7 Key Characteristics of Successful Writers

What do you need to be a successful writer? Here are my thoughts on the seven main attributes you need to have in order to make it as a writer – or at least, to give yourself a fighting chance! I believe these hold true for any genre, and any form (ie book or article).

Writer's desk, by Terry Freedman http://www.flickr.com/photos/terryfreedman/

A willingness to write

Sorry to state the obvious, but it is not at all obvious. I am constantly meeting or hearing about people who say they would love to write “when I have the time”. To me, a writer is someone who writes. Talking about writing isn’t writing. Nor is thinking about it, planning for it, reading about it or going on courses about it. Writing is writing. If you think you’re a writer, but you don’t actually write, who exactly do you think you’re fooling?

Tenacity

I think many people, when they receive a rejection slip, take it personally. I recall being upset about a rejection letter because it said my article idea wasn’t suitable. Actually, it didn’t say that at all. When I came across it a couple of years later, I saw that what it did say was “Thank you for your interesting idea. However, it would not fit in with our current schedule.” Had I not taken the rejection as I did, I’d have realised that the letter had, in fact, left the door open for retrying, either with another article idea, or at a later time.

All writers who wish to be published by someone other than themselves need to develop a thick skin, and have the tenacity to keep on churning out and sending out article ideas until one “takes”. Giving up is not an option.

Self-belief

This is a bit of a double-edged sword, this one. I’ve met people whose self-belief is, in my opinion, somewhat misplaced as far as the quality of their writing is concerned. That’s OK, as long as they have a willingness to try to improve.

Sorry if this sounds terribly conceited. After all, who am I to sit in judgement on the quality of someone’s writing? Well, a reader for a start. And although, as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I do believe there are some objective criteria of good writing. (Please see 7 Attributes of Enjoyable Writing for my attempt to

But all writers need self-belief, especially when the rejection slips are flooding in. You need to have a belief that what you have to say is valid and interesting, and that someone, somewhere, will want to read it. It’s simply a question of finding the demand to match your supply – something that is much easier in this day and age of blogging and self-publishing.

Willingness to improve

I think that no matter how successful you are as a writer, there are ways to improve your product. Perhaps you can write more succinctly, or try out different words or turns of phrase. Even if, like Oscar Wilde, you take the view “Who am I to tamper with a masterpiece” (his response when someone suggested changes to one of his plays), it would be good to at least be open to the possibility that some improvements could be made!

A love of language

I don’t mean florid language (although that may be appropriate in some situations), but an enjoyment of playing with words and experimenting with different ways of expressing the same idea.

Toughness

In my experience, not everyone is supportive of attempts to get published. The people who really care about you will encourage you, and not try to distract you from your goal. My advice is spend more time with them, and less and less time with those “friends” who are the opposite.  It’s good for your psychological and spiritual well-being to surround yourself with supportive people.

There is one caveat. They have to be supportive enough to be honest about your writing, and not hold back criticism because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. That takes another kind of toughness – as does being honest with yourself.

Willpower

It’s easy to waste a lot of time watching television or socialising in the pub. I think when you’re trying to make it as a writer you need to have the willpower to decline some social invitations and resign yourself to a few lonely days and nights with only a keyboard for company!

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