8 Smart Habits of Great Writers

Visual Freedom

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I never imagined that I’ll one day be a well-paid writer. Not because I lack confidence but because I never thought of becoming a writer. I always loved learning, reading, and connecting different ideas, but I never wrote.

Today, I type around 5,000 words daily, reach several million readers through my work, and write content for some pretty epic businesses.

And the #1 reason I was able to build a 6-figure writing business within less than a year is that I studied my idols in-depth.

I analyzed the big players in my industry, observed the similarities and differences between them, and paved my own path.

And the truth is that everyone who ever built a successful business or career is standing on the shoulders of giants. No matter if it’s writing, programming, design, sports, or anything else — we always learn from people who succeeded in the past.

They write without excuses

You can have excuses or be a well-paid writer, but you can’t have both simultaneously.

In his book Daily Rituals, Mason Currey summarized the habits of great artists, including many writers. While those individuals' daily routines often differ, they all have one thing in common: They spend more time writing than thinking about writing or coming up with excuses.

E.B. White once said that a writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Stephen King, for instance, reports writing every single day of the year — always starting between 8:00 and 8:30 am. His daily aim is to write 2,000 thousand words and he barely stops before reaching that goal. He’s usually done between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm.

One of the unique writing routines is Maya Angelou’s. She rented hotel rooms to get her writing done. In an interview, she described her writing process as the following:

“I have kept a hotel room in every town I’ve ever lived in. I rent a hotel room for a few months, leave my home at six, and try to be at work by six-thirty. To write, I lie across the bed, so that this elbow is absolutely encrusted at the end, just so rough with callouses. I never allow the hotel people to change the bed, because I never sleep there. I stay until twelve-thirty or one-thirty in the afternoon, and then I go home and try to breathe; I look at the work around five; I have an orderly dinner — proper, quiet, lovely dinner; and then I go back to work the next morning.”

How you can do it:

I know that you’re busy.

You might have a job, kids, family, friends, and a lot of other duties. And I also know that making time for your writing each day isn’t easy. But it’s crucial.

Writing for 20 minutes every day is so much easier than aiming for a 5-hour writing session on the weekend.

And if 20 minutes are still hard to manage, start with 10.

In most cases, the problem is not the number of minutes you spend writing but the habit of sitting down and getting started. Once you open your notebook or start typing, you’ll likely write for more than 10 minutes anyway.

The gist is to build that habit of sitting down and taking time for your passion, no matter how busy the day is. You can always get up 10 minutes earlier or go to bed 10 minutes later — the question is whether you’re disciplined enough to conquer your weaker self.

They seek and embrace feedback

Lou Holtz once stated the following:

“In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.”

As a writer, you’re either moving forward, or you’re going backward. You can always choose whether you want to keep learning and improving or if you’re satisfied with the status quo.

The problem with the status quo is that others will likely outpace you if you stop moving.

Great writers never stop improving their craft. They learn from others and also seek honest feedback on their work.

How you can do it:

To become an even better writer, you need to create a constant feedback loop for your work.

You can connect with other writers and support each other through honest, critical feedback, but you can also pay close attention to the input of your readers.

Ideally, you should surround yourself with people who are ahead of you and learn from those.

They steal ideas

Mark Twain hit the nail right on the head when he said:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It‘s impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.”

Most new ideas are either advancements of existing ideas or combinations of many different inputs.

Austin Kleon even wrote an entire book called Steal Like an Artist on the topic and Picasso famously stated that art is theft.

How you can do it:

To be a great writer and produce good work, you need to accept that most ideas aren’t unique and that most things have already been said.

But the point is that just because someone once said something doesn’t mean that everybody knows it.

Embrace the fact that most new ideas are just mashups of previous ideas, quote your heroes accordingly, and see how you can turn old ideas into fresh content.

“How does an artist look at the world? First, you figure out what’s worth stealing, then you move on to the next thing. That’s about all there is to it. “
— Austin Kleon

They prioritize their health

If you’re serious about being a well-paid writer, you’ll likely spend many hours sitting in front of a screen and typing words.

While this doesn’t sound particularly dangerous to health, it can cause more pain than you might think.

If you spend more than forty hours sitting on your desk chair, each minute of movement becomes a blessing for your body but also your creativity.

Coming up with good ideas and writing effectively is quite difficult if you’re experiencing pain or sickness.

That’s why successful writers prioritize their health. Charles Dickens, for instance, is known for his long walks. That’s not only how he stayed healthy and sane but also came up with great ideas.

How you can do it:

Becoming a great, well-paid writer is similar to a marathon: it takes endurance. And above all, it takes mental and physical clarity and strength.

If you want to come up with great ideas and be a productive writer, you need to take care of your body and mind.

You don’t need to go to the gym or for hour-long runs, but you should at least go for a walk or do some stretching exercises. This will not only help you to detach from your work and stay healthy, but it’ll also give you clarity and energy for the next writing session.

They work without distractions

Great writers write a lot.

They don’t spend a lot of time writing but type lots of words you get the difference, right?

If you want to get more writing done in less time, you need to eliminate everything that’s distracting you. This means closing all redundant tabs, muting your phone, disabling all messengers and notifications on your laptop, and ideally, being in a distraction-free environment.

Here’s what award-winning short-story writer Nathan Englander recommends:

“Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in — even if it’s dead silent at home.”

How you can do it:

It’s impossible to produce your best work if you’re constantly being distracted.

Whenever possible, create an environment that allows you to get into a flow state. This includes eliminating all distractions, setting clear goals, and creating mental triggers that help you start writing as soon as you begin your work session.

They focus on the verb instead of the noun

“Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting than just wanting the noun.”
Austin Kleon

Great writers don’t care about being a writer they care about their craft and the impact they make.

In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether you call yourself a writer or not. What matters is if people want to read your work and if you can keep writing and making a living through your words.

How you can do it:

Put your ego aside and write.

Stop wondering whether you’re a real writer or not. It really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is whether you’re willing to learn and grow.

They don’t wait for inspiration

Great writers don’t experience writer's block because they are always surrounded by inspiration. Additionally, they have a well-organized catalog of existing ideas to which they can always refer.

Inexperienced writers, however, think that they can only write when they feel inspired. But the truth is that you’ll probably never write if you always wait for the right moment.

How you can do it:

You can’t be a great writer if you don’t have much to say.

If you consistently want to produce good work, you need to structure your ideas and thoughts to use them in your work later. That way, you’ll never need to wait for inspiration but can get straight to the writing.

“You have to write whether you feel like it or not.”
— Khaled Housseni

They never stop learning

Great writers are great learners. They don’t only seek feedback but also look for new ways to improve their craft further and learn about new topics.

If you’re not improving and learning as a writer, your readers will likely get bored and not stay fans for too long.

If you, however, keep improving your craft and come up with new ideas, you can keep amazing those who’re already fans of your previous work. This is priceless as these people can become your superfans and spread the word for you.

How you can do it:

The most effective way to ensure continuous improvement is to create a learning schedule.

You can, for instance, set a learning goal each month and look for books, courses, podcasts, and videos that teach the topic you want to learn more about.

Once you know what you want to learn, you need to decide on the time commitment: How much time can you spend learning? 30 minutes per day? Two hours per week?

There is no right or wrong and of course, writing is more important than learning, so if you don’t have much time, it’s better to create something instead of even getting more input. However, if you’re in the game for the long run, you’ll need to keep learning and growing.

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