8 Non-Writing Skills You Shouldn’t Forget As A Writer

Post It note that says 'Don't Forget', on a desk with mouse and keyboard

Finally, a post about writing that doesn’t involve actual writing. It’s a relief, isn’t it?

I mean, you can’t blame me for touting writing so often. It’s a given if you’re ever going to succeed as a writer.

But the dangers of taking ‘just write’ too seriously could be getting literary tunnel vision, and tunnels of any kind can be detrimental to our craft.

So what should you be doing other than putting words on paper then? Let’s start with the most important one.

1. Put your money where your mouth is

Do you really want to be a writer?

Are you nodding because you think it’s cool, or do you really want to write? Does an audience of two at your book signing bother you? What about an audience of two on your blog? Would you keep writing even if no one knows your name?

So you do, huh? You really do? Then prove it.

Not to me. Prove it to yourself. Prove it by bettering your skills even when you don’t have to. Prove it by sticking through the grind of querying, or through the constant reading of books on the craft.

Or prove it by doing the other things listed below.

2. Read

Some of you may be jerking a thumb at my direction, saying, “This guy. Tell us something new, won’t you?” Yet you won’t believe the amount of writers I know who are actually proud of not reading.

It’s not the arrogance that gets me. It’s the lack of respect. And these are often writers who are in it just for the money too.

I get it if you don’t enjoy reading. Everyone has a right to their likes and dislikes.

But as a writer, every time you choose to glorify not reading, the writing gods kill a spacebar. Do that enough and we’llallbetypinglikethisverysoon.

Seriously though, if you’re not going to do it for the craft, then at least give the authors the same courtesy you’d want your readers to give you. And that’s to be read.

3. Go out and meet people

I can already hear the collective groans of my fellow introverts, but this is a necessary evil. Establishing new contacts really does make life easier for us writers.

Here’s an anecdotal statistic for you—about 90% of my writing gigs were referrals from people I already knew. That’s just the way it is. People would take a chance of a friend’s friend before they’d actually purchase writing services off WordPress or Facebook.

And meeting people can result in some pretty interesting experiences as well.

I remember attending a writer’s book signing event just to pick her brain on what she did to become a nine-time novelist in Malaysia. She ended up mentoring me throughout my first novel.

Of course, don’t be a douche and make connections just for the sake of benefits. Actually take an interest in people, especially writers, and see if you can learn something new about the industry.

Besides, you’re going to need yourself some writer friends, because the muggles have little empathy for all our writerly troubles.

A bunch of people networking at a party

Bad news for us introverts, but schmoozing is a necessity. Photo: Antenna

4. Shop your work around

I admit to not pitching enough. I’ve gotten too engrossed in writing that I’d totally forgotten about the peripherals. And one such error is not reaching out to publishers.

Sure, I have five manuscripts in various stages of drafting, but am I really paving a proper path for myself?

This category alone involves so many moving parts—the cover letter, the synopsis, the research, the etiquette, the grind, the tracking—and getting good with the pitch is just as daunting as mastering the actual writing.

If the act of writing alone satisfies you, then hey, don’t let me tell you what to do. But if you desire seeing your story in print, you’re going to have to learn to pitch, like it or not.

5. Actually finish

So you won NaNo and you have a 50,000-word manuscript waiting in your Google Drive. Congratulations. Now actually go and finish it, because you know that your current plot is barely held together by duct tape and glue.

I know, you want to bask in your achievement a little longer, but merely slapping ‘THE END’ on the bottom of your manuscript doesn’t mean anything. Yet.

Don’t let all that momentum go to waste. I hate editing as much as you, but it’s part of the process too.

Man with spectacles writing in his notebook in front of his laptop

Writing is only the first part of the entire process. Photo: ConvertKit

6. Establish your digital presence

The best way to stop a potential reader (or publisher) from discovering you is to be a digital ninja, which means you’re not going to get any brownie points if a Google search of your name reveals only a Facebook account that was last updated in 2017.

Remember the part about proving it? People tend to gravitate towards writers who take their craft seriously, and the only way to show your initiative is to have a body of work available online.

So do your best to build a decent online presence. Not just because it’s your international CV, but because it gives your would-be customers peace of mind that they are entrusting their work to someone that actually cares about it.

7. Learn your craft

I’m a pantser through and through. You know how I know that? Because I’ve tried plotting. And I did that because Libbie Hawker said it was the superior way to write a novel, based on her teachings in Take Off Your Pants!

With a title like that, the least I could do was try.

And it was miserable.

I’ve plotted two novels, and each attempt just solidified my beliefs that I work better when pantsing. So what if I write myself into corners and have to rewrite the entire manuscript? And who cares if I need two (or seven) more drafts compared to the average author? There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to creative work, so I’m sorry Libbie, but my pants stay on.

That doesn’t mean you should stop learning, though. I still apply some techniques I picked up from the book, such as character flaws and arcs, and I’ll continue to apply more knowledge as I gain them.

So don’t keep doing the same thing. Try to constantly improve, even if you have to pants your way through that.

8. Sell yourself

You thought that publishing that book meant automatic sales, huh? You thought that starting a blog automatically meant having a readership? Ha. Ha ha hahahahaahahaa *cries in introvert*

Here we go back to braving the outside world, but with the sole purpose to market yourself.

You write cyberpunk? Then you’ll need to trawl the cyberpunk subreddits. Maybe make a passing mention of your work in the game forums for Cyberpunk 2077. You’re going to have to tease out all the possible channels for proper marketing (as opposed to spamming your novel’s URL in the comments section).

Or you could spend money and take out some Facebook ads.

Sure, you can be a purist and focus on just writing, and maybe you’d be posthumously discovered one day, but if you don’t want to be that author with five reviews on Goodreads for the entire 2021 (a.k.a me), then you’re going to want to at least learn the lay of the marketing landscape.

Cyberpunkish view of a city, with advertising billboards all over building walls

You gotta get yourself seen. Photo: Joe Yates

Stop taking advice from the internet

I feel like a broken record at this point, but I think it’s prudent to remind you that nobody’s words are ever set in stone. Not Stephen King’s, not JK Rowling’s, nobody.

But one thing remains true, and while I’d promised not to mention writing as one of the essential things a writer should do, there’s just no denying it. At the end of the day, you could do much worse than to just write.


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92 thoughts on “8 Non-Writing Skills You Shouldn’t Forget As A Writer

  1. The introvert in me felt the pain when you mentioned networking but it’s an inevitable part of the job. One surely hates it but cannot do without it. Such an amazing post. Insightful and crisp. Glad I hit that “writer” search in WP and found your page at the top. Immediately became a subscriber. :)

  2. Oh good! I’m not the only pantser out there!

    My very first NaNo project was completely pantsed, and I’m actually proud of how it turned out. I do have to finish the third in the trilogy though, but that’s a whole different story.

    I too tried plotting other works, but by the second chapter I was way off the plotline and pantsing took over. Some of us just work better on the fly.

    In Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, he says in order to write you must read. And as someone who has published so many novels I think he knows what he’s talking about.

    Oh yes, the marketing. Ugh! Oops, did I say that out loud? I’m the first to admit I suck at it, partially because of something my grandpa told me when I was just a kid. “Don’t brag about what you’ve done.” I know I’m an adult and should know better, but some things just stick with us and it’s hard to go against your hero.

    I have written hundreds of thousands of words in the last 20 months, but not a single one in my current romance series. Journals, blog posts, podcast scripts, and blog post comments, not to mention client work have all gotten my attention. Part of my reason for the slacking in my series: the second book’s dedication is “To Ross, who puts up with my crazy writing hours.” I’m going to have to slightly change that when I do get it finished, but it will still be dedicated to him because he believed in what I do.

    And yes, there are so many more things to do than just write, but when one figures out how they all go together to finish the bigger picture, it’s worth its weight in gold.

    Thank you Stuart for another post that makes us think. :)

    • Regarding the Stephen King quote, I read somewhere that a writer used to doubt how much King said he read, because how can someone have so much time? Then he saw King at a movie theatre, with his nose in a book. There have also been reports of him reading at a baseball game. So I guess he really does follow his own advice. My issue with him is that he still uses tons of adverbs though, despite his famous stance on that.

      Gah, marketing. I’m going to try to learn more about that this year, particularly for my own writing.

      And I totally get writing so much yet not having any of that effort channelled into our WIPs. Sometimes we writers are weird like that, lol.

      Anyway, thanks so much for your lovely comment, fellow pantser! That was such a joy to read and reply :)

  3. I love the way you write! Firstly, you don’t actually sound like a broken record because I’ve never really heard any of this advice before. It’s very true that we assume that we’ll become famous overnight or automatically have thousands of sales… but as an introvert I find the promotion to be the hardest part of writing 😅

  4. Great post and love your genuine off the cuff true simple comments!
    Thanks for visiting me.. following you now.. are you following me? Sorry it’s hard to keep up so not sure.. 🙏 if not, jump on board and we can read each other. .

  5. Let me add another to your list; MEDITATE. Yes, I read your post on why you dislike meditation, so hear me out.
    When you are busy, switching between one task and another causes what you call ‘residue’. This is an actual phenomenon and described in a book named ‘Deep Work’. By meditating between tasks, your brain settles enough to move on. I had a Eureka moment earlier this year and have tried it several times. It works for me (just because it works doesn’t mean I’ve adopted it!! Writing should be painful) so give it a shot.
    BTW 15 minutes of meditation feels like eternity times 2, I started with seven minutes a day four years ago and now I’m doing seven minutes and forty-five seconds. Outstanding Success as far as I’m concerned.
    Here is a Buddhist monk explaining meditation in two minutes

    Your writing style is admirable. Mine still feels stilted (teaching literature and writing speeches for politicians will do that) so thanks for a glimpse of what I hope to achieve.

    All The Best

    P.S I’m hitting the subscribe button on a blog for the first time in two years.

    • It’s always great to come across long comments like yours (not sure how to address you, do share your name, yeah?), so thank you for that.

      And yes! While I’ve found meditation to have its challenges, I’ve never broken my streak to date. It can definitely feel like forever though. I like to do the first 15 minutes with a timer, just so I can gauge the time, then I sit for however long I can after that. It’s THAT part that really plays with my mind, because when there’s no limit, the mind always wants to stop and leave.

      Love the video you shared. I also enjoy Nick Keomahavong’s stuff.

      And I’m grateful you decided to share how meditation has helped with your residue, because that definitely enriches the topic, and will help anyone who stumbles across this.

      It’s amazing that you write speeches for politicians. Speech writing is a niche I’ve never been able to explore yet.

      Super stoked to hear about you subscribing, especially since you haven’t hit the button in so long. Let’s just say I feel honoured as heck.

      Thanks again for this!

  6. I care less about what people say about me, it means I am human and I really when enjoy people reading my work, that shows you I am not writting in vain
    I also read people’s articles as well because I learn new things too

    • It’s as much a reminder for myself too, because while I do maintain a healthy word output, I feel like I’m not making any progress because I’m not making the effort to send them out. Every part of the supply chain counts! Thanks so much for stopping by, Tara!

  7. Wow! I enjoyed reading this. I lost passion in my book. I did not see how it would be possible to publish and market it. Your words have just given me hope; networking with people is the hardest thing for me to do. You have just pushed me to go back to my craft. Writing is not just about writing; it’s about the message you are trying to put out there.

    • Oh yeah, I need to remind myself of this all the time too. I’d spent so much time on just the writing, but am I doing anything else to reach my publishing goals?

      Love your comment, by the way, because it’s also pushed me to keep on writing. Thanks for this!

  8. I love how you always give great writer advice and endlessly inspire us to keep at it and do better than we did last time. I dream of writing every day and it’s been a long road to be able to get to a place of knowing I will write every week. Thanks for being relentless! :)

  9. “Finish it” is good advice. I’ve met many authors who begin a chapter one but struggle on number two. The amount of unfinished works sitting in drawers, cupboards and hard drives, must be in the billions. “Finish it” matters. -Michael

    • Oh yeah. So many people have this shiny idea in their head, then realise that it actually takes work to transpose those ideas onto paper. Once we get over that though, everything else is gravy. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Michael! What a great comment to have here.

  10. Good tips Stuart. I totally agree with each and every detail here. Very mind grabbing especially the reading part. I’m an avid reader so I definitely like that💯

    • And thank YOU so much for taking the time to read and comment. Avid readers unite!

      p.s. just a heads up, the website linked to this account of yours seems to be broken (dandyicons.wordpress.com). Perhaps an update is needed?

  11. I love this post. So witty and well stated. My favourite parts are about the writing gods killing a space bar, and about …well, keeping your pants on. Did I just say that. Haha! Great energy and wit comes through in your words. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Wow, I’ve read a lot of comments in my WordPress journey, but you certainly do know how to make a writer’s day. Am thankful for this wonderful comment. Have a great day over there!

  12. This was a very good read. Thank you for the advice! I am so bad at selling myself. I never really knew where to begin, but your example of the Cyberpunk 2077 subreddit actually makes sense to me.

    • Oh yeah, and the best part is that we ALL have our communities that we’re familiar with. Through our interests alone, we know exactly where to go. The trick is just to not appear hard sell. Anyway, I appreciate your comment. It was great to read it :)

  13. As a total introvert myself, your comments about networking and marketing hit home. They both seem like necessary evils if you want people to read what you write. Great post sir! 🙂

    • Oh yeah, I’ve actually ‘achieved more’ in my writing by actually getting them out there than just writing, that’s for sure. Not my forte though (or for most of us writers as well). Thanks for stopping by, Matt!

  14. Getting out and meeting people was the hardest part for me to do.

    I have an extremely acute introverted attitude. I rarely go out and spend more time on the blog.

    Huft, looks like I have to change.

  15. I’m nowhere near the need for marketing, but I can certainly read more (how people, let alone people who want to write, don’t read at all is beyond me) and…and… I guess try to talk to people in..in…real life?

    • Lol ya. I try not to judge, but if you’re writing and you proudly tell me you don’t read, I automatically tune out. And let’s not talk about people, because real life alone scares me, lol. Thanks for stopping by as always, Hetty!

  16. Once again, your advice for writers can easily be applied to budding copyeditors like me. I found the “go out and meet people” advice especially cringe-worthy, but I know it’s going to be important. I have such a hard time selling myself.

    • Ha! I knew that would be the bane for so many of us. Probably the reason why we chose to read and write as pastimes.

      I totally get it though. Maybe I should put myself out there more so I can better discuss the important points of networking. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  17. I’m doing the side-blogging of book reviews precisely because I need to read more. It is good for making the time go by, too, rather than watching lots of YouTube and staring at a blank page. On the money where the mouth is part, I have a friend who wants to write a book, he told me all the story, it sounded cool, but he doesn’t read. He plays video games all day. My brother is the same way. He says he wants to write, has a story thought out with characters and whatnot, but he also plays video games and reads nothing. Mother, same way, but it is poetry, and she doesn’t play video games. She shops and watches a lot of YouTube or movies. So I’m not expecting to see those stories or poems written/published anytime soon. Or ever.

    All that socializing stuff is a huge weakness, though. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with talking about books to people. That said, I would think online advertisements is the easiest part for everyone. Just fork out some cash or space your ads in a non-annoying way on the threads, and you’re good. I do that for the groups I’m in.

    • I knew that most of us would find socialising tough, because it’s such a huge problem for me. Necessary evil though, ain’t it? Maybe I’d go the ad route too, though that would require a whole other part of the brain to do its work.

      The fake ambitions are frustrating to witness sometimes, isn’t it? You’re telling me you’re gonna write a hit for the millionth time, yet it’s been seven years and still nothing’s going on.

      Which is why I always have respect for people who go ahead and finish their work, such as how you did.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

  18. Great blog post. Truth be told, my passion for writing has been dwindling mainly because I haven’t seen any improvements in my writing style, which is really frustrating.
    Your advice on finishing, (actually) reading, and selling oneself is immensely motivating. Your advice to read others’ works just like how I would want mine to be read also hits home. Thanks!

    • And wonderful comment from you! Such thoughtful words, which really made my day. Hopefully you find your mojo for writing once more. I fall into that rut sometimes too, and what I’ve found works is writing something ‘stupid’ just to realise how fun writing can be sometimes. Wishing you all the best!

      • Thanks for the advice, it’s quite similar to what others say they do when they’re in a writing rut. I’ll definitely try it out, all the best👍🏼

  19. I love your list posts.

    For #1 & #2, I think there’s an argument for expanding this to include buying writing (through books or subscription, etc.) that other people write that you enjoy. I think this is part karma and part practical, and obviously, what’s reasonable depends on one’s circumstances and means, but there is something odd about wanting people to pay for your writing if you wouldn’t pay for someone else’s. It also helps to invest in the craft and build readership. I think about this a lot in the poetry space.

    For #3, I’ll build on this to say that meeting people is also a great way to get inspiration for characters!

    • Omg I also feel the same regarding buying software. Like, if this is supposed to be work that I want people to buy, it feels weird to want to use a pirated version of Scrivener, such as some writers have reported of doing.

      Thanks so much for stopping by as usual. Your comments never fail to add some pep to the comments section!

      • Exactly! How many of the people who want to get paid for their poetry are willing to buy other poets’ poetry through books or literary journal subscriptions? I get the not everyone has the budget and that so much poetry is available for free, and that’s understandable, and yet, there feels like a disconnect.

        Thank you for providing thought-provoking and entertaining posts!

  20. Wow! Another winner and definitely one I’m going to bookmark. How do you keep hitting it outta the ballpark week after week is beyond me?!! But that’s also why you’ve got so many fans! Keep your great writing advice paired with smashin’ panache comin’ Stu! Sighhh…may I have the wherewithal to follow them thru’ on my own rocky road to writing heaven! As always, thanks bro!!

    • Lol, says the person who puts out quality post after post on a tighter schedule. Still, always a great time to see your name in the comments section, Kelvin. It’s easy to see comments as digital 1s and 0s, but you always feel so authentic. Thanks for visiting!

  21. Loved this post! It’s got the perfect balance between great advice and humor.

    Sure, writing seems like the ideal job; but it really does take a lot of work and effort to build a path based on this career. Thanks for sharing this!

  22. Enjoyed this post! I was very happy reading #1, then #2 and then I threw up my cross and hissed when I read #3… go OUT and meet PEOPLE?!? Nah, just kidding! Great info here- thank you!

  23. I really love this line under point 8 “Sure, you can be a purist and focus on just writing, and maybe you’d be posthumously discovered one day,” .

    Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up writing that we actually don’t promote it as well. This is an action point for me. Thank you!

    • It’s an action point for me as well, because I’ve been neglecting it for the longest time. Here’s to getting better at that!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Funmi. I really appreciate it!

  24. Thank you so much for sharing these tips. They were truly helpful. I also have a question. Do you also have any suggestions for reading? I am desperately looking for good personal bloggers to read and follow in word press, but when I search so, there are only a couple of websites mainly about better CEO and stuff like that. Moreover, what do you think of writing communities? Do you have any suggestions about this?

    • I think reading is really up to you, because it’s what you enjoy. You can start with the type of genre you write in. You like and write about travelling and lifestyle, so I’d recommend you look for (even non-WordPress blogs) travel sites like Wandering Earl or Expert Vagabond. I personally enjoy Mark Manson and Chuck Wendig.

      Writing communities are awesome, especially if you can find local FB groups based in your area. I get a lot of news and calls for entries in my local Malaysian writer’s group.

      Just ask away if you have more questions and I’ll be glad to help. And thanks for stopping by!

  25. It’s so true that clients would rather take a chance off a friend’s friend than hire someone from an ad. That’s how I got my one (and only!) editing gig. I used to proofread my friend’s essays, later she recommended me when her boss’s wife was looking for someone to edit her book. Total random luck.

    I can’t believe some writers are proud of not reading! I wish I dedicated more time to reading. Hopefully reading various blogs here on WordPress counts for something. 😁

  26. Love the post Stuart. I have always believed if you are not passionate about a thing whether it is writing or painting, you just won’t give it your all. And if you don’t have confidence and believe in yourself—you might as well pack it up and go on a vacation! Because that vacation will probably more successful than those unfinished projects you weren’t passionate about. Blessings and Peace.

    • Now that’s a great excuse for me to go on multiple vacations, lol. And yes, I too believe that no amount of discouragement will stop a passionate person, and no amount of encouragement will spur on a lackadaisical attitude.

      We just have to find our thing.

      Thanks so much for stopping by as always!

  27. I do enjoy writing for the sake of writing. But – I really enjoy it when others read my work. I’m retired now, so it’s not as if I need my writing to be successful because of finances. I just would like to be successful (recognized?) as a writer. However, I’m not so interested in promoting my writing. Your post has some good food for thought!

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