7 habits of successful writers and how I built them
It is your dream to become a successful writer. You have been harboring the desire for a long time. You have been setting daily writing goals. You have been attending writing workshops. You have been scribbling here and there. You started writing a book five years ago and you keep promising yourself that one day you will finish it. One day, when the kids are out of the house, when work is less demanding, when you retire, when all the stars are aligned, you will become a successful writer.
If these thoughts resonate with you, you are not alone. This is what I used to think too.
This was until I really sat down and had a good look at what successful writers were doing that I need to do as well in order to be as productive as them.
Here are the seven habits I identified and adopted which remarkably increased my productivity.
1. Don’t just set goals, build habits
Years ago I was setting goals to write a certain number of words every day but failing at it miserably. Something always happened to consume my time and energy. I even used an online app 750Words where people write for years at stretch but I was not able to maintain my streak. I was averaging twenty days a month. I have participated in National Novel Writing Month multiple times and won three times writing 50,000 words followed by months of no writing.
My writing pattern matched my exercise routine and I knew I needed to fix both. Surprisingly it was by fixing my exercise routine I was able to fix my writing.
Almost two years ago I started going to the gym every weekday. I set a time for it, 5:30 pm. This took the decision process out. By the time it was five pm, my mind would start reminding me. I always kept the gym bag ready in my car. When I did that a few weeks, all my resistance melted. Like any gym-junkie knows that you always feel good after exercise (because of endorphins release). The habit brought a surprise benefit – I started looking forward to going to the gym. I even made friends there. They would ask me if they didn’t see me at my regular time. Another surprise benefit – my stamina increased and exercise became easier.
I did the same for writing. I bought a journal with 365 pages and started writing a page a day, no matter what. A page fitted roughly 250 words. If I didn’t fill the page it didn’t matter. As long as I wrote something there I had fulfilled my pledge. I did that every morning without fail. If for some reason I missed the morning, I did it at night.
Writing a page a day is a habit now. The day I don’t write doesn’t feel like the day I have lived. With time my stamina increased. I write close to 1000 words a day.
2. Understand writing is a three-step process
When I was a newbie writer, I thought that as would I move my hand on the page or punch the keyboard, beautiful writing will emerge on the other end. Something that could go straight in a book. I called it publish-worthy-material.
We all know it doesn’t happen that way.
Most of the people give up their dream of becoming a writer at this stage because the magic fairy didn’t move her wand over their fingers.
But those of us who stick around, we find a magic formula. That magic formula is – writing is a three-step process – Idea generation, drafting, and editing. As my mentor, Jeff Goins says, “Think of them as three buckets. Make sure you add something to each bucket each day.“
Keep a notebook just to capture ideas. Ideas will come all day, without any effort on your part. Your job is to capture them in the idea notebook. Then pick one and write it and put it aside. It is called drafting. You will never be in a position when you have time to write and can’t think of anything. And when you have something already written, it is very easy to fix it and make it publish-worthy.
And this is what I do now and it works like magic.
3. Manage your time
I thought when I don’t have to go to work, I will have eight hours extra in my day. I will be able to devote all of that to writing and even the commute time and time wasted on getting ready for work. Within a month I realized how wrong I was. So many things are fighting for our time. Housework never ends. My house is still as messy as it was when I was working full time.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24-hour days.” – Zig Zigler
Two things I observed. One, work expands to the time available (Parkinson’s Law). Second, I only get blocks of time available for writing. I started using those blocks most effectively. To learn more about those read my post Use 90-minute bock technique to get more out of your day.
4. Become a smart reader
Writers are avid readers. Sometimes our writing suffers because of reading but sometimes our reading suffers because of writing. Recently I was not getting enough time to read so I went on to find ways to include more reading in my schedule.
I used Pierre Bayard’s method (How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read), to select which books I wanted really read, re-read, refer to, skim and never wanted to open (read my post So many books, so little time). Using the system, I got rid of several books and prioritized the rest. Then I chose five strategies to get more reading done – set a dedicated reading time, read at least 20 pages a day, sprint reading at times, subscribe to audiobooks, and quit reading early if I don’t like a book.
5. Show your work
I have been writing on and off for twenty years. I have boxes full of notebooks and countless files on the computer of my writing. But none of it was any good. Why? Because I was not revising it and making it worth sharing. It was only when I started writing for this blog that I started growing as a writer.
Showing your work, even if it is on a blog, makes you a better writer. Because now you are writing publish-worthy-material. If you are serious about your writing, start a blog in a quiet corner of the internet and start sharing your writing with an audience. Even if you don’t want an audience you can publish for yourself. No one will find your blog unless you actually tell anybody. The notion that someone might read it will make you work harder.
6. Have multiple pieces of work in the pipeline
For years I was working on one novel. I wanted to focus all my energy on it. No distractions, I would tell myself. But the novel didn’t go far. I ran out of ideas. In fact, I got sick of it. I parked it aside and started writing short stories. Some I was able to finish, others just wouldn’t go anywhere. Then I started a non-fiction book. Last year I got into blogging.
All this time my novel was incubating in my head. Suddenly the whole story became crystal clear. Now I am able to go back to it and finish it. The same thing happened with some of the unfinished short stories.
Successful writers never stop at the one book. They might be concentrating on one at a time but they have several in the pipeline.
7. Understand the higher purpose behind your writing
Most people dread writing, consequently, they won’t write even if their lives depended on it. Yet some of us find our calling in writing. I believe if some higher power has selected us to write, it will also give us the aptitude to write well.
One of my writing teachers used to say, “Writing is receiving.” That was why at the beginning of each session she would make us sit quietly and write. An act to receive with gratitude whatever we were given.
Our job as a writer to write, keeping in mind the teachings of The Bhagavad-Gita, “Do your labor without expecting the fruit of your labor. Labor is in your control, the fruit is in the control of the higher power. It will decide when to bring the fruit of your labor.
What writing habits have you been able to develop? Share them here with other readers of the blog.
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