The Seven Habits of Great Writers

What does it mean to be a writer? Almost anyone who’s been through high school can write. But having a basic education, or even a Ph.D., doesn’t mean you can write well. Sure, to earn a Ph.D. in most areas of study, one must write countless academic papers and have a working knowledge of how to research a topic. This still doesn’t mean the person is a great, or even a good, writer. So, how does a person become a great writer? Do some people inherit great writing talent? Are they born writers?

Certainly, some people have a natural way with words, but no one is born a great writer. It takes hard work to develop the broad skill set that makes a writer great. It’s a life long commitment that may require you to make some big changes in order to fulfill it. So, if you want to make a go of writing as a career, you’ll need to make a conscious decision each day to constantly take steps to develop your writing skills.

The Seven Habits of Great Writers

Best selling author, Stephen R. Covey, writes about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; I’ve come up with seven habits shared by great writers.

  1. Read every day. I recently shared my tips on how to read more. It’s essential that you read something everyday, whether it’s a novel, nonfiction, or even poetry. Reading represents one of the best ways to hone your writing skills while (hopefully) being entertained.
  2. Go back to grammar school. Set aside some time each week to review grammar rules and conventions you may have forgotten since school. Invest in a dictionary, a thesaurus, and perhaps a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
  3. Get creative and have fun. Play around with creative writing prompts. Use words you’ve never used before. Write in a style – just for fun – that challenges you or makes you a bit uncomfortable.
  4. Write every day. Even if you only have 10 minutes to spare on a busy, out-of-control Monday, use them to write. Just like exercising, it’s better to do a little bit everyday than go on a two or three hour binge twice a week. There’s nothing wrong with writing for two or more hours in one sitting, but make sure you’ve written every other day as well, if even for just 10 minutes. You’ve simply got to make writing a priority if you’re going to succeed. Check out my tip sheet on how to write more.
  5. Edit and revise. Always have an open mind about editing and revising your work. It’s essential. Don’t forget what Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I think that about sums it up.
  6. Get your facts straight. Thoroughly research every aspect of your story. People often assume that fiction writing doesn’t require careful research and fact checking. Even if you’re writing a fantastical sci-fi tale full of magical characters and fictional places, you need to have some elements in place that helps the reader suspend his or her disbelief more effectively. In other words, at least some parts of your story need to line up with reality. Obviously, you also need to get your facts straight when writing in a more reality-based genre, like crime fiction or suspense. Big facts matter, but they’re easy to verify. It’s the little things that will ruin your credibility in the eyes of a reader. Get your facts straight and know what you’re talking about when you write.
  7. Set short and long term goals for your writing. Think about where you want to go with your writing, develop attainable and measurable goals to that end. Relentlessly pursue your goals and celebrate when you hit milestones.

Not Everyone Can Forge a Career in Writing

It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to develop the writing skills necessary to get published and then sell enough books to actually call it a living. You’ve got to ask yourself: Is writing really just a hobby for me? To develop great writing skills and create books that sell, you’ve got to start thinking of writing as a lifestyle – your soul’s passion – and act accordingly. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it.

Image credit: AllysonLattta [dot] ca (Creative Commons)

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