The Number One Secret to Successful Writing

secret to successful writing

The secret to successful writing.

Please welcome guest author Marcy McKay with her top secret for successful writing.

You finally muster the courage to let someone else read your work. A live human being, a person who is actually qualified to share his or her opinion on your writing (unlike your Great Aunt Edna who thinks everything you do is perfect).

This individual reads your piece and gives a vague response. “It’s good. I mean, I like it, but something is missing.”

It’s similar to when you try to duplicate that delicious pizza from your favorite restaurant on your own. It tastes okay, but something still seems off – just not quite right.

So, what’s that certain spice for your writing? The recipe for literary success?

The secret ingredient is you.

That’s right. In order to succeed at writing, you must be 100% yourself on the page. This is true for fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, whether you pursue publication or not.

Are You Missing from Your Writing?

Writing is a process. It takes time, patience, and practice to excel at your craft. In fact, much more time, patience, and practice than we’d like. Sometimes, that means years. I wish I could say exactly how long it takes, but writing is an art, so it’s not defined. Everyone’s journey is different.

However, the obvious point so many people miss is that the more you write, the better you become. You’ll excel faster, too.

There are many reasons why you may be missing from your writing. They’re all variations of fear, but here are a few:

  • Newbies: You’re still getting know yourself as a writer. Stop playing it safe. When you honor your dream to write, your words will thank you for it. They will be stronger, bolder, and more like the real you.
  • Smarty Pants: You’re trying to sound more intelligent to impress others. Know this: you’re smart enough, right now. I’ve read amazing authors with little formal education, and I’ve read authors with MFAs in writing whose books were so bland I couldn’t finish them.
  • Copycat: You’re trying too hard to imitate your favorite author. The world already has one Michael Cunningham, and he already won the Pulitzer Prize for The Hours. He’s amazing, but we don’t need another one. What readers need is you. Nobody else sees life exactly like you do (even if you have an identical twin).

Your Own Secret to Success

To be the best writer you can be—to be the real you—comes down to just one word: honesty.

If writing came with a recipe it would be one part you plus one part honesty. Mix well and enjoy success.

You, the real you, is simmering inside, waiting to be poured onto the page. Whether it’s fiction, poetry, or nonfiction.


  • Your Readers Will Like You More: Your writing needs to reflect your true self. It shows when you’re faking it on the page. If you don’t like or care about what you’re writing, your readers will know it. Passion, on the other hand, is contagious. We like people who keep it real.
  • Your Soul Will Like You More: Life happens 24/7 all around us—personal problems, stresses at work, financial difficulties, health struggles. Words save us; they show us and others how we feel. In return, we need to bravely write about the good, the bad, and the ugly for either our imaginary characters or in the real world. We must be true to ourselves.

How to Bring More of You to the Page

There’s a saying, “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.

So true.

In order to achieve such intense vulnerability, you must do the following:

  • Check your Gut: Our best writing comes from a deep place inside us, a place not all writers have discovered yet, but it’s there for us all. That’s where the truest, rawest, purest form of ourselves resides and where we’ll find the best writing.
  • The Double T: If whatever you’re contemplating writing both thrills you and terrifies you, then you’re on the right track. It may frighten you to do so, but keep going. Otherwise, it’s not the right subject for you.
  • Practice Means Progress: The more you write with such brutal honesty, the less you care about the outcome (did they like it or not?). You’ve honored yourself, and your readers will love you for it.

I hope this post helps you bring success to the page each and every time.

How honest are you in your writing? If you’re not, what do you need to do differently for greater success?

Marcy McKayAbout the author: Marcy McKay is the “Energizer Bunny of Writers.” She believes writing is delicious and messy and hard and important. If you’ve ever struggled with your writing, you can download her brand new and totally FREE eBook, Writing Naked: One Writer Dares to Bare All. Find her on Facebook!

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


36 Responses to “The Number One Secret to Successful Writing”

  1. opsimath says:

    What a marvellous post, Melissa! This short piece has shown me more than the dozens, touching on almost a hundred, books and articles I have read about writing. I still don’t think I have whatever it is that is needed to be awriter, but if I had just a shred of talent this would be my watcword. In fact, I’m going to print it out and frame it where I can always see it!

    Thank you once agin for a wonderful site, and in particular for this amazing insight into what writing is about.

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Thank you. I actually wrote this post and am DELIGHTED you found it helpful. You have to be 100% you in your writing. That can be hard. Sometimes, we need help finding us — our voice in our writing. I suggest writing as if you were talking to someone, then share it with a trusted friend. Ask them: 1) if your writing sounds like you, and 2) which part they liked best. Keep writing new things and asking until you feel you’ve discovered the REAL YOU. Thanks for stopping by Writing Forward.

  2. There is this simple motto followed by smarty pants: if you cannot convince readers then confuse them 😀 I think everybody appreciates rawness and newness in writing.. you are unique (just like everybody)! Effective writing matters because it is an expression of your soul, because…it is keeping your heart bare, open and vulnerable. It is vulnerable to opinions, judgement and predicaments. They say interpretation is the domain of receiver, so let your expression fly wild. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post, I so loved it 🙂

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Fantastic, Elizabeth. I love this, “Iinterpretation is the domain of receiver, so let your expression fly wild!” That pretty much sums of the essence of this post. You have WONDERFUL insights. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Alex says:

    Great post, Marcy, getting right to the core of what quality fiction writing is about!

    Besides practice, I think it comes down to “pulling out all of the filters” that society and social conditioning have installed in our minds. You mustn’t say this, you mustn’t articulate that, it’s not polite, it’s not the appropriate thing to say in that situation, that’s a weird thought, it’s a perverted thought, you are weird, what’s wrong with you. We are all censoring ourselfs 24/7, and the ones who aren’t you can find inside of mental asylums. While this censorship is often good and necessary to ensure we can live together in peace and harmony, in art it’s a very bad thing. So to become free to fully express ourselves, we have to learn to completely tear down those internal walls and fences for the time we are writing.

    In the end (and maybe only during the correction process), censorship comes in again, but this time it’s not social-conditioning-censorship, but artistic censorship. Not every non-conformist thought you have makes for an artistically valuable expression – your thought could be not fitting, too much, not interesting enough. So then you have to “streamline” your artistic output to make your ideas fit – but exclusively fit to your own rules and not to anybody else’s. To develop an excellent register of rules, you have to practice your writing as often as possible, and I guarantee you will get a feeling for what works and what doesn’t!

    By the way, it’s no coincidence that you can often find people capable of producing great art inside of mental asylums. These people are used to pulling out all of their filters – for the better or the worse. In writing, do it like them! In many other areas of your life, don’t.

    • Krithika Rangarajan says:

      Hey Marcy

      Your every article excites, empowers and encourages me! Thank you for yet another brutally honest post.

      BTW, I am suffering through a horrible writer’s block right now. The problem is not the lack of ideas, but TOO many ideas. I need to pen a review of a wonderful book. I enjoyed so many facets of it that I am not sure which one(s) to focus on! lol

      I am just paralyzed

      I see no words on my screen…but maybe I should take your advice and just throw something down (which I did yesterday, but I can look at it and let the ideas germinate in my head)

      Thank you #HUGSSSSS

      Much love

      • Marcy McKay says:

        Hi there, Kitto. On one hand, having TOO many ideas rather than not enough seems like a blessing, but it’s still such a struggle. Isn’t it?

        My suggestion would be to write down EVERYTHING you loved about the book. You need to brain your drain so that you can concentrate. Once you have it all written down, step away and come back to your writing. I think you’ll then see the parts that shine the most, and what you want to share with your readers.

        Thanks and GOOD LUCK!

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Well said, Alex. I loved everything you shared and can only I add, “I agree!” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and good luck producing great art with your writing (while staying out of mental asylums)!

  4. Marcy McKay says:

    Well said, Alex. I loved everything you shared and can only I add, “I agree!” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and good luck producing great art with your writing (while staying out of mental asylums)!

  5. Adan Ramie says:

    Such a great tip, Marcy, and an informative, thought-provoking article.

    I think as writers we often read too much into the craft, getting tips here and tricks there, and forget that the key to good writing resides within. A person can read all the How To Write articles on the web and in print and never get a great story on the page that has real emotion in it. It’s true what they say: To thine own self be true. All the other stuff is for the Editing/Proofreading/Polishing stage.

    Keep up the good work, Marcy.

    • Marcy McKay says:

      So true, Adan. This part of your comment gave me chills, “Good writing resides within.” Yes, yes, yes!

      You don’t write like me, and I don’t write like you, and that’s WONDERFUL. We need to let our individuality shine. What makes each and every one of us unique.

      Best of luck in your writing, Adan.

  6. Jenny says:

    Wow. Until I read this fabulous post, I did not realize that I am a smarty-pants! It’s true that the authors I love most are the most authentic — true to themselves. I am going to make a conscious effort to just let go and be myself. Thanks for the insight, Marcy!

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Why, hello, Smart Pants Jenny. Nice to meet you. Definitely, just let go and be yourself. I can hear you loud in clear in this comment — bright, articulate and intelligent. That’s WHO your readers want to hear more of on the page. Good luck!

  7. I’ve read books where the author is telling it like it is, and I read one where the author is trying to write the way she wants it to sound. There was a big difference. The second kind sounded stilted, stiff, and too perfect. Perhaps she didn’t even realize what she was doing. She’s involved in a project which takes up a lot of her time leaving no time to read. She says that she no longer has time to even write and she misses it. She’s mined her past life until there probably isn’t much left to write about. She had two successful books some years ago and another one about her project, but I just don’t think she knows what to write about now. They don’t have a TV set so she can’t get ideas even from that. I can’t tell her because she’d be hurt and probably defensive. It’s so sad. I hope I never become like that. I’m trying my best to learn the craft even if it takes time. I just take it one day at a time. I enjoyed your advice. Suzanne

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Wonderful, though sad insights about your author friend. I don’t want to be like her either. So I know I’m keeping it real with my writing when I have a combination of feeling both THRILLED and TERRIFIED with what I’m writing. That’s when I know I’m on the right track.

      That’s good you’re being patient and taking it one day at a time. Writing takes time, patience and practice. Best of luck with you as you continue on your journey.

  8. Philip Turner says:

    Honesty – a very difficult concept in today’s society where we all repress so much. One reason this post stands out for me is because I can see you are totally honest Marcy. That takes guts, to expose your inner weaknesses to all. It takes guts to handle all the negativity you will be exposed to, all the ridicule from people who know no better and whose opinions are totally worthless.
    This post is inspirational and I will use your ideas TODAY to further my own writing. Thank YOU Marcy

    • Marcy McKay says:

      THANK YOU, Philip. Honesty is really the only way to go with writing. Otherwise, it comes across as stale, bland and vanilla (and I do love vanilla, but in my ice cream — not where I read).

      Life is too short. I’d rather be real, or stay home. I appreciate you, Philip! I hope writing your post went well!

  9. Wendy S says:

    Marcy, another great article! I think its hard to let yourself be vulnerable and put real deep self out there but that is where the true story comes from. I also liked what you said about being yourself and not trying to be another writer. We each have unique experiences and unique points of view so two people could live through the same experience and tell two very different stories. That is what makes life so interesting. Thanks again for more great insight!

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Hi, Wendy. I agree — it IS hard to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Especially, here on the internet where the whole world can see! However, when I step back and think of the authors I CONNECT with most — it’s always those who are most comfortable in their own skin. They tell the good, the bad and the ugly.

      Thanks for your wonderful thoughts, Wendy. Now, go be YOU!

  10. Joao Reis (@joaocmreis) says:

    Awesome post. Thank you specially for the “Check your gut” hint. For me it goes like “if it is not thrilling, maybe it’s not worth pursuing”.
    Cheers !

    • Marcy McKay says:

      That’s SO interesting you said that, Joao, because I always tell myself (and I wrote that to Suzanne a few comments above): I KNOW I’m on the right track with my writing if I feel both THRILLED and TERRIFIED. For me, that’s the winning combination for me.

      Check your gut, then go write!

  11. Anita says:

    Such a wonderful post! I’m 100% for the “Check your gut” tip. I have to be passionate about something or the words just don’t flow. I’d NEVER be a good ghostwriter. It has to be my idea, or all bets are off. LOL.

    Also, thank you for the “Smarty Pants” point. I fall into the “no formal training” camp. I only took one semester of college and zero creative writing classes (barring the one I took after I already learned to write, just so I could make connections). I taught myself to write with books on writing and simply by doing it, over and over and over. After writing six novels, I finally got a book published (#7) now have two published in the series (soon to be three). That’s proof that a lack of an MFA shouldn’t hold anyone back from reaching for their dream. 🙂

    • Marcy McKay says:

      BRAVO, Anita. Yes, I’ve read amazing books by those who never made it past 8th grade, and I’ve read boring books by those with MFA’s (I’m not knocking MFA’s — just saying). Writing is a skill like any other that takes practice — lots and lots of practice.

      Congrats on your publication and here’s to your continued success!

  12. Zed says:

    Thank you for sharing this, I will try to take your advice on board but sometimes it’s difficult to be completely honest. Thank you.

    • Marcy McKay says:

      You are so right, Zed. Excellent point. Do the best you can. I’m about to get graphic here, but I have a friend who was sexually abused as a child. She said she learned to “tell her story without telling her story.”

      So, she says things like…”I had to become an adult at age five…I didn’t have the happiest of childhoods…someone stole my innocence and that changed me forever.” She still conveyed the truth, but without the details. Make sense?

      Sometimes, it’s NOT appropriate to say everything, but you can still speak your truth. However, do so at the level to which you’re comfortable. Thank you for stopping by.

  13. Robyn LaRue says:

    Self-censorship is the devil for sure. Learning how to write things that make me hurt has been the best thing I could do for my characters. Great post, Marcy! glad to see two of my favorite ladies together. *Waves to Melissa.*

  14. Marcy McKay says:

    Hi, Robyn. That’s interesting, the more I’ve dealt with the skeletons in my own closet, the more I can make my characters deal with conflict.

    Self-censorship kills our writing before it ever has a chance to take off. Thanks for being you and stopping by to say hello.

  15. Love your post, Marcy, especially that last line: “The more you write with such brutal honesty, the less you care about the outcome.” Writing is often brutal, especially as we dig deeper into ourselves. But, at the end of the day, it’s the brutality of it that makes other people feel our words on the page.

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Oooooh, Michelle. LOVE your comment, “it’s the brutality of it (our honest writing) that makes other people feel our words on the page.

      You are a gem, and are VERY MUCH you on the page. Congrats and keep up the good work!

  16. April says:

    Guts are wonderful things. I know that I was a lot more productive before I started trying to “play by the rules.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by information telling us the correct way to write, instead of listening to our guts. One of my sweet mentors once said, “Learn the rules then how to break them.” I think that lends to the trusting your gut theory. It’s more authentic if we let it come from within without worrying what Great Aunt Edna or the Editor/Agent I Don’t Even Have thinks of it.

    • Marcy McKay says:

      I agree, April. The writing I connect most to is authentic and real and gutsy. I hope you stop “playing by the rules” and go back to being true to yourself. Not only will you be more productive, but you’ll also be happier. Good luck!

  17. I write mostly picture book stories…but your advice is spot on for those as well, Marcy! And I fall into the category of wanting life to run smoothly for my mc…it’s difficult for me to portray the bad and the ugly along with the good. But I will try to be brave…and bravely write about that. 🙂

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Oh, WOW, Vivian. I hadn’t considered picture books, but you’re so right. We must always be ourselves whether it’s a memoir, a poem, or a picture book. That essence rings true whether our reader is two or ninety-two! Thanks for sharing this.

  18. Marcy, your posts are always a fresh breath of air. Anytime I feel like I am starting to falter off my writing path, I seek out either one of your books or your Mudpie Writing blog.

  19. Darcie says:

    I think there is enjoyment and exhilaration of writing in your own voice. It gives your work more passion and it is terrifying to be vulnerable. But we are writers everything time we put the pen to the page we are sharing our piece of ourselves with the world.