5 Key Qualities of the High-Value Writer

I’m getting ready to start a quick informal round of Fast Draft at the end of the week. I’m not ready and I haven’t prepared, yet the Fast Draft invite issued by Nigel Blackwell called me.

Why am I helpless before the siren call of an informal Fast Draft session?

  1. I’m an extrovert so the daily contact of Fast Draft flips my creative switch.
  2. In Fast Draft, you MUST write and report back to your team. Lack of either of the above lets the team down. So, I drag my hiney to the keyboard. No. Matter. What.
  3. The breakneck pace makes me turn off my Little Miss Perfect. What does that mean? It means that my Fast Draft goal of 2500-3000 words/day is a hell of a lot for me and I can’t be “done” and “good” at the same time – I’m just not that coordinated yet. Fast Draft forces me to accept “done” over “good” because of the speed.

Like most writers, I don’t just want to end up with words on a page. I want to end with a framework of good words that I can (hopefully) fashion into something great when the dust settles after the writing challenge.

Here’s a quote I used at work that applies to us crazy writer types:

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
~ Kenny Rogers

Most of you know I’m a software trainer (aka “Training Goddess”) by day. It’s my job to get my students out of their comfort zone and enjoy the process of learning new things.

Below are five points I presented in a seminar called, “Are You A High-Value Employee?” I’ve adapted them to writers since we’re our own boss and employee. In my humble opinion, the most important task we writers face is to get out of our own way.

5 key growth areas of high-value writers:

1. Writing Relationships:
The ability to connect and interact with fellow writers, publishing professionals, and readers.

You and I are building a relationship right now.

I post thoughts, you read them, then we discuss (because hopefully y’all will cavort in the comments section). If we enjoy the process we do it again, either here at More Cowbell or over at my group blog, Writers In The Storm.

Perhaps you’ll come find me on Twitter (@jhansenwrites) or Facebook. Maybe I’ll come find you. Relationships will build naturally if you’re open to them.

I’ve got writing friends who’ve been on Twitter for years and have yet to send a single tweet or monitor a single hashtag. They’re not involved in writing challenges or Facebook Groups or word sprints.

They’re not forming a wide variety of relationships.

As much as we all love to play with words, writing can be a cold, hard endeavor when it’s not going well. Relationships with supportive friends can help brighten up the process and keep you from getting stalled. Building relationships is essential to a writer’s success.

2.  Analysis:
The ability to extract the key critical factors of a specific situation.

While accountants get all zippy and hopped up on the word “analysis,” most writers experience an odd yearning to search out split ends or iron their underwear each time they hear that word.

Analysis, to most creative people, means numbers and spreadsheets and pain.

Here’s what analysis really means:
The process of separating something into its constituent elements.

In writer-speak it means “good Craft” and deep edits. We spend a lot of time learning 3-Act structure or creative use of Setting in the hopes that it will seep inside and flow through our fingertips to the page. Those are good goals.

To be a “great” writer, we must be able to revise. If you’re like me, you might be thinking things like, “I don’t wanna!” or “I’ll just ‘know’ what belongs there when I see it.” That kind of whining will let you be a good writer, but probably not a great one.

We must know why we’re adding or taking away from a scene, which means we have to analyze our scenes for what they’re missing (and learn as much as you can about Craft).

Note: A great place to start is Marcy Kennedy’s series on the five senses: sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound.

3.  Innovation:
The ability to design solutions to effectively solve problems.

Writers are incredible innovators.

We build people and worlds and invent entire stories. Are we bringing our full innovative powers to bear when we do this? Spending the time and energy to move beyond the nice and easy, to the far-flung limits of our imaginations?

I’ll confess, some days I’m lazy and I just don’t feel like stretching my “what-if muscle.” On those days, my writing is usually OK at best. It’s definitely not within a mile of great. I kick myself later and wonder why I didn’t take a walk, or a run through Twitter or slug down some coffee. All those things give me a boost.

Finding out what gives you a boost will help you bring your Innovator to the page.

4.  Knowledge:
Depth of understanding and applying bodies of information.

This is where the ever-present research comes in. Some writers love it; some don’t. All of us are going to be doing it sooner or later and it seems everyone’s got a different way to go about it.

For some, research is an in-depth journey; still others research by watching reality TV. You need to find out what works best for you. Your end-goal is to know your subject well enough that you can describe it in just a few words.

5.  Experience:
The ability to function competently and confidently at appropriate level, having performed in numerous situations and demonstrated task or job fluency.

The same as in your day job, “writing experience” is directly related to writing practice.

The more we write and the more books we complete, the greater our confidence and level of skill. I’ll never figure out why it’s OK to learn job skills slowly, but the same speed for a writer is cause for angst.

Perhaps it’s because the writing means more to us than our day jobs.

Most writers will tell you they started to hit their stride about the time they finish their third manuscript. I know some of you are shuddering right now, thinking of all that “wasted time.”

I have a question for you perfectionists:

Why is it acceptable for multiple attempts when learning to ride a bike, or dance the tango, or knit but it’s an “epic fail” to write a few books before you get good at it?

Lots of first novels remain unpublished for a reason. They were practice for the other books. It takes years to learn the piano, and hours of practice. Maybe you could cut yourself some slack the next time you sit down at the writing page.

Enjoy the journey…have some fun: You’re gaining on-the-job experience.

The beauty of being a writer is that we don’t really have to “get it right” the first time. We just have to try our very best.

Eventually, with study and practice, our best becomes GREAT.

What do you think makes for great writing? What online tool do you like best for networking and building relationships with others? Do you participate in goal-based groups like ROW80, Fast Draft or NaNoWriMo? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
This entry was posted in Inspiration, The Writing Journey and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to 5 Key Qualities of the High-Value Writer

  1. Hi cutie…. I’m looking at your top five list and he, he… I think I’m pretty darn close to meeting your criteria. My problem is I over analyze waaaaaaaaaaaay too much. Which kicks the perfectionist side of me into high gear… Oh well, one more draft to go. Have fun mini-fast drafting.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I think your news training helps you on a very important level, Rachel. You guys are “shipping” stuff out the door every night in that business – it’s a great promoter of “good enough.”

      I love blogging because I’m watching it teach me that lesson. 🙂


  2. zkullis says:

    This is a fantastic post Jenny. Very informative, especially for a budding author like myself! 😉


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Zack! I think the “done” vs. “good” lesson was the hardest one for me in writing. Like everyone else here in the comments, I’m a perfectionist underneath it all. The most important thing is to keep writing and learning.

      Writing and commenting on blogs is actually an important part of the process – it makes your own wheels turn and encourages you to reach out and form community with other writers. 🙂


  3. Great post, Jenny. To answer your perfectionist question (gulp), many of us just don’t have the abilitity to balance our lives — children, work, household chores, schlepping our kids to after school activities — AND write that book. It’s really exhausting writing one mediocre book after the other, staying up late, and being greeted by an unappreciative spouse who wonders why the house is messy or why there is no food in the fridge.

    Writing makes me appreciate how difficukt it is to produce great literature, but it also makes me so frustrated when I read something poorly constructed. It is hard for perfectionists to handle mediocrity from inside and out.


    When a perfectionist sees something horrible that has been published it feels doubly discouraging.


    • K.B. Owen says:

      Try to think of it this way, Renee: that which is mediocre has a place in this world, because it makes that which is perfect (or nearly so) stand out like a shining beacon.

      I’m reminded of Garrison Keillor’s mock-characterization of Lake Wobegon: “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average.” LOL!

      As far as hubster, well, I can only speak from personal experience. My guy appreciates me a LOT more when I go out of town for a few days, and he has to take care of everything himself in the meantime. Not so simple, is it, dear? 😀


  4. zkullis says:

    “Writing makes me appreciate how difficult it is to produce great literature, but it also makes me so frustrated when I read something poorly constructed. It is hard for perfectionists to handle mediocrity from inside and out. ”
    ….. Renée, I agree 100%.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      OK, I’m gonna admit something right here in my comments…something I’m not all that proud of: Part of me LOVES seeing a publisher put out a mediocre book. If they’ll buy *that* they will buy mine.

      Like I said…not so proud that it gives me hope. But it does.


  5. It’s so funny. I was reading through your point on analysis and thinking how much I actually enjoy that part, and then I hit your generous shout out to my series 🙂 Thank you!

    I’m definitely a perfectionist. My problem is feeling like anything is ready to be shown to the world rather than putting it out there too soon. I’m still seeking the balance between creating something exceptional and shipping. I don’t just want to produce something “good enough.” If you ask my grandma, I’ve been that way since I was a kid. She still tells the story of how she was trying to teach me to say my ABCs. I refused. I’d happily listen to her say them, but I would not repeat them. When I came back two days later, I could say them perfectly because I’d gone home and practiced in private 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I adore that story, Marcy! I can just see you doing it. 🙂 I’m watching my daughter delay doing things until she’s (a) particularly motivated or (b) can do them well and she’s TWO. It’s a very eye-opening thing to see how young this begins.

      p.s. Your series is fantastic and well deserves my shout-out!


    • Eden says:

      As someone else who loved your “Five Senses” series, I had to peek in here and say “I know someone just like that: (your story about the ABCs, that is)…. My son does the same thing. It’s frustrating sometimes, but he will stand on the sideline and watch and not participate in anything new for days… Then suddenly he’s in the midst of thing doing stuff by rote that other people still have to check themselves on.

      Be glad for your talent, Marcy! It’s a precious one.


  6. Priya Kanaparti says:

    Reblogged this on Live, Love, Laugh and commented:
    Helpful advise in becoming a top notch Writer


  7. K.B. Owen says:

    Hi, Jenny!

    Fab list. I think I’m doing ok with most of these, except for “innovative” – lately, I’ve been feeling in a rut. You know, the *head-desk* kind of rut, where you’re trying to figure out ways to get your characters out of the mess you put them in? Sigh. I just have to trust that I’ll get there.

    Have a great week!


  8. Gene Lempp says:

    I think sometimes we just have to be reminded. The perfectionist curse is an especially vile one, member of the club and speaking from experience. Sometimes, when combined with the assortment of chaos life brings, it can be the penny that derails the train, the straw that breaks the camels back, the small thing that leads us away from a dream. All because we can never be perfect – and when we think all is on the line, well, then perfection is the thing we think we need. When really, all we need is our best, done with consistency.

    And that, is what we have to be reminded of. Thanks, Jen.


    • K.B. Owen says:

      Ooh, Gene, well-put. I’ll have to remember that. I’m a card-carrying member (reluctantly) of the perfectionist club, and now that you’ve pointed it out, perfectionism and consistency do seem to be on opposite poles. And I know that sometimes I’m using the pursuit of the perfect as an avoidance/delaying tactic.

      This is a cool discussion! (Sorry, Jenny, I’m blog-jacking again. I’ll shut up now 😉 )


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Yeah, I’ve got the t-shirt too, Gene. I’m having to learn the “good enough” lesson or, as Marcy says above, nothing ever ships!

      I will say that when it comes to publishing, I’d rather wait a bit and put out a really good book than hurry up and miss the mark. I think the balance is to get enough readers of your work to know how close you are to the mark.

      Lovely to see you on the blog, Gene!!


  9. Stacy Green says:

    I’m with Kathy. Have been in a rut lately because the protagonist for the trilogy I’m working on is kicking my but. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but there are key elements I’m missing to this character, and I’m having trouble sorting her out.

    As for writing a few books until you get to a good one – definitely. I used to think of any writing that wasn’t going into a book as a waste of time. How stupid! Every piece of writing is valuable!

    Good luck, Jenny!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Don’t you hate that point of a book when all the balls are in the air and things don’t make sense yet? Just. Keep. Writing!!
      It will all smooth itself out once you relax. I know it. 🙂


  10. Love it Jenny.

    I love the analogy you use of learning to ride your bike or play the piano and how long that takes…I agree, I think as writers we often think we should be able to crank out a best seller in 2.5 and get really discouraged when it doesn’t just happen. When in reality, being a writer means writing…a lot…often…good…bad…fabulous! It’s all words on the page.

    Thanks for that reminder.

    I think my two favorite online relationships building tools are my blog and twitter.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You see why we are such pals? Not only are we sharing the same brain most days, but we’re loving the same tools. 🙂

      You know I think everyone has to write 30K before the good stuff comes out. It’s just the nature of things.


  11. Mike Paulson says:

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read on the art of writing. I believe, like you, that becoming a great writer is no different than becoming a great anything else. You have to want to be great, and you have to develop the skills that, when mastered (or as close as you can get in writing) will elevate your craft to the level of greatness.

    I am still in the infancy of my writing career, as I am currently pushing through to finish the first draft of my first full-length novel. While it might be discouraging to think that I have to write two more novels after this one to hit my stride, it gives me a series of goals to be set.

    I hope that I can one day reach the point where all five of your key qualities are on my list, but I appreciate your analysis into what makes a writer great, so I can model these qualities as I continue to develop.

    Thanks so much!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Awwww…thanks, Mike! The writing skills are interesting. I go back now and read some of my earliest writings and cringe. But the beauty of them is they were good enough to evoke the feelings I need to revise them and make them better.

      Would I publish any of them? No.
      Would I use them as a springboard to something better? Hell yes!

      Your first novel just has to be the best you can make it RIGHT NOW.


  12. amyshojai says:

    Dang, the only way you learn is to EPIC FAIL! It’s only when you see your slip is showing, or your toe pokes through the socks, that you know what (and how) to fix it. EMBRACE your EFs, and celebrate them because….it means the next time they won’t be there. *s* Great post as always Jenny!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I’m with you, Amy! We call that “hanging your a$$ out the window in Downtown.” That’s the feeling of arriving home from a parade, thinking you were the queen, and discovering your proverbial fly was down. Nothing else can cement that lesson in quite the same way.


  13. Tami Clayton says:

    “Why is it acceptable for multiple attempts when learning to ride a bike, or dance the tango, or knit but it’s an “epic fail” to write a few books before you get good at it?” Such a GREAT question that hit me square in the heart of my perfectionistic core. I’ve been steeped in epic fails lately and I guess I didn’t want to toss my first novel into that quagmire. Your question makes me reframe it in a positive way. Will be thinking about this as I sit down to write later today. Thank you!


  14. Hi Jenny. Well I hope you’re going to turn out something seriously great in FD. But, it’s just one aspect of learning the craft of writing. Understanding plot, character, story structure is nothing if it isn’t practiced, and practicing with the aim of a draft of a book in a couple of weeks is a great way to learn. In part the condensed time period helps (me) understand what worked and what didn’t work – because even with my memory I can remember what I did last week! It’s not so easy to see that bigger picture when it’s taken a year to write a book.

    You’re going to do great 🙂



  15. Sharla Rae says:

    Guilt, guily, guilty. I am so obessive. Trying harder to do better though. 🙂


  16. Fantastic post, Jenny. Have a blast with the fast draft. I hope it goes wonderfully. 🙂

    I don’t jive well with online programs like ROW80 or Fast Draft. I’m super private with my work until it’s done and thrive best by sitting down and writing daily. I do rely heavily on the support and friendship of other writers, LIKE YOU! Thank goodness for Twitter, Facebook and WANA Tribe.


  17. Lena Corazon says:

    Great post, Jenny! I’ve been mentally composing one of my own about the pitfalls of being a perfectionist — my need to get everything *just right* on the first try has really been holding me back the last few months. I’m so excited to jump aboard the Fast Draft train with y’all in a few days. 😀


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I can’t wait to see that post, Lena! I think that Little Miss Perfect is a pain in all our backsides and we ought to tie her upside down to a tree. What do you think?


  18. Enjoy the fast draft. You are so brave. I force myself to write at least 1K a day, and that’s a stretch for me. Great suggestions for innovation, too. Thanks!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Brave?? I’ll take it. I do see a group of writers in a challenge as one of the most stalwart groups ever. And incidentally, 1000 words per day is 3-4 books/year. I’m just sayin…. 🙂


  19. John Holton says:

    Yes, I’ve participated in all three (ROW80, NaNo and Fast Draft) with mixed success. Not that I’ve been unsuccessful, just not as wildly successful as I had hoped. And being a perfectionist and having been the son of a perfectionist, if I can’t get it right the first time, I follow the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, you suck.” Happily, I’m getting over that.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I’m glad you’re getting over that, John. It’s a painful message to have stuck in your head. The journey is so much more fun without all that tripe in our heads, eh?


  20. I’m hard at revisions on novel #2 and looked at Nigel’s Fast Draft invitation with envy. One of these days I want to have time to take up the challenge. I’m still trying to figure out how you find the time!


  21. Diana Beebe says:

    I struggle with that inner critic who wants me to edit as I write–time to kick her to the curb. I love your reminder that the first draft isn’t going to be perfect–not even close–so why struggle with the process. Thanks for the inspiration (on so many levels)!


  22. As a world-class NONperfectionist, I don’t relate to all this obsession over perfection, although my wife would. I’m with Jolyse – 1000 words per day seems to be my pace.

    I wrote SEVEN novels before I began to learn a bit about how to write one. But who says you can’t go back and use the general plot of one of those attempts as the basis for a good, well-written one. I’ve just published the first of a series of novellas based loosely on the idea of one of these earlier failures. Time – and the marketplace – will tell how it’s received, but I do think it’s a vast improvement over those earlier efforts.


  23. I am a helpless perfectionist and because of that it often takes me way too long to finish a project. It drives me crazy that I need that “extra day or two”, but I can’t help it. Sigh. But I’m finally done with the third round of revisions (yay!) and the manuscript is finally with my second editor.

    Good luck with the first draft and the rest of the journey. It definitely is a fun one 🙂


  24. Karen McFarland says:

    Sorry I’m so late to the party Jenny. I was brain dead yesterday. Perfectionist, oh yeah. You know how to push my buttons girlfriend. Why is it everytime someone mentions Fast Draft, I’m never ready to jump in. So I want to stay on the yahoo loop and join Gene with Fast Plotter instead. I’ve got to get my butt in gear. Don’t count me out yet Jenny! 🙂


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