What it Takes

For the past three years, I’ve derived my living entirely from writing — which I guess makes me “successful.” The past six days have illustrated for me one important trait of successful writers. During that time, I’ve spent time in the following ways

  • Taking a tango lesson
  • Changing and singing to a baby
  • Helping with my older son’s wrestling team
  • Moshing in the pit at a 6-hour folk metal concert
  • Teaching karate
  • Learning about calculus
  • Watching Sesame Street
  • Interviewing staff at a local business
  • Hanging drywall
  • Moving money for investment purposes
  • Learning capoeira
  • Cooking Italian, Cajun and Thai food

The point here isn’t that I’m awesome (though I take full credit that it’s been an awesome week). The point is that writers must have — and keep having — varied experiences if we want to be successful.

Writers are generalists. (Some specialists also write, but that’s not the same thing). The more you learn, the more you do, the more interest you take in the world around you, the more “hooks” you’ll have to hang information on when it comes to doing your work.

For nonfiction writers this widens the number of assignments you can accept. A wide base of experience gives you the ability to competently research many topics — an ability you wouldn’t have with only a few deep areas of knowledge.

For fiction writers, this experience helps you develop compelling situations and interesting characters. More experiences means you can describe scenes and people with details that come from what you’ve actually seen and done. As Joe R. Lansdale puts it, you can always spot a love scene written by a virgin.

Remember, as a writer your main job is to be interesting — or at least to present information in an interesting manner. If you’re not interested, you can’t be interesting.

Thanks for listening.

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