How to Survive as a Writer

AJ Waines
AJ Waines

This week, I’m delighted to share a guest post from author AJ Waines, where she talks about the three big things that all writers need…


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I’ve been reflecting recently on the essential personality traits needed  not only to be a writer, but one who is in it for the long haul. I don’t mean the obvious qualities, like creativity, invention, originality of style, thinking outside the box, observation skills, flair for language and probably also, in my case, a slightly twisted mind! I mean the qualities you need to survive as a writer.

I started writing fiction only five years ago, but my learning curve on so many levels has been steep and at times, almost emotionally crippling! Here are just a few of the qualities I’ve identified as crucial to my own writing journey. I know, on a personal level, they could do with a serious overhaul!

Resolve – the need to stay self-assured and determined.

In the beginning, allowing another soul to read my work was a big step. My brother-in-law, Mike, an avid and pull-no-punches reader, offered to read my manuscript and I couldn’t afford to turn him down. Dredging up the courage to make that next move to submit to agents was a further push beyond my comfort zone. I needed some serious nudging from Mike, before I decided it might not be a complete waste of everybody’s time. I’d done no creative writing training whatsoever, I’d even failed my English literature ‘O’ level  – so what on earth made me think anyone would regard my writing as publishable?


This isn’t one of my strong points in life, generally! I’m a ‘think about it’, then ‘get up and sort it out’ kind of person. I’ve found patience one of the hardest aspects of being a writer and it crops up time after time. Take getting an agent. You send an initial enquiry letter and have to wait. Days slide past and you hear nothing. Days become weeks and you’ve not heard a thing. If you’re lucky someone requests three chapters – you send them and wait. If you’re luckier, they might request the whole manuscript. You send it – and guess what? You’re really, really excited now, but there’s more waiting. Agents rarely respond sooner than four or five weeks, some not until after twelve weeks – others say if they’re not interested, they don’t reply at all. In those cases, you don’t even get a ‘no, thank you’. Even when you go to see an Agent and finally sign that contract – it’s still no guarantee of anything. My first agent was terribly enthusiastic about my book,  but it didn’t sell and they dropped me…

Resilience to Uncertainty

Agents are busy and don’t have time to give individual writers a blow by blow account of what they’re up to. I hate uncertainty; I like everything to be clear and organised with dates and deadlines, but there’s a lot of ‘not knowing what’s going on’ in publishing. It’s purgatory for me! There are long gaps as material goes back and forth for polishing and re-writes and there seems to be a great deal of mystery about the submission process itself. I have found it difficult (I’ve had two agents, to date) to get information about ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘what’ in this area. Has it gone out yet? Who has it gone to? Why those publishers? Why only twelve? What replies have we had? I spent almost a whole year thinking one agent had sent out a new novel, only to find it was ‘on hold’.

Resilience to Powerlessness

There is a lot of powerlessness involved in the publishing business – perhaps this is why so many writers are turning to self-publishing. Many aspects of the process are out of sight and not under the writer’s control. Take the book cover and jacket blurb. The author chooses, right? No – the marketing department has the final say. Even the book title can be out of our hands. In my earlier career as a Psychotherapist, I wrote a self-help book entitled ‘The Self-Esteem Journal’, a book about building self-esteem through personal diary-writing. My second book was a direct follow-on from the first, but the chosen title ‘Making Relationships Work’, made it sound like a generic ‘relationship’ book and it subsequently got lost in piles of other relationship titles. My objections had no impact whatsoever and the book is now about to go out of print.

And finally, the Biggie – Resilience to Rejection

Being an author is one big Competition and with every round you get through, there’s another tougher challenge lurking ahead. My agent found a publisher for my first two books in Germany, got deals in France, but there have been plenty of rejections closer to home. So far we haven’t had enough interest from the UK. Top publishers have said wonderful things: ‘fantastic set-up… terrific concept… rare talent’, but then turned the books down, saying they had just taken on other writers who were too similar in style or subject matter. It’s not enough to be a cracking writer with a great story – you have to fit in with other titles and writers at the right time. The reason given for one of my rejections was that the publisher had just taken on a murder mystery set alongside The Thames, just like my novel.

Even after the books are published, there are stacks of worries about promotion, book sales and bad reviews. Writers have to develop thick skins and need to keep bouncing back at every turn – even when they’ve got over several hurdles.

Add to these qualities all the other ones you need just to complete a novel, such as focus, dedication, single-mindedness, diligence and attention to detail. Are you exhausted yet?! Thankfully, I have a 100% commitment to writing – I have to be pried away from my PC every day – and the writing process (which goes hand in hand with reading and learning the craft of writing) has mushroomed from a passion into a gripping obsession. I love it. I have never worked so hard in my life or found anything as challenging in the long-term – but it’s all worth it, because I feel ALIVE. Being a writer leaves me knowing that all the strife and heart-ache is ultimately enriching my life, giving me new adventures and fresh targets to aim for.

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A J Waines writes Psychological Thrillers. Her debut novel, The Evil Beneath, is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon and is about a serial killer who attaches corpses to London bridges and leaves messages and personal mementos for psychotherapist, Juliet Grey.

Alison draws on over fifteen years of experience as a Psychotherapist, including work with clients from high security prisons. This exclusive and privileged role has given her a rare insight into abnormal psychology. She is interested in writing about the extraordinary dilemmas and traumas ordinary people often have to face – particularly ‘crimes of passion’, hidden motives, family secrets and moral dilemmas. She lives in Southampton with her husband.

A J Waines’ website is