How to Become a Successful Writer

To reach your writing goals you need a different mindset

In 2018, three men made a 50 day kite-skiing journey across Antarctica. Their goal — to climb the North face of Mt Spectre.

“It’s 21st century exploration at the edge of the impossible” — Leo Houlding

Leo Houlding and his team mates — Mark Sedon, and Jean Burgun — set out together to try to achieve something that had never been done before.

Hardly any of us are going to take on an extreme goal like this team did, but trying to become a successful writer is no small challenge — it’s one that can seem “at the edge of the impossible.”

We need to shift our mindset when we take on a challenge. Writing is a rewarding career and the right thinking can help you reach your goal. 

1. Thinking about planning

Before they even start their trips, extreme adventurers, like the Antarctic team, plan for months or sometimes years. They ask other experienced adventurers for advice, and study the terrain. They test equipment, checking and double checking everything. They train. They know that if they don’t plan well enough they are not only risking failure — they are also risking their lives.

Planning can seem like the boring part. We just want to get started already! A lot of us prefer to skip the planning stage and just wing it: go with our gut. But there is a saying — which many people attribute to Benjamin Franklin — that turns out to be true in most situations:

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. 

If your challenge is to write a novel, you will have more chance of finishing it if you know your direction. Try Shaunta Grimes resources for planning it out.

If you want to get published in magazines, you’ll have more success if you know how you‘re going to do that. How do you pitch to editors? What support, information, or training do you need?

You could just wing it — throw some writing into the world to see if it sticks —  but with training, planning, and advice you are more likely to succeed.  

2. Everything is Better with Friends

Writers are often like solo adventurers. Even solo adventurers, though, have a support crew. It’s important to have someone to share your victories and failures with along the way (not just the big one at the end).

One morning in Antarctica, in a perfect example of support, adventurer Jean Burgun’s feet were frozen numb. His team mate, Mark, warmed they up on his bare stomach for half and hour until Jean could feel them again. That’s why we need each other!

Whether you have a capable mentor helping you reach your writing goals, an experienced support group encouraging you, or a friend beside you to warm your feet, everything is better when you have others to face the challenge with.

Join a writers group in your local area, Facebook or Slack group of Medium writers, or find a mentor.  

3. If You Want to Do Something Great, You Can’t Avoid Hard Work

“Nothing is easy!” laughs one of the kite-skiing team as they sit on their packs, reflecting on their climb. They had taken an alternative route up to the summit: the easy route. But when you are climbing a mountain in Antarctica there really is no “easy” route — you are still climbing a frozen mountain in the harshest of conditions!

Our human tendency is to avoid hard work but when we want to succeed at something great we need to push past this natural tendency. Facing the hard work is the only way to do something great — nothing significant is easy.

Some people dream of being a great writer but they never actually write. Writing is work. It requires effort and time. Starting out as a writer is not easy at all and success can take years of hard work. Are you willing to do it? 

4. Sometimes You Need Help to Get Out of the Crevasse

Being dragged backwards across the ice by his sled, Leo managed to radio his team mates:

“My pulk has fallen in a crevasse and is pulling me toward it. Help!”

Each man in the kite-ski team pulled behind them a 160–180kg pulk (sled). Leo’s had broken through the ice but, luckily, the safety knot in the rope had become caught on the edge, preventing the sled from falling any further.

Leo’s team came to the rescue. Jean secured the rope, abseiled down into the crevasse to unload his sled, and lifted it out.

“That could have been fatal. It could have been a nasty accident.” Mark Sedon

When we face challenges in our writing: lots of rejection, writer’s block, illness, a bad writing client, sometimes it feels like we’ve fallen into a crevasse. A situation happens and it throws us off course. We get discouraged. We can be skiing along towards our goal feeling like we are doing well, and the next minute we’re in crisis.

Sometimes we need to climb out of the crevasse before we can continue and to do that we might need to ask for help — that’s okay. It’s not a failure. When you fall into a crevasse don’t give up and just slide right in. Ask for help, use your support network, get advice, and carry on.

5. Know When to Rest

“Every part of my body hurt some days but overnight we’d rest and by morning, I’d be mostly okay again.”

There were times in our team’s journey where they were exhausted. The weather packed in and they had a choice — rest or push through.

They chose to rest.

We can be reluctant to rest. When we have a goal in mind we just want to push through and do it. Many writers talk about needing to write every day to be successful, but we are humans not robots, and humans need to rest. If we refuse to listen to our bodies and take a break when we need to, we can run into serious trouble.

Adventurers know that sometimes you have a higher chance of reaching the summit if you climb down the mountain, return to camp, rest properly, and try again.

Yes, you might be halfway there already. But if your body is telling you it’s done, you need to listen.

6. Know When to Let Go — It’s the Journey That Counts

At the end of their expedition, Leo Houlding and his team had not quite achieved what they set out to do: climb the North face of Mt Sceptre, but they felt like the trip was a success anyway. The let go of their original idea and redefined their success. They had done something amazing, difficult, and shared an incredible journey together. They had spent 50 days kite-skiing Antarctica and climbed Mt Sceptre, one of the most isolated peaks in the world!

Focusing on the adventure and the process you go through gives you much more satisfaction than focusing on the final goal. And if you didn’t quite achieve what you set out to, it’s much easier to let that go.

Studies show that having a “journey-mindset” can be helpful in sustaining successes long term. If you have a goal of publishing a novel for example, focusing on the learning and improvements you made in your writing will mean you are far more likely to try again, even if you didn’t get published this time. 

We can learn a lot from the individuals who are courageous enough to face extreme challenges head on. Writing is a brave career choice — one full of challenges, disappointments, and hard work. Working towards a successful career in writing is an adventure. Let’s embrace the mindset of adventurers!