The Number One Essential for Being a Better Writer

© Tamara Kulikova | Dreamstime.com

© Tamara Kulikova | Dreamstime.com

At this point in my career (several books published, a couple of awards under my belt, reasonably successful), I tend to be asked the question “How did you manage to get to that point?” a decent amount. I’m not famous or a bestselling author—yet—but I am doing better than average for a selfie. At the end of the day, it all comes down to one key factor, the number one essential thing that a writer needs in order to succeed.

Patience.

*insert sound of record scratching here*

What? Patience? You? Merry Farmer???

Yeah, I know.

I am pretty much the least patient person I know. I mean, there are times in my past where I was literally reduced to tears and tantrums because something I wanted and was waiting for so badly just wasn’t coming my way. I seem to recall an episode when I was about twelve of lying on the landing at the bottom of the stairs in the house I grew up in wailing because…GROWING UP TOOK TOO LONG!!! True story.

Honestly, the most frustrating part about this journey toward being a professional, full-time writer that I’m on is that it takes so damn long to manifest! I mean, I know that I’m a great writer…so how come everyone else on the planet hasn’t recognized this fact and started buying all of my books and giving them 5-star reviews?

I kid.

The problem is, I’ve fallen into this trap a little bit myself and seen other writer friends get tripped up by it too. The beautiful pitfall of self-publishing is that it is way too easy to publish something before it’s ready. That little “Publish” icon that you click to go from being a wannabe writer to a bona fide published author is just so easy to mouse over. Many a writer has been tripped up by publishing before their story is ready.

The best way to avoid this is to get as many eyes on a project as possible before you click that “Publish” button. Not all eyes are created equal. It’s necessary to get some professional eyes on your book above all else. A really good editor is worth their weight in gold…and yes, you may feel like that’s what you’re paying when you hire them. Worth. Every. Penny.

editing memeBut other eyes are important too. I know that a lot of the time we are told not to bother having our friends and family beta-read our books because they won’t have an unbiased opinion about the quality of our writing, but I still think that it’s important to let them read something before the fact. It’s a matter of numbers. Even if a family member tells you that your first draft is incredibly good and you’re going to win a Booker Prize, if they point out one thing that didn’t work—the same one thing that five other beta-readers pointed out—then you’ve gained something valuable from their input. Plus, writers need to get used to having as many people as possible read their work.

But there’s another step in this patience game that can trip a writer up in no time. Really, it’s obvious that we shouldn’t click “Publish” (or submit to an agent or direct-submission publishing company) before a book has been edited and revised. There’s actually a far more subtle, far more insidious form of impatience that attacks writers all the time.

This form of impatience falls somewhere between the statements “But I don’t have time to read craft books or attend workshops, I need to write!” and “But I can’t possibly implement all of those changes and suggestions that my editor and beta-reader made! Not only do I not have time, I think they’re wrong!” Ouch!

I love Stephen King’s famous quote that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. I also think that, while most authors nod vigorously and agree with it, a lot of us forget to put it into practice or miss the reason why we need to put it into practice. The number one thing that you need to do to become a successful author is to write a good book. We all want to think that everything we’re writing is golden and that anyone who critiques us either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or is jealous. The fact of the matter is that everyone’s writing needs work, and the only way to make our writing better is to have the patience to learn and grow and listen to that criticism when it comes.

It won’t do your long-term career any good if you lack the patience to carefully consider the suggestions made to you about your writing. It also doesn’t help if you are too impatient with the final product to go through the admittedly painstaking process of implementing those suggestions. Let me tell you, when my editor told me that she thought the entire middle of my novel The Courageous Heart didn’t work because I had made it too easy for the hero and heroine to get together, it hurt. I saw nothing but the length of time it would take to rewrite about six chapters and to tweak a lot of other chapters to fit with the new middle. But she was right, you know. It’s a better book now because I swallowed my impatience and did the work.

So take a deep breath and get ready to wait. A truly good book is going to become great on its own time, with every chapter you edit and every opinion you seek. The trick is to do that work diligently and ride out the impatience that you are bound to feel. If you can keep your wits about you and not rush a novel, I guarantee it will exceed your expectations.

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