How Freelancers, Nonfiction Writers, and Novelists Succeed

This website – The Adventurous Writer – isn’t just about my successes and failures as a freelance writer and book author. That’s secondary, because I dislike writing about myself. Rather, this site is about how to succeed as a novelist and nonfiction writer!

How writers succeed is as easy (and as complicated) as one thing: commitment. And maybe self-discipline, too.

“Few novelists play golf, go bowling, or watch much television,” writes James N. Frey in How to Write a Damn Good Novel. “The writing of a novel takes a great deal of time and emotional and mental energy. Time normally spent with friends and loved ones will have to be sacrificed.”

Commitment is the number one way freelancers, nonfiction writers, and novelists succeed. (and maybe self-discipline, too).

“You must make the kind of commitment that will effectively subordinate almost every effort and interest (in your life) to the mastering of the craft,” writes William C. Knott in The Craft of Fiction. Everything comes in second to writing – which is hard if you have children, a day job, elderly parents who need you, or other time-consuming responsibilities.

Most successful writers lead dull lives. “They spend most of their time squirreled away in a basement or an attic with a word processor, writing and rewriting, paranoid that the public might find their finished product silly, trite, or stupid,” writes Frey. Indeed, here on The Adventurous Writer I wrote about being Learning to Write Without Fear and Trembling – and how my determination to succeed affects my husband.

Writing is a lonely process. Sometimes it flows, and writing is a wave. You ride it! Other times, it requires you to wrestle with self-doubt, anxiety that you’ll never be published, anxiety that you will get published, and fear that you’re not good enough. These are lonely thoughts – even if you connect with other writers on Twitter, writers’ forums, or in writing groups. Ultimately, you write alone. You’re born alone, you die alone, and you write alone.

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Writing doesn’t require talent. “Talent just gets in the way,” writes Frey, “because if you have talent you expect writing a novel to be easy and it isn’t, no matter how much talent you have.” For more info about what you really need to be a writer, go to Key Writing Tips from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, on Quips & Tips for Successful Writers.

Writing requires sacrifices. How do freelancers, nonfiction writers, and novelists succeed? They sacrifice the time they normally spend with friends and loved ones. For instance, I didn’t go to a party last night (that I really wanted to attend — there was a live band!) not only because I wanted to work on my Quips & Tips blogs, but also because I didn’t want to wake up feeling sluggish, tired, or hungover. I don’t go out for dinners, meet friends for coffee, or spend hours on the phone. I’m lonely!

Writing requires certain personality traits. “Commitment, ambition, desperation, a passion for creating, a willingness to sacrifice average gratifications and expectations are all part of the writer’s character,” writes Leonard Bishop in Dare to be a Great Writer. Successful writers have specific personality traits, which I describe briefly in 7 Traits of Successful Writers.

If you want to be a successful writer, are you willing to do what it takes? Will you make the necessary sacrifices? You can start by ensuring that everything you do takes you closer to your writing goals (not farther away).

If you have any thoughts or questions on how freelancers, nonfiction writers, and novelists succeed – please comment below! Especially on that last sentence about making sure everything you do moves you towards achieving your goals…is that really possible?

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9 thoughts on “How Freelancers, Nonfiction Writers, and Novelists Succeed

  • Laurie PK

    Hmmmm….interesting comment, thanks Ragster.

    A writer friend once told me that writing is the hardest job in the world. “Even harder than brain surgery or rocket science?” I asked. “Definitely,” he said.

    Not sure I agree with that.
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post…Writing Careers – Jobs for Magazine Staff Writers and Editors =-.

  • Ragster

    If writing a novel was that hard, there wouldn’t so many out there (and there are LOADS … some of them are even pretty readable.)

    Finishing a novel isn’t trivial, sure – but plenty of people have the commitment to do that (me, for example, more than once.) No guarantee of success though, even if you define success as ‘getting something published’ (as opposed to making a living wage.)

    Certainly commitment is necessary. It just isn’t sufficient, in and of itself, I believe.

  • Laurie PK

    Thanks for weighing in — I’m glad The Adventurous Writer made it to your favorites list! That’s great.

    And, congrats on your novel…please keep me posted. I’d love to celebrate with you in November 🙂

    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post…Quips and Tips Might be a Top 10 Blog for Writers – It’s Up to You! =-.

  • P.I. Barrington

    LOVED this article. I’ve been writing since i was a child and won awards for it and the paragraph about writing requiring talent actually made me laugh! That paragraph is so dead-on, writing a novel can be virtually impossible no matter what your level of talent! It so struck a chord with me! I loved the whole thing! This site is going on my favorites–and that virtually NEVER happens!
    BTW, I just finished my first novel subbed it for edits and release is scheduled for November 1–and thank God I overcame my “talent”, LOL!

  • Laurie PK

    I appreciate your thoughts — and good point about having a “monochromatic daily life”, Deborah. What a great image! Not only is focusing only on writing dull and boring, it can stifle creativity. Writers need to pull their heads from the sand, get out of the house, and take a deep breath of the fresh air of the real world.

    How often writers get out of the house depends on their personality traits, lifestyle, and goals. An extroverted writer, for instance, may need to socialize a few times a week. An introverted writer may need to socialize once every couple of weeks (and if married with kids, maybe less!). A writer with active children may need to drive them to soccer practice and attend the concerts and games and picnics.

    I don’t think there’s any rule for how much time writers spend working…although, I keep thinking of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule (becoming excellent at anything requires 10,000 hours of practice. I actually don’t think Gladwell came up with this first, but no matter). Your friend’s wise writing advice reminded me of that. You’re right, that anything done well takes a tremendous amount of effort.

    And with effort comes sacrifices.

    For me, the bottom line is my writing goals. Am I on track? Do I need to spend more time on those sample chapters, and skip the “girl’s night out”? Sometimes, yes…

    Thanks for being here, Deborah!

    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post…Quips and Tips From J.K. Rowling =-.

  • Deborah

    Hi Laurie,
    I just came across your website and like your practical advice and encouragement to the rest of us lonely, isolated writers. Good on you!

    A friend recently told me to stop thinking that the amount of effort and time it takes me to write something (decent) is directly related to my abilities, or lack of! A concert pianist can make a concerto look easy, she said, but there’s an awful lot of work and practice behind the performance. Anything that is done well has a tremendous amount of effort backing it up and writing is no different. This tip has been very reassuring to me–it makes sense and doesn’t have the feel of a ego-propping encouragement from somebody who just happens to like me.

    I appreciated your post but wonder if sacrificing one’s social life entirely isn’t a bit extreme. My writing and my motivation suffers if my daily life is too monochromatic. On the other hand, you are clearly a hard-working and successful writer and know what you require of yourself in order to maintain your career.
    .-= Deborah´s last blog post… =-.

  • Laurie PK

    Who said anything about writing for $5 an article?

    I’m talking about being a SUCCESSFUL writer — which, to me, means earning at least 40K a year as a writer, publishing well-written books, connecting with readers, and helping other writers develop their skills.
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post…3 Tips for Joining an Online Writing Group =-.

  • Star

    Good grief–Charge a decent amount and walk those stupid $5 jobs and you can still go bowling or to a movie! This isn’t self-imposed slavery!