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Posted on Mon, Jan 24, 2011 : 10:14 a.m.

The wordy transition: 7 virtues every writer needs to succeed

By Melissa LR Handa

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The writer must every day be overjoyed that today she has the opportunity to set pen to page and, in some small way, join the ranks of Shakespeare, Joyce, and Rowling. For more writing advice, follow this link.

What makes a good writer? Is it a talent for seamlessly styling prose? A working knowledge of proper grammatical techniques? The simple ability to write productively?

Technical skills are important, it’s true, but much more important in defining a good writer is virtue. It cannot be denied that there are a certain number of personal traits that come in handy when the going gets tough, and let’s not deny it — the going is tough most of the time.

So here they are, my seven virtues of writing success. These may look a bit familiar:

1. Reverence— The would-be writer must have a profound respect for the craft. She must look upon the written word as something that is sacred, something that is vested with the enormous, all-important power of both entertaining and enlightening.

2. Knowledge— To be a writer, one must write. To write, one must know how, at least to some level. It is not for others to pass judgment on how well you understand the craft (that part comes a bit later in the process).

3. Wisdom— Beyond this basic knowledge, the writer must possess wisdom. She must know when her writing is ready to be sent to agents and when it is not. She must know which rearrangement of her daily routine is the most conducive to productive writing, and then she must ensure that she follows this itinerary — to not only know how to write, but also know how to make the most of her writing. If she has this wisdom but chooses to ignore it, then she is a fool.

4. Understanding— The true writer understands that she must lose sleep, lose friends and lose her sanity, and that even then she has no guarantee of ever being recognized as a writer. She must understand, yet she must not dwell. She must keep her feet firmly rooted on the ground as she allows her hopeful head to drift towards the heavens.

5. Courage— To write is to bare the soul. It is to relay the intimate details of our inner minds, hearts and sometimes even our bodies. The artist of words paints her soul onto a billboard-sized canvas. She publicizes and celebrates her own life’s secrets. The writer must be brave and work steadfastly toward her goals. She who can submit her soul’s work to the scrutiny of others and continue to smile, continue to believe in the value of her contributions, even upon repeatedly being told “sorry, this isn’t for us,” is very courageous indeed.

6. Counsel— The wise writer takes up counsel. She must become intimate friends with the characters she creates — for if she does not believe than to be real then who else will? She must engage with others who understand her plight and are able to offer her support when the enormity of her task sometimes overwhelms her. The intelligent writer will also take up the company of other writers, walking hand in hand with them toward their own literary lights. The savvy writer knows that if one can succeed than others may too. Plus, the path of karmic retribution is strong for those of us who write.

7. Wonder— Throughout all of the toil, the heartbreak and the internet-induced procrastination, the writer must maintain a sense of wonder for her craft. She must every day be overjoyed that today she had the opportunity to set pen to page and, in some small way, join the ranks of Shakespeare, Joyce and Rowling. The true writer will never turn her back on the craft. She will always derive pleasure from reading a good book, from writing a snappy line of dialogue and from sipping a steaming cup of coffee.

The writer who possesses these virtues is not far from success. She must be steadfast in her self-belief and continue to aspire toward her dream. For if she believes in herself, it’s only a matter of time before someone else will too.

Note: Definitions of "writing success" may vary. I have tailored this post with regard to not only writing productively but also securing a literary agent and/or publication (since that's the phase of writing I am currently in).

Melissa LR Handa, who also writes fiction by the name of Emlyn Chand, is the founder and organizer of the Ann Arbor Classics Book Group and the Lead Books Contributor for She is also an aspiring novelist, steadfastly seeking the publication of her first novel while penning her second. She conducts live twitterviews with authors every Thursday and with bloggers every Tuesday at 4 PM EST. You can contact Melissa via Twitter, Facebook, or email, or learn more about her by visiting her website:



Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 11:49 a.m.

I think you missed a big one: perseverance. If you are a writer of any kind--but perhaps especially if you are a "creative" writer--you have to keep working, working, working and not get discouraged when things don't go your way.

Melissa LR Handa

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

I agree, there were many more virtues required of the writerly life that I would have loved to discuss. I chose to conform to the &quot;gifts of the spirit,&quot; as listed in the Bible. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Perseverance and courage are, I believe, two of the most important attributes of the creative writer (especially one who seeks publication).

Melissa LR Handa

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 11:20 a.m.

Yes, Rowling. JK's a fantastic storyteller and a skilled wordsmith. A modern-day writing hero.

Will Warner

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

Has she published anything other than the HP books? If so, I'll give it a read. For me characterization is the most important element in fiction and I can't seem to get interested in characters with magical powers, or who lived in galaxies far far away, or have names like Bilbo. (Wavey and Dogberry are OK). All I want from a novel is the author's take on (forgive the cliche) the human condition, and while I know that fantasy/scifi is often employed to that end, I can't seem to connect with it. My loss, I know.

Will Warner

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 12:37 a.m.


Melissa LR Handa

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

JK also wrote &quot;The Beedle and the Bard,&quot; but for you, it'd be more of the same. We each have our own unique literary tastes. Like you, I prefer books that speak to the human condition, which is why I am a huge fan of the classics and literary fiction. Occasionally, I need a lighter read and for that YA lit is just perfect. Do you write as well, Will? Are you a fellow literary fiction writer? I don't meet many--we are a rare and discouraged breed.