Six Things You Must Have to be a Writer

by Nancie Carmichael


1. The desire to write.

Can you not write? Then you are a writer. Honor it; acknowledge it. The passion to write is a life-long pursuit that you must prioritize. I remember being in my early 20’s and feeling a strong desire to write, yet it seemed such an impossible dream. I kept trying, though, and wrote whenever I could. I wrote spasmodically in a journal late at night; while the children were napping. I wrote reflections about what it meant to be a new mom, my worries and my fears. As I look back, I see how important it was that I fed that desire to write, even though I couldn’t pursue it full time. I took a writer’s course; I began collecting books by authors on writing, and picked their brains from afar. I went to a writer’s conference. The desire to write has been, and remains a life-long pursuit.

2. The will to embrace your life.

Embrace life where you are; not where you wish you were. Embrace your own unique life (now!) in all its messy, wonderful complexity. This makes for authentic writing. Andwhile you’re living, write about it, journal it. Don’t write past the pain or disappointment; nor over it. Write through it. Cultivate honesty in your writing. Keeping a journal is helpful in order to write your emotions, even if it is a sentence or two. Remember that some of your life’s material is not ready yet for publication, that it belongs in the journal. Even though it’s really hot stuff. Think of it as ingredients in a crock-pot. Some things need time to simmer awhile. Meanwhile, live.

3. The choice to take your writing seriously.

Call yourself a writer. The most important person you must convince that you are a writer is yourself. If you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. The first person to go over Niagara Falls was a retired school teacher in her 60’s, Annie Taylor. It was October 24, 1901. She desperately needed funds, and basically did it for the money. She said, “Sometimes the best cheerleader you can have is yourself.” Encourage your self, even if no one else is right at the moment!

To show that you take your writing seriously, invest in your writing. Get up early to read and write. If you are serious about writing, make a commitment to it.

4. The courage to risk.

Start somewhere. Submit your material (after researching the best place to send it). Actually getting something in print is a great motivator to keep going and gives you that much-needed hope. Write letters to the editor, or begin with a blog. I got my toe in the door by writing book reviews, which was a great place to learn to recognize good writing and the discipline of word count.

If you feel passionate about something, write about it. Many magazines and newspapers, as well as online magazines and blogs offer places for opinion pieces. Editors need to fill the pages, and they’re always looking for an articulate opinion about something. I wrote an opinion piece for The Oregonian, and it was accepted. Chances are, if you feel strongly about something, other people will also.

5. The discipline to work.

Make writing a habit. It’s work, a discipline. Don’t wait for the rare moments of inspiration. Put your seat in front of your computer, open a document, and start. Just do it. Persistence Pays! I could spend a lot of time on this point, because it’s probably the most important one. And once your book is published, you’ve just begun. It’s like having a baby: You now have the responsibility to “raise” the child. Writing is a demanding (yet-oh-so fulfilling!) commitment.

Don’t submit your article or book to someone until you’re ready for it to be ready. Edit your own work, first. You can and should be your own best editor.

6. The grace to accept criticism.

This is huge. Rejection is a form of criticism. Learn from it. Try to get a response from the editor as to why the piece was rejected. There are lots of reasons why a manuscript is rejected: It may not fit the venue; the magazine/publisher may have another that’s too similar. Or it may need so much editing it’s too much trouble for them to use. It may be bad writing, and lack focus.

Get feedback from an objective, honest person (not your mother!) on your piece before you submit it. Here’s an important reminder: Stay in the required word length. Often a piece is rejected because it’s too long (or too short). Editors simply don’t have time to work on it, unless it’s really, really good. And, please be original! The world doesn’t need one more Purpose-Driven Life, or Left Behind; or Jesus Calling.


Finally…You need Hope!

There’s a lot of information on how to make a sizzling book proposal, how to have great writing technique. And these are necessary tools a writer needs. However, the thing you need most is the will to keep writing. We writers all need encouragement. We all need Hope. We all need to know we’re not alone and to keep writing when everything inside us is screaming, “Just give up!”

You’ve probably heard this story before, but it bears repeating. John Grisham had a job as a young attorney that paid well enough, but he dreamed of writing. Writing was his true passion. He started getting up at five every morning to get to work early and scribble fiction on a yellow legal pad. At night he would pound out another page or two on an old Smith-Corona word processor resting on a board wedged between the washer and dryer in the laundry room of a three bedroom ranch home he shared with his wife and infant son. It was slow going, but after three years of this, he had a manuscript.

He sent it to dozens of literary agents and publishers whose names he got from a guidebook. All sent it back. An agent finally agreed to take him on, one not considered particularly prestigious. After several more rejections, this agent sold John’s novel to an obscure publisher in Connecticut.

That publisher paid a modest advance, then sold very few of the 5,000 copies. In the meantime, he’d completed a second novel. His agent had trouble selling that one, too. John almost lost hope and wondered whether he should quit. Then some studio scouts in Hollywood heard about his second novel and began a bidding war against each other for the rights. Paramount won, paying $600,000 for the privilege of making it into a movie. That aroused the interest of publishers, and Doubleday offered $200,000 for The Firm.

Writing can be lonely and discouraging, but remember that most successful writers were once discouraged ones. Here are some inspiring examples:
• Frank Peretti’s first novel, This Present Darkness, was rejected by many major Christian publishers before it was published by Crossway Publishers and became a huge success

• Peter Drucker published his first novel at age seventy-two

• Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first novel at age sixty-five, and her best ones in her seventies.

• Twenty major publishers thought Chicken Soup for the Soul had no commercial prospects

• A dozen agents chose not to represent J.K.Rowling.

• Beatrix Potter had to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Persistence, discipline, and hard work eventually bring results.
Nancie Carmichael is the author of many books including Lord, Bless My Child (with her husband, Bill); Your Life, God’s Home; Praying for Rain; Desperate for God; Selah—Time to Stop, Think and Step into Your Future, and other books.
She and her husband Bill are publishers of Deep River Boo