Do you have a favorite writer? I have at least a dozen. For years, I searched for the right combination of habits, characteristics and strategies that would grant me access to the same level of accomplishment my literary heroes had long since achieved. I’ve learned a lot. And I’m more than willing to share my completely unscientific, but hopefully still useful, findings.
Here’s what it’s going to take to earn success, whether you’re an aspiring author, journalist, freelance writer, poet or any kind of creative human with a passion for words.
Spend as much time writing as possible
If you want to be a successful writer, you have to write – as much as you can, as often as you can, no matter what. As important as finances and socialization and keeping up with responsibilities may be, you have to find time to write. You can NOT improve if you do not practice. Don’t think anyone is ever going to read what you’re working on? Doesn’t matter. Don’t think it’s good enough? Still doesn’t matter. You can’t expect success if you don’t work for it. The difference between a dream and a goal is that a dream requires passive hope; a goal requires movement toward an endpoint, which requires persistent action.
Read and experience everything you can on things you want to write about
“Writing what you know” does not mean you only stick to writing about things you are already aware of. It means that if there is something you are interested in, and you really want to write about it, you must do all you can to learn about that thing before you have the knowledge and credibility to write on that subject. Read about it. Read everything. If it’s an activity, experience it. If I wanted to write about baseball, I’d read everything I could about baseball. I’d go to as many baseball games as I could. Maybe I’d even try playing it (I’ll take the risk of injuring myself, if it means learning how to do it right). Only once you’ve gathered background and experienced something firsthand can you return to your laptop and create the best possible story from it.
Have faith in your ideas
Too many writers never make it past the idea stage of creativity because they’re too worried about what other people will think. While it’s true that some ideas, further along in development, don’t always end up working out, you’ll never learn how to separate the good ideas from the bad if you never try creating something with them at all. There is no such thing as a stupid idea. There are ideas that don’t fit in a particular time or place. There are ideas that a specific person just isn’t fully compatible with. But if all you ever do is suffocate your own ideas before they get a chance to spread their wings, you’re going to face a lot of unnecessary disappointment in your life. You deserve better than that.
Be willing to grow and change direction
I started college convinced I was going to have a novel published by the time I graduated. Halfway through I felt drawn to a different kind of writing, and now only write fiction in my free time (with no high bars or expectations). I’m happier doing what I do now. It aligns with my personal and professional mission, whereas fiction does not. Whether it’s in one project or your entire career, you can’t hold yourself back from growth and change. A writer needs to grow if they ever want to succeed. And sometimes that means you’re going to change your mind. You have to be willing to embrace that. Writing is unpredictable, and so, your life is going to be, too. Accept it. Go with the flow. Follow your heart (within reason).
Do things the way they work for you
I once read an interview (probably one of many) in which John Green laid out his typical daily writing schedule. It was interesting, and as a fan of his work, I enjoyed a quick glance into his writing process. But my only thought once I finished reading was, “That’s great – but it would never work for me.” It’s interesting, and can even be motivating, to see how other writers get writing done on their own time based on their own personal circumstances. But you have to do what works for you – nothing less, and nothing more. There is no schedule, tool or method that is going to guarantee success for you. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of whether or not you are writing. Because if you aren’t, you’re wasting time. Any writing is better than none.
Your success as a writer is dependent on many factors. But one of the most important is whether or not you are willing to put in the effort to increase your chances of success as much as you can within your own limitations. It’s not enough just to want it. You have to earn it. You HAVE to try your hardest. There is no excuse determination cannot dissolve.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.