Everybody has a formula for success, don’t they? If you want to be a writer you have to do these five things. You have to follow these seven steps in their exact order, and if you do you’ll have unlimited success.
It kind of reminds me of those chain letters that then became emails that then became social media memes… you know what I’m talking about. “Make a wish, then copy this letter five times and send it to five of your friends within twenty-four hours. If you do, your wish will come true. If you don’t you’ll have thirteen years of bad luck.”
Most of us are savvy enough to spot a scam like that nowadays, and we aren’t as quick to pass it on as we might have been when we were young. But sometimes we get fooled. Sometimes the thing we want is so tangible and the success that others have had is so obvious that we become convinced that the magic formula must surely work this time.
These are not the steps you’re looking for
A quick Google search will show you what I’m talking about. Four pages deep and more (that’s just where I stopped looking), with list numbers ranging from five to more than two-hundred, and evoking the names of famous and highly successful authors like Stephen King, people are driving traffic to their blogs and attracting customers to buy their exclusive courses, all in the name of making you a better writer.
The formulas range from ridiculously simple to strenuously ambitious (Stephen King writes 2000 words a day and his yearly reading list is… monumental), but they all promise the same thing. Follow their formula if you want to achieve success.
And we buy into it every single time. But… tell me, how’s that working out for you?
Can you ever think of a time when you took someone else’s writing advice and it didn’t work?
Formulas for becoming a better writer are sort of like New Year’s resolutions. They seem like a really good idea at the time. I mean, it works for Stephen King, right? And who doesn’t want to be a successful writer? But come March or April when you’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to get your 2,000 words a day written and you don’t feel any more glamorous or successful, what do you do then?
Most people either give up completely, or go through a minor identity crisis. How can we call ourselves writers if the way we write doesn’t match the way Stephen King (or Ernest Hemingway, or Ursula K. LeGuin, or F. Scott Fitzgerald) do it?
The myth of someone else’s journey
There’s no one-size-fits-all list that you can apply to your life that, if you meet the requirements, allows you to call yourself a writer. Sometimes the advice you receive is just advice. It might not work for you, or it might, but it will never be able to bestow on you the identity of writer.
Your best bet, if you really need someone else’s advice to get your writing habit jump-started, is to read all of those lists of steps, pick steps from each of them that you like, and try them on for a while. And then when they stop working for you, instead of falling into a pit of despair that you’ll never be a “real writer”, just toss them out and make a new list. The only steps worth saving are the ones that work for YOU.
In the end there’s only one thing that qualifies you to be a writer (I know I said six… they’re coming, promise). What Stephen, Ernest, Ursula, and F., have in common, the tie that binds all of us writers together… We write.
So now here they are, as promised, six qualities that, if you master them, will lead you to a successful writing life…
Six qualities of successful writers
- Do we write every day? Some of us do.
- Do we write a certain number of words each writing session? Some of us do.
- What kinds of books do we read? All kinds.
- When do we write? Early in the morning, late at night, on our lunch breaks, in the stolen moments we get while hiding from our children in the bathroom…
- How do we write? Into a voice recorder on our morning commute, on the back of a napkin while waiting for a blind date, in a special notebook, on the computer with Scrivener or Word or OneNote or Write or Die or….
- Are we published? In ezines, magazines, fanzines, Big Five publishing houses, on blogs, on Amazon, NOT on Amazon, self-published, or not published yet…
Don’t be afraid to make your own list. Tell me what works for you, because you may have thought of something I haven’t tried yet, something that is really helping you get words on the page or a better chance at a publishing contract. We can all learn from the processes that others have. And maybe one of those processes will bring us success. But if you were worried that you might not be doing this writing thing right, I’ve got news for you… you totally are!
Every writer is different. If we were all the same, the world of fiction would be so utterly boring! We all start from different backgrounds of race, wealth, education… these and a myriad of other factors contribute to our journey to success. You could follow all the steps that Stephen King has for being a better writer and still not measure up to his success. Or worse, you could fall out of love with the capricious muse and stop chasing your passion to create. How tragic.
So write! Just write. Don’t look for validation or a fast track to success. Put words on the page and then share them with the world. That’s all that is required of you. Make your art. Tell your story. Find your voice.