10 important qualities that writers have had or should have
If you want to be a writer-and by that I mean achieve a certain degree of success, which includes both making a monetary profit and getting the job done-you have to want it. Not half-heartedly. As Phillips Whitney said, “You have to want it bad enough. Enough to accept all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you learn. Like any other artist, you have to learn the craft and then add the genius you like.
Are you writing something you can imagine not doing? If so, don’t write. Lawrence Block once said: “If you want to write fiction, your best bet is to take two aspirin pills, lie down in a dark room and wait for it to go away. If it doesn’t go away, you should probably write a novel.” Check your gut, your heart, and your head. If all three line up and tell you to write, do it.
Your son-in-law tells you to get over it, that you’re not good enough to be a writer. He says there are already too many, and your chances of success are the same as a Justin Bieber warm-up. To this thought, André Dubois responds: “Don’t give up. It’s very easy to give up within the first ten years.
Agree that you have a desire to write. I had a desire to play basketball in college, so I couldn’t sit around drinking beer all day and then show up to my first practice. I had to drop things and work hard every day. There’s a discipline that drives them all, like that unique ring in history that the short guy with the hairy legs wore.
Your only discipline is saying the words. I’m talking about payment. And no, you can’t get out of it. In the recent past, I’ve heard voices protesting the idea. No, you don’t have to stick to the quota. It’s too onerous. It will suck the life out of you. After all, you are an artist. You don’t have to be disciplined! just fall in love Yes fall in love.”
Discipline in writing, even if you don’t feel like it, is the mark of a professional. Professional, yes, so are those people who get paid for their work. If you want to make money, spell it out. That’s what I advise in my seminars. Revise your weekly schedule. See how many hours you have to devote to your writing. Determine how many words you can comfortably write in an average week. Now raise it by ten percent. You also need to learn the discipline of stretching. So that’s your weekly norm. Divide that amount into days. Try to stick to the number of words per day, but if you miss a day, don’t worry. Divide the fee among the remaining days.
4. Study the trade.
I’ve also heard several voices saying that they don’t need to learn – some even say they can’t learn – the rules of writing. They don’t like rules. They’d rather hang out with other writers who don’t write rules, and pretend things would happen on their own, like an oil strike – without drilling, of course. Some people hate the idea of someone assuming there are rules. “Not for artists!” – they shout. “We are rebels. Born to be free. Like a fish in the sea.”
Such writers used to be called “unpublished.” Now there is a new expression, since they can self-publish: “no sales. I go after literary success like a poor man with a spade and a chance to mine for gold. I work every day. I do it because years ago I was told that I couldn’t learn to write, that I had to be born a writer. I believed that until I couldn’t stand the thought of not giving myself a chance.
In law school, I learned the discipline of concentrated study. I was determined to take courses and show my opponents that I could do it. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest magazine and read Larry Block’s fiction column every month as if it were a sacred page. I joined the magazine writers club and started my own library. I read and underlined books, took notes on the most important things I learned. And then I practiced what I learned. I showed my stuff to people I trusted and listened to what they said about what wasn’t working, and then went back to work and figured out how to make it work. It was done almost daily. And it was fun. Learning to improve what I loved was never hard for me.
5. Put on the skin of a rhinoceros.
In the “old days” of the writing business-that is, before 2008-writers had only one way to have a successful career: convince publishers to pay them to write for them, and then write for them in a way that would make them money, and they could pay him some of that money. The only way to get a publisher to do this was usually through an agent. There were two possibilities for rejection: rejection by agents and rejection by publishers.
Suppose you managed to overcome these barriers. Then there was rejection by critics, then rejection by readers. And if readers rejected your book, the publisher might reject your next work, and then your agent might lose enthusiasm and reject your manuscript. Each rejection was like an arrow to the heart, so the writers had to develop a rhinoceros skin.
Writer Octavia E. Butler put it well when she said: “Let the rejection sting you for half an hour, no more. Then go back to your word processor.” Now you can eliminate that traditional rejection: it’s called self-publishing.
6. Set Goals
True goals are those that can be achieved through action. “I want to become a New York Times bestseller” is not a goal, but a dream. You can’t push a button and make it happen. What you can do is what will make you a better writer. You can determine whether you spend thirty minutes a day studying trading techniques and one hour a week generating project ideas. And, above all, you can determine the number of words you write each week. These things can be measured and controlled.
7. Find a mentor.
Mentors can be found in person or in print. I consider Larry Block my mentor, although he never personally mentored me. Why? Because I sacredly read your column in Writer’s Digest every month and feel like you give me advice every time. It has the ability to penetrate a writer’s mind, or at least mine. I try to shape my books with his advice on narrative technique. A good editor, and there are many, can give advice-usually for a fee, which is a good waste of money-if the editor knows what he’s doing. A good partner who critiques you also fits this role.
8. Be positive.
According to an article on the success habits of rich people, these people look at life positively, are optimistic, happy and grateful for what they have. Here are some of the specific results: 94 percent are optimistic and happy about their life prospects; 98 percent believe in limitless possibilities and opportunities; and ninety-four percent enjoyed their chosen careers.
Writers should also be grateful for the opportunity to write and publish. Believe in your unlimited possibilities. Nurture the love of writing that you had when you first started.
9. Write down your progress
The article you quoted earlier also said that wealthy people carefully tracked their progress: 67% kept to-do lists; ninety-four adjusted their bank account every month; fifty-seven counted calories consumed; 62% set goals and recorded whether they were on track to achieve them.
Remember I told you about tracking your writing sessions on a spreadsheet? I’ve been doing that since 2001, and you should do the same. That way you’ll know how many words you’re spending on each project, day by week, month by month, year by year.
10. Communicate with like-minded people.
Spend thirty minutes a day developing relationships with other writers. This can mean chatting, giving advice, or just helping to communicate. If you build and develop trusting relationships, it’s quite possible that they will be reciprocated, and those writers will be a valuable support. Writers, for the most part, are inspirational. You can find places to interact with them through a blog with active commentary. Also join a group of local writers. Go to good conferences.