7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers

I know a lot of highly successful writers. They come in all genders, sizes, and shapes. But they have a few things in common, things that seem to have contributed to their success. So, without naming any names (but they know who they are), here are seven habits of those highly successful writers:

1. Write a lot

Many people say that writers must write every single day. I don’t say that (though I actually do that, except for my Sabbath day, when I avoid work even more than usual). Instead of “write every day,” which not everyone does, I do see that successful writers “write a lot.” Conventional wisdom says it takes 10,000 hours at a task to become an expert; it probably takes even more—much more—to become a highly successful writer.

2. Focus

Sure, sure, there have been successful writers who do a little bit of everything: novels, nonfiction, cookbooks, children’s books. But by and large, highly successful writers have a sharp focus. They keep their eye on the prize, so to speak, and keep hammering away (yes, I know that’s a mixed metaphor, wanna make something of it?) until the dam breaks (so there! I’m also not afraid of a few clichés). 

3. Keep improving

Hang around with highly successful writers for any length of time and you’ll learn a lot—because they’re still learning. They talk about new techniques they’re trying, books they’re reading, classes they’re taking. They’re not resting on their laurels (okay, another cliché; sue me), but are doing all they can to make sure their next project is the best yet.

4. Cultivate good relationships

The cynic says about publishing, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I say, “Publishing, like all of life, is about relationships.” Highly successful writers take the time and make the effort to relate to other writers, editors, and agents, as people. They may be awed or intimidated at first; but they introduce themselves, remember names, use good manners, encourage, thank, and compliment others, and don’t burn bridges. (There I go again, doggone it.)

5. Work hard

I know a writer who had to write a full-length novel in thirty days when an earlier novel became a bestseller, so he made the necessary arrangements and got it done. I know another writer who signed a contract that required her to write 4,000 words a day for 180 days straight. She had to wear a brace on each wrist to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but she delivered the manuscript on time.

6. Exercise patience

I often borrow and revise a phrase from Nietzsche to say (until others are sick of hearing it, I’m sure) that writing for publication is “a long obedience in an uphill direction.” That’s true no matter how good you are, how many successes you’ve enjoyed, or how many awards you’ve won. It takes time. It requires patience. And those who hurry or take shortcuts are hurting only themselves. Highly successful authors know this and exercise patience, over and over and over again (just like my blog post readers).

7. Keep moving

Stories abound of highly successful authors who waited years for a breakthrough and kept moving the whole time. When Project #1 was in submission, they started Project #2, after which they moved on to Project #3. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sure, they got discouraged and even considered giving up sometimes, but they kept moving. They kept writing. They maintained their focus. They kept improving their craft and cultivating good relationships. They worked hard and long and exercised patience at every turn. Those are the kinds of people who become highly successful writers.   

Now, after all that, I realize you may protest, “But I do all these things, and I’m not a ‘highly successful author’ yet!” I would argue that you already are.

22 Responses to 7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers

  1. Tuvia Pollack July 8, 2021 at 4:00 am #

    Ooooh, nice twist there at the end!
    Another one I’ve heard is “All you need to do in order to shine above 95% of all other authors is to stick to your deadlines.”
    Thanks for an encouraging post. I’m in trying to do all that (although my writing frequency could be better) and I’m in it for the long run.

  2. Roberta Sarver July 8, 2021 at 5:15 am #

    What excellent advice! As per number one, on days when my schedule is too full to hit the WIP, I still write in a devotional journal. The practice has paid off in many ways. Thanks for your list.

  3. Loretta Eidson July 8, 2021 at 5:27 am #

    Excellent advice! Thank you!

  4. Jeannie Delahunt July 8, 2021 at 5:35 am #

    Encouraging, thank you!

  5. Kim Vogel Sawyer July 8, 2021 at 5:42 am #

    Truth and encouragement sprinkled with humor. Perfect. 🙂

  6. Nancy Lohr July 8, 2021 at 5:48 am #

    I’m going to add 1. a. and also name drop since I can’t think of a good cliché at the moment. “Writers read a lot.”

    Stephen King says, ““If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

  7. Ben H Norton July 8, 2021 at 6:01 am #

    This article suggests you are successful only when published. Your readers would agree but in the modern world of publishing becoming a best seller rests upon the strength of marketing. However, I would agree reading, relationships and ‘righting are the key.

  8. Christopher July 8, 2021 at 6:10 am #

    I have read the article and like to add that I have been able to improve my writing skills by following the steps of a successful writer’s video and i would like to share it for others to get more knowledge “https://tinyurl.com/4r88cfst”

  9. William McBride July 8, 2021 at 6:51 am #

    Great Advice. Steve, you and your team, always reward your readers with great advice and a delightful read. Thank you and may God richly bless each of you. As the great Winston Churchill told the citizens of Great Britain 70+ years ago – “…Never, never, never give up!” Because, there’s an Unsaved World out there which has no shame in telling you to give up.” http://www.bill-mc-bride-writer.webador.com

    • George Ballard July 8, 2021 at 8:01 am #

      Great and hopefully favour will locate each an every Writer on here..

  10. Frank July 8, 2021 at 6:59 am #

    If your journey is longer than you expect keep writing. Your day will come.

  11. Jeannie Waters July 8, 2021 at 7:01 am #

    Thank you, Bob, for wise, encouraging advice sprinkled with humor.

  12. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. July 8, 2021 at 7:10 am #

    Bob, thank you for the great advice. I used it when writing my dissertation, continuing to write while my chair was looking at previous chapters. I got a 400 page dissertation done in 12 months. (Most of them take at least two years.) The idea worked so well that I am using it to write two articles with one of my colleagues. While I wait for him to do his part on article 1, I am researching and taking notes on article 2. It’s working really well, so your advice is right on the money.

  13. Shirlee Abbott July 8, 2021 at 7:42 am #

    One more for Christian writers:

    Routinely discuss your writing with God.

    For years I commuted an hour to and from work daily. Most of that time was devoted to prayer, much of it over whatever written project was in progress at the moment. I’m semi-retired now, working fewer hours and closer to home. But still, when I hit a writing roadblock, I hit the road and have a chat with God. I don’t count myself as a “highly successful” writer, but prayer works wonders for me.

  14. Penelope Childers July 8, 2021 at 7:48 am #

    I absolutely agree with all of these points.

  15. Texie Susan Gregory July 8, 2021 at 8:31 am #

    I appreciate your ability to mingle wisdom with humor.

  16. Susan Brehmer July 8, 2021 at 8:52 am #

    “Many people say that writers must write every single day. I don’t say that (though I actually do that, except for my Sabbath day, when I avoid work even more than usual).”

    You’re speaking my procrast… er, productivity language.

    Here’s to hammers, dams, and bridges.

    I love where this blog post landed:

    “Now, after all that, I realize you may protest, ’But I do all these things, and I’m not a ‘highly successful author’ yet!’ I would argue that you already are.”

    Thank you for the continued encouragement on this arduous, uphill trek.

  17. Ingmar Albizu July 8, 2021 at 10:59 am #

    Seven great habits. Yet, it all starts with number one. Write a lot.

  18. Kristen Joy Wilks July 8, 2021 at 12:29 pm #

    Fabulous advice! Thank you for this great list!

  19. Jerry Barnes July 8, 2021 at 7:47 pm #

    Well done!

  20. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU July 11, 2021 at 5:41 am #

    May God help us all! Amen.
    Thanks Bob and God bless you! Amen.

  21. Catherine Jacobs July 25, 2021 at 5:08 pm #

    Great advice. Love your sense of humor and encouragement.
    I am binging on your blog and readers posts. Trying to learn more from you post Montrose, 2021.

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