Guest post by Marjorie McAtee
Skill and talent go a long way towards making a successful writer. But being a writer takes more than just skill and talent – it takes a strong character, as well.
People always ask me, “What qualifications do you need to be a writer?” And I answer, “None, really.” To be fair, if you’re trying to break into a specialized niche, like journalism, a degree in the field is usually necessary. But, if you paid attention in high school, you already know all about grammar, composition and style. With study and practice, anyone can learn to write well. But becoming a success as a writer, creative or otherwise, requires traits and qualities that can’t be learned in school.
1) A Successful Writer Holds Herself Accountable
If you want to be successful – in writing, or in life – you need to play by the rules. Do your own work. Respect the work of others. Treat your clients fairly; do the best job you can, and don’t cut corners. Be honest and upfront; if you don’t have the skills to take on a particular project, or if you need a deadline extension, say so. Remember the Golden Rule; if you have a problem with a client or colleague, respect, tact and courtesy are your greatest assets.
2) A Successful Writer Loves to Write – And I Mean Really, Really Loves to Write
I’m sure few people would disagree that it’s crucial to love what you do. As a former job-hater myself, I can vouch that it’s hard to feel fulfilled when you’re not fulfilled in your work.
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You’re so lucky to be able to do what you love.”
That’s right. I am. I went pro because I love writing more than anything else. It doesn’t even matter what I’m writing about. I’ve been writing professionally for a couple of years and in that time I’ve written on at least a dozen topics. Even the most interesting projects can become mind-numbingly dull when you’ve worked on them for a few hundred hours. Some are just mind-numbingly dull to begin with.
But, two years on I seem to know something about everything (my friends call me “Google.” That’s how bad it is). And I still love the writing. No matter the subject, the mere act of researching, organizing and writing an article or blog post or page of web copy gives me pleasure. It makes me happy. It takes me out of my head and away from my problems. After a long day of writing for my clients, all I want to do is write some more. I always have a story, an essay or a poem in the works.
Some say it takes discipline to be a successful writer and I’m not saying they’re wrong. If you have a day job, it takes discipline to get up early and stay up late to do the writing. If you have a rich spouse or your grandma left you ten million dollars – it still takes discipline. Even if you don’t have any of those things and you rely solely on your writing work for income, it’s all too easy to just go back to sleep or take off early and go out with your friends. No one will to tell you to get to work; you have to tell yourself.
And where does that sense of discipline come from? Not from a need for money, approval or success. It comes from love. If I didn’t love this, I’d quit yesterday.
3) A Successful Writer Never Gives Up
I have plenty of writer friends — some career writers, some doing it for pocket money. Others keep their stories, essays and articles confined to Facebook, personal blogs, or, worst of all, a notebook in a drawer. These are the friends who say, “Gee, I’d really like to be a writer, but I just don’t know.” They want to be a writer the way some people want to travel Europe. They’ll talk about it for the rest of their lives but they’ll probably never do it. Maybe they tried once, didn’t succeed, and gave up.
And I can’t blame them. You hear these stories from famous authors who say they could paper the walls of their home, inside and out, with rejection slips. Those stories are true.
Publishing is a hard industry. It may be the hardest. Great manuscripts go into the trash unread every day because they arrived unsolicited, or the editor didn’t like the first sentence or it was a day that ended in Y. If you’re writing content, most people won’t even pay you minimum wage. Writing is the most under-valued skill in the world.
It’s not enough to want to be a writer in an idle sort of way. You have to want it more than you want anything else. You have to want it more than you want food, or sleep, or friendship, or approval, or vacations or sick days. You may have to give up all of those things to get it. You’ll try and you’ll fail. You’ll try harder and you’ll fail harder. You’ll try harder than that and you’ll fail harder than that. You’ll try even harder still — and guess what? You’ll still fail.
Sit down, cry, wail, moan, complain, tear your hair out for the unjust world. When you’re done, try again.
4) A Successful Writer Believes in Herself – Because No One Else Will
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I wanted to be anything. I wrote my first short story when I was four. I didn’t know the alphabet yet so I made one up. When I tried to show the story to my mother, she said, “Not now, honey, I’m busy.”
Okay, so obviously I wasn’t doing myself any favors by writing in what looked like a prototype of WingDings. Maybe some people have more supportive families or more considerate friends. I’d be lying if I said I’ve had no support at all.
But, for every one person who’s supported and encouraged me, there have been ten who’ve told me I’d fail. My mother insisted I train as a teacher so I’d have “something to fall back on” when the writing thing didn’t work out. When I start to talk about my current creative project, eyes glaze over and the subject changes. When I tell a new acquaintance what I do for a living, the response is often, “Yeah, but what do you really do?” Or sometimes they just laugh. Even if they pretend to take me seriously at first, eventually they’re bound to ask, “So…do you um, ever, um, sell any of your articles?”
When I complain about not having enough work, I’m told to “get a proper job like the rest of us.” If I brag about having a lot of work, I’m praised like a puppy learning to widdle outside.
Everyone else is “pursuing a goal.” I am “chasing a dream.” Writing is a hobby, not a profession. Few will take your writing goals as seriously as you do. People will laugh and point, and laugh some more, even after you’ve proven yourself time and time again.
Let me tell you a secret about these people: they’re idiots. Ignore them.
They don’t know you like I do.
Marjorie McAtee has been writing since she was old enough to clutch a baby pencil in her chubby little fist and she will be writing till you pry that pencil out of her cold, dead hand. She writes SEO content and copy to make ends meet. Her work appears in print journals including The Blotter and Center: A Journal of Literary Fiction, and online at Amarillo Bay and Flashquake. She blogs about stuff and things at Don’t Call Me Marge. You can follow her on Twitter @marjoriemcatee or find her on Facebook.
- Why Do Writers Write? (writingsluts.wordpress.com)
- Writing: The Most Important Trait For Success (pittsburghflashfictiongazette.com)
- Reading is an Important Tool for Writing (socyberty.com)