what is the secret to being a successful writer?

yurt When we think of successful creative people we tend to think of artistic geniuses like Shakespeare or Michael Angelo or Wordsworth or Mary Shelly … you know who I mean, special people. However, research shows categorically that there is no specific personality type associated with creativity. In other words being creative is not just about special people doing special things. Turns out we all have creative abilities but we’re not always sure how to tap into them.

pat b One way we can  tap into our creativity is by working hard at something, keeping going regardless. If we persevere, nine times out of ten that eureka moment will happen. For us writers, this can mean setting out to write with little or no idea of how our story will finish. Possibly pegging away for what seems forever before a creative light bulb moment. You’ve heard that phrase, coined by the writing guru Robert McKee, “writing is a discovery we rarely know where we are going …”?  This is what we mean by it.

Now, pegging away is fine but it takes courage and blind faith to boldly keep writing when you’ve not sure where you’re headed, especially when there are no guarantees. After all, it’s not a foregone conclusion we’ll have our eureka moment every time. There will be mistakes. We may even end up with  something we’re never happy with. But you must not be discouraged. The acclaimed writer Pat Barker has three unpublished novels in her drawer. These unpublished novels did not stop her being a success.

So, what does this research mean for you, the emerging writing? It means there is no secret to being successful. You can be a success if you:

stop worrying about having a special writing gene (we all do it!) because there isn’t such a thing

have a little bit of courage

a lot of blind faith

and don’t give up!

It won’t necessarily be easy, all that pegging away takes time, so you’ll have to find some, but as long as  if you have the guts and the will to do it, you can be a successful writer.

‘One of the great secrets of success is “pegging away.” No disappointment must discourage, and a run back must often be allowed, in order to take a longer leap forward.’          

Amelia E Barr

Have you ever  struggled to finish writing a story? What made you carry on? Or did you stop?  Are you struggling to finish something now? What is the hardest part about “pegging away”? I’d love to hear from you, so do leave a comment 🙂




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15 Responses to what is the secret to being a successful writer?

  1. Katie says:

    Hi Marianne.

    Great blog post and very interesting question.

    I think people see success in different ways, because everyone vision for themselves is different. When I think of successful/ creative people. I often think of the people I’ve known who has been putting their all into writing/being creative, until they have a story/ etc that they would be proud to share with the world or to just share with families. I think that makes everyone pretty successful in my eyes anyway. I think for me that is the secret do what you love, find your balance and keep going. Then you’re as successful as you can be at all stages of your own vision.

    Writing with no clue when it will end is all the fun. I refuse to know the end or where my characters are taking me till I get there. Then I sort out them bumps in the road later. I have struggled to finish some stories, but just the thought of my character being left in a dark place alone and scared or in a place where they can never find the freedom or completion they would need, spears me on to get writing again. I would hate if someone was writing my life to be lift on a cliff edge for years, so try not to do that to ones characters. There’s nothing like seeing a character reach his/ or her Destiny for me as a writer anyway.

    I hope you’re well.

    Take care.

  2. Hi Katie
    thanks for your great comment and very valid point. You are absolutely right, success is different things to different people. And you are also right to suggest it doesn’t have to have anything to do with public success or fame and fortune. Telling a good story well, or as well as we mean to tell it, is reward in its own right, regardless of how many people we share it with. Thanks for making that point.

    And, yes, absolutely, one of the pleasures of writing is discovering what your story is about and who your characters are, and creating a whole world from nothing.

    Very well said! Thanks again for your comment 🙂

  3. Excellent post.

    I’m still trying to finish my novel, though not always struggling with it. I often think it would be easier if I had an agent or a publisher breathing down my neck reminding me about a deadline, but then I don’t think I’d really want all that pressure!

  4. Thanks, Juliet. I am lucky in that my publisher is my husband and I have the flexibility of making my own deadlines and they are stressful enough. A deadline can help focus the mind but it can also create ridiculous pressure and sometimes cause unnecessary stress (and I so don’t like stress). Good luck with finishing your novel. Look forward to reading it when it is finished. Keep “pegging away!”

  5. Louisa Dang says:

    Great post, Marianne! As others have already said, each writer has to define “success” for himself/herself. For me, it’s a question I continually struggle with — is “success” getting paid for my books? If so, how much? Right now, because I have two young kids and limited time, I am defining my success as having others read and enjoy my writing. Along the way, I’m trying to improve my skills — and so far, that’s working out for me!

    • Thanks, Louisa. Yes, success can mean so many things to so many people. Defining our work by sales income is only one measure and one which is becoming less and less helpful, especially now with so many free books and things like Kindle Unlimited. For £8.00 a month you can sign up and basically download as many books as you want. This may seem good for readers but it bad news for publishers (and their authors), who have had to offer incredible discounts to be part of it. So, when it comes to measuring our success, more and more I think we writers have to set our own standards and make our own goals. Financial reward is, of course, what we all want, but apart from a handful of mega-celebrity authors, I think we can no longer expect it in the same way. If that makes sense?


  6. Kendra says:

    Hi Marianne,
    Thanks for a thought provoking blog post. I find that writing is often a struggle, but a worthwhile one. I never find writing to be easy, but I do find having a story I’m happy with (or at least not unhappy with) to be a reward in itself. When I was writing The Forest King’s Daughter I tried to take it one step at a time, and would give myself a little reward for each chapter I finished, each draft, and so on. I think, for me, the story itself is the reward, and has to be, as that is why writers write. A secondary reward would be someone else enjoying the story too.

    • Thanks, Kendra. Once I have finally finished writing a book I’m really thrilled, it’s a great feeling, but I then quickly feel really fed up! A bit like John Steinbeck when he said …

      “The book dies a real death for me when I write the last word. I have a little sorrow then go on to a new book which is alive.” John Steinbeck.

      But for all that it’s worth it ( I think ;)) especially when a reader writes and tells you how much they enjoyed your book!
      btw I love the title of your novel. It sounds very Hans Christian Andersen but yet very modern too. I’m really looking forward to reading it! 🙂

  7. Jazz Shaban says:

    Hi Marianne

    I’m finally getting into a groove with this social networking lark. Phew it’s exhausting trying to keep up with where you’ve post, to whom and which platform.

    I really loved this blog because it reminded me that when I started writing Road to Damascus, a book that I still feel like I’m finishing because it still isn’t out yet, I thought “I’ve no idea where it will end”. Not in terms of narrative time scale, I knew that, but in terms of process. With each step I had no idea what happened next until I get there. For example once I had done the first couple of drafts I had no idea what the editing process would involve until I gave the manuscript to a writer friend of mine. He gave me some really good advice which I used as goals on a Writing Classes course I did, which in turn lead to a useful copy edit contact, which in turn opened my eyes to the whole social media tool.andso it goes on.

    So for me “success” has been everything I’ve learned and just getting to the point of finishing this book. Whatever happens next is a bonus.

    All the best to all those successful writers out there.


    PS don’t hit the website yet, it’s empty. Blog coming soon.

    • Hi Jazz,
      great to hear that you are finding your way around the social media stuff and developing your “platform”. And well done with getting to the point of finishing your novel, yay! It is a huge achievement and all credit to you! Look forward to reading your blog soon (don’t forget to let me know when it is live!).
      best wishes

      • Jazz Shaban says:

        Hi Marrianne

        I completely lost where I last wrote to you – Twitter, your website? Thanks for replying. Very encouraging.

        Smallvoiceprojects.com went live on 1 January. I’m posting once a week on Thursdays at the moment. RTD is doing well but it could do with some more exposure now the initial Christmas rush has passed. Would you or any of your students be up for posting a review on Amazon or the Writing Classes website. It’s free on Kindle at the moment.

        Any advice or help you can offer on getting it out there would be really useful. I don’t suppose you do a course on thesubject do you? I bet it would be really popular. You know, you get the book out and the think “heck, what do I do now?”

        All the best


        • Congratulations on the new blog and the book! Will check out Small Voice Projects after replying here! Yes, it is hard to keep the momentum/interest in a new book going but it can be done. Do you know of Goodreads? Its a reader forum place. You can join all sorts of forums and talk about your book there and in doing so spread the word. It’s also a good idea to do more of what you are doing here ie: go onto other blogs and join discussions etc. You can also consider contacting blogs that do reviews of books and ask them to review your book. We don’t do reviews at writing classes but we can certainly post a link to the Amazon page of Road to Damascus on the site – in fact we’ve been thinking if listing books by our students (and tutors) as there are a few out there! Am now off to look at your blog 🙂 ps not sure why you lost your first comment, how annoying! Hope it doesn’t happen again!

        • ps: in my last post I recommend following two bloggers, Molly Greene and Belinda Pollard. They both offer lots of excellent advice on how to create/build an author social platform. They’re worth checking out 🙂

  8. Jazz Shaban says:

    Dear Marianne,

    Thanks for this. I can see I need to get much sharper at this if I’m going to stay in the game. I do read Belinda and Molly’s blogs and have had some interesting chats with Belinda as a result. All good helpful stuff.

    Thanks for the link offer. I’m starting to get some reviews posted now.

    Cheers, Jazz

    PS I don’t think I lost my first post, because I can see it above, I just forgot where I posted it for a while to get back to you to reply.

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