The four main characteristics I think it takes to break out from the pack are listed below. I'd love to hear your opinions, whether you agree or disagree with my "secret ingredient" list, or have some items of your own to add.
1. Sticktoitiveness (Endurability): Ingredient #1 is explained nicely in this new article from the LA Times. Author Dani Schapiro writes, "Call it stubbornness, stamina, a take-no-prisoners determination, but a writer at work reminds me of nothing so much as a terrier with a bone: gnawing, biting, chewing, until finally there is nothing left to do but fall away...I tell [my students] they are embarking on a life in which apprenticeship doesn't mean a cushy summer internship in an air-conditioned office but rather a solitary, poverty-inducing, soul-scorching voyage whose destination is unknown and unknowable." (Longish, but well worth the time invested in reading.)
2. Knowledge Truly is Power: Writers never reach the end of their studies, so best to put noses in books and get busy. You poets will especially enjoy this new post at Rose & Thorn Journal's blog by Managing Editor and Senior Poetry Editor Cynthia Toups on why form matters. (Most of her points are applicable to prose.) The question of rule-breaking is answered well in her post.
3. Craft Mastery: How do you master your craft? By emersing yourself in what's going on in your genre(s) of preference and building on your base knowledge. Blogaritaville is rich with awesome connections and teachers. Get to know them. Pick their brains for the riches they unselfishly share. Keep abreast, then put what you've learned to the test by practicing! Read fellow blogger and primo writing instructor Roni Griffin's tutorial on Author Intrusion. You'll be glad you did. (And there are plenty of wonderfully helpful posts at her blog.) Another blogger you should follow if you don't already is Harvey Stanbrough. He covers all things poetry, prose & editing.
4. Aim Carefully Before Shooting: Research your market and know who/what/why you're submitting to a particular journal, magazine, agent, publisher. If you don't, you'll be wasting time and setting yourself up for unnecessary rejection. Read guidelines closely. Follow instructions. Be pleasant and professional. Taking care with your submissions is one way to set yourself apart from those who scatter-shoot their work wildly, hoping something (anything) will stick.
Ready to submit?
Rose & Thorn Journal is reading for the spring issue through 2/28. Got some bangin' poetry or prose to send us? Please consider yourself cordially invited.
If you've got a completed manuscript with at least a small element of romance in it, check out agent Nephele Tempest's current "submission fest."