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April 19, 2016

What Helps You BE a Writer?

Underside view of bridge pilings with text: What Enables You to Write?

The journey to writing is filled with many obstacles. We might struggle with time or self-doubt or needing to learn writing craft. No matter how we look at it, the path to writing success is not smooth.

Yet something keeps us going. Something gives us the inspiration or the motivation to travel up that learning curve. Something helps us past that self-doubt. And something forces us to prioritize writing time (sometimes to the detriment of other aspects of our life).

This past weekend, Delilah S. Dawson tweeted (and then Storified the replies) about the three things that helped her become a writer…other than skill.

The Storified collection of replies is fascinating because they show just how much our journeys are unique. But at the same time, many similar answers showed up again and again, so I wondered if we could find meaning in those trends.

Let’s take a closer look at what we can learn from the question: What’s most helpful for us becoming and/or remaining a writer—not including writing skill?

Maybe if we understand what’s currently helping us—and where we might potentially have gaps—we’ll be better prepared to face our obstacles now and into the future. *smile*

#1: Internal Characteristics of Writers

Outside of any writing skill that we may or may not have, we also bring other aspects of ourselves to the writing-journey table. We might have personality traits that help us want to be a writer, such as a love of storytelling or a desire to entertain, educate, or inspire others.

Or we might have personality traits that help us stick with writing, even during the bad times. As Delilah mentioned in her post, stubbornness (tenacity, perseverance, determination, etc.) ranks high in many of the replies.

We might have enough of an ego that we think others are interested in what we have to say. Or we might have a desire to prove ourselves worthy of being listened to.

We might be so clueless that we blithely stumble our way through, never realizing how many odds are stacked against us until we’ve already made it past the gauntlet. Or we might have fairly thick skin that allows us to bounce back from setbacks.

We might be so laid back that we succeed simply because we never bother giving up. Or we might be so disciplined that we don’t let anything stand in our way.

Hope can guide us, self-doubt can present us with a challenge to overcome, or boredom can inspire us with brainstorming-filled ideas. Passion can drive us, patience can help us see our way through the long journey, or curiosity can make us wonder “what if.”

In short, while no one thing will make or break our journey—as there are many traits here that will help us get there—we probably need something inside us that pushes us to continue. If we don’t have the internal desire or yearning to write, no outside forces will be enough.

An outside force, such as the need for money, can drive internal aspects for the short-term. After all, desperation can be powerful as well. But when faced with setbacks like rejections or low sales, only those with internal forces will continue to write.

#2: Support Structure of Writers

It’s rare for writers to succeed without any support. Some of us are blessed to have a family that encourages us and maybe even financially supports us through our writing and publishing journey. But not all of us have that form of support, so where else can we find it?

For some writers, friends might fill the support gap. Or maybe we had a teacher encourage us when we were young.

Once we’re published, our readers might cheer our progress and motivate us to continue. Or maybe an agent or editor convinces us that we can meet the challenge and has our back when bad things happen.

However, for many writers, the main support we get is from other writers. Writing groups, beta readers, and critique partners can all give us encouragement when we think our work sucks. We might hang out with other writers on social media, online writing groups, or forums. Or we might find inspiration in the craft books from other writers.

Wherever we find support, we find people willing to help talk us off the rejection/bad-review edge or others patient with our self-doubting neuroses. We find encouragement to push through our obstacles and to try again another day.

We find sounding boards to bounce brainstorming ideas off of or a fist bump to back us up when we decide to ignore bad advice. We find knowledge for research questions and a strong push to get us to the next level.

In short, we can find healthy external inspiration and motivation to continue writing. While these external sources can’t take the place of our internal traits, they’re often just what we need to get us out of ruts in our thought processes, whether we’re talking about our stories or our self-beliefs.

#3: Tricks and Tools of Writers

Sometimes in our writing journey we find tricks or tools that give us the strength, organization, or ability to continue. Many writers point to coffee, alcohol, or insomnia for giving them the means to write.

Other writers give their thanks for computer programs that help them organize their thoughts or writing. Anything from timers to word-processing programs can help us reach “The End.”

We writers tend to swap recommendations for writing books like others exchange business cards. Many swear by X book for helping them understand the business, Y book for providing the key to comprehending an aspect of the craft, and Z book for the encouragement to write and the trust that we’ll improve down the line.

We might bring extra skills in business, marketing, or website design from our day-job life. Or we might just chalk our success so far up to luck.

Our day job might provide the financial freedom to pursue our writing dream. Or that job might be such a nightmare that it gives us the inspiration to escape to our writing career.

A lifelong love of reading and books might inspire us to join the author ranks. Or pride in our professionalism might help us see the project through to the end.

Whatever the specifics, just as our support structure is filled with enabling people, we might also have access to enabling things. This enabling can be a good thing if it helps us reach our dreams.

What Helps Us Depends on What We Need

If we all listed our Top 3 Factors in Our Writing Journey, each list would be unique. Just as our characters have different strengths and weaknesses, so do we have different needs.

Some of us might list three items all falling under Support Structure because those are the most helpful things for us and our current situation. Others might see a lot of external aspects like luck or previous business experience as being most helpful.

Our lists might change over time too. What helps us through the long, steep learning curve of writing craft might be different from what helps us tackle the business aspect of publishing.

How Can Understanding Our Lists and Needs Help?

I wanted to come up with these lists and categories because we’re all going to struggle sometimes. We all going to have bad days where our self-doubts are stronger, where the rejections pile up, or where the obstacles are more daunting.

By seeing all the different ways that we might find the motivation to continue, I hope that we’ll all have ideas for where to look the next time we need a push or encouragement.

Or if we’re not having a particularly bad day, but we’re still feeling iffy about our ability to continue, maybe these lists will give us ideas for what areas we might be lacking the help or support we need.

If we’re surrounded by a support structure, but we’re just not feeling it inside, this list might help us focus on what we’re bringing to the table. Etc., etc.

As for me, my list for “how I got here and how I continue to be a writer” would look like:

  1. supportive family who encourages me and enables my dreams and writing friends who have made me feel that this life is where I belong
  2. recognition of my lifelong love of storytelling—from my childhood imagination to my long history with Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop games—that convinced me that writing was what I was meant to do and that this wasn’t just a flighty idea
  3. life experiences that gave me knowledge of everything from the internet and project management to editing and entrepreneurship, allowing me to help other writers and support my publishing path

In a way, my list is like a summary of my life so far, which goes along with the “how I got here” idea. It was a long, winding road with many dead-ends and zigzags, but those experiences now help my writing, so it’s all good. *smile*

Have you ever thought about how you’ve reached as far as you have? Or what keeps you writing despite the obstacles? What would your Top 3 list be? Would your list be a mix of different elements or more focused? Would a different mix be more helpful to you in the future?

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12 Comments on "What Helps You BE a Writer?"

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Julie Glover

Love this, Jami! What a great list. For myself, I’ll go with these three:
1. A love of books fostered by literary minded parents, great schoolteachers, libraries, and more. That has given me a strong sense of the importance of storytelling, making me want to play a role in that world.
2. Supportive family and friends, and now an agent, who believe in me at those times when I’m not sure I believe in myself. They remind me that I can achieve what sometimes feels like a dream.
3. Enough experience with other jobs to know that I don’t want to do anything else. That may seem like a negative, but writing (and teaching) has always been my favorite part of any job and I don’t want to go back and do other tasks. Thus, I’m motivated to make this work.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

My top 3 list:

1. My absolute, crazy obsession with my story characters and their relationships. I keep fantasizing about their romances especially, hahaha.

2. My adoration of writing. Some writers mention that they find coming up with great ideas much more fun than the actual writing. But interestingly, I find the actual writing a lot more fun than the idea generation part (if I go through this brainstorming phase at all, lol.) It’s partly because I pants, so I get lots of exciting surprises and twists; partly because I find something so intrinsically enjoyable about using and choosing words to convey meaning; and partly because I love that magical feeling of being in another world with my characters when I’m writing. 😀

3. My sense of duty, perseverance, and patience to finish my books. This is a bit tied to my ego, in that I feel I have earned a reputation amongst my friends in being more perseverant than the average person, at least on projects I like, lol. So I take pride on this strength and make use of it. 😀

Kassandra Lamb

Love this post, Jami! Hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to hold out on you and save my list, because your post has inspired me to write one of my own, expanding this idea to choosing (and succeeding in) any vocation.

Carradee

Have you ever thought about how you’ve reached as far as you have? Or what keeps you writing despite the obstacles?

Considering it’s by the grace of God that I’m even alive, yes. There were points in elementary school where, if I hadn’t already been familiar with logical thinking or thinking in the long term, I probably would’ve killed myself. That’s aside from the persistent accidents that kept happening.

Have you ever thought about […] what keeps you writing despite the obstacles?

Every so often, someone comments that something I wrote was well-said or really resonated with them or helps them notice something they didn’t realize, before.

What would your Top 3 list be? Would your list be a mix of different elements or more focused? Would a different mix be more helpful to you in the future?

My top 3: interest, encouragement, and accountability. A reader asking for the next update helps me work on that update.

Writers write. So you have to keep writing. Find someone—anyone—to encourage you and sometimes as you how the writing’s doing. Make yourself a Stickk goal, get a beta buddy, find a friend who’s willing to ask even if they don’t write or read themselves. Find SOMEONE.

That someone can even be an author you particularly enjoy or connect with, where reading their work encourages you to write. That can be an online community where you have

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[…] There’s a lot of emotion that goes into being a writer—it’s as much a test of will as of craft. Julie Musil discusses how to deal with rejection and not waste your talent, Kennedy Quinn explains why she is writing it forward, and Jami Gold explores what helps you BE a writer. […]

Tamara

My list of three:
1) A creative mind that doesn’t stop creating. I was influenced to write by my dislike of writing, so I’m up for the challenge that writing presents to me. I’m writing a photography book and a screenplay at the same time in addition to my blog and newspaper work. Talk about a challenge.
2) A room devoted to writing. It’s a third bedroom that was once for exercise, but now it’s for creativity.
3) Supportive audience at home and on Facebook. They get to go through my ideas before anyone else.

Mike

A writer’s passion has to burn strong, because setbacks are inevitable, and only an inner fire can keep you going sometimes.

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[…] What Helps You BE a Writer? […]

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[…] was inspired by a recent post by author and editor, Jami Gold–What Helps You BE a Writer? She lists several internal traits and external factors that can help writers be successful (i.e., […]

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