Whether you believe writers are born or made (and I think it’s a little bit of both), there are certain traits I think all writers should cultivate. Some may come naturally, others may need a bit of work. But they’ll help you be the best writer you can be.
1) Happy in your own company
Writers can work collaboratively, but for the most part, they scribble away on their lonesome. It’s nice if people support you of course, but ultimately it’s you, your brain and a blank piece of paper. On the whole, writers tend to be imaginative introverts, actively seeking time alone, so it’s no stretch to work this way. But trust me – you’ll never know how much you frustrate yourself until you try writing. Learn to forgive your mistakes and when it really gets too much, take a break with others.
2) A thick skin
You may pour your heart out for months (or years) – only for agents and publishers to reject your masterpiece. You may self-publish – only for some readers to tell you they don’t like your work. Unfortunately, that’s life. We all hate to think it, but not everyone likes us out there either. So you’ll need to develop a thick skin for these eventualities. And at least they read it, right? You may even be able to learn from their feedback, (unless it’s pure bile, in which case screw them!)
3) Able to take (constructive) criticism
No-one likes to be criticised, but we learn from our mistakes. It’s not easy to accept constructive feedback, especially not about something we’ve put our heart and soul into. All writers are fragile things, no matter how confident they seem. We’re all terrified we’re just not good enough. But you can’t be the perfect writer straight away, and without feedback, you don’t have a chance to fix what’s standing in the way of you becoming, well, still not perfect but at least a lot better.
4) Laser focus
I wish that someone would invent something that could take all my ideas out of my head and place them into words on the page with no direct intervention from me. But until that happens, we all just have to sit down and write. Shut off the dings and rings and other distractions and just write. Plough through the first draft (which will always be horrific) and edit, edit, edit like a sculptor finding art in a lump of wood. There are plenty of techniques, extensions and apps out there to help. Sometimes I use the Pomodoro technique via a browser extension as a handy way to get going.
It can be gruelling to be a writer, whether it’s the work itself or any attempts to get published. So you need to be able to stick it out. No matter how much your idea excites you, you can pretty much guarantee at some point you’ll hate the whole thing and want to give up. And very rarely you may need to abandon your plans and start again. Usually, you just need a break, and perhaps a change of direction. When it comes to publication, you’ll need persistence more than ever, to believe in your story, in your abilities even when no one else does.
So that’s my list, although I definitely think there are more out there! What qualities do you think a writer needs? Let me know in the comments!