Novelist Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that, “Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of a writer. It is like making wallpaper by hand for the Sistine Chapel.”

How do you know if you are a writer? Perhaps it is a single incident - one that happens early in life and shapes the writer’s sense of wonder and self-awareness.

Take the case of José Saramago, the first Portuguese-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The son of a peasant father and an illiterate mother, brought up in a home with no books, he took almost 40 years to go from metalworker to civil servant to editor in a publishing house to newspaper editor. He was 60 before he earned recognition at home and abroad with Baltasar and Blimunda.

As a child, he spent vacations with his grandparents in a village called Azinhaga. When his grandfather suffered a stroke and was to be taken to Lisbon for treatment, Saramago recalls, “He went into the yard of his house, where there were a few trees, fig trees, olive trees. And he went one by one, embracing the trees and crying, saying good-bye to them because he knew he would not return. To see this, to live this, if that doesn’t mark you for the rest of your life,” Saramago says, “you have no feeling.”

Begin with pure emotion and turn it into pure prose.

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