The #1 thing writers need to succeed

The #1 thing writers need to succeed

What’s the #1 thing writers need to succeed? Is it a particular word processing program? Is it a particular writing app? Perhaps it’s attending a particular writing school? Or maybe it’s a question of networking or building up a big social media following?

There’s no doubt some of those things are at least helpful – a decent social media following or a writing network can be very useful. Not just for marketing but also for feedback on your work.

But there’s one thing that towers above everything else and it’s not something you can buy. It’s not something anyone can give to you. So, what is it?

And the answer is…

In word word: discipline.

Boring, I know. Maybe even disappointing. But here’s the thing, if you want to be successful, you need discipline.

Whether it’s allocating distinct time periods for writing, and not compromising or giving into other temptations. Whether it’s meeting deadlines – particularly important if you have a contractual deadline. Whether it’s setting aside the time to learn or refine techniques or skills. You need discipline.

Procrastination and distractions

Writers are often plagued by distractions and/or procrastination. Why is it so much easier to open a social media app than to get started on that piece of writing? The truth is, if you want to succeed you have to get tough!

This is no different to a small business owner building their business. Like an editor, or a graphic designer, a copywriter, or any other kind of business owner or freelancer, writers need to build a sense of discipline.

What are your weaknesses?

What does this mean in real terms? Well, you might want to start with examining your own particular weaknesses. What stops you from writing? What are the most common excuses you give for not getting on with your work?

You could be suffering from a social media addiction, which leads you to constantly check Twitter or Facebook. Or perhaps you’re stuck or experiencing writer’s block, and you’re avoiding the issue by looking for distractions. Maybe you are suffering from imposter syndrome and don’t really believe your writing is worth the time and discipline needed to succeed. Maybe you don’t believe you can succeed.

Defining success

There’s also the question of what success really means. This differs for different people. For some, having even a small number of readers amounts to success. Especially if those readers left good reviews. For others, just finishing a book is an achievement in itself – and they’re not wrong. Not everyone is out to be a working writer. Sometimes writing a book is an item on a bucket list – something to tick off. A goal attained.

Want to be a full-time writer?

Let’s say you want to be a full-time writer one day. Not an easy goal, nor necessary for a writing career. Many great writers have had day jobs. But to achieve that goal, you need to develop some discipline. (To write around a day job also requires discipline?) You need to become your own boss.

You need to learn to set goals and commit to them. Time to get tough – with yourself, and also with other people who make demands, and who don’t take your writing seriously. Also, never forget that if other people see you don’t take your writing seriously, they won’t think twice about interrupting you.

Block distractions, set goals

While you can’t buy discipline, you can start to research ways to help yourself get there. Learn how to focus better, how to block distractions. Find out the times of the day or week when you seem to be most productive. Maybe there are particular environments you work best in.

Try social media blockers, set timers, allocate times for writing. Block Twitter for three hours and commit to write in that period. Don’t allow writers’ block to defeat you. Set yourself goals and keep at it.

Discipline is like a muscle – you have to keep exercising it. Your stamina will increase over time.

Start with achievable goals

You can start by setting yourself lower targets and gradually increasing them over time. Don’t judge yourself according to what others are doing. Compete only with yourself. How much writing do you get done three months ago? Now, how much writing are you getting done today?

Never stop learning and developing

And it’s not all about writing – there’s research, editing, developing your writing skills (CPD), marketing (when you get to that point). If you were an editor, you’d be expected to continue your professional development, periodically taking refresher classes or courses to upgrade your skills. As a writer, you can also continue to expand your skills.

Of course, by itself, discipline won’t guarantee success. You also need a certain amount of talent. But talent is often the result of study, and study requires discipline. You need to research your market, and that requires discipline. You need to weather rejection, pick yourself up and carry on. And that too is a type of discipline.

And finally…

Since this is now the end of 2020, it’s worth thinking about what you’ve achieved this year. Focus on the positives and start thinking about your writing goals for 2021. You could aim to submit to certain writing publications. Perhaps there’s a novel you need to finish. Maybe you’re struggling with developmental issues like show versus tell, point of view, structure, characterisation, worldbuilding, and so on.

Time to draw up a curriculum! Or perhaps you’d like some feedback on the opening chapters of a novel or memoir you’re working on. You might be interested in my opening chapters edit – the wordcount can be adjusted to your particular needs.

Most of all, keep writing and keep learning. You never know where it will take out!