4 Essentials of Success as a Writer

If you’ve launched a career as a writer and are hoping to survive from the income you generate from writing stories, then your main aim is probably at first going to be trying just to stay afloat financially without having to work anywhere else.

If you have taken this approach you are probably expecting that you are not only going to have to work very long hours all the time as a writer, you are most likely not going to have the luxury of time to care much about the quality of what you produce. You’ll be happy if you can just make enough money to avoid going back to a ‘regular job’.

As a fledgeling writer with this kind of game plan, you will most likely believe that you'll have to take whatever you can get.

Inevitably, if you make that assumption and take that approach, you will be over-worked and underpaid for quite a while. ‘Getting by’ will become your norm. Forget about quality of life or obtaining the kind of work you would prefer — you won’t feel like you can define the kinds of writing job you want because you’re the ‘beggar’ in the scenario and can’t therefore be the ‘chooser’.

That’s how it seems, anyway.

If you’re in this position, what you may not realise is that you are creating your own problems and hindering your own success.

Chances are that you will end up in debt and overworked in a very short time. That’s exactly when you have the opportunity to learn two things that are fundamentally important:

Defining your own success makes it more achievable


You already have all the riches you need.

Writers (or anyone else for that matter) who launch themselves into work and hope to survive purely on the energy generated by that work often don’t define exactly what they are hoping to achieve and therefore drown in overwork and lack of money before they get a chance to make it. They also overlook their primary resources.

What does ‘success’ look like for a writer?

You have to define it for yourself, but here are a few considerations:

1. You probably wanted to be a writer because you didn’t want a boss.

You wanted freedom, space, time. But a few weeks into the game and you realise that you’ve exchanged bosses for editors and readers, who have taken on many of the same characteristics of the bosses you wanted to avoid: they want more and more from you, with the added disadvantage that they don’t pay you at all, or certainly not enough to survive on. Sure, you don’t have to ‘take anyone’s orders’ in quite the same way as you did in your old job — but in another way, it’s much worse, because not only do these new bosses not pay you, you’re not even sure exactly what they want you to produce. You’ve dropped down a scale from ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day's pay’ (more or less) to ‘a full day and night’s work for no pay’.

Slave labour, in other words, where your masters are the editors and readers who seem to hold all the power.

2. You probably wanted to 'explore your inner self’.

In all likelihood, you had the notion that you would be able to take time off for yourself and just 'think about things'. You perhaps imagined acres of time in which to explore other interests and ideas. Instead, you find yourself desperate to know what editors and readers are thinking and feeling: outer selves, not inner self, in other words. ‘Thinking about things’ has become ‘worrying about how to pay the next bill’. Your inner self isn’t free at all, but seems locked up in an empty cell.

3. You probably wanted to feel excited and invigorated by what you did each day.

You perhaps imagined churning out high quality literature, exciting stories, cutting edge fiction, as opposed to doing whatever was boring in your last paying job. But you find yourself clutching at submission straws in an urgent need to become known and valued by others.