What does it take to become not only a published fiction author, but also a successful one? The short answer involves the usual platitudes about commitment and determination. While those are certainly important, it takes more than that. Successful writers have developed good writing habits. It’s really no different than a successful athlete or successful musician. They develop good habits centered on their individual vocations.
Cultivate the Habits of Successful Writers
Every successful writer has his or her own individual set of habits that might differ from others’; but, likewise, almost all successful authors share some habits as well. Habits aspiring authors should cultivate:
- Read lots of great writing. The books you read influence your thought processes and writing much more than you think. Choose wisely and read well-written stories that truly appeal to you. You don’t have to read literary fiction (unless you just want to) to feel assured that you’ve read good writing. You can pick great fiction right off the shelf – or download it to your eReader. If you like edge-of-your-seat crime thrillers, grab a copy of Shakedown or Stone Cold.
- Write everyday. Painters paint. Singers sing. And, writers write. How much simpler can it get? If you feel called to make a living as a writer, you’re going to have to cultivate a daily writing habit. Keep developing your habit until it becomes as automatic as your morning shower or brushing your teeth (provided you do brush every morning and shower daily). If you feel like you don’t have the time, find the time! Set a kitchen timer for 10 or 15 minutes and start with that. Do it without fail, every single day. Before you know it, you’ll carve out an hour a day or more for your writing.
- Write with speed and emotion. Have you ever scribbled out a letter to someone where you had a high intensity of emotion during the process? The words probably flowed from your fingers onto the paper and you said what you needed to say in the way you needed to say it. Same goes for writing fiction. You need to get into the writer’s flow and use momentum as your fuel. Get emotionally involved in your story as it flows from you onto the computer screen. One caveat: To write with emotional intensity and momentum, you’ve got to know yourself and understand where your passions lie. One way to do this is to read a LOT (see habit #1).
- Write in a distraction-free environment. Create an environment for writing that encourages your creativity and allows for solitude. Maybe you have a room in your home that is closed off from intruding family members and even pets. Perhaps you work on a laptop at a secluded park or corner of your favorite coffee shop. Find a place that inspires you, but allows your mind to wander and build ideas without interruption.
- Write what you know. Your reader should learn something from your novel, so write about the types of people, places, and things that you know about – especially at first. Later on, if you want to branch out, you can study other areas of interest. But, even then, you’ll be writing about what you know because you will have studied it with intensity and purpose.
- Stick with the plan. Don’t try to cram too much stuff into your writing. A common mistake of beginning writers is overwriting. Base your story on a single, compelling idea and stick with it throughout.
- Set challenging, yet achievable goals. No matter what profession you’re in, if you’re going to grow and excel, you’ve got to set some ambitious goals. But, they’ve got to be achievable too. You may set a word-count-per-day goal, a monthly goal, or something similar that motivates you to rise up to the challenge you’ve created for yourself. Dream big and chase after that dream relentlessly by achieving your goals one by one.
- Believe. As you pursue your dream of becoming a successful writer, you may run into some naysayers along the way. Some people may outright deny your ability to fulfill your dream. Others will chip away at your pursuit in more subtle ways. Guard against this slow fade by believing you can do it. If you want it badly enough, you can. It’s not just a tired cliché it’s truth. Believe you can do it and then go do.
For more tips on how to tackle your first big project, check out Leo Babauta’s post, How I Tackle a Big Writing Project. In fact, his whole website is chock full of great ideas and tips for achieving success professionally and personally by simplifying and practicing mindfulness.
Have any habits you can add to my list for successful writers? Share with me below.
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