What does it take to be a writer? Do you need to know how to spell? Do you need “talent”? Can you make a living being a writer or do you have to have a day job? I’m going to let you in on my secrets to writing success (actually five).
Being a successful writer takes grit, determination, and a willingness to fail. These 5 secrets that I’ve learned over decades of writing for a living will help you develop and succeed.
5 secrets of writing success from the most successful writers
1. A successful writer understands that to write is a verb
Whether published or unpublished, making millions or barely paying the rent, a successful writer writes. All the time, everywhere, imperfectly. A successful writer doesn’t wait for inspiration to hit, or for that trip to the beach to write. She writes. All the time. You buy yourself a notebook or a journal and you start writing. Or you start jotting down ideas in your phone. You keep scratch paper and a pen at your bedside. So when you can’t sleep you aren’t wasting time fretting, you are writing.
2. A successful writer reads
You cannot be a writer if you don’t read. I don’t care what you read: computer manuals, cereal boxtops, Charles Dickens’ novels, or books about baseball. What matters is that you are reading all the time. Think about it: You want other people to read what you write, which means you have to read what they write as well. One of my clients was trying to figure out the comparable titles that were similar to the book he wanted to write. “I don’t read,” he confessed. “I have no idea.” I had zero sympathy. In order to write you need to read. There are lots of wonderful books out there, like this one, this one, and this one. Read them! ’Nough said.
3. A successful writer isn’t afraid to ask for help
In the same way that we can’t really do life alone, we can’t really write alone. Even if our outsized egos don’t want to admit it, we all need help. The best—and I mean the best—novelists and non-fiction writers hire ghosts, fact-checkers, and writing coaches. Think about NBA players. Was Michael Johnson or Larry Bird ever skilled enough to not need coaching? Of course not. Successful writers always get help. Aspiring writers understand that in addition to hard work, writing every day, and reading, they also need help. Help in what form? Go to conferences, join a writing group, participate in online communities, and hire an editor.
4. A successful writer isn’t afraid of rejection
Rejection is information. We can all wallpaper our houses with rejection letters. But that doesn’t make us stop writing (see #1) or stop trying. Instead, we glean information from the rejection, incorporate it into our work, and try again.
5. A successful writer has fun
Writing is a way to channel creativity, share important information, and make people happy. When you get into the creative flow you feel great joy. And writing well is a gift that you give to others. You will struggle with the highs and the lows (see #4). And you will have so much fun.
Talent is irrelevant. Spelling doesn’t matter. What matters is showing up and doing it. What also matters is how much you want to succeed.
If you want to be a writer, you can and will be successful.
Other articles about writing:
Getting Started as a New Writer
Believe in Your Book and Never Give Up!
Ways to Help Your Friend Who Just Published a Book: 7 Great Ideas
15 Fabulous Gifts For Writers (Like Soap for Introverts)
Dealing with Writer’s Block
Published: March 12, 2020
Last update: October 21, 2020