The Top Seven Qualities All Writers Have

How do you come back to writing and editing novels after months of working on other things?

One of my favorite things to say is that writing fiction is hard, and writing good fiction is that much harder. It takes a LOT out of you, demands a lot from you, and causes you all kinds of trouble.

Still, it’s worth it. I would never tell someone who has doubts about writing, or is wondering whether he or she should write, not to try. That’s because, regardless of what you do with you work, writing will teach you that you have these qualities. If you don’t have them, you’ll develop them.

1. ADVENTUROUSNESS.

That is, an ability to take risks and try new things. Perhaps this isn’t true of all writer, but if I waited to start writing a novel until I had all the kinks worked out and I felt comfortable with the story–if I waited until I felt “ready” to write–I’d never write at all.

A novel is just too big to pin down entirely ahead of time. You’ll have surprises, shocks, and dilemmas crop up seemingly out of nowhere along the way, no matter how much you plan. Personally, I think that’s one of the best things about fiction.

2. HUMILITY.

Creative writing takes a willingness and an ability to accept one’s limitations. First drafts are rarely good, even readable. At least, I feel that way about my own. A writer has to be humble enough to recognize her weaknesses and to accept constructive criticism in order to improve.

3. PERSISTENCE.

This is obvious. Writers face rejection constantly, and we need to be willing to write, rewrite, and rewrite some more. We need to be able to keep plugging and to pull ourselves up off the ground to try again after “failure.”

4. TENACITY.

Tenacity is needed just as much as humility. While we need to be humble enough to recognize our flaws, we need to be tenacious enough not to give up in disillusionment. It’s not an easy balancing act.

5. EMPATHY.

Every writer has to be able to step into a character’s mind: to feel how they are feeling, to understand how and why they make the choices they do. This isn’t always easy…. In fact, it can be downright disconcerting when the character isn’t all that likeable. But I think, all things considered, this quality brings positive results. It helps us not to feel a false sense of superiority when we consider real people who have made some bad choices. It keeps pride and complacency in check.

6. CREATIVITY.

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. I don’t think I want to insult you guys breaking it down.

7. A SENSE OF HUMOR.

Mainly, a willingness to laugh at yourself and take yourself lightly. I know some of my early drafts have some pretty bad, cliche scenes and poor writing. It’s bad enough that it’s downright laughable. So I laugh at it and take it lightly, rather than letting it make me feel like a talentless hack.

So, what qualities do you think a writer needs? What did I overlook? What skills took you longest to develop? For me, I think, it’s tenacity. How do you push through and fight your weaknesses?

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this Fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

You can also sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page

Advertisements

53 responses to “The Top Seven Qualities All Writers Have

  1. For me, the thing that has taken me the longest to develop is brevity. I’m one of those people who has a habit of going on and on, especially when I write. Thankfully, I’ve been able to use my edit runs to help curtail those long rambling sentences. So, I guess that comes back to persistence, in it’s own way.

    • Ooh yes, I’m quite the same way sometimes…. Not in that I take too long to say something, but I say lots of things (briefly) that don’t need to be said at all 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Timothy Bateson (ramblings of an author) and commented:
    For me, the thing that has taken me the longest to develop is brevity. I’m one of those people who has a habit of going on and on, especially when I write. Thankfully, I’ve been able to use my edit runs to help curtail those long rambling sentences. So, I guess that comes back to persistence, in it’s own way.

  3. Good post, thx for sharing 🙂

  4. true ! it all occurs while writing and we need to cope up with all of these

  5. Excellent post – it touches on all of the emotions and strengths writers need to draw on 🙂

  6. Well said and just what I need to get up and get writing this morning.

  7. Adventurousness took a little while in terms of always taking that next step. As a friend once said, I love the writing and creation part of the trade, but I instinctively hate the business side. So I spent a while not doing anything beyond query submissions, which is why I feel I came a little ‘late to the game’ with Amazon at times.

    I think a touch of insanity helps with being an author. Whether it be listening to voices in your head or simply putting yourself out there, a writer is definitely wired differently than non-writers.

    • Oh my gosh, I feel the same way as you. I don’t have the head or the funds to really run a “business” for my writing. I’m not great at that side of it, but I’m learning as I go. Hoping to make use of my second edition re-release as a major opportunity.

      • I’m sure that will work. The hardest part seems to be doing things to remain active. It always feels like taking time off with push me to a point of no return. Probably because I’ve seen so many authors put their book out, do no marketing, and then wonder what went wrong. I do wonder if an author eventually hits a point where they have enough books out that they can ease off a bit.

  8. “A novel is just too big to pin down entirely ahead of time.” That is so true! For me, a certain amount of planning does help, but there come’s a point when you just have to dive in. You also need the discipline to work regularly, whether that’s every day or whatever you’ve decided works best for your schedule.

  9. Reblogged this on Daphodill's Garden and commented:
    When we’re staring at our documents questioning our sanity and ability, we can look to this list to remind ourselves of our power. What an affirming post!

  10. A very good list, but I think you have missed one essential quality. Curiosity (or inquisitiveness). Every work of fiction ever written can be reduced to a single premise – “what if?” It is to find the answer to this most versatile of questions that we write (and read) in the first place.

  11. For me, tenacity. With a demanding and full time position, I’m often exhausted to the teeth by the time I get home in the evenings. Because I leave for work so early in the morning, writing in the mornings is out. Thus, I now force myself to set aside those hours in the evening and write something – anything! – to keep my hand in it. It’s too easy to say, ‘I’ll write tomorrow when I’m less tired.’ If one does that, tomorrow never comes.

    Great post – very helpful.

  12. My favorites are numbers 5-7. I’m trying to write everyday on my novel, but it’s hard. I don’t know what’s up with me. Great post!

  13. Loved this, very true. How are you differentiating your Tenacity from your Determination. There’s a fine distinction, where’s the gap for you?

    • ooh, good one!!! I feel like tenacity is a bit harder, if that makes sense. Determination helps me get started. Tenancity helps me KEEP going when it gets difficult. That’s probably just a personal distinction which has nothing to do with what the words really mean, haha…. But I guess I could say that. That was a really thought-provoking question!

  14. I think one of the qualities for a writer is to write for the pure joy of writing. Don’t think about an audience, write because you love it, because you have to, because it’s a part of you. Have fun with the process, enjoy what you do and eventually, an audience will come. Allow the rejections to be the motivation to keep going; learn from them, and learn that in spite of them, writing is simply what you must do. Writing is learning, and a writer will never run out of things to learn. Great post.

    • I agree with this in full. I’ve been lucky that my first submission was accepted, and I’m working toward my second. However, I’ve had so many rejections in job opportunities that I’ve turned those rejections into a drive to refine my work role, job skills, and techniques. I just hope I have that same strength, and courage, to carry on when my first rejection letter comes in.

      • That is such a wonderful and healthy way to deal with rejection. I dealt with a lot of rejection on the job front as well before I found the right fit at my current job. It’s all about motivation and viewing things from the proper angle. Which ISN’T easy.

    • I love your point here. I always say “write for you” which I think is synonymous is with “write for the pure joy of writing.” Whatever that joy is or means for each of us individually.

  15. I agree with every word you said. Tenacity… I think of that this way:
    The pigheadedness to plough forward, ignore the Cyclopes trying to trick you and focus on the ogre trying to bludgeon you to death with the hope of rescuing the noble princess.

  16. I agree with all the qualities here. I am working on my adventurousness. I am one of those people who would love everything to be “perfect” before sending it out there. Writing a blog is really helping me to get past this!

  17. Well, passion to write, of course. That, and a reliable muse. 🙂

  18. Oh, I think you hit it with tenacity and an ability to laugh at yourself. Knowing how to push past criticism, stick your butt in the chair, and write day after day, is really where this profession lies. At least, I think that’s where the winners win and the losers lose.

    You either write, or you don’t. That’s tenacity in my mind. 🙂

  19. Wonderful blog, Victoria. And you know what? I’m relieved to hear I’m not the only one who thinks that the expression “workable draft” is an oxymoron! After I finish the first draft of my novel, my joy fades fast, because I know that now is when the true writing begins…

  20. Good one. And yes, tenacity is also the one I am late in developing. Still working on it!

  21. Anyone aspiring to become a writer as well as the professional ones already shouldn’t have to struggle with writing, but make it a servant instead of a master. If you find it hard to start writing about just anything, then stop doing it in the first place and be productive in some things other than that. I’m not saying you must quit writing once and for all but it must be that you only have to make a break for a while and then make a huge comeback. I’m suggesting this because, from my own experience, it is always better to write when there is that free flowing of thoughts dictating your every longing for words to be written than to try to push hard on something you would only have difficulty knowing what to write about.

    • That is a really interesting perspective, and I’m glad you shared it! I myself have given up on a project after it just wouldn’t come together in editing.I had to stop trying to force it, as you say here.

  22. I would like to think of writing as a fun, and not a burden. In that way, it could be better. Because when I start to think of it to be such of a burden, then I’ll surely be having hard time becoming a writer.

    • Writing should DEFINITELY be fun. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tough moments or some aspects of it that we enjoy more than others. But it should definitely be fun and enjoyable.

    • If I’m having a hard time writing, I persist in at least putting in some time at the keyboard. I make a mark in either side of the text I produce, to indicate that it was written when I wasn’t at my best.
      This does two things. Firstly, it keeps me in the habit of writing, because some habits are very easy for me to break, and then not restart. Second, it allows me to see, at a glance, which areas might need some really hardcore editing.
      I might not always be forcing words onto the page during those times, but I find that it can sometimes free up the flow of ideas, just by the very act of writing. I’ve even produced some really good work during those dark times, along with the stuff that gets major re-writes, or trashed completely.
      If writing is a burden during those times, then it’s one I have chosen to accept, because to do otherwise puts lie to my claims of being a writer. But I know that’s a personal feeling.
      This was actually a tip I remember reading from one of the big authors (I forget who). They admitted that when they write,they tend to put every thought they have down on the page, and then go back to edit. Sometimes that means they’re cutting who chunks from a day’s work into idea files, to-do lists, or even call lists. By writing as a continuous stream of consciousness, it allows them to produce huge word counts, while working on a number of projects, simultaneously. Even if they only write 500 words on their main project, they may have enough ideas on paper to spawn another 4 or five books.
      I’m not that badly focused on my current projects, but it does seem like an interesting way to work.

      • Wow, this is so awesome. Thanks for that explanation of how you mark what you write when writing comes hard. What an AWESOME way not only to note where you’ll need to edit a lot, but where you can cut yourself some slack in terms of feeling judgemental of your abilities!

        • I think that’s one of the tricks to being able to write freely. Let yourself make mistakes, knowing that you can come back to fix them. I write, and edit slowly, and carefully. Editing isn’t something I love doing, but it’s an essential part of the process. Every time I read through a scene, or chapter, I discover something new that I like, and that’s how I find forgiveness for those sentences, and paragraphs that I hate.

        • I too have always preferred writing to editing. I try to find joy while editing in seeing the improvements as I go along.

  23. Great list. I don’t think you’ve missed a single thing.

  24. Pingback: Posts I loved this week | Taylor Grace

  25. I would add Emotion. One piece of advice I give to aspiring writers is that as an author, if you feel nothing for the characters you are writing about, how can you expect your readers to? A story is merely the background; it’s the characters that drive the emotions of the readers – whether they love them, despise them, or something in between.

    One of the most difficult aspects of writing that I found was finishing the last book in a trilogy. It wasn’t the writing, the editing, the cover design, the marketing… sure, those were all stressful at times, but it was finishing that final line, and then publishing that last book in the trilogy.

    The exhilaration of finishing it all was there, certainly, but it was shadowed by a feeling of sadness as well. The story was told to completion. I felt like I was saying goodbye to dear friends that I had written about and had grown to know throughout the three books. It was difficult saying goodbye to them.

    As authors, we often fall in love with the characters that we write about, and then let them go – so that they can be loved by our readers as well. I believe we share a unique bond with our readers. I like to sum it up like this:

    ‘As an author, I breathe life into each and every character within the stories that I write. But it is the reader who gives them their souls.’

    • Yes, oh my gosh. The sadness of the end of a trilogy was a big deal for me. It was such a big deal that I ended up, in early drafts, focusing way too much on the goodbyes. Beta readers told me I had too much stuff clogging up the end after the action had wrapped up. So I made some painful cuts. I think the book is better for it. But I also think it can be better to draw a goodbye out than not to give it at all.

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s