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How to be a successful writer (with the help of some extra terrestrials)

Advanced tips for writers

How to be a successful writer

Here are some thoughts on writing and success (with the help of some extra terrestrials) and how to become a successful writer. Please let me know your own definitions of success in the comments below. I promise you it is possible to be a successful writer, but there’s no linear route to writing success and it’s more to do with mindset than you think.

Define writing success

Define writing success. Really. What does it mean to you? And when you notice a successful writer, what criteria do they fulfill? If you feel you are not successful, what do you imagine writing success will be like for you? How does that match up with other successful writers you follow or know about? More on that in a minute.

Some definitions of success

You could define writing success in so many different ways. Here are some:

  • Establishing a writing habit and showing up regularly
  • Producing work that makes you proud or that your friends and family enjoy
  • Writing a book as a legacy for your children and grandchildren
  • Seeing your name in a by-line in a magazine or newspaper
  • Performing your work on stage (or seeing it performed) in front of a paying audience
  • Organising a reading event or poetry festival
  • Holding your published book in your hand
  • Seeing someone reading your book ‘out in the wild’
  • Seeing your book in a library or bookshop
  • Seeing your book for sale on Amazon
  • Winning a major prize
  • Selling a certain number of books
  • Getting reviewed in major publications
  • Having a long-term career as a writer
  • Earning a lot of money from your writing or enough to give up your day job
  • Being friends with other successful writers
  • Being asked to speak at festivals and events because of your writing success
  • Attracting clients to your business because you’ve published a book and established yourself as an expert
  • Selling the film or TV rights to your book
  • Feeling happy and excited as you turn up at your desk to write each day
  • Teaching a course in writing at a University or on a prestigious writing course

Do any of these definitions of writing success chime with you? What would you add to the list? Do any of these definitions fit the lives – as far as you know – of the successful writers you see putting themselves out there?

Aliens and Water

On my teacher training course we did an exercise where we had to explain water to aliens visiting from another planet. We got the idea eventually, but at the beginning of the class, each time someone made a suggestion, the workshop leader said ‘Yes, but what about before that? And before that? And what about before that?’ Those extra terrestrials didn’t speak English or have any concept of ‘taps’ or ‘drinking’ or ‘wetness’. I learnt a lot about teaching that day, which I won’t share now, but let’s use that idea of ‘What about before that? And before that?’ and apply it to writing success.

Mapping a route to success

It’s easy to see success as if it’s some sort of amorphous, ethereal, and elusive entity that’s impossible to define, like a higher life force from an episode of Star Wars: Next Generation. But if you do start to define what it means to you, it’s much easier to map a route towards it. By the way, if you’re in a writing group, ask the other members to define what writing success means. If you can get them to give honest answers (we tend to get embarrassed talking about it) then you might notice some themes emerging, or you might surprise yourself by uncovering hidden assumptions about what writing success means.

Say you were going to become a successful writer, according to your own definition of success, in 2 years time. (You can change the time limit – this is a thought experiment!) What would you need to do immediately before you reach the level of success you’ve stipulated? What would you need to do before that? And before that? What could you do this month? This week? Today?

Want to be a millionaire?

I know of at least one coach who advocates the following approach to becoming a millionaire: find a millionaire you admire and copy what they did. Now admittedly I didn’t read about the system this coach used or the detailed suggestions he made for following this through, so I’m rifting on the idea here without knowing much about it. That said, we can easily apply it to writing success.

You know those writers who you think of as successful? There’s nothing to stop you from following successful writers on social media and reading about them so that you can use some of the same approaches. You might also want to think about why you consider them successful. How do you know? Is the definition of writing success you apply to them the same as the definition you apply to yourself?

In the internet age, you can look into these writers’ lives in more detail (especially if they’ve written or talked about their journey), in order to discover what led to their success. I suggest doing this with more than one person so you can notice the patterns. It’s not necessarily the case, of course, that you need to copy their approach literally, but you can learn a lot about mindset, commitment and determination by doing this kind of research.

By the way, simply looking at what people say on social media isn’t enough – because that tends to be biased in favour of the successful moments. You won’t necessarily learn about the journey or the failures along the way.


  • Definition of success: reading my work on stage in front of an audience.
  • What would you have to do immediately before that? Get booked to perform OR organise your own reading event.
  • And before that? Rehearse my performance.
  • And before that? Find out about opportunities to perform my work.
  • And before that? Write something I could perform.
  • And before that? Learn more about the writing process and attend spoken word events.
  • And before that? Find out about spoken word events in my area. Look into books / courses / workshops on performing your poetry.
  • And before that? Find some spoken word poets online and follow them on social media.

But I don’t know how

If you find yourself saying ‘I don’t know how’, make judicious use of the word ‘research’ and find people who already do it by asking for recommendations everywhere you can. Here’s the example again with several ‘I don’t know hows’ disguised as ‘research’ thrown in:

  • Definition of success: reading my work on stage in front of an audience.
  • What would you have to do immediately before that? Research how you get to perform your work on stage
  • And before that? Work out who to ask / where to look for help.
  • And before that? Ask at the library / research local theatres / ask on Facbook?
  • And before that? Write something I could perform.
  • And before that? Learn more about the writing process.
  • And before that? Research learning opportunities – ask X and X friends / contacts.
  • And before that? Ask around for advice and research people already doing it.

If in doubt, 1) use your own definition of success, 2) remember those aliens and keep asking ‘And before that?’ and 3) find someone already doing it.

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More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

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