Like many of you, I read several blogs a day….mostly related to writing. Recently on one of the blogs it was suggested that the best thing an aspiring author should do in order to succeed is to learn to write better.

I have to take issue with that advice. While I agree that all writers—even long published authors—should be improving his or her writing, I don’t think that’s the most important thing one should do to become successful. There are many mediocre writers who succeed wildly….and many excellent writers who never achieve success. (If we’re defining success as publication and strong sales).

In fact, if you were to ask me my greatest regret about publishing, it’s that so many good writers never reach the heights they should. And to be honest, I’m really at a loss as to why that is. I don’t think it’s anything I can change, so I have to learn to adapt to it. And if you’re an aspiring writer, so do you.

So what then IS the most important thing one can do to succeed as a writer? (Given that we’re talking about Christian writers here, I’m going to assume you’ve already determined through prayer that you are called to write. That, I would say, is really number one). I believe it’s immersing oneself in the writing and publishing world. It’s LOVING that world and wanting desperately to be part of it. It means reading publishing trade journals and magazines (and blogs!) about publishing in the same way a 10-year-old boy devours silly joke books. It means learning the different publishing companies and what they publish and who their editors are. It means knowing which books are winning awards and which are topping the best seller lists. It also means knowing which books have failed and having an opinion as to why they might have failed. It means all this and much more. And not because you HAVE to, but because you WANT to. This is YOUR world. Your industry, if you will.

In short, you need a hunger for the world of writing, reading, and publishing that won’t be denied. Hobbyists need not apply. Of course, if you do have that hunger, you will also want to learn to improve your writing. You will understand that just as an aspiring pianist may want to play at Carnegie Hall, he or she will have to do a LOT of practicing to get there. In our industry it’s called collecting rejection slips. The measure used to be that a writer might have to write a million rejected words before seeing some success. Maybe that number has changed, but the process hasn’t.

Yes, there are the occasional success stories of authors who sort of stumbled into success, but they are certainly the minority. Most successful writers have earned their place at Carnegie Hall.

Here’s a personal question for you: Have you ever cried over a rejection? I don’t mean did you ever get misty and tear up? I mean did you ever bawl like a baby over a rejection? And then, after a time of proper grieving, did you get up, dust yourself off and get back to work? If so, that’s good. Ten points for you! (Soon I’ll share my “bawling like a baby” rejection. Ouch. It still hurts!).

That grief shows a hunger. You will not be denied….even if it means waiting, even if it means self-publishing your first book, even if it means skipping a vacation so you can afford to go to a writer’s conference.

When your discouragement is so great that it stifles your hunger to succeed, you’re in trouble. If that happens, re-evaluate. Maybe you WEREN’T called to this writing life. But if you were, then you’ll find that the hunger will soon beat down the discouragement and you’ll be back at your desk writing.

Now, go work on your manuscript. Even if only one page.

More next time.

And if this has been helpful, pass the word to other writers. Twitter for me if you don’t mind. I have yet to enter that world.

3 replies
  1. Rebecca says:

    This is a great bit of advice for writers, Dad. I’m enjoying reading your blog.
    I don’t think I’ve heard your story of bawling like a baby after a rejection letter! I’ll be interested in reading about it.

  2. Shannon Dittemore says:

    Just found your blog. I’m a fledgling writer with a newly finished manuscript. I use the word “finished” lightly! Thanks for the advice. I love it that flawed writers can still succeed. I am constantly trying to hone my craft, but when I find a weakness in a published work, I jump for joy. Is that cruel? It’s not intended to be. It’s just awesome to know that perfection isn’t a prerequisite for success.

    God bless, Nick.

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