Does a writer’s personality traits make a difference in writing, getting published, and promoting books? You better believe it! This list – including six personality traits of successful writers – reveal how personalities help authors and freelance writers succeed. If you don’t see your personality traits on the list and you want to be a writer, don’t worry! The next list is even better: 6 Habits of Highly Effective Writers. And a bonus list! 5 Top Traits of Successful Writers.
While there isn’t an exact, scientific, research-proven list of famous writing personalities or personality types of published authors, there are certain traits that many writers share. Published authors, freelance journalists, and working writers have certain personality traits in common – but this doesn’t mean that particular trait or type guarantees a writer will be published. It’s just that some personality characteristics are essential for writers to succeed. Below are six of the most important personality traits of successful writers.
“Success seems like kind of a fluke to me. It’s not based on merit, since not everyone has the same opportunities. For me, it was just something that happened. I was in the right place at the right time,” wrote Elmore Leonard in Writers Dreaming: 26 Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process. “In 1985 I became an overnight success after 30 years…I didn’t think that I would ever have a bestseller. I never thought that my writing was either good enough or bad enough to make the list.“
Elmore Leonard wasn’t just in the right place at the right time. He had been writing for 30 years before he became a bestselling author…and that is one of the most important personality traits of successful writers! Perseverance. Determination. Grit. Stick-to-it-iveness.
Luck – or being in the right place at the right time – helps. But luck alone will not make you a published author.
6 Personality Traits of Successful Writers
To persevere after constant rejection and keep pitching into the editorial abyss, writers need personality traits that go beyond talent and creativity. Self-discipline and motivation to write are qualities that writers need to get published – but there’s more.
Here are a few thoughts from some of my fellow scribes over at AbsoluteWrite.com:
1. Stubbornness and a drive to succeed
“I think stubbornness and ego are two biggies. I know they have served me well,” says Barb Nefer. “An example of the stubbornness: my mother was very non-supportive and said I would never sell my writing consistently. Instead of believing that and letting it hurt me, it hardened me and made me even more driven to succeed and get published.”
2. Perseverance, patience, attention to detail
“An unwillingness to give up in the face of constant rejection is a personality trait of a successful writer,” says Monica Shaw. “I’d also add patience – we all know how long it can take to get a response to a query letter, if we get a response at all. But we also need to be thorough, taking the time to research our markets before pitching a query letter. We must also be bold, willing to call a magazine to find out who the editor is and how to pitch, and willing to talk to people in order to get those great quotes that will sell our stories!”
3. Consistency and the ability to meet deadlines
“Too many people are flaky,” says Casey. “A freelance writer can make a successful career of being reliable and delivering on time with quality. Unlike other jobs that allow you to slack off and make up for it, writing has deadlines that need to be met or not only do you lose a client, but you lose your reputation.” Casey Quinn
4. A healthy ego – perhaps the most important personality trait of a successful writer
“One of my first sales occurred when I read an article on horse training and thought, ‘I can do better than that!'” says Barb. “A writer isn’t going to get very far if she’s crushed by rejection slips or intimidated by everyone else out there who might be a better writer or who is getting published more. You have to have a healthy coat of Teflon and faith that you can run with the big dogs, and that you deserve to!”
5. Faith and hope
I suffered through most of October without a single magazine assignment (but, luckily, was working on two previously assigned articles). Then, when I thought I wouldn’t meet my financial goals for the month, three editors emailed me four assignments within 12 hours! Four business days later, I had six assignments due. So, another personality trait of a successful freelance writer is having faith that another article will turn up. Eventually. You just have to hang in there if you want to get published.
6. Humility and gratitude
I’ve been learning to thank my editors for the changes and suggestions they make to my articles. The editors I’ve worked with only want the best, clearest, and most well-documented sentences to be published…and they’re improving my writing. I’m grateful for their help/comments/suggestions/questions/clarifications/changes/notations/aargh!! – and I think I’ll be an even more successful writer if I keep feeling humble and grateful.
Are you writing a book and hoping to get published? Don’t fret if you don’t have these personality traits. Do not compare yourself to authors, freelance writers, or even bloggers. Successfully writing a book – and even getting it published – does not depend on your personality. Being a successful writer doesn’t even depend on your natural writing talent or creativity. It depends on how hard you work and how dedicated you are to writing…which is largely a matter of personality.
If self-doubt is holding you back, read How Do You Stop Doubting Yourself as a Writer?
6 Habits of Highly Effective Writers
If you think natural talent – the ability to write well – is a personality trait of a successful writer, you’d be wrong. “Talent is cheaper than table salt,” says bestselling author and writing teacher Stephen King.
Good news: many of the “personality traits” of successful writers are simply habits. These habits can be learned by regular people like you and me. You don’t have to be Stephen King (or JK Rowling, or Isaac Asimov, or Ernest Hemingway, or…well, you get the picture) to get published or make money writing.
1. Successful writers set and stick to a schedule
A writing schedule isn’t exactly a personality trait – but self-discipline is. Since writers who work from home aren’t supervised or monitored (unless they’re under house arrest, of course), they need to be comfortable setting and sticking to a writing schedule. Successful authors have to know how to set and meet their self-imposed deadlines and writing goals. Successful writers know how to motivate themselves to be productive even when they don’t feel like writing.
“E. L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night,” writes Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. “You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. That is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
Writers need the ability to take it one step at a time — one article at a time, one page at a time, one paragraph at a time, and even one word at a time. I don’t know if that represents a particular personality trait, but it’s key to a successful writing career.
2. Productive writers often have introverted personality traits
Successful writers are often introverts who prefer to be alone. There is such a thing as an extroverted writer, but she struggles with being alone. She wants to be part of a team – or even on stage! One of the most important personality traits of a successful writer is the ability to enjoy working in isolation and solitude. Introverts are energized by silence and solitude. Even social media is draining for truly introverted writers.
Published book authors and freelance journalists can tackle tough writing assignments – or break into tight writing markets – alone, without supervision from an editor or publisher. Working writers need to find or create habits that keep them motivated and disciplined to achieve their goals.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Introverts would rather be alone; extroverts are energized by the company of others. Take this free, fast Test for Introverted Personality Traits if you aren’t sure.
If you have extroverted personality traits and you want to be a writer, read 7 Ways for Extroverts to Increase Writing Productivity.
3. Successful writers know how to boldly brand and market their work
Published authors and working writers don’t have the luxury of waiting for their books to sell themselves, nor can they wait to be told how to market and help promote their books. Freelance magazine and newspaper writers have to come up with article ideas, tackle writing assignments, find experts to interview, keep drumming up business, and sell their work. They need to know how to promote themselves without being shy or fearful of attention.
One of the most important personality traits of a successful writer is what I call the “skin of a rhino.” They have to be able to take rejection and criticism without making it personal.
4. Successful freelance writers are detail oriented
This is one of the personality traits I do not have (yet I am a successful writer, which proves that there are no rules for writing or even specific personality traits for writers!). When I first started freelancing in 2008, I didn’t realize how important it was to pay attention to administrative and financial details. Successful writers are entrepreneurs who know how to run a business.
Freelance writers and journalists have to track queries and book proposals, follow up with editors, send professional invoices, keep track of their checks received and expenditures, and save all their receipts and write-offs. Published authors may also do their own taxes, maintain lists of experts, and handle technological and digital equipment.
5. Successful writers maintain a professional image
If “entrepreneurial” isn’t a personality trait of all writers, it should be! Developing a professional image is part of learning how to run a successful writing business.
Freelance writers must submit their assignments on time, follow up when they say they’re going to, and treat editors, experts, readers, and fellow writers with respect. Writers may have once had the image of being disorganized or disheveled – the creative spirit at work – but not anymore.
6. Successful writers get to the heart of the matter
“Write straight into the emotional center of things,” writes Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. “Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent.”
This is good writing advice because if you get emotional, you get connected. It can be difficult to connect with readers you’ve never met and probably never will. It’s especially difficult if your intention isn’t to interact or connect with readers. Maybe you just want to write, and not know your readers at all. Maybe you don’t want to get personal in your writing. Even so, you’ll improve your writing if you insert a little emotion into your work. Be connectable somehow – even if you’re writing a college essay or a business report.
A great way to connect with your reader and improve your writing skills is to keep practicing your writer’s voice. You don’t need to share all the family’s secrets to connect with your readers! Just need to sprinkle a little personality to your words.
5 Top Traits of Successful Writers
Waiting until the night to write your essay or research an assignment may have got you through college, but it won’t get you far in the freelance writing business. Editing and revising is the name of the game – and it should the first personality trait of writers who succeed. Working writers don’t need reminders, prompts to find great sources, or reminders to send in invoices. Successful writers know what their job is – even if it’s not a paid writing assignment, even if it’s “just” to send out four queries today – and they take care of business.
Remember that all writers are different. I like James Patterson’s approach to storytelling: “I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until it’s finished.”
I’ve been learning how to be more of a storyteller in my writing, and less of a dry factual “just the facts, ma’am” writer. How? By spending more time thinking about my past. And, by sharing insights into my life – such as in my post How I Became a Blogger – Laurie’s Story.
1. Top writers break writing rules
One of my favorite books about freelance writing is The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. They’re top writers, and they encourage freelancers to step outside the box — especially when it comes to pitching queries to magazine editors. It’s important to learn the rules of writing, and then let your own writer’s voice, personality, and traits shine through.
Fire up your sense of discovery. Do you get bored when revising your writing? Do you lose interest after writing the first chapter, or first half of the book proposal? Then you won’t go far in improving your writing skills, because the best writers keep writing through boredom, despair, fatigue, and uncertainty. This writing lesson is from Betsy Warland’s book: “The guiding indicator, whether in inscription or composition, is sense of discovery. Discovery is what drives all writing.”
2. Top writers express their ideas, no matter how offbeat or oddball
It’s easier for an editor (you, in many cases) to tone writing down or edit the zaniest bits. Top writers push the envelope — and in doing so, they learn to recognize how much is too much.
Get clear about what you are writing, fellow scribes. If you’re confused and uncertain about what you’re trying to say, then your reader won’t get it, either. I’ve tried tricking editors and readers by glossing over concepts and facts I didn’t understand, and it hasn’t worked once. It just adds to my workload, irritates my editors, and alienates my readers. How do you clarify what you’re trying to say? By understanding it better – perhaps by creating an outline or mind map. Learn more about your topic or theme.
3. Top writers think of themselves as revolutionaries
They’re not “just writers.” Top writers are creators of new worlds, new creatures, new possibilities! Top writers know they’re creating something new and exotic for their readers — and timidity is not one of their traits. Successful writers have the “risk taking trait” — and they know that risks make good writing good.
Slow down. Breathe. Step away from your writing. Good writing takes effort – and it’s worth it. One of the most important writing tips I’m trying to apply is to slow down, take my time, think, and reflect. I have a busy (grueling?) writing and blogging schedule, and I tend to focus on writing faster, producing more, getting more done! But that’s not helping me become a better writer. Hence writing lesson number one: improve your writing skills by stepping back from your writing. Take time to edit. Have the patience and courage to rewrite.
4. Top writers are honest about their weaknesses and flaws
It’s been said that top writers share whatever it is they don’t want people to know. Their secrets. Their dirt. Their mistakes, regrets, woes. While I’m not 100% convinced this is a trait of a top writer, I do believe that good writers share their authentic voices and selves.
If it’s too soon to write about your secrets, regrets and flaws, share your biggest weaknesses as a writer. My biggest writing mistake is, as I mentioned in the first writing lesson, is going too fast. I proofread, but I don’t read out loud. I edit my blog posts, but only once (I’d improve my writing skills immensely if I went back and edited my posts from two, three, four years ago!). I also tend to overuse compound sentences and exclamation points. What are your biggest writing weaknesses? Identifying those will help you become a better writer.
5. Top writers accept edits and rejections gracefully
Editors and publishers request changes, kill articles, or sometimes even revamp the whole article in-house. Sometimes, they reject article pitches or book proposals with a stilted form letter — or sometimes you’ll see your idea plastered on the cover of their magazine a couple months after you pitched it! One of the most important traits of top writers is the ability to shake it off — rejection, dejection — and move on.
Another trait of a top writer is “bouncebackability.” To learn more, read When Your Publishing Contract is Cancelled – How to Save Your Writing Career.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write,” writes Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. “It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”
The best writers take it one step at a time. Bird by Bird.
What do you think, fellow scribes…do writers need certain personality traits to get published?