10 Habits of a Successful Author
Historical writer K.M. Weiland posted this nugget of advice on her blog.
Granted, every writer has his or her own process and ways of doing things, but what Weiland outlined was, IMHO, worth following. After all, writing is a profession and a craft. Like anything else, certain routines or guidelines make the job better, if not easier.
1. Write every day -- I truly believe this IS a golden rule. Maybe we don't write creatively every day. Maybe we don't work on our novels or stories or whatever every day. But we have to write every day, whether it's a blog post or ideas or scribblings. People go to work every day, right? So why don't writers write every day?
2. Complete stories -- I do, and I wish more writers do as well. I can't tell you how many times I've heard writers saying things like "I've started on so many projects and I now have 12 novels in progress" as if it's something to brag about. It is if they have 12 FINISHED novels. I see writers quitting halfway on their projects all the time. A story is not a story unless it's completed. Personally, I set out to finish everything I started, and I try not to have too many "open" projects at a time.
3. Learn the rules -- I can't stress this enough. How can an artist paint if she hasn't learned the brush strokes? How can a singer sing if he's never done scales and learned to breathe? How can a dancer dance if she's never learned and understood the steps? Writers who say "I don't need the rules since I'm free to express myself" are those who don't take the craft seriously, and thus they will fail.
4. Break the rules -- that's a funny one. Why learn the rules if we're going to break them, and why break the rules once we've learned them? The simple answer is: You've got to learn to walk before you can run, but once you can run, it's not necessary that you walk all the time. After all, Picasso couldn't be Picasso if he hadn't learned the rules first before breaking them. Master writers break rules all the time, but they KNOW what they're doing. They don't just randomly break rules without understanding the rules themselves. Personally, I like to break rules. For example, I like to use sentence fragments, or occasionally use run-on sentences for effect.
5. Create your own inspiration -- now, this one is a bit vague. What does it mean anyway? I think great writers find inspiration everywhere: daily lives, people around them, news, world events, etc. Great writers are great observers, and they're able to use those observations as inspirations, to help their imagination. I think it's important that we keep our ears, eyes and minds open and constantly let the universe surrounding us inspire us to write about the truth.
6. Don't slack on the hard stuff -- that's something I'm struggling with myself, even though I fully understand its importance. Often I find myself "blocked" because I'm not willing to slog through difficult material or plot or character development, etc. I find it tedious to do endless research just to write a few scenes. But I have to remember, writing is WORK. It's not child's play. It's a profession. It's a job. At the end of the day, if the writing doesn't exhaust us both physically and mentally, perhaps we're not working as hard as we should.
7. Follow your heart, not the market -- I do that all the time, but sometimes I wonder if my heart is in the wrong place. Sometimes I see writers who have the "market" cornered and I wonder if I should write to market as well. However, I think the real lesson, here, is that we must write what we're passionate about and know. A carpenter is not going to make a great astronaut if his heart is in carpentry. A successful writer is someone who does what he/she does best, and not because he/she has a knack of tapping into something "hot" at the moment. Certainly, some writers happen to strike gold -- what they love to write happens to be the hot stuff everyone wants. Still, we can't duplicate success simply by following the market. The quality will suffer.
8. Develop a thick skin -- this I had to learn the hard way. As a newbie, I used to have thin skin. I couldn't take criticism well. But as I mature as a writer, I learn to listen to criticism, however bad it may be, and glean from it. I realize everyone has the right to say what they think, and they may or may not be right. It's up to me to listen and take in every advice and criticism and interpret them and come to my own conclusion. I've learned to not feel too personal when someone offers a critique. It is, after all, about the work and not personal attacks.
9. Set your story free -- this is still a work in progress. How do we set our stories free? They are, after all, our "babies." But I think every successful writer must learn to let go of their creations at some point. They must realize that these are their works, not their lives. And our #1 job is to entertain and enthrall our readers. Let go of our ego, and the rest will follow.
10. Love what we do -- I've said this many times and I'm a true believer. LOVE what we do and do what we LOVE. I can't see it work any other way; or else, writing is going to be a chore. Sure, it's a job and people can do any job without loving it, but what's the point? There are other ways to make a good living. So why do we write? Because there may be a chance that we could become the next JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyers? No, it's because we LOVE what we do. And that's when working is fun and we do our best work. Every day is an adventure.
And I honestly can say I do love what I do, even when sometimes it is difficult.