Dogged Determination: The Most Crucial Trait for a Writer

Photo by William Topa on Unsplash

Last week in our writing community, we had a good discussion about the most important traits for a writers. Some of us believe it’s passion, some courage, some a love of language.  I believe that all those things are important, too. But by and large, most of us came to the same trait as crucial for writers – persistence, commitment, a doggedness to stay at it no matter what.  That’s right on in my experience.

What We Let Get in the Way

Regularly, I talk with writers who love to read, who are passionate about the written word, and who have a great idea for their next writing project but who aren’t writing because:

  • They don’t make the time for it.
  • They’ve gotten hard feedback and find themselves stuck in the words of the critique.
  • They plan to do it later.
  • They let other priorities crowd out writing.
  • They lack belief in themselves.
  • They compare themselves to other writers.
  • They have some lofty (and usually false) idea of what it means to be a writer.

All of those problems arise because of a lack of dogged determination to do this writing thing no matter what.  They have chosen – and yep, I think it’s a choice in 98.7% of cases – to let something (or someone) get in the way of their words. They have not committed and persisted in the work, and so they don’t do it, or don’t do it regularly.

Learning to Commit

The process of committing to our writing follows the same path we take when we commit to anything or anyone – be it a spouse, a new job, a garden, a car project, a marathon, a bit of needlework.

  1. First, we have to choose to give some of our time to that project regularly. Maybe we can’t write every day, but maybe we can write for a few hours every Thursday afternoon. Maybe we can’t write 20 hours a week, but perhaps we can commit to 3.  We have to decide we are going to put time to this work.
  2. Then, we need to schedule the time we are giving so that it is cordoned off and held for writing. Just like we do with our jobs or our favorite TV shows or our children’s band concerts, we have to schedule the time for our writing and hold that time specifically for that. This isn’t incidental, maybe-I’ll-do-it-or-maybe-I-won’t work.  This is work we schedule in just like we do the other things we care about.
  3. Finally, we have to persevere through the external and internal challenges that come up and threaten that time. We have to learn to quiet the ugly voices in our heads that demean our work or claim we are being selfish. We have to help our families and friends understand that our writing time is a priority and needs to be respected. We have to get to the page even when we’re tired, busy, or distracted because the only thing that will help us keep our commitment to writing is writing more.  It’s a practice, and we have to hone it.

There will always be another dinner out with friends. There will always be one more school project we can help our children with. There will always be a reason we are too tired, or too busy, or too overwhelmed to write.  Always.

The only difference between a writer who has a sustained, life-giving, on-going writing life and one who doesn’t is that the one who does chose to make it happen and didn’t let anything stand in her way.  

So who will you be? The person who wants to write or the one who does it.  I sincerely hope you’re the latter.

What do you let get in the way of your commitment to writing? What do you have trouble overcoming with dogged determination?