Ten Traits of Successful Writers

What’s it really like to have a book published? In the days before my book’s release I always wondered what life was like for published authors. What kinds of things did they have to do on a daily basis? What other responsibilities did they have besides the actual writing?

Now that I’m four months on the other side of publication (The Preacher’s Bride released in October of 2010), I can share an inside glimpse at what life has been like for me lately.

Over the past three weeks in January, here’s a list of some of the things I’ve worked on:

• I entered The Preacher’s Bride into several national contests.
• I wrote a four-paged single-spaced synopsis for my third book.
• I dialoged with my editor about the synopsis and plans for Book 3.
• I wrote at least five interviews/guest posts (not including my own blog posts).
• I read a book for a debut author for endorsement purposes.
• I had to write up and turn in marketing ideas for The Doctor’s Lady.

AND . . . most importantly, at the beginning of January, I started the first draft of my third contracted book. I work on it every day (except Sunday), and have given myself a daily word count goal of 1000 words/day. I recently passed 20K. However, I will have to cut back substantially on my daily word count over the next few weeks as I dive into another round of edits on The Doctor's Lady. In other words, I'll be juggling writing one book while editing another.

In addition to the writing responsibilities listed above, I also have numerous online responsibilities. I shared some of my social media statistics last week in this post: When Social Media Becomes a Time-Suck. And if you read that post, you’ll recall that emails, blogging, and other social media keep me very busy too.

The responsibilities of my writing career have gradually increased into a full time job. And since I’m also a full time teacher and mom, I now feel like I have two very full time jobs. (As a side note, you may find it interesting to know that I’ve yet to receive my first royalty check. My publisher sends out royalty checks twice a year, and since I was still earning back my advance in the fall, I’ve yet to receive a “real” paycheck.)

Of course my experience is uniquely mine, and the responsibilities of my writing career will differ from other published authors in many ways. But there are some common elements that all writers, published or not have to face. Most of us have multiple tasks to juggle. We struggle to find quality writing time. And we’re often harried, striving to do more in less time.

In today’s publishing industry, choosing a professional writing career is not for the faint of heart, the weak of will, or the timid in spirit. What kinds of writers will make it to publication, and then once there, stick it out long enough to become successful?

1. Writers who use their time wisely.

2. Writers who zealously plunge into hard work.

3. Writers who are willing to put forth a lot of effort with little compensation.

4. Writers who are willing to persevere through difficult days, weeks, months.

5. Writers who can pull themselves back up and keep going after disappointment.

6. Writers who dream big and make tangible goals for reaching those dreams.

7. Writers who are humble enough to know they can improve.

8. Writers who continue to cultivate their passion and love of writing

9. Writers who have a vision beyond themselves and their success.

10. Writers who reject quick gratification and opt to wait patiently for long term success.

We would all be wise to remember that in our early years we’re establishing a strong foundation for later. All the waiting, juggling, and struggling of pre-pubbed days help prepare writers for the increased work after publication. And all the hard work during the early years of published author life are setting the stage for greater success later.

In other words, we don’t have to waste a single effort or moment. We can make them all count in this incredible journey we’re on.

So do you have what it takes? Are you developing the traits that will help you stick it out for the long haul? Of the traits I've listed, what do you need to work on the most?


  1. Great post, Jody. I definitely agree that all my pre-published days helped prepare me. I have a book due March 1, and it has been a huge lesson in treating my writing like a job and not like hobby.

    As someone said at my local ACFW meeting, this industry isn't for wimps :)

  2. Even though I work at home, I'm a full-time early childhood educator to six children. When they go home, I'm still working to keep my house clean, prepare lesson plans and activities for the next day, and keeping up with the paperwork that the state requires.

    After dinner, I spend time in the living room with my family, but that time often includes me writing.

    I've also enlisted more of my family's help by telling them the less time I spend doing dinner or laundry is more time I have writing.

    I'm using January to become more organized with my paperwork for the rest of the year, so I can spend more time writing and less time playing catch up on other things.

  3. Love this post, Jody. It's nuts how much stuff there is for writers to do besides writing. Exhausting but exhilarating. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

  4. This is quite helpful because in reading it I now know that if I do chose to embark on this journey one day (or at least try!) some of what ends up occuring (lots of effort with little financial compensation at first, perserverence etc.) is normal and to be expected. You always provide great insights into the world of a writer. Thank you!

  5. Right now I'm finding number four hard. Not just with writing related situations, but other stuff at home too.

    I resonate with all the rest. Excellent list!
    ~ Wendy

  6. I'm just starting out with writing, so you might think I'd be discouraged by your list, but I'm not. I'd rather know up front what I'm up against, what it will need for me to do this. I think ultimately it's all about facing reality head on, and be willing to pay the price for realizing your dream. But that being said, respect to you for making it work because that's a lot you have on your plate!

  7. Great list, Jody. And all so very true.

  8. Oh Jody, you eavesdropped on my husband's and my conversation last week, didn't you? :)

    Seriously, though, this list is spot on. Hard work, time management, realistic expectations, a humble heart--all are vital to continue onward.

    Have a fantastic weekend!!

  9. There are many that I need to work on, though I am working at them all to a small degree (obviously I need to work at them more). I'd say the biggest one I need to work on is using my time wisely!

  10. This list is so true, esp the parts about going on after disappointment about having a vision beyond your success.

    Thanks for the reminders. I needed this!

  11. I am printing this list and supergluing it to my forward. Okay, maybe just putting it on my desk but it will be front and center.

    You always seem to say the right thing at the right time. I needed this today.

  12. Definitely working on number one, this is a great list and a great reminder that being an author is a lot of work.

  13. Excellent post, Jody! Thanks for the glimpse into your day to day life. Number ten resonated the most with me today - oddly enough, my devotion time today was spent studying the parable of the sower and Psalm 126 that emphasizes the importance of sowing God's truths into our lives, trusting that a harvest will eventually be produced! Love it when God re-affirms what He's been teaching me throughout the day! Have a great weekend! Hugs & Blessings!

  14. I feel like the heat is on with my writing. It's time to put up or shut up! I'm buckling down in ways that are painful and powerful!
    Who needs sleep anyway:)

  15. I'm struggling with time management mostly, and self-discipline. I'm also working on staying humble, allowing God to do his work and trying not to control my writing life and let him instead.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. =)

  16. I'm still working through the list. I'm zeroing in on those weaknesses, of which there are more then one:)

  17. working on it :)
    I laugh when people think I do nothing all day because I don't have a full time job. I think only other writers understand how much work is involved.

  18. Boy did you hit this out of the park. I agree that all the pre-publication life is preparing a writer for publication, which is not for the faint of heart.

    So glad I'm not the only one juggling life with my writing career.

  19. I simply don't know how you do it. I'm only just getting ready to go on submission and I'm swamped between writing, revisions and a full time job. That being said, I know I have the work ethic that is needed to do this. The only person who can keep up with me (and sometimes that's only barely) is my writing partner. We work HARD. And we work long hours. And it's only going to get busier if we are lucky enough to sell this as a 3-book series, which is our goal. What do I need to work on most? Probably balancing all the work I do with time with the family. I know for a fact, that that's what my husband would say I need to work on...

  20. Hi Jody -

    Thank you for drawing us into your world.

    Your posts give us the nitty-gritty of the published writer's life. No unpleasant surprises will catch us unaware. Yet you balance the strong dose of reality with the positive side.

    Susan :)

  21. Hi there, Jody!
    I really relate to your post. When I got my edits for book one, I set book two aside. It seems like all the needs for book one will never end. I've got the galleys now.:) I keep thinking there must be an easier way to juggle everything, but I haven't discovered that yet. I'm trying.
    For those writers who aren't published yet I would recommend one huge thing. Write! If you are doing a three book series, write them. I think the biggest mistake I made early on was to spend too much time perfecting and not enough time producing.

  22. Jody, remember me? :)

    Well, I would add to your list: Writers who know what spaces they have for writing a particular work and when to dive in.

    This has been huge for me in recent years. Right now, I have "space" to write articles, columns and shorter pieces. I also feel I have "space" to write a nonfiction book. The book-length fiction work? Not quite yet. It was an important realization to have, and I feel at peace with it.

    But nothing is wasted. While I wait out my time for book-length fiction, all of the non-fiction writing I'm doing is valuable, helping to earn an income for my family, and fulfilling me in multiple ways. The wide perspective is so important, and you hinted at that in several of the items in your list.

    I enjoyed this post and reading your words again. I just told Rosslyn I'm saving your two books for summer reading, since right now, my reading is taken up with projects that need to be done. I can't wait to dive in when the right reading space emerges. :)


  23. I could probably do with a little work on most of those. Particularly number 1. We have our first baby on the way and it really is a job to devote proper time to all of these new responsibilities as well as keeping up with my writing.

  24. Wonderful post, Jody. I think #3 for me is difficult sometimes because it's hard to do something you love that may be going completely no where. So it's a good thing I definitely have what it takes in #4! No matter what, I'll always be writing. :)

  25. Jody, the revelation that you are a full-time teacher and also a hard-working, successful author gives me inspiration when I've struggled to balance my own teaching and writing careers. I think I may print out your ten-traits and pin it up so that I will be reminded that it is possible, and just what it takes to get there. Thanks as always!

  26. "In today’s publishing industry, choosing a professional writing career is not for the faint of heart, the weak of will, or the timid in spirit." *sigh* Well said, Jody. Well said.

  27. Fantastic Post! I still have a long way to go yet. I still have much to learn and there is still room for plenty of improvement.
    #4 and #5 tends to be very hard for me, but I am working on it.

  28. Very concise and inspiring, Jody.

    You have such a knack for telling us just what we need to know. And that you make a regular effort to do this through your blog, even with everything that keeps you busy, is awesome. Thank you!

  29. I am a teacher as well. I marvel at your juggling act. Thank you for the post. It's fun to get an authentic peek into the writing world. Inspiring.

  30. Ellen SchuknechtJanuary 30, 2011 7:23 AM


    I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Preacher's Bride and now my husband is reading it as well. I now understand Pilgrim's Progress at a much deeper level, a book students in my school are required to read.

    By the way, I am Erin MacPherson's mom and she speaks very highly of you.

    Ellen Schuknecht

  31. Hi Ellen,

    Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to swing by and leave me a note! I'm so glad that you enjoyed my book and am tickled to hear that your husband is also reading it! :-) The book really does give a bigger picture to the back ground of John Bunyan, doesn't it? I loved learning about him!

    And I'm so excited about Erin's book. I've had the privilege of reading it and you should be very proud of her!



  32. Love this! Thanks for the advice. As a writer seeking publishing for the first time, I love to hear truth from those who have already been down the road.

  33. This post was interesting. I enjoyed reading about life after publication. I wasn't surprised that you haven't received a royalty check yet. I have heard elsewhere that those come rarely.

    I would love to read more posts like this!

  34. Another great post Jody! Helps to know that I'm not alone in putting out much effort for little return! That and using my time wisely are the two toughest for me! Very encouraging thank you!

  35. Good post that makes me think. I spent a lot of time writing and now have books I should be editing and others I should be working on, but I'm in some kind of holding pattern and wasting a lot of time.

    Lists work for me. I've started one and will try to stick with it, working through all the stuff I have to complete. I do believe to be successful at writing, it has to be approached in a disciplined and professional manner. Thanks for these reminders.

  36. I'd like to think I have these traits. I sometimes feel guilty about the time I'm spending, without the monetary reward to back it up. But my husband doesn't mind, which is just another reason why I love him.

  37. And these are the cold hard facts. Tell it like it is, Jody. As long as the money holds out, I can hang in there.

    Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011


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