5 Qualities More Important Than Talent for a Successful Writing Career

Shannon Hilson

If you’ve ever been worried you’ll never make it as a writer because you’re not “talented” enough, this is for you.

(Photo by Alexandra Fuller on Unsplash)

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone’s response to finding out I’m a full-time writer was to tell me they wish they were talented so they could do the same thing. I wish I had two dollars for every blank stare I’ve received after telling someone talent had nothing to do with how I built my writing business and eventually made a success out of it.

Talent is great and all, but it’s not worth much all by itself. If you have it, you might catch on a little faster than average when you’re learning the ropes, but that’s about it. The world is filled with talented people who never make real progress toward their goals because they aren’t willing to put in the work to develop their gifts into viable skills.

So, if you really want to turn your writing into a decent way to earn a living someday, stop worrying about whether or not you’re talented. Evaluate yourself for qualities like these instead. They’ll get you a lot closer to where you want to be.

1. Unshakeable Persistence

Growing up, I heard that I was stubborn a lot. Once I made my mind up that I was going to do something specific, you couldn’t tell me a damn thing that was going to stop me. It didn’t matter how slim the odds were that I’d ever get it, either. I’d go after it like a cheetah on steroids until I either had it or had something I thought was just as good.

The funny thing about stubbornness is that people only call it that when they think it’s not going to get you anywhere. Once they realize you might be onto something, they start calling it “persistence” instead. It’s also something that will take you pretty far if you want to be a writer.

Aspiring writers deal with a lot of naysayers. Their friends don’t take them seriously. Their parents tell them to pick something a lot more stable (and a lot less exciting) to do for a living. They hear “no” a lot once they start pursuing their chosen path in earnest, as well. They also keep going anyway because that’s how they’re wired. They’re determined to get what they want or die trying.

2. Genuine Passion for Your Craft

I didn’t always know I was meant to be a writer, but it probably should have been obvious in retrospect. From the time I was a little girl, I thought about words all the time. If I wasn’t making up stories or scribbling away in one of my journals, I was probably reading as if my life depended on it.

Even when I got older, I could hardly wait until my shift was over at whatever depressing job I was working; I was so jazzed to get home and write. Everything that happened to me, right down to everyday conversations with friends, became the potential inspiration for future writings. I may not be quite as energetic now that I’m getting older, but I more or less still think that way.

Turning your writing into a viable way to make a living isn’t easy. However, if you’re passionate enough about what you’re doing, you’re not going to care how hard it is. You’ll continue to write because you won’t know how not to. You’ll write because when you’re not writing, you just plain don’t feel like yourself.

3. Willingness to Learn

A genuine love for writing is a good start, but — like talent — it’s not enough to get you all the way there. The ability to write well isn’t about having gotten straight A’s in school or being an ace with grammar and spelling. It’s a skill you learn and perfect through good, old-fashioned hard work.

I don’t care how great your grade school teacher told you you were at writing or how neat your mom thinks your stories are. Even a good writer can always stand to be better. Seize every opportunity you can to learn and improve. Take masterclasses. Read books on writing, and listen to advice from other writers who are where you’d like to be one day.

Be teachable, as well. When you’re lucky enough to receive feedback from an editor or an honest critique from a more experienced peer, carefully consider what they have to say. Use it to make yourself better, and then practice so much you can’t help but improve.

4. Enjoyment of Your Own Company

No one’s saying you have to be a dyed-in-the-wool introvert if you want to be a writer. There are plenty of successful writers out there who are social and love being around other people. However, they also possess the ability to bubble themselves off from the rest of the world and focus when they need to.

There’s no wrong way to do this, so how you get into the right headspace to write is entirely up to you. I personally write best when I’m all by myself. Sometimes that looks like holing up in my bedroom with the door shut after dinner. Other times it means spending an hour or two on the office computer in the morning before anyone else in the house is up. For many of my writing friends, it means grabbing a table at their favorite cafe, putting on their noise-canceling headphones, and getting to work over a latte.

Whatever little corner of the world you transform into your own personal writing studio, you need to be comfortable enough with your own company to focus. Talking about writing isn't going to make you successful. Only buckling down and getting to work is going to do that.

5. Good Old-Fashioned Luck

I’m a control freak, so it truly pains me to admit that luck has anything to do with a person’s writing success, but that doesn’t make it any less true. So many of the big turning points in my writing career had to do with being in the right place at the right time. Others happened because of small things I did on a whim that turned out to be damned good ideas later.

There have been silly ideas that just took off for what felt like no good reason and happy coincidences that meant the right person saw my work at precisely the right time. I couldn’t have predicted any of those things, but I’m also positive none of them would have happened if I hadn’t been working so hard at what I do.

So, yeah, the bad news is you’ll probably need to get a little lucky at some point if you’re serious about writing for a living. But the good news is that the harder you work and the more you write, the greater your odds of something incredible happening. Every turn at bat is another chance to slam one clear out of the park, so make sure you take as many of those opportunities as possible.

I’m not saying talent is useless or that it isn’t going to help you make your dreams come true. It’s improbable that it’s going to get you there all by itself, though. Ultimately, you’re better off being a really hard worker with a drive to succeed than you are a talented genius who just sits around waiting for success to fall in your lap. I know which one I’d rather be.

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Shannon Hilson is a full-time freelance copywriter, blogger, critic, and journalist. She is proud to have called Monterey, California her home since childhood.

Monterey, CA

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