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!]