Six Traits Every Writer Must Develop

Alton Gansky is the author of 43 books or so and director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference held each May in North Carolina. There he teaches and mentors and looks for new talent.

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Writing is
one of those rare things

that is both an art and a craft. Art is applied creativity usually meant to
share with others. Craft is the skill used to create the art. A painter must be
able to do more than envision the finished work, she must also have developed
the necessary technique to move a mental picture to the canvas, or sculpt a
three dimensional image. Some are gifted with the ability to conjure up great
ideas but lack the craft, the skill necessary to bring the idea to life.
Writers must be able to do both.
Here are six traits, six qualities, every writer should possess:
1. Fearless
This is the
ability to conceive a plot, recognize an important subject for an article, or
discern a much needed topic for a devotion. Fearless imagination means:
  • a. A
    willingness to ask “what if” questions and then spend sometime
    thinking about the answer.
  • b. An ability
    to shut out the negative voices in our head or in our social and family
  • c. A
    willingness to have more ideas than can be produced by a single author.
  • d. An ability
    to be honest enough with one’s self to say, “On further review, this idea
    stinks,” and toss it aside. If you allow yourself the privilege of having
    many, many ideas, some of them are bound to be losers. Recognize them. Call
    them for what they are. Move on to the next idea. Diamond miners move tons of
    useless rock to discover a few precious gems.

Commitment to the process.

Writing is a process. Book length work takes time to create. A lot of time.
Even short form pieces like articles can be time consuming and research
intensive. Commitment to the process means:
  • a. Having the
    ability to maintain enthusiasm over the long haul.
  • b. An
    understanding that writing involves other people and it takes time to jump
    through hoops.
  • c. A
    willingness to try and try again.
  • d. Knowing that
    receiving a rejection is not the same as receiving a diagnosis for a
    terminal disease. By the time you receive a rejection you should be well into
    your next project.

3. A
willingness to fail.
one likes failing, but we all do it. Some of the most successful people are
those who have a longer list of failures. To paraphrase (a very loose
paraphrase) Teddy Roosevelt, “It is better to fail while attempting
something great than be a cold and timid soul who knows neither victory nor
defeat. A willingness to fail means:
  • a. Having a
    baseball mentality. In baseball, the best batters get a hit about 3 times out
    of every 10 at bats. In other words, as batters they have a 70% failure rate.
    That doesn’t matter. What is important is the three times they get a hit.
    That’s what people remember.
  • b. Knowing that
    failure is only permanent if you let it be or if it kills you (in which case it
    no longer matters).

4. A love of
the language.
There are
readers who skim a book; there are readers who savor books.
Writers tend to be the latter, pausing over an especially well-crafted
sentence, scene description. This is true of fiction and nonfiction. Some of
the best prose I’ve read I found in the pages of a nonfiction book or an
article. Read a George Will column sometime. A love of language means:
  • a. Caring about
    the power of words to move the mind.
  • b. Committing
    to making your current work the best you’ve ever created. In the end you might
    fall short of that goal, but you renew the commitment on the next project.
  • c. Studying
    writers who have reached the highest pinnacle of the craft.
  • d. Reading to
    find what was done right, not looking for what the writer did wrong.
  • e. Knowing the
    learning of art and craft never ceases, and that’s a good thing.

5. Knowing
that trying and failing is superior to failing to try.
changes. Sometimes the change is fast and unexpected; sometimes we see it
coming. In either case, the successful writer knows how to bend so as not to

What qualities do
you think a successful writer should have?