The top ten qualities every author needs


02 November 2020
What does it take to be an author? Read on to find out the qualities a writer needs to succeed.

1. Love of writing

It goes without saying that any author worth their salt has a deep and enduring love of writing. You can’t be an author without putting the time in and writing words – lots and lots of words – and although there’s no guarantee that fame and fortune will come your way, if you write for love then you’ve given yourself a really good start.

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2. Love of reading

The piece of advice we hear over and over again from successful published authors to aspiring writers is: Read. Read widely. Read in your genre, and explore others too. Read as a reader, for pleasure, and read as a writer, being aware of the writing techniques being used and analysing how an author achieved a particular effect. Reading is a way for an author to learn the tools of their trade – how would you expect to know what makes a good book if you don’t read them?

3. Imagination

Each author’s imagination is unique to them but it’s vital that you have an imagination, and cultivate it. As an author, your ideas are your stock in trade, so make point of fostering your imagination – reading, creating imaginative space, daydreaming – and paying attention to what it’s telling you and the directions it wants to lead you and your creative work.

4. Commitment

Staying power is vital to an author. Writing a book-length manuscript is a long slog that can take years. You have to put the hours in, bum on seat, churning out words, redrafting, editing and polishing. Discipline is vital – you don’t necessarily need to write every day but you do need to write, and build up words, to create a finished first draft, and then a polished manuscript. As in any relationship, commitment to your writing can be hard work, and a successful author will understand this and be prepared to ride out the rough passages as well as make the most of the good times.

5. Pragmatism

Although having your head in the clouds (see above) is a quality found in many authors, being able to keep your feet on the ground is just as important. There’s no point having all those wonderful ideas if you don’t then spend some time making conscious, realistic choices about what you want to write, how you are going to go about it, what you want to achieve and if your aim is to be published, where and how you’re going to achieve it. You need to be practical about what a writer’s life actually entails and how you are going to support yourself. Is writing going to be your main source of income, and if so, what are you going to do to make that happen?

6. Faith in yourself

Being an author means spending a lot of time alone with yourself and the story you want to tell. It can sometimes be lonely and for a lot of time, especially at the beginning, you won’t know how the end product is going to turn out, and after that you won’t know how it will be received. You have to believe in your story and you have to believe in your ability to tell it – and to finish what you started. It’s an old cliché that the only difference between an unpublished and a published author is that the latter didn’t give up – but it’s true, and that vital determination to see your project through to completion comes from having faith in yourself as a writer.

7. Curiosity

A good author is always on the lookout for ideas and stories, which means they’re always interested in what’s out there – past, present and future. They will always ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ and want to see how far they can go with an idea. They won’t be satisfied with an easy answer, or a superficial impression. They’ll want to understand what people are like, how things work and why things happen. They’re people-watchers, interested in what’s going on and what’s going on beneath the surface.

8. A way with words

Words are an author’s tools and a good author will want to achieve mastery of them. They’ll want to hone them and shape them, revelling in the possibilities of language and how it can best express their ideas. A good writer will enjoy putting words together and will use them to express one of the most vital qualities for any writer, which is…

9. A unique voice

A good author understands that their perspective, their viewpoint, their use of language, their take on ideas are all unique to them, and constitute their writer’s voice. Use of language is part of it but voice is also to do with how it expresses the writer’s original ideas. Finding a voice is something a lot of new writers worry about it and it can take time for a fledgling author to discover their writing voice, but when it comes you’ll recognise it because it will feel true and more authentic – like you, but amplified.

10. Having something to say

A good author, no matter what genre, has something they need to communicate. They understand that writing, no matter how well put together, is pointless unless the writer has communicated something that needs to be said. That’s why a good author tends to have themes they return to again and again, whether that be exploring love under duress, inhumanity, sibling relationships, how history is told through objects – whatever their themes may be, good authors always have something that lies at the heart of their writing and gives their story a particular resonance that makes it connect with its readers.

Here are some more top tips on how to succeed as a writer, from bestselling author Kathryn Hughes