7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers

atlas1Some time ago I came across an article about the success habits of wealthy individuals, based on a book by Tom Corley. As I scanned it, the habits seemed to me applicable to writers as well. The ones I know who’ve made it in this game—who’ve been published traditionally, or are making good dough as indies, or are doing a bit of both—they share these seven habits:

1. They are persistent.

The article states, “While we generally think of persistence as more of a personality trait, it’s certainly a habit that can be learned and practiced over time. When faced with adversity, wealthy individuals keep pushing through, knowing that success could be right around the corner.”

The successful writer never gives up. Or stops learning. The article found that 88% of the wealthy successes (in other words, not trust-fund babies) read at least 30 minutes every day in order to increase their knowledge. Are you doing the same, writer? I cannot think of a single week in the last 25 years where I have not read or studied something regarding the craft of writing.

2. They set attainable goals.

The article discusses the wrong kind of goals, such as:

“I want to become a recognized leader in my field.”

“I need to bring in more money in order to meet my financial obligations.”

“I want to take an expensive vacation with my family every year.”

The problem with these goals, of course, is that they aren’t specific, and they aren’t necessarily realistic. For instance, if I’m working for minimum wage, going on an expensive holiday probably isn’t in the cards for me this year.

True goals are those to which action may be applied. “I want to be a New York Times bestselling author” is not a goal, it’s a dream. You can’t push a button to make it happen. What you can do are the things that will make you a better writer. You can determine to spend 30 minutes a day studying craft, and an hour a week brainstorming projects. Most of all, you can determine the number of words you will write each week. These are things you can measure and control.

3. They find a mentor.

The article contends that 93% of wealthy individuals had a mentor who assisted them on their path to success.

Mentors can be personal or they can be in print. I consider Lawrence Block to be a mentor, even though he’s never personally coached me. Why? Because I religiously read his fiction column each month in Writer’s Digest and felt like he was counseling me each time. He had the ability to get into the writer’s mind, and certainly he did mine. The books I contribute on the craft I try to write the same way.

A good editor, of which there are many out there, can provide mentorship (usually for a fee, which is money well spent when the editor knows what he or she is doing). A good critique partner fits this role as well.

4. They are positive.

According to the article, wealthy individuals had a positive outlook on life, were upbeat and happy, and grateful for what they had. Some specific findings were as follows:

94% avoided gossiping
98% believed in limitless possibilities and opportunities
94% enjoyed their chosen career

Writers, too, need to be grateful that they have the ability to write. And grateful for the opportunity to publish. Further, don’t tear down fellow authors. Believe in your limitless choices. Nurture the love of writing that got you started in the first place.

5. They educate themselves.

The article found that 85% of the successful people read two or more books per month on an ongoing basis. This is especially important for writers, who need to read widely and not just fiction. All sorts of nonfiction helps to expand your horizons and understand humanity better.

What are you reading, besides fiction, these days?

6. They track their progress.

Corley found that wealthy individuals were meticulous about measuring how they’re doing:

67% kept up-to-date to-do lists
94% balanced their bank account each month
57% counted the calories they consumed
62% set goals and tracked whether or not they were on track to achieving them

Since 2001 I have kept track of my writing on a spreadsheet. I can tell you how many words I wrote, and on what projects, day by week by month by year.

I prioritize my projects and know each day which one I want to work on.

However, I don’t count my calories. I have determined that eating healthy food does not make you live longer, it only seems longer

7. They surround themselves with success-oriented people.

Corley writes, “Wealthy, successful people are very particular about who they associate with. Their goal is to develop relationships with other success-minded individuals. When they stumble onto someone who fits the bill, they then devote an enormous amount of their time and energy into building a strong relationship. They grow the relationship from a sapling into a redwood. Relationships are the currency of the wealthy and successful.”

His suggestion is to dedicate 30 minutes each day to nurturing such a relationship. This could mean being a sounding board, giving advice, or just generally being a helpful companion. As you build and nurture relationships, people likely to reciprocate and become trusted and valuable supporters.

Writers are mostly an encouraging lot. You can find places to hang out with them, starting here at TKZ. Join a local writers group, like an arm of Mystery Writers of America. Go to a good conference.

Systematically disassociate yourself from the sour pickles of life.

Have fun, write, assess, measure, study, correct—then have more fun, write, and never quit. That’s a formula for success.

Anything you’d like to add?

[NOTE: Today I am associating with a bunch of fellow writers at a conference near Santa Cruz, California. Yes, suffering for my art. I’ll try to pop in. Until then, talk amongst yourselves!]

12 thoughts on “7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers

  1. Once again, Sir, another encouraging and motivating post.

    I’d read something like most of this elsewhere, but this is the first time I’ve seen ’em assembled in one place.

    If I may, my quick recap of my applications are:
    Persistence- check~ I’ve been writing creatively since my hair was darker and fuller, always looking for ways to learn and improve ~ BUT not letting that replace actual writing
    Attainable goals~ check~ words/day, and with a twice-yearly writing challenge, a completed piece every day (poetry, but I aim for song lyrics) – I’ve tried NaNoWriMo, but it’s proven “unattainable” after several attempts;
    Mentir~ check ~ TKZ, and another writing blog or two, along with co-writers and on-line friends
    Self-Ed~ check~ always try to learn something USEFUL (that definition varies of course~ my wife says it’s usually trivial in my vase),
    Progress tracking~ half-check~ and that’s an easily attainable goal (though I dobtrack sugars and carbs due to type 2 diabetes)
    Success oriented friends/acquaintances ~ half-check~ partly like mentoring, but something that is another attainable goal.

    In short, though I’ve gone long, I do have fun, write, assess (trying not to OBSESS), study, correct, rrpeat~ looks like I’ll squeeze “measure” in there later this afternoon.

    Thanks for letting me ramble here;


  2. I know, I know…

    MENTOR~ handheld “smart” phone with a cracked screen… and operator?

  3. Jim,

    Agree completely with the 7 Habits you listed here, especially when viewed as a process as you laid out at the end of this post, the cycle from “have fun” to “never quit.” This process is the one thing we own as writers. Not outcomes or how our work is received or responded to. So, I’d add the meta-aspect of the entire process you’ve spelled out in this post: it’s something I embrace and want to keep front and center. As always, thank you for another insightful post. I often tell other writers “happy writing.” Certainly that here, but also, “happy process!”

  4. Great tips, Jim. Thanks for the post.

    The only thing I would add would be “customer relations.” Writers are self-employed. Those of us in the non-writing business world with direct customer/client/patient contact know that how we treat people, our customers, has a significant effect on our success. So issues like accessibility, friendliness, fairness, communication skills, and true interest in the customer all have a role in our ultimate success.

    So…let’s be driven to succeed…but let us also remember who we serve. If they like us, they are more likely to buy from us.

  5. What a great post! Thank you for giving me, not just a kick in the pants, but a concrete, measurable approach. It never occurred to me to track my progress on a spread sheet. I HATE spread sheets! But starting tomorrow, I’ll crank one up. Not today. Today I have to weed whack the backyard. I’ll measure my success by my wife’s estimation of how well I’ve done.

  6. Only thing I might add to this excellent list is resilience.

    You are going to get discouraged. There will be obstacles and setbacks. People will tell you it can’t be done. You might have to take three steps back to take two forward. You will fail. You will stumble.

    You have to pick yourself up and keep going. I am not sure this can be learned; it might be ingrained in character and genes. But every successful writer I know has had his or her downs. How they responded to them made all the difference.

  7. Great advice, Jim – as always! I’m not so good at #6 – tracking my progress. Or keeping my books up to date, which makes for a mad scramble and major headache doing it all just before income tax time!

    But being part of the esteemed team here on our award-winning blog means I’ve got #7 covered – surrounding myself with success-oriented people!

  8. I love these, especially the setting goals part. There IS a huge difference in having dreams and setting goals. I did a list of goals for this year rather than making new year’s resolutions, and they are easier to track! I hope you don’t mind my sharing to show exactly how detailed goals should be in order to make them attainable.

    Awesome post! Bookmarking as a reminder.

  9. I just finished the inspirational book “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie-Mellon computer prof who confronted his terminal cancer by preparing a final lecture to his students. One thing especially stuck with me: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

  10. Pingback: Habits For Successful Writers | allbettsareoff

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