How to Be a Successful Writer

 

 

by Michael Cristiano

So, you wanna be a writer, huh?

Well, it takes a lot more than just saying so. In fact, one of the most annoying things you can say to a writer is, “I wanna write a novel too, but I…”

And there you go. Insert some excuse as if us writers have somehow been able to get out of things that would keep regular people from attempting a novel or a collection of poetry or short stories. The excuses range from lack of time to lack of inspiration, from not having anything to say to having too much to say (see my post called “Why I’d Rather Pass a Kidney Stone than Talk about my Writing” where I delve into this phrase further).

But outside of the excuses, what does it take to be a successful writer? Check out these 7 basics you need to master to become a successful writer.

 

What *is* Success?

The word writer, at its simplest definition, means someone who writes. Full stop. But that’s not much to go on, is it?

Technically, anyone can be a writer, and the word is flexible enough to cover a whole range of possibilities: a writer is someone who writes a blog, a writer is someone who writes TV scripts or novels, a writer is someone who writes business reports or those fun little anecdotes at the back of cereal boxes. Lastly, a writer is someone who toils away in their spare time, crafting a collection of words to convey an overall meaning. In theory, unpublished amateurs are also writers.

So, now that we’ve determined that you’re probably a writer (or a potential writer), what does it mean to be a successful writer?

Well, like the definition of writer, the definition of success is equally as fluid. Does success mean simply seeing your work in print? Does success mean becoming a New York Times bestselling author? Does success mean making a livable income off of your work?

Only after deciding what success means to you can you start working toward your goal.

 

You Must Actually Write

So, you’re a writer now? You’ve decided how you will define success, and you’re ready to go all in. Bad news #1: deciding to write was the easy part.

To be a writer, you must actually write. To have a completed manuscript or poem or article, you need to write it first. And then you need to rewrite it. And then you need to edit it. Writing, like anything, takes work. A lot of work. And the process will be very thankless. I wrote for 8 years without anyone giving a damn, and the only reason I’m here today with my debut novel published is because I was persistent.

You must be persistent too, but that means putting in the time.

 

Which Witch is Which?

Congrats on *actually* starting to write, and welcome to the land of fruitless labor, blood, sweat, and… paper cuts?

You have now realized that you need to actually put words on the page (or your arm in a pinch), and that’s great, but that’s not enough. How are you at spelling and grammar? Good spelling and grammar is the cornerstone of good writing, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than finding typos in your published work (I may be speaking from personal experience).

Got grammar sorted out? Cool. On to the next thing: how about pacing? How about character development? How about writing a good plot? Writing is so much more than putting words together in a grammatical sense. It’s about creating an atmosphere.

 

Be Unique, but Be Involved

The hardest thing to do in any industry is to be innovative and unique. Everything has been done before to some extent. I repeat: everything. BUT! That doesn’t mean you can’t put a new spin on old ideas or concepts. That doesn’t mean you should write stereotypical drivel.

At the same time, however, don’t risk alienating yourself and your work to be unique. Don’t write according to trends, but know what trends are out there. Don’t copy the greats, but at least read them and understand *why* they are great. You need to be involved in the writing community in some way, and for the love of Reese’s Pieces, read a book every once in a while.

 

Understand that Writing is a Business

I hate to break it to you, but the writing industry involves money. Sure, you write for yourself. Sure, you do it because you love it. But guess what? If you want to be successful, you need to come to terms with the fact that you’re writing for an audience.

There is money involved with successful writing careers. It isn’t always a lot of money, but it’s there nonetheless. There are parts of the industry that exclude art completely, instead focusing on sell-ability and marketing and numbers. And if you choose writing as your day job (one where you write articles or other non-fiction content instead of fiction), understand that this involves writing things you might not always want to write. It involves adhering to style guides. It involves business.

That said, if you want writing to be your business, never write for free. Sure, gaining experience is great, but know what you can offer and refuse to have your work undervalued.

 

Use Your Voice

Developing voice is perhaps the hardest thing for a writer to do. Trust me, I know this from experience. Conquering grammar and spelling is relatively simple, albeit annoying (Further? Farther? I’m over it), but voice is not something you can read up on and then regurgitate the next time you sit down to work on your latest piece.

Unfortunately, developing your voice simply comes with time. After plugging away at almost 220,000 words across three different manuscripts, I finally reached a point about two years ago where I said, “aha! I’ve found my voice”. But I’m not lying. It took six years and 220,000 words.

 

To Be an Artist is to Fail…

I’ve saved this point for last for one simple reason: the decision to write should be inspiring. You should be inspired to commit to daily or weekly word counts. You should be inspired to learn the ins and outs of grammar. You should be inspired to develop your own unique voice.

However, like all other professions within the arts industry, being a writer is an acceptance of failure. You will fail at some point. You will have your work rejected. You will have it chewed up and spit back in your face. You will face the fact that, at the beginning (inherently), no one cares. Seriously, I see many an amateur writer crumble and spiral into depression because they’ve come to the realization that no one cares about their work.

But embrace it. Work hard so that eventually (and I mean far-away eventually) someone will care. Sure, failure is guaranteed, but in order to be a successful writer, you need to be persistent. The only way to be persistent is to write because you love it.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Michael Cristiano. He works in editing and acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press, and his freelance work has appeared on websites such as Nexopia, FluentU, and BlushPost. Check out his blog for more of his work.

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25 thoughts on “How to Be a Successful Writer”

  1. Ugh, I love this article. I think one thing that may be a positive to add to this is being open to purely experiencing the world around you. Being committed to routine and word-count and reading and practicing in any medium is so vital, but it’s also vital to just be present in the world around you. Love this! Thanks for writing!!

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  2. Thank you. How do you get noticed, though? Most agents in the literary world are like agents in Hollywood–established talent only. Don’t want to see new writers; name recognition only. Now, “50 Shades”, what started out as a fan fiction and became its own thing after complaints it was overtly sexualizing Meyers’ characters in “Twilight”, if that can make it to the NYT Best-Sellers list, how important is grammar? I read one page and saw more errors my 10th grade English teacher would have me shot at sunrise for. I don’t think grammar and spelling are that important if that book could pick up a publisher that apparently thought popularity trumped grammar, punctuation, spelling, horrific dialogue that would have Sidney Sheldon rolling over. It took me a year to write 360 pages and 134,055 words of a Tolkien fan fiction without any graphic sex or violence that follows traditional Tolkien themes, few grammatical errors, and reasonably cohesive dialogue (readers like it, so I guess it makes since) for just “practice” and to finish something before my dad died and to have a calling card manuscript to prove research and thought can make a difference and to prove I’m a serious writer professionally. My original stuff garnered nothing and I’ve wanted to do this since I was 3. So how can some take the industry seriously when 50 Shades writers can be seen as more serious than some that’s been doing this seriously for their entire life? I had a poem inducted by Coretta Scott King at the MLK Center at age ten. I wrote an Adaptation of the PBS story The Point by Harry Nilsson at 15 which Nilsson himself liked. I have the résumé, but not the name (or look) this industry seems to want these days. You don’t get anymore serious than me. I wrote 32 pages of a short story in 6 hours just to play with a book layout program a few weeks ago. I write 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. When not working on the Tolkien thing, I’m writing anything, anywhere. I don’t think the industry is serious enough for serious writers so self publishing seems the only way to get noticed and that isn’t always sufficient to make a career in an industry where 50 Shades is seen as the definition of serious.

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  3. Don’t forget the all-important “connection” to someone in the biz. Being in the right place and that right time with someone who is willing to get your foot in the door can make all the difference. Remember the Harry Potter series taking off? Well, that author had a friend who worked for a publisher and pitched said ms. Luck plays a big part in literary success.

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  4. Reblogged this on Michael Seidel, writer and commented:
    I love this final paragraph: “But embrace it. Work hard so that eventually (and I mean far-away eventually) someone will care. Sure, failure is guaranteed, but in order to be a successful writer, you need to be persistent. The only way to be persistent is to write because you love it.”

    Actually, the entire piece speaks to me. I’m dubious of much writing success but I keep going. I enjoy writing. Writing helps me think, understand myself and the world, and it’s a liberating creative outlet. If I wasn’t writing already, I think, based on my mental wanderings as I walk, that I would start writing.

    So am a failure as a writer? Naw, I have mostly found my voice. It comes and goes. That, itself, and the process, is as fascinating as anything to me. Most intriguing is when a character steps up and takes off on their own.

    In some ways, that’s also counter productive and debilitating. The character becomes a buddy and a guide through the book. When I’m done, I miss them. Or, in this novel, with its six main characters and their variations on life according to what’s happening, one character finishes their piece and steps aside for another. It’s like they go on vacation.

    It’s just like ‘real life’ in that regard. When someone steps out of your life for some period, your life’s continuity and routines are breached.

    Having six in this book helps. Handley stepped up last week. I became very fond of her, discovering her strengths with her and further refining her individuality. Then she stepped away. After a few days of writing scenes, Philea stepped forward and took over. She’s smarter, calmer and a faster thinker than me, and thinks differently than I do, so I’m quieter and more thoughtful around her. Like me, she’s not socially engaged, but for different reasons.

    Got off track. Back to the track. The article addresses the essence of my approach. I write, I’m persistent, and I enjoy it. Someday, maybe it’ll be more than a diversion from depression, drinking and disappointment with the world. For now, I’ll go with that.

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  5. “Sure, failure is guaranteed, but in order to be a successful writer, you need to be persistent. The only way to be persistent is to write because you love it.” Absolutely! Totally agree with this. Thanks Michael!

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