What makes someone a good writer? This is one of those things I periodically find myself contemplating. This time it came about because of a phone conversation with one of my publishers. It was a good conversation in many ways, including that it got me thinking.
- First and foremost, a successful writer should also be a reader. And it isn’t enough to read Victorian novels if you plan to cash in on chick lit. You have to actually enjoy reading whatever it is you write. Seriously. I mean it. If you hate to read fantasy, do not try to write it. Your antipathy will show.
- A writer is curious. To have the drive that it takes to finish a story, a writer has to want to know what happens. What happens on the next page, in the next chapter or in the sequel to their first novel. Writers are driven by this need to know.
- A writer has to have some knowledge of who their audience is. What are they interested in? What do they care about? You have to have a clue so you can connect with your audience. When I wrote a prayer for a mother whose child was diagnosed with autism, I drew on my experiences with autistic students, the things that their mother’s had discussed with me and the concerns any mother has for her child. You have to do the same when you write a picture book or a novel. Connect with your audience.
- A writer has to know if they are doing this for a living or as a hobby. If the answer is hobby, making money is ok but not critical. If this is your job, you need to know it because you need to submit your work accordingly. This may mean having to clarify this point for an editor or publisher; you are passionate but you are also making a living.
- A writer has to be willing to draw the line in the sand and to let their editor or publisher know just where that line is. At some point, you’ll end up working for an editor who wants you to change something at the very core of your story or a publisher who simply pushes you too far. Know ahead of time what you consider small things, things you are willing to shrug off and change. But also know what the deal breakers are and why. Not wanting to change something simply isn’t enough. You have to know and acknowledge why you aren’t willing to change it. Then you have to be able to articulate this.
- A writer has to have brass. It is essential to follow through on numbers 4 and 5 above. It is also 100% necessary if you are going to consistently find the time to write and identify it as writing time vs free time, time that might otherwise be spent doing whatever someone else plans to ask you to do. Not that you should always say no, but without brass, you won’t have time to write and you will spend way too much time being said or angry. With brass, you can draw the line in the sand, point it out and then get down to brass tacks (back to work).
Your own six traits might be altogether different depending on where you are in your writing and various other life experiences. But these come to mind where I am today.