Seven Habits of Highly Successful Authors

by | January 29, 2019 |

Highly successful authors develop seven habits:

Seven Habits #1: They are voracious readers

How often do I have to say it? All the time, I suppose.

Reading for authors is like eating for athletes. You can’t run a marathon if you’re on a no-or-low-calorie diet.

It’s not just about calories, though, that is, if I’m making an analogy between reading words and eating food. More importantly, reading widely gives you, the author, plenty of material to evaluate. By reading other people’s work, you discover what does and doesn’t work for you in your work. Other authors’ plot lines, characterizations, descriptive powers, imagery and so forth give you food for thought.

Twice now I’ve had the privilege of leading the novel-writing workshop at Duke. I recall one student who wrote a lot of fiction but, when asked, admitted she didn’t read. No surprise there. Not only did she have problems with pacing and characterization, she also had difficulty profiting from the critiques her fellow students offered. She had no perspective on her own writing because she was never out of it.

Seven Habits #2: They are relentlessly curious

Successful authors are life-long learners. The good news is that you get to choose what you want to learn about.

If you have a passion for gardening, you’re likely to learn about English, French and Japanese gardens. You will want to know everything you can about weather, soils, sunlight and shade, invasive species …. And everything else I can’t think of because I don’t garden.

Such a study could fuel a series based on a gardening detective. She might solve a murder by knowing which plants in the neighborhood are poisonous. Or why the arrangement of the tools in the gardening shed provide evidence of foul play.

I couldn’t write such a series, but I’d be delighted to read one written by an informed author.

Me, I’m a life-long learner of foreign languages. Characters who speak languages other than (and in addition to) English regularly inhabit my novels.

Happy side effect, my passion is likely to extend my writing life. Language learning safe-guards mental faculties as we age.

See: Cognitive benefits of multilingualism

Seven Habits #3: They are rigorously self-disciplined

Fred Astaire once said, “If I don’t dance one day, I notice it. If I don’t dance two days in a row, my audience notices it. If I don’t dance three days in a row, I should get another job.”

seven habits

Fly, Fred, fly!

To put the flying feeling into the proper terms for authors: “Writing a story is the most fun you can have sitting down.”

Dancers dance. Writers write.

Seven Habits #4: They are routinely self-critical

Beloved children’s author Roald Dahl has a checklist of qualities a successful author must have. At #7 he puts: A degree of humility.

See: Charles Daly on Roald Dahl

If you are in love with your story, remember that love is blind. You are not seeing your story’s flaws. There’s a reason why good editors will always have a job. Most if not all stories will be improved by a critical eye. Being justly self-critical is a great habit for all authors to cultivate.

Seven Habits #5: They are kind to themselves

Being self-critical does not mean beating yourself up. It means being a good parent to your offspring. You acknowledge the good and work to fix the bad.

Here I amend the statement I just made, above. Love is often blind. But it can also include a gentle affection for the beloved’s flaws. Those flaws are easier to redress when approached with kindness.

Being kind to your story is as important as being critical of it.

Seven Habits #6: They are true to their vision

Two challenges here.

First, you have know what your vision is.

Second, you have to have the fortitude to stick with it in the face of rejections by publishers, negative reviews, any and all of the obstacles that face every author.

Creativity expert, Julia Cameron, calls an artist’s vision their vein of gold: “the territory and experience that is indelibly theirs.”

Find it. Define it. Mine it. 

Seven Habits #7: They have a trusty team

It is too often said that writing is a solitary profession. Of course writers spend tons of time alone at their desks. No way around it.

However, successful writers are not alone. First they have excellent editors. I depend on mine to keep my stories true to my vision – what she calls “writing to my strengths.” Successful writers also have graphic artists, web designers, marketers and publicists.

Even if you are just starting out, think of assembling your team for the long term.

An author’s success is always due to team work.


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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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