“Rewriting is what I do best as a writer. I spend more time revising a novel or screenplay than I take to write the first draft.” John Irving
“Gap was a natural storyteller.” This line from John’s bestselling novel, The World According to Garp may have described his fictional character, but John himself is anything but a natural, notes Angela Duckworth in Grit. He’s penned more than a dozen beloved novels and won an Academy Award for his screenplay of The Cider House Rules, but his road to success has been rocky. Of his early days, he said, “Most of all, I rewrote everything…I began to take my lack of talent seriously.”
And no wonder, considering what the world was telling him. He earned a C- in high school English and under 500 on his verbal SATs, which means that almost two-thirds of all students that year did better than he did. He had to take an extra year of high school just to graduate. And throughout it all, John remembers his teachers thinking that he was
“lazy” and “stupid.” Only years later, when his own son was diagnosed with dyslexia, did he finally understand why he was such a poor student. To this day, he reads “very slowly, with my finger.”
But all this didn’t stop John from pursuing and honing his craft: Being an underdog fueled his drive. Since reading and writing were hard for him, he learned that, “to do anything really well, you have to overextend yourself….In my case, I learned that I just had to pay twice as much attention. I came to appreciate that in doing something over and over again, something that was never natural becomes almost second nature. You learn that you have the capacity for that, and it doesn’t come overnight.
“One reason I have confidence in writing the kinds of novels I write is that I have confidence in my stamina to go over something again and again not matter how difficult it is.” Beyond stamina and perseverance, John brings another key quality to his writing:
patience. He’s turned his dyslexia from a handicap into an asset by being painstakingly patient: “It’s become an advantage,” he says. “In writing a novel, it doesn’t hurt anybody to have to go slowly. It doesn’t hurt as a writer to have to do something again and again.”
“The road to success is always under construction.”* Daily effort, patience, dedication: These are qualities we can all nurture in ourselves and bring to the page. Write on!
*Words of wisdom from my good friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert’s Success Hotline (973.743.4690).