The three ingredients of writing success

I had an interesting conversation after the last Writers of Whitstable group.

It went a bit like this…

“Sandra is such a good writer, she is so obviously talented! I love everything she does, but why doesn’t she want to write something that stands more chance of selling?”

“Graham is so hardworking and dedicated, I just know he’s going to get somewhere. You really need that kind of discipline. I just think he needs to learn a bit more about story structure.”

“Tom came along this week, he had such an amazing idea for a story. I’m still thinking about his story – I’d buy the book. I just don’t know if he’ll ever get to the end of anything, he has such a busy life.”

Names have been changed to protect my poor group members, and I am a writer so all of the above is embellished..!

But the point is, most of the writers in the Writers of Whitstable group demonstrate strength in their writing, but lack all the qualities I think an agent or publisher will be hoping to see.

I believe those three magic ingredients are:

  • Hard work
  • A great idea
  • Talent or writing craft

I see 2 or 3 of these thing in most projects, but it seems almost impossible to have all 3 going on in any one work. I count myself in on this too, I’d say my current project is written well enough (for a first draft) but I don’t think the idea’s hugely marketable, and I’ve stalled at 25,000 words. Somehow my dedication dribbled away in the last few months.

Here’s a few thoughts on each factor, I hope it may help me with my writing problems, and maybe it will help you too.

Hardwork and dedication

You know, some writer’s say ‘I’m going to write every day’ and they actually do it. Or else they set a deadline for a project, and you know they’re going to make that deadline. These are the writers who turn in something in at every monthly meeting. They have the essential writer’s tool of being hard working writers.

Often these writers have time to write, but some have full time jobs and/or families, but despite that they find a writing routine that works for them.

This is definitely something every writer can aspire to. I think sometimes finding the right project can inspire the dedication to write 1000 words at 7am before work each day.

Marketability and great ideas

Some writers come along to the group, and they talk easily about their story idea and other books that are similar. They’ve clearly thought about the selling side of writing.

Sometimes the writers who seem to be ‘good at ideas’ cleverly self select. They’ll talk about a few ideas, then describe why they’re writing what they’re writing. They seem to have a knack of knowing that your first communication with any future reader is the, ‘So what’s it all about?’

When they get that right, they make me want to read page one, and all the rest.

I think this is something any writer can achieve. Often writers write from the heart, choosing a project that is close to them, but I think most projects can be tweaked to fit a genre, or to maximise the ‘ooh, I want to read that!’ factor.

I know when I write short stories I regularly write the first thing that pops into my head,  I know I should think of four or five ideas and select the best.

Talent or writer’s craft

Sometimes you begin to read, and pages get turned, time passes and you lose yourself in a story. I believe this kind of ‘talent’ in writing is earned through experience, reading thoughtfully, and listening to feedback.

The reason I believe the craft of writing can be learned is because most amateur writer’s who make me think, ‘They’re great!’ have been writing for a long time and rewrite a lot. I feel sure practice and a perfectionist streak count.

The flipside to this ‘talent’ point is that my idea of ‘excellent’ could be someone else’s ‘mediocre’, so perhaps another part of a writer’s skill is presenting your work to the right reader?

I expect that there are a lot more than three things to thing about on the way to writing  success, but these three thing are things I’ll be thinking about as I get back to my novel. I’ll be tweaking it to fit a genre (good idea) getting back to my 300 words a day routine (hard work) and listening to feedback and rewriting a lot (craft.) Let me know if you have any tips at the next Writers of Whitstable group!


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