13 Necessary Steps to Become a Successful Writer This Year

13 Necessary Steps to Become a Successful Writer This Year

Didn’t get what you want for the holidays? It’s hard for writers, because our dreams are so big. Figuring out how to become a successful writer is no easy task. We want to touch people, change lives, grab readers’ attention on long snowy weekends–and the truth of the matter is that no one can give us the ability to do those things. We can only give them to ourselves.

I am a book coach, and I see firsthand how writers deny themselves the permission to succeed. They do it every day, in ways large and small. Fighting against the tendency is part of the reason writing is so hard. In addition to creating worlds, shaping ideas, and trying to find a way to capture emotion, we have to constantly fight the forces that lead inexorably to failure–which is not, for most writers, defined as failing to make the bestseller list or to make a mint from their books. It’s defined as failure to start, failure to believe in your work enough to persist, failure to find enough time in your day to write, failure to finish, failure to do what needs to be done to give your book a fighting chance.

In my experience, the most powerful tool in this fight against failure is knowledge. That is true whether you are talking about which words to put on the page in which order (specific feedback–knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses–counteracts doubt), and it is true about the entire act of creativity itself. Knowledge about which part of the process is the most difficult for you, and knowledge about why, may be the very thing you need to guarantee that this is the year you will finish your book and become a successful author.

Figuring Out Your Unique Creative Process

I have developed a list of thirteen steps that every writer must go through in order to write a book and get it into the hands of readers. I call it the Universal Constants of Creativity. The steps don’t necessarily happen in this order for every writer, and some steps represent only a moment, while others can represent years of grueling work. But each step happens and each step is critical.

I have provided a link to this list so you can download it and write on it.  Here’s what I suggest you do:

  • Read through the list carefully and think hard about the truth of each step in your process. Be honest. The whole point here is to get down to something real.
  • Circle the steps you know you tend to get stuck on. Pay particular attention to the steps you may not have reached but that cause you to shake in your shoes.
  • Come up with at least two concrete ways to help you get past the roadblocks you have identified.
  • Commit to those solutions. Commit to your own success. Commit to making 2015 the year you give yourself permission to become a successful author.

The 13 Universal Constants of Creativity

1. The Initial Spark

The moment an idea comes into your mind and you allow yourself to acknowledge it.

2. Granting Yourself Permission

The moment when you decide that you are going to bring the idea to fruition.

3. A Sense of Faith

A belief that what you are going to create has some kind of meaning.

4. A Clear Intention

You consider your audience, set an objective for how you will delight them

5. Gathering Resources

You gather the materials, skills, tools, and resources you need to get the job done.

6. Commitment

You take a stand and make a commitment to this idea, letting all your other brilliant ideas go for now.

7. Persistence

You keep going, despite setbacks and despite doubt.

8. Communion

You connect with other artists who speak your language and support your efforts.

9. Immersion

You allow yourself to experience the exhilaration of engagement.

10. Perspective

You stand back to assess and analyze, and seek the assistance of others who can help you do this.

11. Revision

You shape and refine with ruthless courage.

12. Letting Go

You decide to finish.

13. Public Offering.

You share your creation with the world.

When I present this list to a live class or audience, a dead silence tends to come over the room. People are often stopped cold by the clear knowledge that they have never made a commitment to an idea or that they always deny themselves the joy of immersion. Or they realize in a flash that while they may have mastered dialogue or character development or scene building, they have not paid any attention whatsoever to these underlying forces impeding their creativity.  It can be sobering–but it can also be exhilarating. You know now what needs to be done. You know how to give yourself permission to become a successful author!

Tell me your opinion: What is the greatest obstacle impeding you from figuring out how to become a successful author this year?

13 Necessary Steps to Become a Successful Author This Year

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About Jennie Nash | @jennienash

Jennie Nash is an author and book coach. You can visit her at JennieNash.com. Also check out her Author Accelerator program, an affordable accountability and feedback system that helps writers complete a rough draft in six months. Helping Writers Become Authors members can get a free week trial at this special landing page.


  1. In two words
    Promotion. Marketing.
    Otherwise, having published four historical novels, I am already a successful author.

  2. YoungAuthor says:

    My biggest obstacle this year will probably be finding time to write around my SCHOOLWORK!!! Other than that, I feel I’m in good shape this new year.

    Thanks a lot for The 13 Universal Constants of Creativity list. Even though I don’t especially struggle with these steps, you are spot-on about what exactly the steps are. I’ll definitely try to share this list with my fellow authors.

    • What a great struggle to have — the ability to be in school AND write. That’s awesome! Keep up the good fight and the good work!

    • I feel the same way about schoolwork. I try to do my homework before dinner, then I watch TV or just play with my phone. I go to my room at 7: 30pm to have at least two hours of productivity and seven and a half hours of sleep.

  3. Immersion is the biggest problem for me. I manage to hammer out ~200 words a day faithfully but I find that’s not sufficient to take me into “the zone”, as it were.

    • Hi A —

      I think immersion can happen in the way that you work, too. I don’t think it necessarily means 8 hour a day writing days. I think of it more as a phase of the work — after you’ve structured and developed and committed to it, you give yourself over to it. You dive IN. You can certainly do that in 200 words a day. More important, in my mind, is letting your writing have space in your head the rest of the time — while driving, showering, walking, etc. When you’re “in the zone” you often feel like you can’t NOT think about it.

      Good luck with your work!

      • Thanks for your reply!

        Oh, the story and characters are always in my head – it’s just that so many other things are as well! 😛

        I think this may be the year I finally learn to meditate and learn to be completely focused in the moment.

  4. This is great! I get hung up on Commitment and Persistence. Identifying the problem is the first step toward fixing it!

    I really appreciate that every single post on this blog has an encouraging tone — no underlying attitude of, “Writing is really hard. You might want to reconsider whether you can really do it.” Here, every post says, “It’s hard, but you can do it. And here’s how.”

    • You can absolutely do it — and you’re right: recognizing your weaknesses and learning to fix them is the key. I think that’s true with many things worth mastering. Good luck with your work!

  5. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Jennie!

  6. Steve Mathisen says:

    Editing and revision are the things that I fear the most…trying to keep the self-editor out of the original writing process so that it can do its work properly later. Once that is done, I have a hard time seeing the trees for the forest (or the other way round). I am hoping this year to finish old projects that have lain dormant, yet still crying for the additional work to finish them.

    Thank you for such a useful list. 😀

  7. Letting go is the top nemesis, thanks to my insufferable perfectionism.

    Commitment is also tough. I have so many ideas, I sometimes end up looking ahead to future projects and being excited about them instead of focusing on my WIP.

    • It’s good to know these things about yourself, though! Now maybe you can see what you are doing when you jump from idea to idea….or when you endlessly polish something out of fear rather than out of service to the story. Good luck!

  8. Communion, revision, and letting go.

    The first one because I am in a remote location.

    Revision because I write in my second language.

    Letting go because I never feel it is ready, never good enough, and letting it go means it’s going public, and that’s the scary part.

    • I love your answers that come with reasons. This means you are so close to solving your roadblocks! You can find community online. Of course it’s not the same as in-person but it’s still there — on blogs like this one, for example. Or in my Author Accelerator program where we have a private Facebook group. There are so many great writer resources online.

      And letting go. Well, yes. So scary. But fear tells you what you want to do, what you desire. I think Steven Pressfield said that in The War of Art — which is a fabulous book about art and fear. Also Art and Fear is a great book!

      Good luck!

  9. I’ve been writing for the past couple years. I’ve read all of the articles about characters and plots and theme – and they’ve helped me a lot. But reading this today, I realize that I’ve never actually commited to a story.
    It’s kind of been something of a juggling act – keeping all of these projects and ideas in the air. I don’t think having multiple projects is bad. But I’ve started being a sloppy writer. Letting things drop or pushing stuff aside. Even giving up on a couple of my books altogether because I had all of these new ideas I wanted to try.

    Thanks for the reminder that commitment to my story is just as important – sometimes even more so – that actually writing the thing.

    A very good reminder to get before I get off break, and life picks up again.


  10. June Sullivan says:

    For me it’s being in a state of uncertainty about what I am accomplishing. I know I have basically a good story as I did get interest from a few key agents in my genre, based on a covering let and synopsis. But my opening chapters really underwhelmed them and they passed. Later, I learned from a few trustworthy readers (friends) that I had a pretty good middle and end but I just wasn’t getting an opening that grabbed sufficiently.

    Well after many edits and fresh takes, I feel like I’ve got it — an opening few pages that grip and show who the protagonist is, her circle, predicament, and the exotic locale, in an interesting way. But have I REALLY accomplished all this? I’ve felt that before. And I failed myself so often, I can’t help but tremble…have I really turned the page so to speak in creating a stellar opening.

    I learned the hard way that seeking help from freelance editors etc. is their vested interested in going forward can cloud their opinion, causing them to be too supportive when it’s not warranted.

    So I’m left wondering where I will get the right answer. I’m embarrassed to say that I went back to my well of interested agents (being encouraged by an unreliable freelance editor) and can’t go back there again. So it’s hard for me to overcome all the resistance you mentioned in your post.

    Oh my, I can’t believe I’ve written all this. I’m exposing my deepest feelings and fears just like my protagonist. Maybe someone’s writing me right now? Anyway, keep your prayer fingers crossed for me will ya? I love my story…it’s just so hard to know when you’ve done well.

    • Hi June,

      I feel your pain! I’m sorry you’ve had to experience it. I have a few thoughts:
      I would look for a coach or editor who will tell you the truth — AND who have a track record of writers who land top agents and get book deals. THOSE coaches/editors have a vested interest in their clients doing well, and have the evidence to prove it. And I can promise (since I am one) that the only way to GET there is by telling the truth. If you give false assurance, you will never have writers who make it…. That’s one thing. The other is to seek feedback from people who aren’t your friends. I have a post on how to do this called The Book Club Beta Test — google that with my name and I bet it will come up. It was on Compose magazine at one point. If you can’t find it, email me and I’ll dig it up to send you.

      Keep the faith! You’ll get there!

  11. Time, time, time. I’m juggling too many writing projects while working a day job. I can’t let go of the writing job that brings in money. That leaves a choice between letting go of my blog (building that writer’s platform!) or letting go of revising my novel (my dream). Arrgh!

    Oh…and perfectionism.

    • In his awesome book Your First 1000 Copies, Tim Grahl recommends that you do two things a day to build your platform. That doesn’t have to mean blogging. It can mean connecting with people, commenting on a blog, etc. When framed that way, it’s quite do-able. And then you write and write and write….

  12. Thank you for your list, K.M. How true it is. I’m finishing my first novel—a 2.5- year project, deeply into steps 12 & 13. There are a lot of fiction writers’ blogs out there, and yours is the best and the only one I follow (and recommend).

  13. Hi Jennie – what a great post and congrats on being invited by K.M. Her blog is one I go to religiously! Hope all is going well with you – Happy Holidays!

    BTW – We met a couple of years ago when I attended an event at your house with Tricia. If you have any more writing related events please let me know. I live minutes away from you 🙂

    • Oh, hey. Hi. I’m teaching the Writers Studio at UCLA in February — always a great event! And I’d love for you to check out the Author Accelerator program. But no matter what I’m glad to see you’re still learning and working on your writing. That’s awesome. Keep it up!

  14. Good post, I find myself deficient in steps 6 and 10 and I may be lacking in a few more. Time for me to stop making excuses.

  15. 13: Public offering. I’ve no idea how to get my books out there even though I’ve read every bit of advice I could find from many successful self-published authors.
    Scratch that, I know *how* to get the books out there I’m just, afraid to? Nervous about it? I’ve no idea.
    And it would probably help if I could pay for editing…ha.

    • At a certain point, you have to find YOUR way and trust YOUR way. You know who you are writing your book for and you know where you can probably find them. You also know how you like to interact with people and the world. So make a commitment to take steps that you are comfortable with towards the people you know will like your books. Make a task to find just ONE such reader, and then two, and so on. You don’t need a million fans to be a writer. You just need a few raving fans, and word will spread. So start slowly — but start….

  16. robert easterbrook says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you Jennie

    I believe I’m achieving all 13 aims. However, I’m still not really writing for the populace; I’m writing for myself. I like what I write and hope others find it as enjoyable. I think I’m still learning to write – though on my 4th novel – and hope it doesn’t take me long to figure out how to write so it is what many people will enjoy reading.

    • Hi Robert,

      Well, they are two very different things: writing for yourself is one thing — a very good and powerful and enjoyable thing. Writing to delight readers is something else entirely. If you want to shift from the one to the other you need to set your intention, and then do what has to be done to delight readers. You can still, of course, write what you want to write and what moves you and inspires you — but you do so with an eye towards the reader. There is nothing “dirty” about commerce. Commerce drives all kinds of art. So jump in– think about what your readers might love. Find where your passion intersects with theirs and write in that sweet spot.

  17. Hello! Lisa Cron recommends you highly, so you must be excellent.
    My problem is with shaping my novel. Perhaps that falls under number ten: Perspective?

  18. Robert, with your fourth novel and new perceptions about structuring, you are certainly getting there.
    But here’s the reality. Writing novels is a lifelong study. We will NEVER know everything that we would like to know. We can never quite reach the place where we know it all.
    You can tell which novelists THINK they know it all. They just keep throwing out the same old same old same old.
    I too write the first draft for myself. Then come the revision and editing drafts which are done for the unknown reader. The first draft is easy. The ‘reader’ draft can be endless.
    One step at a time.

  19. thomas h cullen says:

    ‘The Representative’ is designed to change the world – and it does possess the power to do so. However do so it can by only a certain game.

  20. My biggest struggle is finding the time to write. I work full-time while going to grad school full-time. I’m making an effort to carve out time for fiction writing, but sometimes it seems like there’s just not enough time in the day!

    Something that helps me is to jot down notes throughout the day on characters and plot points so when I do have time to sit down and write, I can be more productive because I’ve already thought through what I want to get down on paper.

  21. thomas h cullen says:

    I know, I don’t just believe. Being outside, inhabiting reality’s outside atmosphere, its outside ground and its outside nature, I feel alive more than at any other time.

    Reality’s potential is endless: I just so very much long for The Representative to be what’s responsible for humanity’s evolution.

  22. Thanks, K.M., for hosting Jennie, and Jennie, thanks for sharing this awesome list of 13 tips. I know for me the biggest obstacle I face is wanting to be involved in so many different and diverse activities, i.e. writing my book, quilting and knitting baby blankets for my grandkids and great-grandkids, supporting my loving husband in his musical efforts (three bands and one choral group), and loving my home. My OneWord365 this year is “flexible.” I’m learning, much like you mentioned in Tim Grahl’s book, that I don’t have to build my platform in a week or a month, don’t have to blog every day, etc. Thanks for those reminders and so much more in this highly information post. To all who left comments, thanks for a great discussion!

  23. You make some excellent and very enlightening points here. As a writer, my biggest issue isn’t that I don’t allow myself to succeed; my issue is more that I struggle finding the balance between writing for work and writing for play, so to speak. I’m a freelance writer and currently write full-time as my primary means of income. If I want to work on my book, that means giving up a certain amount of my income for that week. I guess when it comes down to it, subconsciously I think I feel like it would be irresponsible to let myself get too excited about my book or to let myself spend too much time on it since it means letting important obligations fall by the wayside.

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to find the balance and I’ve come to the conclusion that, much like a person working a traditional job has a schedule of shifts every week, I need to create myself an actual work schedule. It’ll not only be a routine to work from, but at a glance I’ll see how much time — and when — I have to work on important writing obligations and when I would be free to work on some of my own pursuits. Your ideas here will be helpful in outlining my own efforts and where I stand in my progress. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful ideas.

  24. Barbara Rae Robinson says:

    Time is my biggest problem. I have to grant myself permission to ignore my retired husband and retreat to my office for more hours a day than he would like. I have to persist no matter how many interruptions per day. And streamline other parts of my life so I have more time at my computer.

  25. Dane O’Leary, for years I worked in my small animal clinic, starting appointments at 9 am, surgeries from 10 am until finished, more appointments all afternoon… My days were structured by work.
    To write – I came to work an hour early, locking the door until my assistant arrived to open it for the day. For that hour I sat at my desk computer writing. When I got home at the end of the day I took care of routine, like supper and dishes and running the dogs, and then sat down to transfer the morning’s writing into the document, and continued writing until bedtime.
    You can’t imagine – until you structure your day – how much you can accomplish this way.
    Good luck

  26. I say all the time that my greatest fear is that I’m a terrible writer and I don’t know it. The general public has no qualms about letting people know when they’re sub par. Having the courage to share my work is a huge obstacle… As well as committing myself to regular writing time.

  27. I’ve been writing for over twenty years and have tried writing a novel. Two as a matter of fact and could only reach 30,000 words.


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