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.
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.