“Patience is the companion of wisdom.”

-Saint Augustine

If you’re reading this you want to know the secret to becoming a successful writer. That elusive trait which separates the Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings of the world from all the unknown authors out there drowning in obscurity at any given time. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but this isn’t going to be groundbreaking advice. If you want to become a successful writer the best trait to have is the most boring one: patience.

Yes, you need to have talent to be a writer. You also need to be persistent, creative, and willing to learn. But above all else, you must be a patient person. This is for two reasons: One, to become a great writer, you’ll have to put in the time. A true writer is one who doesn’t stop learning and working on improving their craft. Often, the greatest writers of our time put out their best work later in their lives (such as Hemingway with The Old Man and the Sea).

ernest hemingway drinking
Hemingway also had some other hobbies to take up his time.

The second reason patience is so important to becoming a successful writer is because of all the rejection and time-consuming work you’ll face. Without patience, well, let’s just say writer might not be the best profession for you. At least in regards to being a novelist. Not counting the actual writing and editing of a novel, it can take years to sell the book and get it published. If you don’t have the patience to deal with agent/publisher querying, rewriting work, promoting work, or dealing with countless rejections of your work, you are almost guaranteed to fail.

You see, it’s very unlikely you’ll score a major hit with your first book. Which means you’ll have to work really hard to get the ball rolling. This is especially true if you decide to forego all the above trials and just self-publish. And if you do self-publish, you might end up needing to do much more work than you would have if you just went the traditional publishing route. Because while it seems like self-publishing is perfect for the impatient writer, it’s actually the opposite. If you want to do things properly and put out a successful book, you’ll have to work your ass off. And until you build a strong following, you’re looking at years and years of grinding away to make something of your self-published work. Unless you have tons of money to burn, it’s going to take a lot of time to make it as a writer.

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Unlike most art forms, writing is one of the hardest to get attention in. This is mainly because there are so many damn writers out there. To make yourself stand above the rest you must bring something unique to the table. But unless you’re some kind of writing prodigy, it’s going to take years to get anywhere. Are you starting to notice a pattern here?

The old joke is, “it took me ten years to become an overnight success.” This is the path of most writers. Even those who deal in work other than novel writing. There aren’t any shortcuts you can take, and often, finding writing success is a real crapshoot. While writers like Stephen King had a stack of rejection letters a mile long before he got his break, you do get those strange and inexplicable meteoric rises to the top like EL James. Of course—as anyone who has read the 50 Shades books can attest to—flash in the pan writers rarely have the skills to prolong their careers.

50 shades

Well there you have it. This wasn’t the sexiest advice, and I’m sure most of you will dismiss it. For those who do ignore this, be warned, the impatient writer is the one who falls behind.

Whether you’re too impatient to edit a project, query agents, or even finish writing a complete story, you’ll never find success unless you learn to take your time and savor the process. Because being a writer isn’t just about writing and publishing books. You must accept all the other things—the dirty, boring things—that come with the profession. Unlike an artist who can paint one portrait and move on to the next project, a writer’s work keeps going long after the book is finished.

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