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The One Trait Every Writer Needs

Image via Creative Commons - credit 77S Photography

There are as many different attributes of great writing as there are great writers.

Many writers have a knack for dialogue. Others have a gifting for character development.

Some are expert researchers. While other creatives have a penchant for captivating storytelling and conveying novel ideas.

And then there are those that just seem born with an innate ease and unexplainable talent for connecting with readers – this type of writer galls me!

That doesn’t even address the obvious hallmarks of good writing such as proper grammar usage; solid sentence and story structure; appropriate tonality; a natural curiosity and interest in others as well as knowing your audience.

All of these attributes are necessary aspects for great writing, but the single most important factor for every successful writer can be summed up in a single word.


Every great writer from William Shakespeare to William F. Buckley Jr. has had to develop the  skill of perseverance – not that I’m any great shakes at cobbling words together myself.

In fact, if my writing was a character in the movie Amadeus, it would be more like Antonio Salieri than Wolfgang Amadeus Motzart. Meaning, I can recognize the genius and skill of others even though I’m devoid of both.

However, one thing I do is that I keep persevering and writing. Here are a few reasons why.

Finding Your Voice

The writing process is time consuming  because it is mainly a process of  trial and error. Good writing requires good thinking and working through those thoughts takes time.

Great writers spend more time finding what doesn’t work than finding what does work.  However, through that trial-and-error process the writer’s voice will emerge. But it’s only the persistent writer who finds their voice.

Enduring Rejection

The vast majority of writers pen their thoughts for another individual or audience, which means writers have to expect rejection. That’s a difficult trick to turn because most creatives write from their hearts, losses or experiences – the words are inseparable from the author.

Rejecting the writing is a rejection of the writer.

Rejection is a certainty along the writing path, yet the best writers get beyond rejection by writing something else – something new. They keep moving forward and that can only be accomplished by persevering.

Developing Your Craft

Whenever you take up a new hobby, skill or activity you can expect to be terrible at it initially. That’s part of life and learning.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s oft-quoted book Outliers, he asserts that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of doing a thing before the typical person becomes an expert at actually doing that thing.

So, don’t expect to become an expert writer until you’ve logged about 10,000 hours clacking away on a keyboard or scribbling on a legal pad. It takes time to hone your skill, but the best writers understand that and forge ahead.

Question: What other attributes do the best writers exhibit?

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  1. See, Tor, if you had gone to the “right” school, they would have drilled it into you before 10th grade. I am positive that we had to write papers, poems, reports, and the like- for 1/2 our school days. So, by 10th grade- we had our 10000 hours. (Of course, it was split between writing in Hebrew, English, French- and covering subjects like geography, civilizations, the Talmud, algebra, and the like…)

  2. Tor,

    While not terming myself a great writer — and, therefore not knowing exactly another characteristic of a great writer — one of the first thoughts that came to mind in answer to your question was…

    “They have to write.”

    In some way,
    Some form,
    Or somehow…

    They must keep writing.

    And that’s my thought for the day. Enjoy yours, Tor.

  3. Yep yep.

    Another trait: the ability to transfer a feeling (even more important than a thought) to the reader. Good writers make us FEEL something.

  4. Bill Scarrott says:

    Humility. The best writers have somebody who will tell them the hard truth about what they have written; they will have an editor. A great writer will take an editor’s advice to heart, without running away, screaming.

  5. thanks Tor. I like the categories you came up with here. I am just starting out with a novel, that I am pretty excited about. but as I read back on what I have written, it can be quite humbling too. I think that I am good at the story telling part, but not the others (dialogue, etc.). Still, i have perseverance! (only by the grace of God!). Keep writing!

  6. Observation! A great writer observes the world around them and is able to pen what they have seen. An artist observes the lines, the colors and the beauty. A writer observes the emotions evoked upon seeing the beauty, and puts this emotion into words which captivate the reader so much so that they are visually there! I want to be this kind of writer–one who can write a picture so clearly that others are drawn into the landscape.

    Great post, Tor!

  7. Some good advice…I bookmarked it to my “Writing Advice” folder.

  8. Detachment — not being too attached to their ideas; being open to examine and perhaps reject previous patterns of thought and expression; being ready to re-invent and re-structure their understanding of the world; loving going forward and not getting stuck with something that has worked for them in the past.

  9. I would say the ability to accept and learn from criticism is important, but I think that sort of goes along with enduring rejection. Willingness to learn and change, I suppose!

  10. Perseverance… Perfect :)

  11. You touched on it. But I want to be the voice for something that I believe in. I love to be the teller of a cause that is near to me.

  12. By Gladwell’s metric–at this point–I’m woefully behind. Like you, Tor, I recognize, and respond, to greatness, but have yet to achieve it.

    Oh, well–guess I’ll keep plugging away.

  13. C Heartstrings says:

    Great advice. Somehow I picture great writers behind an antique typewriter in a Hemmingway-style home banging away along with a stiff drink. I, for one, love the backspace key…. :)

  14. Kathi Laughman says:

    Reminds of that saying that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. Just have to get started. Enjoyed this one.

  15. Great advice :) I have no ideas how many hours I’ve logged writing different things… perseverance is definitely a trait writers need to have.

  16. No matter how many times I read the same advice to persevere in writing, it’s always the advice I need. For as lonely an art as writing can often be, it’s always encouraging to know that every other writer out there likely struggles with the same basic issue: committing to the oftentimes arduous work of writing so that you can do each of the things mentioned in the post. Thanks, again, for the reminder.

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