What are the most important writing skills you must master in order to become a professional writer?
The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Every year, sleds line up at the start line of the Iditarod Trail. The longest, hardest and toughest sled dog race in the world.
Racers know that ahead of them lie more than 1,000 miles of pure white trails, extreme temperatures and a slim chance to win the prize.
The journey to earn professional writing skills is a bit like a never ending Iditarod race.
In the frozen beauty of nature accompanied only by the sound of our sled ripping through the snow, our mental strength and perseverance are more important than anything else.
But sometimes we think too much and do too little.
At least, I know I do.
I tend to read more blog posts about how to write a proper blog post than actually writing one. I procrastinate out of fear or rejection and the need of constant validation.
Instead of grabbing the reins of my writing life I keep obsessing about the craft.
And, chances are, if you’re reading this maybe you do too.
Most days I publish articles that people don’t care enough to read. But on some rare occasions I publish something interesting that ends up gaining some temporary traction on social media before dying out quickly and ending up buried under the gigantic content pile of the deep web.
Everything seems so temporary today that it give us the impression that we should be succeeding every time our fingers touch the keyboard.
This can be overwhelming.
And for the newbies who are unaccustomed to deal with their insecurities, this fast-paced culture can create a deadly trap.
In today’s culture, writing can quickly turn into an unhealthy competition for likes, claps, shares and comments. It creates the illusion that, if we’re not getting claps every time we publish something, then we’re an abject failure.
But real success as a writer comes from being in the game long enough until the hours of practice, and the hours of honing our craft finally turn our opaque and dull words into something magical and full of life.
But to achieve this, writers don’t need to play the fast game. They should hone their writing skills like the racers of the Iditarod trail.
Enthusiasm is meaningless in the long game
Enthusiasm is a trickster. It trick us into believing we can play the long game, but it never survives long enough to show us how to do it.
Enthusiasm will be by our side during those first few days. But it will quickly ghosts us when frustration, rejection or lack of recognition come our way.
And to stay in the long game and earn those writing skills we must learn to observe our thoughts and understand what passes through our minds when our enthusiasm starts to wane.
I never understood what the long game really meant until I started writing for publications on Medium.
When we write for our own blog for such a long time we grow unaccustomed to waiting. On our blog and social media accounts everything is immediate and fast.
We take pictures, edit, write a witty caption, chose our hashtags and hit publish without a second thought. If the post performs well we’re flooded by likes and comments that give us a little ego boost and makes us feel like we achieved something important.
But, in fact, we didn’t.
We forgo to delay gratification and we miss the opportunity to hone our writing skills. But Medium taught me otherwise. It taught me to build the single most important skill a writer must learn to master: Patience!
On Medium there’s no such thing as an immediate ego boost for the newbies. You write your article to the best of your abilities, you submit to a publication and then you wait.
Waiting is terrible. Not knowing if the publication will run your article, not knowing if your article is good enough to pass the threshold. It’s hard… but also necessary.
It allow us to disconnect from our work and to move forward and continue building our writing skills and stamina.
A writing skill to rule all others
I find it hard to stick with a physical exercise routine because I don’t see immediate results.
That’s why I suck at sticking with a writing routine and long ambitious projects as well.
My brain expects me to stay motivated through it all. It expects immediate results and recognition. Because writing is hard. And we’re brought up to expect recognition for our hard work.
But we can’t realistically demand results and praise before we prove ourselves and the world that we can stay in this game for more than 100 blog posts or 100 short stories.
Enthusiasm seeks approval in order to continue to feed us with motivation. But approval in the beginning is scarce and even scarcer in the middle, that place where you already learned to master patience but you have yet to see the results of your labor.
To stay in the long game we need to learn to write when we’re not inspired. When we feel we don’t have anything interesting to say. Or when we feel nobody is reading a single word we write.
I used to have this recurring nightmare; I was standing in the middle of a plaza filled with people and I was screaming at the top of my lungs and nobody cared. Some people stopped briefly to laugh at my face, but most people ignored me.
I usually woke up crying. I had this dream before I started taking massive action towards my writing goals. This dream showed me that I cannot expect recognition if I’m merely waiting for others to see my value.
I haven’t had that dream since I started writing consistently.
Maybe nobody is listening to what I have to say, but I found my peace and balance in this deliberate practice.
I found something that’s much more useful than my short-lived enthusiasm or the ever-fleeting social recognition.
It’s called trust and patience. Not patience to do it long enough until I become successful, but patience to learn how to enjoy the process and keep growing as a writer, everyday.
What about you? What do you do when your enthusiasm starts to wane? How do you muster the courage to get back at the keyboard every day? How do you hone your writing skills?
Image credits: Jack Millard on Unsplash