I originally wrote this post for artists. When it was finished, I liked it so well, I decided to rewrite it for writers and publish it here.
Be prepared to persevere. The real secret to success is getting up one more time than you’re knocked down, plain and simple. The world doesn’t owe you a living. Neither do the people around you. You may be the most talented writer since Shakespeare, but even he persevered.
Develop a thick skin. From the first story you write to the last, there will be critics. You will have to learn to deal with people who criticize your work, your methods, your marketing… probably even you. They are as much a fact of life as the sun rising in the east. Learn not to internalize it.
Learn to learn from criticism. Some of the criticism may be warranted, so you can’t automatically discard it all, but learn to be gracious. Analyze it at face value and glean the comments that will improve your skills as a writer and in dealing with people (and let’s face it, most of us like nothing better than to shut ourselves up and write).
Write every day. Don’t fall into the habit of thinking you need to wait for inspiration to strike before you write. Don’t accept the lie that you need large chunks of time, either. I’ve lived both and know they are not true. The best way to be a writer is to be a writer. Every day. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you have the time or not. Even if it’s just a few minutes to jot a few notes on a napkin, make use of it. Nothing is more discouraging than waking up one morning and realizing it’s been a year since the last time you wrote.
Set goals. You’re probably as tired of hearing this as I used to be. Get over it. I had to and when I did, I learned just how valuable goals can be. And easy. Start small. A paragraph a day. A page. Or if a time goal works better, set a time goal. Just make sure you’re writing for that five or ten or 60 minutes each day and not doing Facebook or the online crossword puzzle. They DO NOT count as writing.
Develop a system to monitor goals. I set up a spreadsheet to track word count, but I also monitor time on a daily journal. If that’s too complicated or if you like a visual reminder, try a calendar with big squares. Find a method that works for you. Decide how much time or how many words you want to write each month, then decide what you need to do each day to reach that goal. For each day you write, record the amount of time you spent or the number of words you wrote. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up.
Don’t let your goals rule you. You may be thinking this is a contradiction. It’s not. Life happens. There will be some days when, despite your best planning and intentions, you just can’t write. Don’t let it stress you out. That’s part of the reason I like weekly and monthly goals in addition to daily goals. If you miss a day, you can make it up somewhere else and the weekly or monthly goals provide the incentive to do so.
Have fun. Whether you write for personal pleasure or as a livelihood, have fun. For some, writing will become like a job and will require you treat it like a job, maintaining regular hours and behaving like your own employee. Try not to lose sight of the joy of writing. The reason writing drew you in the first place. Take time to nurture that, to grow it as you grow your career or hobby. You won’t regret it.