find a story is always to tune into what’s happening right here, right now, in front of you. I like to say that we don’t find the story, the story finds us.

So when the time came to face the blank page today and decide on a topic, I had to take a mental inventory of my week. How have I spent my time? What have I been thinking or talking about?

Then came the groan. Oh no….not that.

Because the truth is that I’ve been in what some may call an “obsessive” state the last few days. (I choose to call it an immersion.) I’ve been binge-watching a show called When Calls the Heart. It’s a story of the Canadian frontier in 1910 and features a plucky upper-crust schoolteacher and the dashing Mountie who rides in on a black stallion to court her—in other words, crack cocaine to romantic retrophiliacs like me. It’s on the Hallmark Channel, so that gives an indication of its schmaltz factor. Do I love it? I do.

My kids tease me about disappearing down the rabbit hole and I’ll admit, I can become a little defensive, especially when my daughter catches me watching the romantic highlights and behind-the-scenes footage of this particular show on Youtube. I explain that I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie, and When Calls The Heart has a similar feel. (It’s produced by Michael Landon, Jr.) Maybe its pull is that it awakens a sense of enchantment I remember from childhood. Or maybe I’m just a hopeless, hopeful romantic.

I don’t know why these “immersion” moods hit me every so often, or why certain topics loudly call to my heart. I can’t explain what purpose escapism serves, except maybe to remind me of the pure, mysterious pull of the imagination.

I do know that Enchantment is BFFs with Creativity and Inspiration. These are the hallmarks of being a writer. A hallmark is a distinctive feature that guarantees genuineness. Whatever calls to your heart has your stamp on it and is guaranteed to be in service to your writing.

So should I fight my flight of fancy or ride it? As I’m considering, the Youtube video montage I’m watching ends with this credit: by Tammy.

I’m not making this up.

It might have said “for Tammy.” It feels like I’m being given permission to give in to this preoccupation.

I recommend that you too allow yourself periods of preoccupation, when you give all your attention to something that enchants you.

The primary job of a writer is to observe. So rather than judge or try to change what calls your heart, just observe it. Be genuine about it.

That’s the most important hallmark of a good writer.