I’ll get right to the point: Writers with a winning attitude achieve professional status and writers with a poor attitude don’t. Or if they do, I’ve noticed, their success doesn’t last because a poor attitude eventually rears its ugly head and takes a writer down with it.
Which raises the question: What is a winning attitude?
While working on Writer Mama and (somewhat) inspired by Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, I examined the attitudes and habits of my writing mentors and discovered twelve qualities of highly successful writers. Here they are:
1. Determination. Natalie Goldberg is famous for saying that it takes great determination to be a writer, and she could not be more right. Most who have persevered as writers over time have done so because of resolve; some might even say stubbornness. Think about the areas of your life in which you possess great determination.
2. Consistency. Writing is a regular task when you’re a professional. Writing success happens when effort meets opportunity steadily over time, but it takes effort to create opportunity. At the end of the day, it is consistency that sets the flash-in-the-pan successes apart from the lifetime achievement award-winners. Sure, the flash-in-the-pan writer might get some temporary glory, but the writer with staying power is the one who reaps the most satisfaction.
3. Ability to Prioritize. Prioritizing speaks to your ability to know where you are and what needs to happen next. It means you can ask the question, “What is the most important thing I need to do next in order to complete this project?” And then do it. This way, you don’t need to know the future as much as you must navigate your way through your work day by day.
4. Discernment. Discernment comes from taking time for reflection to get a clear “read” on the situation (and remembering to trust your instincts). It’s the ability to consider options you may not have planned for—the ability to say, “Hmm, that’s an interesting proposition. What would happen if I took this assignment?” It’s weighing and measuring options and going with the one that feels the most promising in the moment, which sometimes requires saying, “No thanks” to other opportunities.
5. Creative Thinking. Your capacity for circular, as well as linear, thinking is an asset, not a liability. The key is to know when to go non-linear and when to proceed in a good, orderly direction. A balance between the two is your best bet. If you easily switch back and forth between inspiration and logic, your writing career will surely benefit.
6. Self-Directedness. You are self-directed when you don’t need some¬one else telling you what to do in order to accomplish your goals. You determine on your own what needs to be done and how to proceed. Intuition is definitely an important part of the self-directed writer’s decision-making process. Responding to your internal compass is how writers get from where they are today to where they’d like to be in the future.
7. Responsiveness. Successful writers are a pretty communicative bunch. In order to join their ranks, practice being available, on a reasonable basis, to the outside world. Of course, you can’t be available 24/7, or you would never be able to concentrate on and complete important tasks. But there’s no need to be a hermit—unless you have a deadline looming—then you might want to think of yourself as a hermit-in-training (who still keeps in touch regularly with the family).
8. Detachment. In the writing life there are plenty of opportunities to take things personally—or not. On tough days, when things start to close in around you, take a deep breath—and pull back. Another rejection? They happen. An editor’s comment on your work feels like a zinger. Are you sure? Let it go, or ask for a second opinion. Editors usually go out of their way not to step on a writer’s toes. Once you let the annoying stuff go and get busy again, you’ll realize that you can’t spare the time to obsess about the slight stuff (or at least the stuff that feels like a slight). Remember that you can’t control others. So don’t dwell on it. Be respectful and you’ll get respect.
9. Resilience. Just like daily life, the writing life is full of ups and downs. Writers need to learn how to hit bottom and bounce back. Sometimes you are going to be up, and sometimes you are going to be down. Sometimes you may be both within one day or even one hour. The pros learn to ride the ebb and flow without hanging out too long in either extreme.
10. A positive attitude. Seasoned writers have a natural exuberance that comes from hard-earned success. Why shouldn’t they have something to smile about? And, even if you aren’t a success yet, which writer would editors rather work with again: the one who meets every challenge with an upbeat attitude or the one who meets them grumbling and making excuses?
11. Composure. A little different from detachment, composure isn’t about pulling back; it’s about staying sturdy and riding the waves. This one gets easier over time. In fact, composure is often gained from persevering through trying experiences. It’s about responding to success as well as to disappointment by staying somewhere in the middle. Exuberance is great. Venting frustrations feels good—true. But composure is grand.
12. Conscientiousness. Show me a professional writer and I will show you a person who takes quiet pride in her work, with the patience to go over her words again and again until they are polished just right, until—as one of my students once said—“It sounds like a song with every word exactly right.” On the flip side, a lack of conscientiousness will lead to a lack of opportunities, dissatisfied editors and a hollow feeling inside. Don’t be hard on yourself. Just do the best you can and keep on striving for personal excellence.
Here’s one final conclusion that I’ve drawn from observation over the past six-plus years of working with writers: Those who jump on opportunities to publish achieve publication and those who don’t…well, they don’t, at least not that I hear about.
The bottom line on a winning attitude is that the folks who are ready and willing to work at their writing career and all that it entails quickly reap the benefits. And a winning attitude also helps when facing a learning curve that goes straight up, up, up with no end in sight. I hope this bit of shared research will help you join the ranks of successful writers, whatever that means to you.
Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.