Every writer wants to know what it takes to be successful. Guest author and book-marketing manager Christian Fink-Jensen shares his knowledge about the qualities you need to be a successful author.
by Christian Fink-Jensen
I’m sure it’s happened to you. You’re chatting with someone — perhaps on the bus, or at a kitchen party — and you mention you’re working on a book. Before you can even talk about the idea, they’re already responding. “Oh yeah,” they say, “I’ve got a killer idea for a book, too! I just can’t find the time to work on it.”
In fact, most people think they could write a novel if only they had the time. Or a quiet space. Or the right software. Or a mug that says “I turn coffee into books.” (My personal superstitions are the right pen or the perfect font.) By some estimates, for every hundred people who start writing a book, just three actually reach their goal. And for those who actually do finish, hardly any of them actually publish their work.
Still, there are thousands of people who do complete one or twenty books. What do they have that so many others do not? Why can Clarissa write 3000 words a week, while John can barely manage more than date, title, and an opening paragraph?
As it turns out, there are several qualities that separate actual productive writers from those who merely have great intentions (and we all know where those go). Here are six of the most important.
First and foremost, a successful author needs to be creative. That might sound obvious, but what exactly is creativity? Not every author thinks up fantasy worlds full of castles and dragons, but if you want to be an author, you need to develop idea generation skills.
The good news is that you don’t need to be a manic super-genius to be creative. The crux of creativity is combining existing things in new ways. Sure, your plot may still be boy-meets-girl, but then add in something unexpected, unrelated. Corporate espionage. A shoe factory fire. A surly uncle come back from the dead. And even here, you don’t have to do it all on your own. Be a collector. If you see something interesting and inspirational in a newspaper, cut it out, and make an ideas box for future reference.
Creativity isn’t just something people are born with, it’s a skill that any author can develop.
Excellent Observational Skills
One thing that every single successful author has in common is a deep interest in people and the workings of other people’s minds. Even if you want to write hardcore science fiction, you need to create characters that will catch your readers’ attention and hearts to go alongside the robots and rocket ships.
Listen to the way people talk when you’re out by yourself. Overhear conversations on the bus and in coffee shops and start to make up your own scenarios about other people and their inner worlds. Trying to make sense of those inner worlds and creating stories based off them is a habit worth developing. Who knows, perhaps you might become the next Sherlock Holmes.
A lot of amateur writers only write when the “muses” visit them or when they feel inspired, but if you’re serious about completing a book that does justice to your inner vision, you need be determined enough to make writing your everyday job. Writing isn’t just something you enjoy; it’s something that you need to do no matter how you feel.
It’s a good idea to have a weekly quota of words that you must hit — five hundred words a day may not sound like much but it means that you’ll have written a novel in a year.
The first step to completing your book is… actually writing it. A thought that kept me going during the many difficult stages of writing Aloha Wanderwell my last book was that there were, at any given moment, literally thousands of writers around the world thinking I would rather apply sunscreen to a stranger’s back than write one more sentence. In other words, you’re not alone.
A Thick Skin and a Supporting Cast
Related to the above, virtually every writer experiences rejection. JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series was rejected by dozens of literary agencies and publishers before it found a home and its immense success. You must remember that it’s important to get constructive criticism. Advanced tools like Fictionary and expert publishing services from companies like FriesenPress will help you refine and improve your book in ways you simply couldn’t do by yourself. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.
By nature we are emotionally attached to our work. It may hurt to rip it apart, but you need to view it with objective eyes and take other people’s advice into account. Trust me, I know this first hand. For the book I mentioned above, my publisher insisted I reduce the manuscript length by 70,000 words. I can’t begin to tell you how many fantastic, beautifully written and totally unnecessary sentences I had to delete.
Having your writing critiqued can hurt but it’s a necessary process to go through multiple times on the road to publication.
A Love of Writing
Every wannabe author needs to sincerely love writing. No, you won’t be burning up the keyboard every day. Some days will be painful and some will be dreary, but you need to love writing and literature and the stories that you’re telling. Writing is not a way to make millions (darn). But it is a fantastically powerful way to communicate what’s in your mind and your heart to your readers.
In other words, play. Have fun. Go ahead and make writing your job but don’t let it just be work. Read some Jabberwocky and fall in love with the transcendent loveliness of words on paper.
In the end, the most important thing about being an author is that you must keep writing — through rejections and through writer’s block just get those words down on the page. Day by day you’ll get closer and closer to the goal of completion. Before you know it, you’ll have a book you’ll be proud to sign.
Christian Fink-Jensen is a widely published writer with work appearing in more than 50 magazines and newspapers across Canada and around the world. His latest book, Aloha Wanderwell, was published in 2016 and is a Canadian bestseller. He is represented by agents in Toronto and Hollywood. He is currently the marketing manager at FriesenPress.
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