Writing Tip #29: What Does It Take to Be a Fiction Writer?

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Hello members of The Ink Well community. Jayna here. In this installment of writing tips, I want to talk about the qualities that are necessary if you want to succeed at writing fiction.

We all perhaps wonder at some point: what is involved in being a fiction writer? If I really want to be great at this, what is it going to take?

Well, no one has the exact formula. And that is perhaps good news and bad news.

  • The good news: You don’t have to be like Stephen King, or Jane Austin, or Kazuo Ishiguro, or Anne Tyler, or James Baldwin, or Raymond Chandler, or Agatha Christie or Douglas Adams… or anyone, but yourself.

  • The bad news: There is no formula. One cannot say, definitively, that if you have some certain set of qualities or skills you will be a great writer, or a successful writer (and of course those two things are not necessarily one and the same).

So then… what does it take? How can we marry our deep desire to produce words that emote - and create drama, beauty, fear or heart pounding suspense - with the “chops” required to succeed?

Let’s discuss.

Qualities of a Fiction Writer

You can actually look this up online and find various lists of the qualities required of fiction writers, but in this post I’m just going to share my personal and humble view on this topic.

I have written dozens and dozens of short stories over the years. I have read far more - hundreds of short stories and novels. (I neglected to keep track.) And I have been involved in multiple writing groups and book clubs. This is the background I bring to bear as I assemble my list of attributes that I think you must have to succeed at this.

Here is my list:

  1. I believe you need to be imaginative on a plane that is above average. Where some people daydream, fiction writers bring story ideas and characters and plots to life as they sit drinking coffee or go walking on a trail. We can’t not create.
  2. You need the discipline to write, whether or not you feel like it, and the tenacity to keep writing when you are blocked by angst or distractions or personal pain. The world is not on your side, my friend. It will continually throw curve balls at you. Your job is to dodge them and keep writing.
  3. You need a thirst to improve. You must bring to this craft a deep desire to constantly make your writing better. If that is not a desire that gnaws at you, I don’t believe you can succeed.
  4. You must be able to self-critique, and you must be willing to listen to criticism from others. These go hand-in-hand with the item above - the thirst to improve. If you work on your own, in a vacuum, you can improve your skills to a degree. But you absolutely must open yourself up to critique and the power of that input to help you achieve your goal to improve and to be great.
  5. You must love the beauty and power of the written word, and its ability to transform. Words on a page are just words on a page. But if you can make them sing… if you can make them reach out and grab a reader by the jugular… if you can make a reader cry, or laugh, or call someone to ask for forgiveness for wrongdoing, simply because of the way you put words together, then you have a critical quality for a writer.

What do you think? What qualities, in your book, are necessary for writing success?

Happy writing!

@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.

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If you're looking to up your fiction game and reach that next level, check out my past writing tips linked below.

Writing Tip #1: Writing from a Prompt

Writing Tip #2: Adding Conflict

Writing Tip #3: Writing What You Know

Writing Tip #4: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

Writing Tip #5: Is ‘Show Don’t Tell’ a Writing Rule?

Writing Tip #6: How Fiction Writing Is Like Weaving

Writing Tip #7: Put It On the Page

Writing Tip #8: What Is a Story Arc?

Writing Tip #9: Should You Plot Your Story?

Writing Tip #10: Don’t Start a Story This Way!

Writing Tip #11: What Is “Writing Voice”?

Writing Tip #12: Reveal Everything and Nothing

Writing Tip #13: Character Types in Fiction

Writing Tip #14: Clichés - Avoid the Conspiratorial Wink

Writing Tip #15: Developing Memorable Characters

Writing Tip #16: Writing Character Descriptions

Writing Tip #17: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writing Tip #18: Don’t Be a Copycat (Plagiarism is Wrong)

Writing Tip #19: Hook Your Readers

Writing Tip #20: Lessons in Tense Part 1

Writing Tip #21: Editing Your Work with Fresh Eyes

Writing Tip #22: We want to hear from you! What do you want to know?

Writing Tip #23: The Value of Workshops and Feedback

Writing Tip #24: What Are Plotters and Pantsers?

Writing Tip #25: Do Short Stories Have to Have a Plot?

Writing Tip #26: Action, Dialog and Narrative: The Dynamic Trio

Writing Tip #27: Let’s Explore World Building

Writing Tip #28: Getting Unstuck in Fiction Writing

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