Note: This is a guest post by Tim Leffel. Tim is a veteran blogger, editor, and freelancer. He is the author of Travel Writing 2.0, now in its second edition. He interviews successful writers at the accompanying blog and runs the Travel Writing Overdrive course.
What’s a word that starts with a P and is essential to a writer’s success? While many colorful words may come to mind, the real P-word is rather mundane:
Many professional writing skills can be learned, but often it’s attitude that separates the winners from the losers in freelance writing or blogging. Those who are persistent keep fighting to get heard, to get articles published, to put out a book that resonates with the public.
As Steven Pressfield said in The War of Art, the artist who is a professional regularly endures adversity. “He lets the birdshit splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing. He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried, even beneath a mountain of guano. His core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it. “
When I was putting together the second edition of my book Travel Writing 2.0, I got survey responses from more than 80 working travel writers. In the survey were two pointed questions about achieving success today.
- What has led to your success as a travel writer or blogger?
- What separates the successful travel writers and bloggers from the rest of the pack?
What I got back were a lot of quotes about hard work, perseverance, and persistence. As author Peter Moore said, “After my first book was promptly rejected by every publisher on the planet., I stepped back and approached things from another angle. When that didn’t work I tried another. Eventually I got my bit of dumb luck and I got ‘inside.’ I was also lucky that my first book did well enough for my publishers to want to publish another one.” He’s now seven books in and still plugging away.
Chris Epting also has close to 20 books in his biography and makes a comfortable living on royalties, assignments, and speaking engagements. When asked about his success, he says, “The keys have been persistence, tenacity, and follow-through.”
Some writers will give a nod to dumb luck, a kind editor, or being in the right place at the right time, but it’s that ability and willingness to keep at it after repeated rejections and setbacks that separate the working writers from the hobbyists.
Granted you need a modicum of talent and a regular flow of good ideas, but the most brilliant writers aren’t usually the most successful ones.
The most brilliant writers aren’t usually the most successful ones.
Those are too hung up on being artists to keep marketing themselves when it gets hard. Like it or not, successful writers are usually successful salespeople—even if they hate the whole thought that this is what they have to be.
David Farley, freelancer and author, sees it from the writer’s side and also from the teacher’s side. “For many years I’ve taught travel writing at New York University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. The students who have been the most successful weren’t the most talented in the class; they were the most determined and driven. You can always become a better writer through practice and study, but that determination has to come from somewhere else.”
As freelance writer Dana McMahan says, “Every time someone said no I redoubled my efforts. And I pitched way outside my league, sending ideas to big-time outlets as if I were somebody they should consider hiring. Then one of them did. And sometimes, to my great surprise and delight, they came to me.”
The Four-hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, for example, is a massive bestseller that you could argue inspired the entire location-independence movement. In the second edition of this book, Ferris mentions that the first edition was rejected by 26 out of 27 publishers.
Many recent self-published Amazon bestsellers faced similar letdowns time and time again before launching a book themselves and becoming Kindle millionaires.
The first question to ask yourself if you’re struggling in freelancing or blogging is, are you giving up too easily?
Secondly, are you persistent and resilient enough to make a living from this as your career? Even if you do this part-time, you still must give 100% of your effort to every gig and blog post – despite whatever obstacles get in your way.
In this competitive field of professional writing, people from all sides will try to discourage you. There will be plenty of times when the easy path would be to just give up. Those who press on find a way to break through eventually.
Remember, almost anyone who looks like an “overnight success” usually got that way through one key trait: persistence.
Don’t give up. Be persistent.