I am hardly a published writer, so it may make me sound like a jerk to claim that I know the key to being one–but though I have yet to achieve it, I believe I have identified the ONE skill every published writer has, and that can make you (and hopefully me) a published writer as well.
There is one thing that each and every novel has in common, regardless of author, genre, age, or quality–and it’s something anyone can do. The simple key is that all of these books are finished. And the only skill you need to make sure all of your projects get finished is this: commitment.
Commitment is the key to success in this business. This may be counterintuitive to those who would think that the merit/quality of the idea/story itself is the key to success, but it’s true. Yes, a great idea is more likely to be a financial success and may be easier to commit to, but the ultimate quality of a writer is not the quality of their ideas but the strength of their commitment.
A writer should be able to commit to any idea—regardless of its merit, originality, how much they like it, or how much it’s ‘them’—and see it through. The quality at the end of that process may or may not be there, but the completion of it is the first and vital foundation of any level of quality. You may have complex and beautifully drawn characters, a twisting and dazzling plot, and prose that makes dead poets weep–but if you can never finish anything, the guy with the cardboard characters, predictable plot, leaden prose and finished product will beat you EVERY time.
If you can develop your ability to commit so that it can extend to any project, any time, and see anything through, then your success is practically guaranteed. No one can guarantee financial and public success, which can be fickle and inconstant, but success in finishing projects is the essential groundwork underlying all forms of success. And, along the way as you’re finishing projects, you will be developing skills and craftwork that will raise the overall quality of your work. You will find things you love in every project, even the ones that you don’t particularly like when you commit to them—and you will learn things from all projects as well. At the end of the day, I truly believe that a writer who consistently produces one book a year, even with varying quality (of ideas and of the work itself), will over their career end up with a better canon of work than the writer who waits their whole life for that perfect idea and writes one perfect book. Some would disagree, and perhaps be right, but that one perfect book cannot necessarily match the variety and complexity of an entire body of work which contains many imperfect books—but is slowly building towards an even more perfect book. And, of course, in the end, quality and perfection are in the eye of the beholder.
So the one skill truly necessary for a writer to develop—over grammar, over voice and style, over creativity—is COMMITMENT. The ability to take any idea, any story, any glimmer and commit to see it through to the end, no matter what. What comes after the end is a struggle all its own, but the first step, and the ultimate step, is that first one: commit.
How to commit is another entry in and of itself, something I’ll write more on when I have actually done it. But maybe you can succeed where I still fail, and then let me know!
“The goal is not perfection but completion.” – probably someone smarter than me, but I may have made it up. 🙂