The Secret Formula for Writing Success

I teach a creative writing course called ‘Naked Writing – the No Frills Way to Write Your Novel’.
Okay, have you stopped chortling yet?
The name seemed a good idea at the time, trying to get over the idea that this was simply a course designed to help writers finish their own book – there’d be no analyzing the classics, here, just plain old hard work. I suggested that students put ‘Naked Writing’ in the sub line of their emails to help me quickly pick them out of the inbox.
A simple idea, you might think. But no. I got complaints from some students that their servers spotted the word ‘naked’ and automatically thought ‘spam’ and refused to send the email.
Oh, yes, censorship may well be alive and well and living in cyberland….as a reaction to THOSE kind of spam messages. You know the ones that are usually accompanied by pictures of body parts you’d rather not see on strangers unless you’d specifically asked to, right?
Of course, for writers, everything is grist to the writing mill and when I thought about it….sometimes we can be a little like that – so determined to ‘do it right’ that we lack the flexibility to see and explore the worth of new ideas and opportunities. So often I’ve heard people talk about ‘the formula’ for writing a novel, a biography, a text book, a romance, a best seller…..as if there is some secret recipe that will guarantee writing success. There is a sort of one, actually – but not the one that these people are looking for.
In fact, it seems to me that there are several secrets to being successful as a writer and getting published.
 1) Believe in yourself and don’t give up. Writing can be disheartening at times – you sacrifice time you could be doing other things in order to write. And it’s hard, and sometimes it seems there are only rejections and you think maybe it will never get better.
2) Write the book of your heart, let your passion for the story shine through. Forget the idea of a ‘formula’ and write the book you’d want to read, the book that tells a story that you need to tell.
3) Realize that a good writer is in a constant state of ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’ – writers should always be honing their craft, learning and growing, so they are constantly becoming a better writer rather than merely being a good writer
4) Be prepared to put yourself out there. I think there are probably many wonderful books that their creators have consigned to a box under the bed for fear of rejection, or fear or what other people might say or think. You have to believe in yourself and in the story you want to tell.
What someone else thinks – be it a relative, a friend, your boss, an agent, publisher, editor – or even your creative writing teacher – counts only so far as you can see a way to use their comments to make the book better in your own eyes.
5) Do the work.This is the biggy. No-one ever became a successful writer by talking about the book they’re ‘gonna write someday’. Get the words on paper, learn to edit and polish, send your work out and learn from the critiques you receive from editors and agents. Then, when you’re published, be prepared to promote, promote, promote….no matter how difficult you find this, or how shy you might be.
Like I’ll be doing when I’m standing all alone in Chapters, hoping that some compassionate souls will stop and chat about my book, about writing, about the weather – anything so that I won’t feel like a fool standing there with my pile of novels waiting to be bought and signed, and a silly grin on my face.
Maybe you can add some thoughts of your own to what makes a successful book?

Glenys O’Connell’s next novel, a romantic comedy entitled Marrying Money, will be released as an ebook by Red Rose Publishing (www.redrosepublishing.com) on April 8th!


28 Responses to “The Secret Formula for Writing Success”

  1. 29 March, 2010 at 12:13 am

    It wasn’t until I did all five of these things that I achieved success with my novel.

  2. 29 March, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Carolyn – and much continued success with your writing!

  3. 29 March, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I think #4 is a biggie. I’ve seen some beautiful stories, wonderfully crafted and told, that never see the light of day because the author was so afraid of rejection. It’s the old “If I don’t send it out, no one will say they don’t like it.” The flip-side of that is that no one will be able to fall in love with it, either. You have to stick your neck out…and your book! Go bravely…

    • 2 April, 2010 at 2:32 pm

      I agree, Lynnette – I don’t think many of us write just for personal satisfaction. We really do want others to read and enjoy our work, but it’s hard to get over the fear that the other kids in the playground will laugh at us!

  4. 29 March, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Great post, Glenys –

    Years ago I did a writing workshop called ‘The Magic Secret of Getting Published’ and for that I made up an acronym that embodied the whole process of writing. B.I.T.C.H. – Buns In The Chair, Honey. To have written a book means you must sit down and write the book. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think writing is easy, that we just sit down and toss off a novel inbetween doing exciting things.

    My favorite writing quote is from that vastly underrated philosopher Ashleigh Brilliant – “Writing is easy; all you do is stare at a blank screen until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

    • 2 April, 2010 at 2:48 pm

      Reminds me of another quote; I can’t remember who: ‘All you have to do to write is to sit down at the keyboard and open a vein.’ It can feel that way sometimes! Thank you for the acronym – BITCH really says it all!

  5. 29 March, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Glenys, Excellent article. Putting myself out there is the hardest part for me. I love writing and sitting in my office at my desk with no one bothering me as I get words into the file. That’s the fun part, although it’s difficult at moments. Promotion, marketing, and all the tasks that accompany them are NOT the fun part for me. I want to hibernate in my office/cave, but that’s not possible.

    Caroline Clemmons

    • 2 April, 2010 at 3:10 pm

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just retreat to the cave and write, then hand out the finished book for someone else to do all the promo, etc.? Yet if we didn’t come out of writing hibernation now and again, we’d miss out on all sorts of people and events that become grist for our writers’ mill….

  6. 29 March, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    This is great advice. I also find that having a talented critique group has helped in my journey toward publication. Other sets of eyes can often help us to find things we’ve missed or see things in a different way. Be open to advice – good advice that is – from other writers who know their stuff.

    • 2 April, 2010 at 2:36 pm

      Good point, debra. Critique groups can be a great help to writers, if you can find the right one. They can both encourage and offer an honest,helpful take on your work. And meeting with like-minded people can make you feel less alone on this writing journey. On the other hand, if you get in with the wrong crowd, it can be disastrous – I’ve had students who hadn’t written for years after a vicious critique group attack. Fortunately, there are very few like that around – I think writers as a whole are amongst the most generous folk in the world!

  7. 29 March, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Ah, but the hard part is determining which advice is good! : )

    • 2 April, 2010 at 2:38 pm

      That’s true, Carolyn – I always say ‘look at the source’ before you accept any advice or information as true. And experience is a hard teacher, too 😦

  8. 29 March, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    You are so right about the constantly learning thing. I look at my first book, and mind you I am only on my second, and I smack my head when I see things that shouldn’t be there.
    But I did tell the story of my heart and some people loved it some didn’t. But just for the ones who did and for me, I keep writing. Slow but sure.

    • 29 March, 2010 at 8:53 pm

      So many of you have such briliant thoughts on writing. You must have wonderfully analytical minds. But I am very grateful that this more emotional mind of mine can be fed with your thoughts and idea. Thanks, Glenys, for starting this thought going. It’s been very helpful.I see lots of success in the future for each of yu who had replied as well.

    • 2 April, 2010 at 3:16 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Mary. I know when I look back at earlier writing I have thoughts like: ‘Did I really write that?” “Could I possibly have thought that would work?” “Why didn’t I….” and I’m sure most writers are the same. But congrats on finishing your first and getting right down to writing the second – and if some people loved your work, then you’re obviously on the right track. We can’t ever please everyone!

  9. 29 March, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Excellent blog, Glenys. I too believe that you should never surrender, and never give up on your dreams. You are the only one who can make them become reality.

    Franny Armstrong-ParaNovelGirl

    • 2 April, 2010 at 3:02 pm

      This is so true, Franny – and sometimes when it all seems too much, when one more rejection is the straw that will break the camel’s back; that’s the moment there’s a breakthrough waiting if we just keep pushing onward.

  10. 30 March, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Great post, and I like the name of the course, too! Like you said, #5 is the biggy. Sounds so simple, but it’s the thing many people never do.

    • 2 April, 2010 at 3:05 pm

      You’re so right, Liz – there’s no point in expecting success unless we roll up our sleeves and get the writing done. How often we hear someone referred to as ‘an overnight success’ and then read that she’s been working at her craft for years beforehand and suddenly, it all came together.

  11. 30 March, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I SO agree with your ideas and with the comments made here. I do a writers’ workshop called “Write, Edit, Publish” that could really be boiled down to one word (Don’t tell
    them that!). The word is “Persist”. Persist until you’ve written the book. Persist until
    it’s the best book you can make. Persist until someone in the business takes notice.

    I like the B.I.T.C.H. thing, too!

    • 2 April, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      shhh! I won’t tell if you won’t! Persistence is probably the second greatest thing a writer needs, after talent (and maybe a good dictionary). And Janis Susan May’s BITCH acronym is a wonderful way to remind us!

  12. 30 March, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Fantastic post, Glenys. As someone who has never been an advocate for ‘the rules’, I think your formula for success is right on the money.

    • 2 April, 2010 at 2:56 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Dawn. I agree with you about ‘the rules’. In fact, I think it would be aweful if there really was a secret formula – we’d all essentially be writing the same book, and where would the fun be in that for either readers or writers?

  13. 25 Piper Evyns
    30 March, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Having a support group is helpful. Whenever you’re feeling down about your writing, or need to vent about a rejection or review, there’s someone there to kick your butt back into gear. Having them there to critique is part of it, but even more, it’s having someone else who is going through the same thing, there to encourage you to keep going. Sometimes, writing can make you feel very isolated, I find it helps to have others to share the good and bad times with.

    I fear promoting more than submitting or anything else. Typical Canadian I suppose.

    Excellent blog. If your Chapters is anywhere near me, I’d come chat for a bit. *grin*

    • 2 April, 2010 at 2:54 pm

      Piper – it was the Chapters in Kingston, Ontario, and it’s over now. I survived, thanks to the kindness of strangers! One of the wonderful gifts the Internet has given writers is that we can feel less alone. Of course, it;s also given us 24 hour turn-around query rejections 😦

  14. 1 April, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Glenys, I know you enjoy the work you do because it shows in your passion to help improve our work with words. I have one book published and another 2 on the downhill run and it is due primarily to the B.I.T.C.H. method refrenced by Janet Susan May on 3/29/10 – Buns in the chair, Honey. Great line. Thanks for the work you are doing.

    • 2 April, 2010 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks, Jerry – I think writers have to love what we do. It would be too hard on the ego otherwise 🙂 Congratulations on the published book, and on the two on their way!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


March 2010
« Feb   Apr »

Note: Some links on this blog are affiliate links.


%d bloggers like this: