Friday, February 10, 2006

JSB: Raise Your DQ

In his syndicated column, Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World Magazine, writes that success in writing is not related to IQ, but DQ. "Determination Quotient." Says Olasky:
Tom Clancy isn't the greatest stylist around, but he presses toward his goal, so his advice is worth remembering: "Writing is most of all an exercise in determination." So are the high-DQ words of two other craftsman-authors, Michael Crichton ("Books aren't written. They are rewritten") and James Michener ("I'm not a very good writer, but an excellent rewriter"). One of America's top stylists, E.B. White, noted that, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper."

A book of interviews with top non-fiction writers, Robert Boynton's The New New Journalism (Random House, 2005), lays out more evidence of the relation of inspiration to perspiration. For example, Richard Ben Cramer (author of What It Takes) comments that he once read Tom Wolfe and thought, "God touched you and made you a genius, and that's the end of it." Then he saw Wolfe toiling at a desk, writing: "I looked in his eyes and saw the haunted, hunted animal look."

And here's the testimony of Moneyball author Michael Lewis: "The most common pleasant thing people say to me about my writing is that it looks 'effortless.' ... It is the opposite of effortless. ... I probably do 20 drafts of each chapter. I write something over and over. It's like Groundhog Day.
I agree with Olasky. When I teach at writers conferences, I sometimes give my top 10 characteristics every writer needs. Number one is Desire, which leads to discipline and perseverance. Bottom of the list is Talent, which I believe almost everyone has to some degree.

So don’t worry about your IQ or compare your talent to others (that way lies madness). Instead, check your DQ. If it’s low, you can ratchet it up. The easiest way to do this is set a quota of words you will write each day or week. Then get to it.

And here’s a little tip that I’ve found quite helpful: Have more than one project going at a time. When you get stuck on one, you can move over to another. Isaac Asimov had several typewriters around his apartment, each with a page in it from a different book he was working on. Sue Grafton does this, as do many other writers.

And don’t limit yourself to novels. Work on short stories, articles, essays, commercial jingle. . .whatever! You’ll be stretching your writing muscles. Moneyball author Michael Lewis says, "At any given moment, I have at least four projects underway. I write short columns ... I'm usually working on a book ... I'm usually at some stage of one of the long articles I write. ... I don't know whether it is a character flaw, or just comes with the life of a freelance writer."

You want to live the life of a writer? Then write. Show us your DQ!

James Scott Bell,, writes novels and unpublished songs, among which "My Brother Esau is a Hairy Man" is his most famous.


At 9:06 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

Thanks for sharing, Jim! I always need to hear this.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Cheryl Russell said...

A lot of good advice. Thanks!

Off to work on that daily word count...:-)

At 9:30 AM, Blogger Intern at Grace Clinic said...

I was languishing, moping, generally fsfm (feeling-sorry-for-myself) when I read your entry. Good spank right where I needed it. Here's my first jingle:

JSB is one among few
Challenging me to view DQ.
I saw one on the road today
And stopped in for a Blizzard.

But knowing that was not the deal,
And haunted by Jim's wisened spiel,
I sat down in my writer's bay
And words flew from my gizzard.

OK. Sorry about that. I'll get to the real work now.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Patty said...

I keep waiting for "Hairy Man" to hit the top 40. It's only a matter of time.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

That's inspiring, Jim. Thanks. I've ben working on that DQ lately, but not hard enough.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger Lynette Sowell said...

That's a good one. "I always wanted to write a book" is never guaranteed anything. (I threw the TOD a Milk-Bone, BTW, and caught a contract myself. Woohoo. More rear-in-chair time!)

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun said...

That's great advice, but I can never seem to run out of novel plots to have the time to work on other avenues.

I'm now starting on book #4

At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Ane Mulligan said...

Great advice, Jim. I struggle with the first draft and love the rewrites. I'm on my third novel and each one gets better. Much credit due to your books. Thanks!


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