7 Things Successful Writers Do

In his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents what he sees as the key principles to achieving success in the workplace. I’m more of a Bridget Jones than a Stephen Covey when it comes to self-help manuals but I thought it might be fun to share the seven things I’ve learned along my writing journey and see if they resonate with anyone else.

  1. Write Even When You Don’t Want To

There are days when the muse just doesn’t sing- when she won’t even mutter under her breath. But you can’t give in to her silence. You still have to sit at your desk and fill the page. It isn’t only about ‘being professional’ and meeting deadlines. It’s also about pushing through the mental block and making something happen. It’s about telling yourself you can do it and not giving up.

  1. Make Friends with Other Writers

Writing is a lonely business and there are some things only other writers can understand. Your writer friends keep you afloat when the seas are rocky and chill on the deck with you when they are smooth.

  1. Look at Your Work with Fresh Eyes

When you’re too close to something it can be difficult to see what’s in front of you- glaring plot gaps, character inconsistencies…One of the most useful things I ever did was to get feedback from a literary consultancy. It set me up with a fantastic editor who propelled my manuscript in a new direction by showing me what I was doing right and (more importantly) what I was doing wrong.

  1. Realise Everyone is Different

Some people plot to the nth degree before opening a new document and typing Chapter One. Others are what the NaNoWriMo organisers would call ‘pantsers.’ They fly (or rather write) by the seat of their pants without knowing where their story is going to end up. Neither method is better than the other. It’s just a matter of working out which one does it for you.

  1. Don’t Stop

I think this is my most important lesson so far. No matter what stage you’re at (querying/on submission/waiting for edits) channel your energies into the next project. The excitement that comes from writing something new will stop you checking your inbox every two minutes and the passion will keep you going- especially when rejections start to come in.

  1. Rejection is Part of the Process

Everyone says you have to have a thick skin to be a writer. When I started out I thought they were talking about the pre-published stage. But it turns out they weren’t. It turns out the rejection never ends and even the most celebrated authors get bad reviews. The trick is not to get bogged down by it (easier said than done). The truth is sitting on the sofa in our pyjamas watching Netflix with a tub of Ben and Jerrys isn’t going to get any of us on the bestseller lists. But telling ourselves rejection happens to everyone and getting off the sofa just might.

  1. Celebrate Your Successes

Given the amount of rejection we all face in this game, I think it’s crucial to celebrate our successes whenever they come along. No matter how big or how small the achievements we must relish them!

Bringing Up Baby

Likening the writing process to a journey is probably one of those yawn inducing clichés Stephen King would urge us not to use. Although there are certainly lots of steps along the path to publication that any author has to navigate, I wonder if there’s a better metaphor for the agonies we newbies go through on a near daily basis as we struggle to bring our creations into being.

When I think back to how my novel would keep me awake at night in the early days and tug at my sleeve as it grew, I wonder if rather than being travellers up a mountain we are in fact more like parents to demanding children.

Like new parents we read all the self-help books we can lay our hands on (I defy any newbie to say they haven’t read On Writing and scribbled notes in half the margins). Like new parents we are woken throughout the night by nagging thoughts about our novel’s development (is there a twist we could add here or a character tell we could add there?) And like new parents all we want to do is talk about our darlings- though the only people who will listen to us are other writers going through the same sleepless nights.

Perhaps that’s why creative writing courses and writers’ groups are so useful. Not just because of what they teach us but also because of the people we meet through them. After all, like being a new parent, being a new writer can be terribly lonely if we don’t have anyone to share our experiences with.

Connecting with other writers helps us feel we’re not alone. It shows us we’re not the only ones struggling with plot details (or later in the game finding an agent or publisher) and there’s huge value in that. Only a fellow writer will truly understand how we feel after the nth rejection or how utterly buzzed we are to have won such and such a competition. And only a fellow writer will be able to inspire us to pick ourselves up when we get knocked down. But that’s not all. In the same way new parents connect with each other to share information and advice (as well as to stay sane) so too the newbie can learn and develop through his/her relationships with other writers.

Ultimately though just as ‘it takes courage to raise children’ (John Steinbeck) I believe it takes real bravery to be a writer. All the self-help books and writers groups in the world will amount to nothing if we are unable to keep going in the face of set-backs and grow rather than shrink from rejection.