I’ve been participating in the June 2022 #writerfriendschallenge on Instagram, which has been a fun series of prompts about all things writerly. Today’s prompt was “What traits make good writers?” My response was too long for an Instagram caption, so I’ve expanded upon it here.

Please take my opinions with a grain of salt. I am a professional technical writer, but I am not a professional creative writer. I have no formal education or impressive accomplishments in the realm of fiction.

Continue reading for my list!

1

THEY work TO LEARN, grow, and improve

There is no such thing as perfection. No matter how much you have accomplished, how long you have been doing something, and how pleased you are with yourself, there is always room to learn and improve.

If you are a fledgling writer who feels discouraged at times, keep this in mind. We are all learning. Room to grow is a good thing. As long as you embrace the challenge and keep going, you’ll get to where you want to be. (Unless where you want to be is perfection, because that doesn’t exist.)

2

They read voraciously

Most successful writers are also prolific readers. You can take classes on storytelling and language, but the only way to develop a true understanding of what makes a story work is to read as much as you can.

When you read things you like, you gain an understanding of what pacing, tone, and structure just feel right.

When you read things that you don’t like and you take the time to think about why, you start to identify specific things to avoid in your own writing.

Reading also enhances creativity. It works your imagination far more than watching a television show does. Instead of passively consuming the sights and sounds of a story, you need to work to visualize the words on a page.

3

They accept and give feedback

Nothing improved my writing more than joining a critique group. It helped me get over my fears of sharing my work in a relatively private space, it helped me grow a thicker skin, and it helped me see things in my writing that I had been too close to see myself.

I didn’t expect, however, that critiquing other writers’ work would be just as, if not more, valuable to my growth as a writer.

Reading to critique is so different from reading for pleasure. To write an effective critique, you can’t only point out what works for you and what doesn’t. You have to understand and explain why.

Learning to analyze writing in that way makes you more aware of what will strengthen or weaken your own writing.

4

They learn the rules

I can be a stickler for grammar and style.

I’m by no means perfect (see #1), but writing that is full of grammar, style, and vocabulary errors and inconsistencies distracts me from the story. And in fiction, you do not want the writer to fall out of the story so that they can try and parse a confusing line.

I do not  think the typical fiction writer needs a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style as a reference. I do think it’s worth making sure that you understand the rules of grammar and the basics of writing style to be a decent fiction writer.

Do not just learn the guidelines, though. Work to understand the purpose of these rules. At their heart, the rules of writing exist to ensure that writing is clear and readable. 

Rules are meant to be broken, but when you understand the purpose of each rule, you can decide when breaking them enhances your piece. 

5

They avoid comparisons

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” said someone who was probably not Theodore Roosevelt or Mark Twain, but who made a really good point nonetheless.

In virtually every aspect of life, someone is going to be better than you and someone is going to be worse than you. If you measure yourself against others, you’re not only going to be miserable—you’re not going to be doing your best work to continually improve and grow.

It’s not just about measuring quality or success, either.

It is so easy to look at how other writers work and compare your process against theirs. It doesn’t help that so many writers share their processes as if they are the only correct way of doing things.

Social media is full of writers telling other writers how to work:

Write every day.
Write for at least two hours straight or not at all.
Set a daily word count goal and hit it.
Draft as quickly as you can and don’t look back until the draft is done.
Wake up at the crack of dawn to write first thing.

I cannot do any of those things without sacrificing my sanity or the quality of m y writing. It took me way too long to realize that it’s ok. We all have different brains and different learning and working styles. There is nothing wrong with you if the typical writing process advice doesn’t fit into your life.

I didn’t write any fiction that I liked until I stopped forcing myself to other writers’ methods and processes. 

Fast drafting doesn’t work for everyone. Rigid routines do not work for everyone. Word count goals do not work for everyone. Not everyone can write every day. Not everyone has the ability to form coherent thoughts before seven in the morning. It’s fine.

What do you think about these traits? I would genuinely love to hear whether you agree or disagree, and if you have ideas for other traits that make a good writer. Please comment with your thoughts!

 

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