How To Become a Successful Writer

how to become a successful writer

How many people out there dream of becoming successful writers? How many of those people actually achieve that dream? And what separates one group from the other?

There are many elements to becoming a successful writer. And talent, as Stephen King notably commented, “is cheaper than table salt”. That’s because writing isn’t just an art, it’s also a business, and there are practical sides to the craft that can’t be ignored if one is to become successful at it.

Get Away From TV and the Internet

Television has been proven by science to deaden the brain’s activities. Which is the opposite of what you want when you’re creating something. Not only that, but it sucks up hours of your time that you can’t get back. Stephen King recommends blowing it up. Or you could just unplug it.

Same goes with the internet. The time, energy and brain activity that it sucks is just as insidious as the television, if not more so. Avoid it. Many a professional writer have gone so far as to either disconnect it completely or use two different computers: one for surfing the Web and one for writing. Eliminating these productivity suckers will free up light-years of time that you can now use for writing.

Be Able To See Things Through (To the Bitter End)

Now that you’ve got your time management under control by abolishing TV and internet, you can work on your writing. But, if after day two of writing you find yourself bored, stuck, desperate or suicidal (which any writer will assure you is completely normal), you have two choices: plow ahead or give up. Writing is hard. It’s very hard. Many a menacing phrase have been written by writers describing exactly how hard it is. Take this lovely nugget from Anne Lamott: “My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.”

Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall – when all of the sudden their muscles seize up and feel like each leg weighs a hundred pounds of solid concrete. Writing can feel like that. And there’s nothing to be done except for drag those 200 pounds of legs across the finish line. That’s what makes the difference between someone who’s successful and someone who’s given up because it got too hard.

Get Familiar With Your Craft

If you’re a writer, chances are you’re also a reader. The two usually go together. And in fact, some of the best advice that almost any writer will give you is that in order to write, you must also read. A lot. Read other writers. Study them. Find comfort, passion and inspiration in their words. Read good writing, read bad writing too. Bad writing can show you where the holes are so you can avoid falling into them. It can show you what awkward phrasing, obvious plot twists and one-dimensional characters look like.

If you don’t already have a circle of writer friends, join a writer’s group, virtual or face-to-face. Take a writing course. Get the opinion of other writers. Read other people’s work-in-progress. Give and get advice. Become versed on how to talk about writing, how to receive feedback and how to make meaningful changes in your work. The more investment you make in your writing life, the richer your return.

Have Courage

A successful writer is also one who is courageous. Imagine how much courage it took for Elizabeth Gilbert to bare her soul and talk about her messy divorce and subsequent depression in her autobiography Eat Pray Love. Would the book have been so wildly successful if she had glossed over her personal demons and instead just focused on the wonderful pasta in Rome? Writing takes an incredible amount of courage in order to overcome the voice not only of the internal critic, but the fear of the external ones.

What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m stupid, sick, perverted, pathetic? If every writer listened to that voice, there would be exactly zero books published in this world. A successful writer is brave enough to confront those voices and tell them to shut up. They get busy with creating and expressing themselves as freely as they can and don’t give themselves time to dwell on fears and doubts.

Publishing and Self-Publishing

Better add patience to stamina and courage for qualities that make a successful writer. The publishing world can be brutal and the haul from “The End” to hitting the bookstores can be a long path. It can take years and piles of rejection letters before someone decides your book is worth publishing. These days, the publishing world is going through a revolution thanks to the popularity of online reading. Many writers are taking publishing into their own hands. Self-publishing is a respectable and sometimes even more profitable way of going about publishing your work. An interesting article by Forbes Magazine contributor Brett Arends tells the tale from both sides of the publishing coin.

Define Success

As your writing career develops, at some point you’ll face the question: what does it mean to become a successful writer? Maybe you want to write a best-seller. Maybe you just want to be published by anyone, anywhere. Maybe you want to be able to quit your day job and live off of your writing. Maybe you want to win accolades and literary prizes and the approval of your peers. In the end, success is really self-defined.

For more writerly advice, here’s a short-list of great books about writing:

On Writing by Stephen King
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

Keep writing, keep dreaming, and best of luck in whatever goal you’ve set for your writing life.