Someone asked me once what qualities were necessary to “do” English (i.e. in the writing sense). After thinking a bit, I came up with this list of seven traits. It’s not meant to be the final answer – if you google “necessary qualities of a writer,” you’ll notice that everyone has their own list – but since this is kind of an important question for us writers, I thought I’d share what my personal take is with y’all.
Trait #1: A basic amount of ability and interest. This is probably obvious, but if you despise writing… remind me again why you want to do this for anything outside of necessary schoolwork?
Trait #2: Patience. You can’t write a novel overnight, so you have to be willing to spend a year or more working away at it, depending on your specific writing process. Also, you’re not likely to get traditionally published overnight (if that’s what you’re aiming for). It can take up to two years to get published, so don’t expect to find an agent, land a publishing contract, go through the process of creating the absolute final product, and actually see your work on the bookstore shelves in a single month. It just takes time, even if things are steadily moving.
Trait #3: Discipline. Going off of #2 somewhat, if your project takes two years to finish, you have to be able to stick with it through writer’s block or lack of motivation or discouragement, whether or not you have patience. Even if you don’t have a long project, working on your writing consistently is a valuable habit. Or you may have deadlines, and sometimes you have to be able to get words on the page even if you just don’t feel like it. Especially if you feel like you “still have time”; last-minute panic may be a great motivator, but it doesn’t always produce the best writing.
Trait #4: Leniency with yourself. Discipline is good, but like many things, it is a continuum. Don’t be so zealous and rigid that you burn yourself out on writing for six months, fall prey to crippling perfectionism, or damage your physical or mental health. If your goal is to be a writer long-term, then burning out now isn’t a good strategy, no matter how productive you are leading up to that point. As Brett Harris, a mentor for many young writers, says: “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Trait #5: Basic social skills. Writing as a whole isn’t just hiding in your office and filling page after page with words and cool characters. You also need to have a platform, communicate with other professionals such as your agent or editor, and market your published works. That is to say, you can’t avoid interacting with people if you want to get a book published–even if you’re an introvert who can avoid it in other areas of your life.
Trait #6: Thick skin. Getting critique is a fantastic way to improve your writing – I can’t recall ever getting feedback that wasn’t at least a tiny bit helpful – but that includes both positive and negative feedback. Few people’s (if anyone’s) writing is perfect on the first draft, and if you can handle having problems pointed out to you without being offended or getting too discouraged, your writing will be so much the better for it. Also, if you’re looking to be traditionally published, you’ll almost certainly receive rejections along the way. If you have a high-quality piece of writing, it would be a waste to let a handful of rejections make you give up entirely.
Trait #7: Humility. You’ve probably heard this elsewhere, but it’s important: it’s hard to improve as a writer if you can’t learn from mistakes or negative feedback. Most people don’t enjoy working with those who don’t listen to anything they say, so humility is important in good professional relationships as well.
Don’t worry if you’re lacking some of these–I have little discipline when I don’t have a pending deadline and could be playing my favorite game Minetest instead, and I get a tad nervous about sharing my writing sometimes. No one is born perfect, and you certainly don’t have to have all these traits to start off with. However, it helps to be aware of them, and work on developing them over time. Just like you can develop discipline consistency-wise by writing every day even for a tiny bit at first, you can improve in the other areas too.
So, what are your thoughts? Agree/disagree? Think something needs to be removed or added?