Without question, since the advent of the Kindle e-reader, a lot more of us have asked ourselves whether we might really have a shot at writing for a living. We have the occasional daydream about producing a string of bestsellers popular enough to land us in a comfortable villa in Carmel. But for the most part, we wonder whether we can generate an income stream from our novels steady enough to cover the monthly light bills in our current homes.
In the middle of working on the first rewrite of my debut novel, Sumotori, I asked my mentor whether she thought I had what it takes to write fiction professionally. I wanted her honest opinion on my raw talent. I wanted to know whether my progress in the craft of writing boded well for a future in commercial fiction.
At the time, I thought her answers–though supportive–were uncomfortably vague. Only time and experience would reveal to me why she responded as she did.
The bottom line is that raw talent plus polishing does not necessarily yield a profitable writing career.
While it’s certainly essential for an aspiring author to possess some measure of innate or cultivated talent, a bit of horse sense, an active imagination, and a rudimentary command of language, those elements are only the start in determining whether someone has the chops to write professionally.
Then What Separates the Pros from the Wannabes?
Authors James Scott Bell and Steven Pressfield–among many others–insist that perseverance is the pivotal quality without which no one will make it as a professional writer–talent notwithstanding. At the point when I asked my mentor about my future prospects, she had no way of knowing whether I would persevere, so she really couldn’t say whether or not I had what it takes, regardless of raw ability.
Writing every day is critical to making it as an author. (Yes, an author can and probably should take off a day or two every week to rest from writing, but not more than that.) Almost without exception, commercially successful authors tell aspiring writers how crucial it is to write toward a planned word count every day or every week. This is perseverance in action.
But the successful author’s perseverance has another indispensable component, namely undying dedication to the never-ending task of discovering and practicing those techniques and principles that make good fiction work. Writers who make it professionally are those who constantly look for ways to improve their plotting, dialogue, characterization, and settings.
Perhaps a good litmus test of whether we have what it takes to write for a living is bound up in the question, “Which of your novels do you consider to be your best?” Regardless of track record, to be a truly successful author, there’s only one correct response: “My next one.”
That’s perseverance. And that may well be the difference between writing for our own diversion and writing for an eager audience.