8 character traits that make a great writer

1. Listening

I have done many interviews over the past six years and I have learned that people like it when you listen to them. It may sound too obvious, but listening to people is an essential trait for a writer. You need to hear the story in what your interviewees are saying and follow it. You need to pick out the subtext in a conversation. Trust me, the more you listen without distraction, the deeper you will be able to go in interviews and in your writing. The deeper you go, the better your writing will be overall.

2. Curiosity

Again, this may be another obvious one, but if you don’t have questions, it will be difficult to be a writer. Curiosity is the spark that compels you to dig through a topic and that curiosity can radiate from the page, translating to the reader. It is your job to pull a reader through a story or article and if you can’t be curious about the topic, you won’t be able to convince your reader to stay curious either.

3. A balance of humility and authority

This is a tough line to walk. As a writer, you need to sound authoritative or your reader won’t feel confident enough to continue reading. However, you don’t want to come off as a know-it-all, especially if you need to do research and interviews for your articles. If you act like you know too much, you will miss important questions and subtext that could add necessary quality to your story or articles. 

4. Clarity

Expressing or explaining ideas clearly is the ultimate goal as a writer. You might not have clarity about your subject at all times throughout the writing process, but the end product you create should easily connect the reader to truth. They shouldn’t have to read something four times to understand it. This doesn’t mean shallow, by the way. You can communicate depth without using convoluted language. This is about shaving down your words to the ones that matter and being thoughtful about what needs to be included verses what you can cut away.

5. Bravery

This is a trait that I have worked to develop. If you are a shy person, don’t think you are excluded from this, either. What I mean is that you are going to have to take risks and talk to people you might not always talk to, and you have to risk sounding like an idiot sometimes. You will also have to be brave about sharing your work with editors and readers. All of these things take grit.

6. A rich internal life

I’ll be honest and say that this is a strong opinion I hold and not necessarily writing gospel. However, to me, the best writers are introspective and thoughtful people who cultivate ideas and thoughts within before they share them with the world. They let ideas steep in their minds for a little while, playing around with them and asking questions about them. They have to be willing to look at a problem from a variety of different perspectives, even perspectives they don’t have, and attempt to understand them. I think the most compelling writing comes from a thought life that has been worked on for some time, rather than words spewed out quickly and haphazardly across the page. (If you want to grow in this area, start a journalling practice in your life).

7. Openness 

I include this one in the list for two reasons. First, because if you aren’t open to new thoughts or angles or perspectives, your writing will be very narrow and likely bland. Plus you will end up saying the same things all the time. Second, if you don’t present some openness when you interview people, it will be very hard to get them to open up to you. I don’t mean you overshare everything about your life- please don’t. I mean that you aren’t scrunched up, avoiding eye contact, mumbling your questions, and making your interviewee feel uncomfortable. In an interview, you play host, and display openness to the person you are with. This means maintaining general respect for and interest in your interviewee.

8. Flexibility (or adaptability)

Similar to openness. Your writing project will never look the same in your head at the outset than it does on paper at the end. It just won’t, so divorce that idea right now. If you are too uptight about your writing and refuse to accept constructive criticism, your writing career will be over before it starts. I do think you need to have confidence in your work and stick to the essence of your subjects and truth, but remain open to editor suggestions for structural changes. Be flexible if a story changes in scope or direction because of some new information you uncovered or an interview that went differently than you expected. Be adaptable when new angles arise or a new idea floats into your mind. Writing is a refining process, not a stamp from your brain to the page.

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