According to Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Thinking about writing habits, I am reminded of the age-old adage of “practice makes perfect,” and although a hackneyed phrase, its over-use is not without reason. There is truth in the belief that when one hasn’t written for a long time, they forget how to; writing is like a muscle that needs to be exercised, if not, the danger of atrophy becomes an increasing threat.
The stronger your writing habit, the better off you’ll be. It is not always necessary to write alone; writing groups can help connect you with other writers, building a support network. There are also many creative writing courses that are based around exercises aimed at increasing your writing output, developing your technique and feeding your creativity. These courses are not for everyone, but there can be benefits from working with peers; opportunities for collaboration, getting feedback and strengthening your skills. When I think of a successful group of writers who had made a habit of writing and as a result produced extraordinary work, I think of the Brontes.
All three Bronte sisters produced remarkable novels. From a very young age their love of books fuelled their desire to write their own stories. Working together, they created new places and inhabited them with colourful characters, even drawing up geographical maps of these imaginary worlds. Looking at their writing history, the Brontes made writing a habit very early on and perhaps this influenced their literary excellence; there was little room for anything less. They were strong writers because they were dedicated. Yes, talent does play a part in a writer’s success but it is not always the most important factor, as we are well aware that the “best” writers don’t always get published. There are other attributes that make for excellence in writing; determination, motivation and an unwavering sense of commitment.
Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights wrote one novel in her entire lifetime, one singular act of excellence as it may seem, but there were many hours of habitual practice that led to it. The time the Brontes spent together writing served their individual careers; they each developed an arsenal of skills that would see each sister produce some of the world’s finest novels, further cementing their place in the literary canon.
Perhaps this is what Aristotle was referring to when he said “excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” I hope so, because it means that with practice everyone has the potential for greatness, no matter what your field of expertise.
I know I’ll never write to the standard of the Brontes; one can only dream, but perhaps with some serious practice I’ll slowly get better at it.