Every now and again I share some writerly advice from other more successful writers here. As a writer, I believe we never stop learning and this is my way of having you along with me as I nurture my own limited skill and attempt to sway Lady Luck to cast her eyes favorably upon me.
Mark Lawrence, bestselling author of The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War trilogies, published a blog post a while ago where he and two other authors delve into the questions of luck and skill and the roles these play in finding writing success. I saw certain themes repeated there and it reminded me how we as writers share similar fears and insecurities. We also have access to the same basic tools.
Below you’ll find a few excerpts that I think are foundational to a writer’s mindset. However, I urge you to read the blog post in its entirety as it attempts to answer the following:
i) Are hard work and skill sufficient to assure writing success, or is a large measure of luck required?
ii) Is the skill element also due to hard work, or is the skill mostly written into our DNA such that hard work can uncover it if it’s there, but if it’s not there then no amount of hard work is going to get you to the necessary level of talent?
From Mark Lawrence:
“I’ve always felt that the odds against publication are long however skilled a writer you might be, and that achieving the ‘required’ level of skill simply buys you a lottery ticket. You then need to be lucky. Others disagree and maintain that skill will win out. Of course what constitutes sufficient skill is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder, and it’s essentially impossible to judge how good your own work is by any useful metric.”
From Django Wrexler:
“…if you really love what you’re doing, then you can keep doing it, and accept that it may not ever be enough to make money. If you really want to pursue making a living at it, you need to change up what you’re trying to sell. Try a new style, try a new genre, get some criticism outside your usual circles and stretch beyond your comfort zone to address it. Most of the time, when I see someone who has worked for a long time without success, they’ve fallen into a comfortable groove and stopped improving their work; it’s easy to do, but it means nothing’s going to change.”
From Myke Cole:
“The odds are just as long for all of us, and the only difference between myself and anyone else is that I have made the continuous decision to get up every morning and stay in the fight. I’ve met with some success that way, but I take each accolade with the full knowledge that my momentum could stall at any time. That every novel is my debut. It never gets any easier”
As for me, the best advice I keep hearing is that to grow as a writer you need to write a lot, every day if you can. This seems obvious. With most things, if you do it often enough, you are bound to get better at it, if you pay your attempts enough attention, that is. The second thing is, you have to read just as much. Reading teaches you how other writers write. Remember the post about Hemingway and Gaiman? They did the same, even emulated other authors they admired.
Whether you have talent or not, you’ll learn from others and over time you’ll develop a feeling for things. If you worry that you’re not good enough, don’t fret. Most of us live with that fear. The key is to not spend time worrying about it but to focus on your writing. Remember, you are writing because you love writing. Something is compelling you to paint with words. That feeling, that impulse is the key to your success and should be strong enough to overpower doubt and fear. Not vanquish them, just wrestle them into submission so that you have space to work.
I keep changing things up. Right now I get up at 4 a.m. and write for two hours before the little ones wake up, and then it’s bustling time to get them ready for school before I go to work. Most writers agree you need luck to succeed in this industry. Most writers also agree that you get luckier the harder you work. So, although you can’t control luck, you can at least increase your chances of getting lucky.
I’ll let Mark Lawrence have the last say because in the end, no matter how hard you work or how talented you are, or even how lucky you get, it comes down to the quality of your writing:
“So write because you enjoy it, but write with passion, be honest, write like your life depends on it, tell your secrets to the page. If it matters to you, it might matter to the reader.”
You can read Mark’s post in its entirety here.
Enjoy your weekend!