Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What You Need to Be a Writer

In James Scott Bell’s book The Art of War for Writers, he discusses nine characteristics that he believes all writers must have. I think it’s good to be reminded.

1. Desire. The only thing that’s going to get you through the years of work, hurts, and disappointments is the burning need to write. Otherwise, find something else to do.

2. Discipline. The butt in the chair approach to writing. For years I had a Jack London quote that greeted me every morning. “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” No matter what you write from YA to poetry to litfic, the only way you’re going to get through the rough patches is to grind it out. So, plant your butt in the chair. Ignore Facebook, Twitter, et al. Write.

3. Commitment to Craft. That means a first draft is a first draft. It’s not a book. You edit and edit and edit until all traces of you the writer are gone. As Allen Ginsberg said, “To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”

4. Patience. Some writers strike gold early in their careers. Most don’t. Lately, I’ve been reading about writers who finally struck gold in their 60s and 70s. If needs be, can you wait that long? Is it worth it to you?

5. Honesty. You aren’t Fitzgerald or Hemingway. Deal with it.

6. Willingness to Learn. Not only do we need to be willing to admit our shortcomings, we have to want to learn. As Hemingway once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

7. Business-like Attitude. Yeah, writing is a very personal, emotional art—sometimes you’re putting your soul on the page. But there’s needs to be a part of you that realizes publishing is a business. You have to balance those aspects.

8. Rhino Skin. You have to learn that everyone gets rejected. Remember what one publisher said about The Diary of Anne Frank. “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” To see other rejections of famous books, see here.

9. Long-term View. “I decided that I would continue to write as long as I lived, even if I never sold one thing, because that was what I wanted out of life.” George Bernau.

So now, start writing! You can do it!


  1. I need to work on #8, I think. No matter how much I'm determined not to let criticism or rejection hurt me, it ALWAYS stings just a little bit. But it's getting better :) Great list!

  2. I love the quote in #9. Awesome! Thanks for sharing the tips - and now I have to get off the internet and do some more editing. :-)

  3. Hi Connie - Thank you for visiting my site. I have a terrible time with the patience thing--always have, and I think that eats into my rhino skin a bit. But after a rejection, I allow myself five minutes of wallowing, then I shake it off and get back at it.

    Hope your WIP is going well!

  4. Stopping by from FMFB! What a great post! Something I need reminding of...especially #2 lately... ;)

  5. Wow, nail-on-head, I can say as I send the query letters out and keep pushing on with my writing all of these are needed. I guess you have to love the art for the act of doing it and if you get published its the silver lining not the whole cloud....or something like that. lol

    Nice blog.

  6. I love this. Thanks for sharing. Lately I've been really getting back into writing, and these goals really help me have discipline and just WRITE.