Habits of Highly Successful Writers

Want to Finish a Book this Year? Resolve to Get into the Right Writing Habits

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Whether it’s the dawn of a New Year for you, or just the cusp of a personal commitment to become a published author, here are some practical habits — and examples from pros — that can help you go from staring down a blank page to literally or virtually “piling up” the manuscript pages.

Write Daily

Don’t “try to find the time to write,” make an appointment with yourself to write at a specific time and treat it as sacrosanct.

Some writers claim they don’t need to write daily, but most people who make their living writing find the time to write every day or almost every day. The prolific humorist Erma Bombeck wrote from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. “five to six days a week” — and that was with a hefty schedule of television and promotional public appearances. Television mogul and mystery book author Stephen Cannell suffered from dyslexia which made writing difficult, yet wrote 5:00 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day and felt guilty when he was not writing.

Alternately, carve out time in odd hours during the day. Before he hit the bestsellers lists, John Grisham wrote in the wee hours of the morning before he was due to go into court.

Conquer “Resistance” in Whatever Form It Comes to You

Many of us who claim to want to be full-time writers find ourselves letting other activities or demands get in our way and sidetrack even our most sincere efforts.

These activities can be as wasteful as watching reruns or playing video games or as legitimate as the demands of raising toddlers or caring for an aging parent — or, if you’re writing a book to promote your business — running your business. But professional writers and those serious about their publishing aspirations find the time to write, no matter what their other commitments are.

Now a bestselling author, P. D. James worked as a civil servant to support her two children and an emotionally ill husband while writing her first novels.

Author Gina Barreca writes, “I have never waited for inspiration; my muse, like a waitress at a roadside diner, counts her tips at the end of the day… I wrote two books simultaneously while teaching a full-course load. If you need to do, you do it.”

For more about conquering resistance, read Steven Pressfield’s excellent book, The War of Art.

Eliminate Self-Judgments

Eliminate any self-judgment while writing. Once you put your writing out into the world, plenty of people will be judging your work (not the least of whom are people who would like to have a true writing life, too). But you must do what you can to avoid judging while you are writing. Writer Annie Lamott, the author of the excellent classic on writing, Bird by Bird, exhorts us to “write one sh**ty page.” You need to get it all down on the page before anything good can happen. Then, when you do, it’s time to…

Edit ruthlessly

When your drafts are finished, and it’s time to review your work, then you must edit diligently and polish your work before a literary agent or editor reads it.

Are you prone to get your back up when you get pre-publication criticism? Learn how to handle feedback on your writing.

Finish What You Start

To again quote Annie Lamott, “Make a commitment to finishing things.” Stephen Cannell concurs, “No quitting! You get nothing from an unfinished project, and you learn nothing! Finish everything you start!”

Send Your Work Out

As Isaac Asimov wrote, “You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer.”