4 keys to becoming a successful writer

Posted on October 20, 2016 at 6:00 am

By Kelly Burgess

As with any profession, there is no guarantee of success in the writing business. However, regardless of whether you want to break into fiction or nonfiction markets, successful writers have some traits that are crucial to carving out a literary career.


Writers write because they feel the need to put words on a page. In some cases, it’s all we can do and all we want to do. People who want to be writers will manage to write no matter what. Many writers have (and continue to) overcome difficult circumstances to pursue their passion, but one of the most inspiring modern writers is Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. She wrote both of those amazing books while virtually bedridden with a debilitating illness. If she can do it, you can write through a cold or the malaise that a Monday morning can bring.


Most writers toil alone at a kitchen table, perched on a stool in Starbucks, or while hiding in the bathroom (moms of small children, you know who you are). No “boss” is walking by occasionally to see if you’re making word count or on deadline: you have to sit yourself down and write. Many prolific and successful writers like E.B. White, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling (and too many others to list without writing a novel-length post) are famous for their disciplined approach to writing. While I’m not in their league, I’ve been a self-supporting writer for nearly 30 years because I place my butt in a chair every single day and write. If you don’t write, you are not a writer. It’s as simple as that.


Spoiler alert: you don’t need talent at all. First of all, no one knows what “talent” is or who has it. If anyone ever tries to tell you that you don’t have a talent for something, just back away from them as quickly as you can. Writing is a learned skill and, just like gymnastics or drawing, some people excel more quickly than others, but those others can learn, and you learn by devoting yourself to the craft. Join writing groups, take classes or attend workshops, get involved in your local writing community, or form a critique group. Also, you’ll learn a lot by reading books that are targeted to writers, such as those I recommend in my first blog post, “From reader to writer.” But above all, you learn by writing. So put your butt in the chair every day and write.


Being a writer is not easy. Anyone can sit and pound on a keyboard—even monkeys and toddlers—but the process of polishing your craft, researching markets, approaching editors and publishers, coming up with ideas, and getting your butt in the chair everyday (whew) can be physically and emotionally draining. Still, if you have the passion for writing and you dedicate yourself to following that passion and you learn from the rejections until they become acceptances, you’ll be well on your way to a rewarding career.


Kelly is leading several writing workshops in October and November at different Library District locations, including Effective Critique Groups, Family Stories, and My Life: Writing Memoir. For full descriptions, locations, days, and times, please visit our Words Fall Programs page.


kelly_pic Kelly Burgess decided she wanted to be a writer after she read Charlotte’s Web in the first grade. She has since had thousands of articles published in magazines, newspapers, and online and mentored dozens of aspiring writers. She currently works as a senior editor for IAC Publishing Labs.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,