3 Virtues of a Successful Writer

I’ve seen a number of articles discussing what not to do when it comes to writing, but when it comes to habits to emulate the advice seems to dry up.  After all, every writer is different – what works for some may not work for all.  So rather than habits, let’s talk about three virtues that all successful writers seem to have and how to translate those into success for yourself.

A Diligent Work Ethic

“I don’t like to write, but I love having written.”

It’s a common sentiment among writers to prefer accomplishment to the work that goes into actually writing something.  But if you’re ever going to be successful you have to learn how to finish what you start.  “Finishing” can mean any number of things from polishing a not-quite-there piece to actually sitting down to write in the first place.

It takes self-discipline to practice your craft, and not just the writing part.  You need to read your contemporaries as well as the classics.  You should have an idea of the history of your genre and be aware of where it’s headed with new publications.  You have to market yourself and engage in writing communities.  You have to research possible publishers and polish your work until it’s ready to submit.  Successful writers put in the work.


Successful writers acknowledge their flaws and want to improve their craft. You can’t do that without a dose of humility.  It can be tempting to write off publishers because they don’t understand your genius, but is it really helpful to tune out legitimate criticism?  When publishers tell you “No,” respect their decisions and use it as an opportunity to reflect and improve.  Listen to your editor, your beta readers, and anyone who is willing to read your work and offer helpful suggestions.  You don’t have to take every piece of advice you get, but humility means accepting that your work may not be perfect as it is.

In the same vein, humility can mean respect for fellow authors.  Sure, we’ve all read something we didn’t like and secretly wondered “How on earth did this get published?  My stuff’s better than that!” But with some humility you can take a long, hard look at what it is that made them successful and learn from it.  That will translate into success for yourself, rather than jealousy.   And as you get more experience, respect the up-and-coming authors who are trying to break into the market.  Successful writers pass on what they’ve learned to those who share their aspirations, rather than viewing everyone as competition.

A Resilient Spirit

This is sort of the opposite of humility.  It takes a lot of self-confidence to stare down a contest and say “Yeah, my story could win that.”  Submitting is an act of bravery, and perseverance in the face of rejection is the most important of all virtues.  Success does not come easy. As I said above, you have to put in the work.  You finish what you start.  You revise.  You take advice where you can get it.  Sometimes you do it all over again and the answer is still “No.”

Successful writers don’t give up, even after all that.  The great thing about writing is that you can do it for your entire life.  You never stop learning.  You never stop improving, so there’s no reason to get impatient with a lack of success.  The submission you send out today is bound to be better than the one yesterday because you’re always improving and evolving.  And if you put in the work and are humble enough to actively seek to improve yourself it’s really only a matter of time before that effort is rewarded.  But you can’t give up before that happens – not if you want to be successful.

What say you, readers?  Is there anything I’ve missed?  Anything you disagree with?  Leave your suggestions below in the comments so we can all learn from each other!


Publisher’s Spotlight: Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons is back!  After a brief hiatus, they are once again open for submissions weekly starting on Monday, and close when they reach their cap.  Details below:

  • In their own words: “We want good speculative fiction. If your story doesn’t have a speculative element, or strong speculative-fiction sensibilities, it’s probably not for us.   Some particular things we love, or are interested in:
    • Fiction from or about diverse perspectives and traditionally under-represented groups, settings, and cultures, written from a non-exoticizing and well-researched position.
    • Unusual yet readable styles and inventive structures and narratives.
    • Stories that address political issues in complex and nuanced ways, resisting oversimplification.
    • Hypertext fiction. If you have a work of hyperfiction you think might be a good fit for Strange Horizons, please query us to discuss how to submit it.
  • Genres they accept: Speculative Fiction.  (That’s the usual sci-fi, fantasy and various flavors of slipstream, etc.)
  • Word count limit: “We prefer stories under 5,000 words, but we consider stories up to 10,000 words. Note, however, that the longer the story is, the less likely we are to be interested…we have no minimum wordcount requirement; we consider short-short stories.”
  • Payment: We pay 8¢/word (USD), with a minimum payment of $60. SFWA officially considers us a professional market.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No
  • Multiple Submissions**: No
  • Schedule: Opens every Monday; “if and when the queue begins to significantly outstrip the reading, we’ll close for the week to give ourselves room to catch up.”

Bonus Feature: If you’ve never read Strange Horizon’s guide to tired tropes, give it a glance.  In addition to being hilarious it’ll hopefully make you rethink some of your trunk stories and challenge you to go beyond common slush problems.

The downside is that they don’t often explain why these tropes don’t work so it can be tempting to rationalize why your piece breaks the mold.  My advice?  Don’t.  Just don’t.  Find a different story to submit and in the meantime shop the other one out to trusted beta readers who can guide you away from the tropes.

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

To Serve Man: Dining Tips for the 25th Century

Part one of the Miss Margaret Moneypenny’s Etiquette Guide to the Apocalypse series.

There is something to be said for tradition.  What can compare to a freshly laundered tablecloth, set with fine china and silverware?  Clearly, our dear Vermillion overlords agree, as they have enthusiastically adopted our custom of the formal dinner party.

That’s why, in this new age of co-species habitation, I’ve updated my classic etiquette guide to include tips for navigating the social circles of both Vermillion and Earthling alike.


Guest:  Do not arrive early. You will want to allow time for the hostess to properly prepare for your arrival.  Catching her off guard is both rude and potentially fatal if you interrupt the delicate summoning ritual for the main course.  If you find yourself in the neighborhood a touch early, try taking a walk around the block to stargaze and observe the quiet majesty of the Vermillion race’s power, as they burn the home worlds of their vanquished enemies in the Horsehead Nebula.

Host:  Be sure you are completely ready by the time printed on your invitation cards.  While this sounds simple, in practice you must be sure to follow all 73 standard procedures for hosting the Vermillion race, listed on page 457b of the terms of surrender.  For the Vermillions, be sure to stock the bar with plenty of spirits and allow for the occasional late arrival, as Earthling time functions only in the fourth dimension.  It is rude to vaporize anyone on their first offense, and if they are more than an hour late, feel free to start without them.

Guest:    A hard and fast rule from here to EGSY8p7 is to never bring a guest, unless you have cleared it with the host in advance.  This may be a difficult rule for Vermillions to adhere to, as they reproduce asexually and seemingly at random.  If such an event arises, the gracious host should welcome the unexpected guest and always be prepared with an extra place setting.  Vermillions, if you feel the need arising it is prudent to excuse yourself to the restroom, where the larval mucus can be more easily cleaned off the tile flooring.


Guest:  The typical Earth custom is to start from the outside silverware and to work your way in to the plate throughout the meal.  A good Earthling host will also provide chopsticks as an alternative, which are easier to handle with Vermillion appendages.  If you would like to use the Earthling utensils, observe the host and follow his lead.  Always wait for the host to remove his napkin first and set it on his lap.  This signals that the meal has begun.

Host:     Vermillions have a particular fondness for Chardonnay, which should be available with every course regardless of the dish served.  Feel free to have other bottles available for red meats and other courses so you may introduce the Vermillions to the world of wine pairing.  This is a great icebreaker if the conversation stalls or if an awkward topic is broached.

Guest:    It is wise not to mention intergalactic politics, unless it is the recent conquest of the abominable Cerulean race, may they perish in slow agonizing torture.  Do not under any circumstances attempt to cut off this conversation if a Vermillion guest chooses to pursue it.


Guest:    Earthlings should always offer to help clean up, but it is impolite to accept this offer.  Remember, they are your guests, not your Zemeckian footmen.  Vermillions should not be expected to help clean up or even offer their services.  Do not forget your place as honored citizens of the Vermillion Empire.  Thank your hosts twice: once when you leave and again the day afterward by sending a written note, even after the most informal of events.

Host:     At the end of the evening, if guests are overstaying their welcome, it is acceptable to gently hint that it is time to leave by referring to the evening in the past tense: “Oh, what a lovely evening this was!” or by being direct but politely taking the blame: “I am so sorry but I am exhausted.  I have hardly had time to recover the jet-lag from our trip across the system.”  If this does not work, Vermillion hosts may begin vaporizing guests beginning with those who were more than 15 minutes late upon arriving.

Welcome to 2017

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions.  I feel like January is this tumultuous time when everyone has unreasonable expectations about how much change they’re capable of superimposing onto their lives.  In February it’s best to sit back, take note of what you were able to accomplish and revise those goals so you might actually have a prayer of achieving some real change.

So, with that said… Whew.

Bit of a rough start, don’t you think?

Well.  Never mind all that.  Best to write it off as a free trial month and move on.

I’ve got some big things in store for this year.  Posts will be a little less frequent but hopefully a little more regular.  Last year’s schedule was a bit too tough to keep up and it led to an extended hiatus that I’d rather not repeat.  So, with that “revised expectations” theme in mind, let’s just take it slow with one post a week and see how we feel after that, how’s that sound?

Tune in next Wednesday for the premiere of a new series of short flash entitled: Miss Margaret Moneypenny’s Etiquette Guide to the Apocalypse.

I’ll see you then.