If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re either a writer, or hope to become one some day. The path to becoming a successful writer is long and difficult. I feel like I’m still on the first quarter-mile of a ultra marathon myself.
But while it is difficult, it’s not impossible and if you’re able to answer “Yes” to these ten questions, you’re well on the way to finding success in writing.
1. Can you handle rejection?
This is the big one. Writers get rejections. Constantly. I’ve received 135 rejection letters since I started writing short stories. If you let rejections get you down, or even worse, if you take them personally, you won’t last very long trying to make it as a writer.
2. Can you work alone for hours?
Writing can be a lonely business and if you can’t stand working alone, you won’t get a lot done. You have to lock yourself in a room with a computer and write. By yourself. And this includes “virtual” friends. No Facebook. No Twitter. No nothing.
3. Can you take criticism?
Shockingly enough, not everyone will like your work. It sucks, I know. With my first novel set to debut next month, I’m already trying to emotionally prepare myself for my first 1-star review on Amazon. But that goes with any form of entertainment. Some people will “get it” and love it. Other people will think it’s crap. The criticism will come. You can either ignore it or try to learn from it. Just don’t take it personally, and don’t let it slow you down.
4. Can you say “no”?
This is another big one. There will be times where you have to put your writing first. Your non-writer friends will not get this. “No, I can’t come over and watch the Husker game. I have too much to do,” might sound crazy, but hitting your word count goal for the day is more important than a silly football game. And if you have an actual deadline from an agent, editor, or publisher, then that comes before everything else. Even family, unless there’s an emergency. This is real life stuff. Treat it that way.
5. Can you destroy your work in order to make it better?
This can be hard. You put time and effort into a scene or chapter, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit. Or sometimes, it just flat out sucks. I started working on a revision to my second novel a couple of days ago and the opening scene needs to go. I will literally need to take two or three good sentences and kill the rest of it. Sad, but necessary.
6. Can you set and meet realistic deadlines?
A great way to succeed and make measurable writing progress is to set daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals. Make them specific and realistic and put a deadline on them. And write until you reach them. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, as long as you hit it before your self-imposed deadline.
7. Can you put aside time to read EVERY DAY?
Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” It might be hard to schedule in reading time when you want to write, but it’s a must. Writing (even fiction writing) involves doing research and reading similar genres is the best way to research and learn what works.
8. Can you admit it when you’re wrong?
I spent my first year writing fiction convinced that a good short story doesn’t need an obvious plot. (Meaning: beginning, middle, and end.) To me, short stories could just be excerpts from novels. I really had to retrain myself to write a better structured plot. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t admitted my error in thinking, I wouldn’t have gone on to publish a single short story.
9. Can you give other people the chance to improve your work?
Critique groups, editors, and even close friends, are going to read your stuff and tell you how you could make it better. In some cases, you’ll disagree and ignore the advice. In other cases–the cases of editors–you’ll disagree, but do it anyhow. And in a lot of cases, you’ll agree with the comments. Either way, you’ll need to learn that your work isn’t perfect, and other people will have ideas that will make it better.
10. Can you write, even just a little bit, every day without exception?
Writers write. Successful writers write every day. Multimillionaire writers write a hell of a lot every day. This is important stuff. I you only write “when you feel like it,” you won’t get anywhere with your writing. Yes, you’re busy. But that doesn’t give you permission to put this on hold. Turn off the TV for fifteen minutes and write a hundred words. It’s not much, but it adds up.
I struggle with a few of these myself, but I think if you can answer a firm “YES!” to the ten questions, you’ve definitely got what it takes to become the successful writer you strive to be.
So what do you think? Is there anything else we should add to this list?