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5 Traits of Top Writers

What are the traits of top writers? What makes good writers good – how and why do they rise to the top? The following traits are only one piece of the puzzle — but they’re an important piece.

personality traits of top writers“Write straight into the emotional center of things,” writes Anne Lamott — a top writer — 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.”

One of the most important traits of top writers is being real, authentic, and vulnerable. Top writers learn how to write to make a difference.

If you want to spice your writing up — and increase your chances of getting published — learn how to let your true self show up in your writing.

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.

5 Traits of the Most Excellent Writers

Here’s a short list of the personality traits of successful writers.

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.

2. Top writers express their ideas, no matter how zany

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.

3. Top writers think of themselves as revolutionaries

They’re not “just writers” — they’re the 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.

4. Top writers expose their weaknesses and flaws

I’m not sure if this is a good writing tip, but I’ve heard that writers need to 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.

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.

personality traits of top writers“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 makes good writers good? Comments welcome below!

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14 thoughts on “5 Traits of Top Writers”

  1. Thanks for your comment, mpuppal!

    Top writers write fast, I think, without stopping to agonize over every word or comma. I used to write slowly, but writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant taught me to write without editing myself. Then, go back and comb through your writing. This has helped me become a much better writer.

  2. Hi Laurie,

    A very readable and inspiring write up.Good authentic comments!

    I agree with Cindi,top writers write.

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Regarding Phil’s “getting snappy” comment — I think all people get a bit snappy when criticized, not just writers!

    And John…I think that some people are naturally talented writers, just like some people are naturally talented painters, architects, hockey players. But perhaps with writing, we all have a level that can be improved. And if we “mediocre” writers improve our skills, then we can make money writing — and even become a top writer.

  4. The main thought that I have after reading this post, is it possible to learn to become a top writer or it is something that is a talent given just for few of us? I’m not sure why but my thoughts more are that it is more the second one.

  5. Yeah, about the graceful part … I will take constructive criticism and well-founded arguments, but not from people who can’t write to save their live and also have no understanding of what it implies. I’d like to say that I take edits and rejections gracefully, but sometimes I get snappy, it’s my work after all.

  6. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments…I like Delena’s “zany is normal” statement! I think zany or eccentric is SO normal for some people, they don’t even realize they’re different.

    And I agree with Cindi, who said that “top writers write.” What more can I say? 🙂

  7. Beautiful post…I think the vulnerability part is essential as a writer. Do we need to air out our dirty laundry to the world? Not all the time…still, when a reader sees that we put our shoes on like everyone else, then we have made a connection (a friend) that will leave a lasting impression.

  8. Ah, writers, those quirky little devils. They’re artists, and artists don’t quite live in this world; they live in their own world.

    They push the envelope because to them, the horizons are so far spread out that they’re all but unknowable. They’re also a little crazy, like any good artist should be.

    They’re fearless in expressing their ideas because to them, zany is normal.


  9. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Agreed…I’ve read that Stephen King (who is a top writer) spends 4 hours a day reading and 4 hours a day writing.

  10. Although it’s been said many times, it bears repeating: top writers WRITE. I don’t read about top writers suffering from writer’s block or not enough time to work. Writing is a job. Top writers go to work.