After being a professional writer for some time, you start to develop certain productive habits. These habits make the difference between writing deliberately and dabbling in a hobby.
When you make a conscious decision to start taking your craft seriously, you’ll experience an incredible difference. You will not only become a better and more prolific writer, but you’ll start actually finishing projects, which is probably one of the biggest challenges writers face. To be a writer of consequence, you have to develop some very specific tendencies. Serious writers – those who not only finish their novels, but also get them published – consistently practice the following habits.
This may seem silly, but it cannot be stressed enough. In order to be something, you have to do what is required to earn that title. If you don’t write on a regular basis, don’t fool yourself into thinking you are a real writer. If and when you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen.
We all understand how busy life can get, especially if you have a full time job, family and kids, and a social life. However, if you want to call yourself a “writer”, you have to make writing a priority. It takes discipline and a willingness to spend a lot of time by yourself. You have to be willing to actually sit down and write.
You don’t have to spend all day, every day writing (although that will increase your odds of success), but you do have to schedule a routine – whether it’s a few hours every morning, or just once a week. “Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.” – Henry David Thoreau
Quick Tip #1 – Just Do It
At least once a week, you should be writing something down. It doesn’t have to be the next great novel of the 21st century and you don’t have to worry about how great your writing is – just write. Regularly requiring yourself to write is one of the best reasons to start a blog (and if you don’t have a blog, my friend Gary Dek has a free step-by-step tutorial at StartABlog123.com). If you have no ideas for a story or a blog post, then try some stream-of-consciousness journaling.
Set a timer for 15 minutes and write without stopping. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, spelling, sentence structure or anything other than getting your thoughts on paper. You don’t have to show it to anyone, you don’t even have to keep it. More than likely, after time is up, you’ll be inspired to keep going. You just have to open the floodgates. Like anything else, starting is the hardest part.
Here is a scenario we’re all familiar with: you sit down to write a freelance article, but first you wonder what’s happening on Facebook. Bam, an hour has passed and you haven’t written a thing. Or perhaps you want to write a blog post and figure you’ll check out the news for inspiration. Then the sun has gone down and you’ve just spent the better part of the afternoon scrolling through the comments section on Yahoo News! There is nothing that wastes a day like falling down the Internet rabbit hole.
Writing is work, and just like with any other kind of work, you have to focus on it or else you’ll be so distracted, your best intentions will turn into the most unproductive time. To be a serious writer, you have to do whatever it takes to concentrate, maintain deadlines, stay connected to your clients or publishers, and get published.
Quick Tip #2 – How To Focus
A workstation is very important to a serious writer – whether that’s the library, a local coffee shop or a home office. My home has too many distractions, so I like to write at Starbucks where the internet is so slow, I’m forced to write (it’s where I wrote this post actually).
What is important is working in an environment that won’t disrupt your concentration. Turn off your Internet connection, shut your door, listen to classical music with headphones, and focus on how accomplished you’re going to feel once you’ve completed the assignment. Finishing what you start is important to your success.
3. Read Like A Writer
I guarantee you will never become a serious writer if you do not ever read. You’re probably wondering how you will have the time to read when you barely have the time to write.
You have to make time.
By reading (and that means reading all sorts of literature – essays, books, poetry, etc.) other authors in your genre, you learn what works and what doesn’t. You become aware of different styles and structures. Reading will improve your vocabulary, show you how to write dialogue and inspire you to create your own stories. Bottom line is: reading will inspire and teach you how to write.
Quick Tip #3 – Make Time To Read
I probably read about thousands of words a day. I do it because reading is passive and therapeutic for me.
When I travel between home and work, I read on the train. I go to a distance learning school, so I have to learn a lot on my own. When there is time left, I read a handful of industry blogs. Instead of generic news, I read industry news from Online Marketing blogs because that’s my career, and of course personal development articles to get some inspiration. The last time I read for the day is when I crawl into bed at 11pm with my iPad and read finance and investment articles because I want to become an active investor as I study Finance & Banking.
Chances are you write about the things you are knowledgeable and passionate about, so why shouldn’t you be reading the same types of articles? It helps you grow and allows you to provide more value in your future posts.
4. Get An Education
Reading is definitely going to help you learn how to become a more serious writer, but it won’t teach you everything you need to know about being a good writer. When you read a book, you get to see and observe a finished product, but it doesn’t show you what that writer went through during his/her process of writing it.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a college degree to learn how to get a book published. There are all sorts of free online writing workshops and if you need more personalized feedback, take a course at your local community college. You’ll find that almost every school offers a creative writing class, although there are other ways to boost your creativity.
Quick Tip #4 – Constantly Be Learning
Do a Google search for “online writing tutorials”, “online writing workshops” or “how to get a book published”. There are plenty of writing magazines at your local bookstore as well.
5. Revise, Revise, Revise
There is not one writer who has finished a first draft and dusted off his/her hands. A serious writer revises a piece of work many times over. After all, Ernest Hemingway believed that “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Revision consists of more than just proofing for misspelled words or incorrect sentence structure. It involves editing for content – adding or cutting parts to make it tighter and more readable. Even the blog posts you read have probably been revised at least a few times before posting, and maybe even after posting.
Don’t feel bad or discouraged if you think your first draft is no good. That’s what revisions are for. Every writer has to do it.
Quick Tip #5 – Have Others Review Your Work
After you’ve finished a first draft, try to get a few people to review it – maybe your mentor, if you have one. Some should proofread for typos, grammar and structural problems. Others should represent the audience you are trying to reach. Listen to this feedback because if they don’t like your message or premise, your audience won’t either.
While these people should be encouraging and supportive, a bunch of editors who are more worried about your feelings than the quality of your work are not going to suggest any meaningful changes. Have a thick skin and ask for that hard-hitting feedback. Once your work has been read and critiqued, take those notes and begin the editing process. It is best to do this after a few days rest. I get burned out and bored reading my own article dozens of times.
6. Cogitate On Your Writing
Genuine, great writing is hard work. It’s easy to rehash or comment on someone else’s work, but writing that provides unique and insightful information in an easily digestible format is challenging. Reflecting on your work helps you see it more clearly, and remaining self-aware will ensure that you are conveying a message that aligns with your personal beliefs.
But what about taking a step back and analyzing your current career as a writer? Are you writing about topics you are passionate about? Do you need to worry less about being a perfectionist and focus more on being efficient with your time? Are you promoting yourself enough as a professional writer? If you’re a freelance writer, how are clients finding you and do you need to start a personal blog to highlight your portfolio?
Oftentimes, we become so preoccupied with getting through the day that we never take time for introspection.
Quick Tip #6 – Allow Yourself Some Downtime
One way to stay present is to keep a writing journal, or what some professional writers call a writer’s toolbox. Use it to jot down ideas, reflect on any issues or conflicts you come across, and contemplate your goals. What work have you completed? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What would you like to learn or do differently? You don’t have to write in your journal every day, but it certainly helps to update it once a week.
Habits of Successful Writers
Professional writing is a business, and as with any business, taking a methodical approach to success is imperative. You can’t just sit around fantasizing about it and expect to get anywhere. Every little step should bring you closer to your goals.
What are some helpful tips you have for other writers?