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A Half Dozen Hints for Deciding If You've Got What it Takes
© Katherine Swarts
If you want to write a book, these questions will help you evaluate your potential success in advance.
If you dream of writing a bestseller, you aren’t alone. A 2002 survey by the Jenkins Group found that 81 percent of Americans share that dream.
But most of those books never get written.
If you want your writing career to advance beyond cocktail-party conversation, the first step is to sit down at that word processor! But even before then—if you want to minimize the risk of giving up halfway—ask yourself a few questions.
1. Do you like to read?—more than just the daily paper? An author who never opens a book is as unlikely as a veterinarian who hates dogs. Any good writer reads at least one book a month for pleasure or self-education. If you find reading a chore, writing will be even more boring; and anything you do create will bore readers in turn.
2. Are you a readable writer already? E-mailing your mother every month doesn’t count. Good grades on high school essays don’t necessarily indicate publishable writing ability.
What have you written lately? An annual business report? A church newsletter article? A nature club press release? Did you get compliments on these? Has anyone ever told you, “You should be a writer”?
3. Do you truly enjoy writing? Do you become absorbed in the music of your words? Do you feel a glow of accomplishment on completing a piece? If you’re miserable all through the procedure, and your only feeling afterward is thank-God-that’s-over, you won’t last long as a serious writer.
4. Do you have another, reliable, source of income? Some people do earn full-time upper-middle-class incomes from writing, but none of them started by quitting a job one day, dashing off a letter that evening, and receiving a book contract in the next day’s mail. If you don’t have access to a year’s worth of savings, a top-earning investment, or a spouse with a high salary—stay in your “regular” job until your writing income nears the cost-of-living level.
5. Do you have a record of finishing what you start? Even successful writers occasionally dread turning on those word processors. If you have a history of quitting everything non-essential to your livelihood the moment it gets boring, chances are you won’t finish your first book, either.
(Quick tip: Don’t start with a whole book; write some short stories or articles first. They take far less time to finish, lowering the risk of wearing yourself out. They don’t need agents for publication. And they can bring in extra income while you’re finishing that book.)
6. Are you prepared to stick in there for the long haul? Don’t expect instant fame and fortune. Even top writers aren’t always recognized at first. J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book took thirteen tries to sell. Dr. Seuss’s first picture book was rejected nearly thirty times.
And finding a publisher is only the start. Even after all the writing, editing, and re-editing is finished, you’ll have to do your part selling the book. Especially the first time, you’ll have to handle most of the publicity work—distributing review copies, arranging for book signings, sending out press releases. Your publisher will only take over once you become a top seller.
If you can honestly answer “yes” to all the preceding, you may indeed have what it takes to be a writer. Check Suite101’s other “writing” articles—plus the top writers’ magazines and Web sites (Writer’s Digest, The Writer, writing-world.com) to learn how to get started!