How to Become a Successful Writer: 5 Habits to Practice Daily

How to Become a Successful Writer: 5 Habits to Practice Daily

Your phone alarm buzzes on the bedside table. 6:30 a.m.

Before you get out of bed, let’s freeze frame right there. What are you about to do?

If you’re like everyone else, you’re dreading the day ahead. You think how mind-numbingly boring work’s going to be. Then you will yourself out of bed to get on with it.

If you’re not like everyone else, your day will start off a lot differently. Instead of dread, you’ll feel energy flow through you. The fire in your belly is stoked. You can’t wait to start writing. You know the moment pen touches paper (or fingers touch keyboard), powerful, pulsating prose will flow.

This can happen every single day, starting tomorrow. All you have to do is master five habits of highly successful writers.

“A life of discipline is better than a life of regret,” is a pearl of wisdom most attributed to the late Jim Rohn. When you think about it, that’s really what good habits are about: discipline. Anything worth doing — staying fit, being a better partner, improving your writing — comes down to what you do, day in, day out.

Uncommitted writers who write when they feel like it have bursts of inspiration that inevitably fizzle out. They blame their circumstances or make excuses, and they don’t have what it takes to be a successful freelance writer or published author.

Disciplined artists produce refined beauty. All admirers see are the fruits of their labor: the gravity-defying, breath-taking leap across the stage, the masterful strokes across the canvas or the tale that transports you to a different time and world.

What they don’t see are the stubbed toes, embarrassing, empty exhibitions or the publishers’ rejection letters.

I’m not going to lie to you: these habits are hard to keep. But if you can stick to them, you’ll be surprised at how much your writing can improve.

1. Exercise your body

I don’t need to tell you why exercise is important. Do it first thing in the morning to start the ignition and rev your engine. Your brain works better when your body’s working well, so if you want your writing to improve, get some exercise.

I’m not asking you to run a marathon. Sit against a wall and reach for your toes. Do push ups. Do squats. Do Tai Chi. Do something. Do it for five minutes first thing in the morning and do it every day.

2. Exercise your brain

If exercising is your physical warm up, free-writing is your mental warm up. It’s difficult to hit the ground running (or hit the paper writing, in this case), so this is a great technique that can dissolve stubborn writing blocks.

There are a couple different free-writing techniques. You can write what comes to your mind, or you can write what comes out of your mouth. You can do Morning Pages or follow writing prompts. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you choose. The point is to write something to get primed and focused before you write anything meant for readers’ eyes.

3. Ask your subconscious

Every writer comes across gargantuan writer’s blocks that just won’t budge. Maybe you’ve arrived at an important point in your story. Maybe you’re writing sales copy for a client and don’t know how to keep to keep the persuasion strong.

Make a habit of communicating with your subconscious — it could be just what you need to unblock your writing.

Some writers will literally ask their subconscious out loud what they should do. Obviously, they don’t expect a voice to speak back to them, at least not immediately. It’s really about bringing the issue out into the open where it can’t hide. You can also do this by writing in a journal, taking a walk to ponder the issue, or chatting with a trusted friend.

Next, go about your daily routine. If your subconscious is ready to tell you how to solve your problem, it’ll pipe up on its own accord. Setting the problem aside for a while can lead to clarity or a fresh perspective.

4. Schedule nothing

It’s tempting to keep your schedule jam-packed. A busy writer is a successful writer, right? Wrong. Yes you’re a writer, but primarily, you’re a creator of ideas. Ideas come to you when your mind is empty. That’s why it’s important to schedule time just to exist.

Even if it’s just half-hour a day, shut everything off and go outside. This is one of the best writing habits you can cultivate.

5. Make new contacts

While writing itself can be immensely fulfilling, let’s face it: we’re all in it to get some recognition. That’s why it’s important to meet as many new people as possible to grow your network.

It doesn’t need to take place in person. Reaching out online counts, too. You could send a fellow author you admire an email. You could send a guest-blogging pitch to one of your favorite sites. You could respond to a blog comment. Connect with others every day and success will find you.

Surprised that only one of the five habits relates specifically to writing? Writers can love writing so much that we forget true success as a writer involves many people and activities beyond our words on the page.

How many of these habits can you commit to doing every day?

Filed Under: Craft
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  • Ibrahim says:

    Making new friends is one of the difficult things in my life, this is why I am always lonely. All of these habits are not really part of me.

  • Becca says:

    This is a treasure, truly! I’m posting your words on my wall of favorite quotes of writers; of which, aren’t we all? I do see the wisdom in your suggestions, and I am definently putting them to use starting today. Awesomely!!!

  • Hello my is name is Myisha and I have been struggling a lot lately especially when it comes to finding time to write. I have two jobs and half of the time I’m too tired to do anything. I really loved all 5 habits but #4 is really going to help me.

  • I think the 1st point – excercising the body is so important.
    Also connecting with readers, though at times an an artist that can be tricky.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for the great and succinct post. Morning Pages bring habit and mindful readiness to writing, but I think they also offer the opportunity to redefine (or further define) snags and problems, which has the effect of limiting their size and revealing places to find a foothold for scaling them, whether they are writing problems or other issues. Letting them loom and morph without definition gives them more size in your life than they deserve!

  • Renee says:

    I am amazed that I do all five and possibly more. I have been told since I was five years old that I am a good writer but never had the chance to really take it up as a career. I am totally lost where to start so this article popped up with your tips and I am hoping I am on the right track.

  • Megan says:

    I’m a little late coming to this post (trying to get through my extremely backed up inbox), but I’m a huge fan of these tips. I especially like exercising in the morning. This is something that I have recently started to do very soon after I wake up and I find that it floods my mind with ideas. As a new freelancer, these tips will be great to help me get myself out there!

  • Great article and terrific tips here. Especially the excercise part. I have to, first thing in the morning, to settle down the many thoughts running in my head that are telling me all the things I have to do today. Excercise quiets this, and gets me focused, so that I can focus in and get to my writing!

    • Johnson Kee says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for sharing. That’s EXACTLY what happens for me too when I exercise. I have too many thoughts flying through my mind. Exercise helps “the one true thought” come to the surface – what I need to do right at this point in time – so that I can take massive action to move my writing/blogging career forward.

  • O'Brien Uzoechi says:

    I think I particularly like the number 4 habit: Schedule Nothing, so you could have an empty mind upon which fresh ideas could spring from. That ‘s why writers tend to be on top of their game when they are somewhat confined. May be that’s why we have some of the bestsellers written while in prison. Thanks for sharing.

  • V.S.SURY says:

    Except for that contacts bit, I follow the other items in the list. For a reclusive type of guy like me, making and maintaining contacts is a very tough task!

  • I completely disagree with #1 and when giving advice to the public, I think you (and all “experts”) need to acknowledge that every body clock is different. If I exercised in the morning when I woke up, it would wreck my entire work day. I’m a night owl who writes best in the morning, right when I get up, for many hours. Then I work out later or at night. I’m a bestselling author of 10 books- and thousands of articles in top publications – so this is obviously my best schedule. I know many wildly successful writers who work the same way, exercising in the afternoon or evenings when – by the way – gyms and exercise classes are often overstuffed.

    • Johnson Kee says:

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks for giving your insight into this. When a bestselling author of 10 books speaks up, you listen! Your routine obviously works very well for you. Did you have to experiment with this schedule before you found what worked for you?

      And totally agree with gyms being overstuffed, there’s nothing worse. I exercise at home, which works well for me. I understand not everyone has this option, though.

  • Queen says:

    the thing that has been disturbing my mind for days is the first word I saw here. Discipline, I am notorious for postponing and writing “when am in the mood” This has given me a very good insight on what I need to do.

    • Johnson Kee says:

      Hi Queen,

      Discipline’s a bit of dirty word in writing, isn’t it? Writing’s meant to be this free flowing, creative process where we open our minds and hearts and let our ideas cascade out onto the page.

      However, do a bit of research and it won’t take long to find out that all the creative genius, regardless of the specific branch of art, were very disciplined.

  • Jeannie Leighton says:

    Thanks for sharing your 5 tips. I already start my day with morning pages but the others sound like they’d help keep the creative juices flowing. And coffee; must not forget the coffee.

  • kelly says:

    Morning pages Nazi! Love them because I’ve found problems cropping up in them until I’m tired of writing about them and do something about them. Exercise is also a must, move the body and the mind follows. Great post.

    • Johnson Kee says:

      Hi Kelly,

      Those morning pages seems to be pretty popular huh? I can’t say that I do them myself, but I have had a few “false starts” recently. Probably means I should take it on board.

  • Vanessa says:

    These are great, I am glad its condensed to 5 as well; makes it easier to digest. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Johnson,

    Perfect timing! I’m just kickstarting my new writing life, and I love your 5 must-do Habits. I’d already gotten onboard with exercising and making new contacts. Exercising my brain with Morning Pages is a good reminder. I’m newly retired (from 40 years of teaching!) so Scheduling Nothing should be easy (ha ha!). But I’m most excited about the suggestions to “Ask Your Subconscious.” It seems like a no-brainer, but I’d never thought to overtly do it. Thanks for a great column! I’m going to tweet it so others can benefit as well.


    • Johnson Kee says:

      Hi Peggy,

      Glad my article came at the right time for you! Great to hear that you’re finally able to dedicate yourself to writing after such a long career, congratulations!

      I’m excited that you’re excited regarding asking your subconscious. 🙂 A lot of people think it’s a bit “hokey”, but I swear that my best ideas come to me; I don’t think hard about them.

      Thanks for tweeting!

  • Daniel says:

    Good points Johnson! I think that going outside and scheduling nothing are very important! Even though these points are “no-writing” ones, I consider them as important as the writing itself. Listening to my favorite music is another efficient method of being more efficient (in my case). Right now I am listening Tomorrowland playlists and these give me special writing powers!

    • Johnson Kee says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for your input. Great to see there is so much love for scheduling nothing. I read somewhere that a few leaders of the tech world schedule an hour or even a week of nothing just to keep themselves refreshed. I think those people were the founder of LinkedIn and Bill Gates, respectively.

      And great point about music! If it works for the gym, why not for writing? 😉

      • Krisz says:

        I’m sure they are not mums with a house and a handful of kids to manage 😀

        • Johnson Kee says:

          Hi Krisz,

          Thanks for joining in. Having kids is definitely a whole different ball game, isn’t it? I’ve got a little one myself. I tend to work well when everyone’s asleep and I’ve got peace and quiet.

          What would you recommend is a good habit for all the mums out there looking to chase their passion for writing?

  • Elke Feuer says:

    Great post, Johnson! I’ve got 1, 2, 3, and 5 down, but I definitely need to work on #4. I’m notorious for cramming my schedule full and writing gets pushed to the bottom of the pile.

    • Johnson Kee says:

      Hi Elke,

      Thanks for commenting. I find scheduling nothing so important for writers and bloggers alike for one key reason: needing time to think. If you’re like me, thoughts sort of ebb in and out of my thoughts all day. Having “nothing time” helps me capture them.

      Great work on the blog by the way! CayWriters looks like it’s filled a gap.

  • Alana says:

    I like #4 – ideas come when your mind is free. I come up with my best writing ideas when in the shower or blow drying my hair!

  • Good tips! I do some of these, but others I need to put into practice.

  • Johnson Kee says:

    Hi Yesenia,

    Thanks for adding this post to your Monday Must-Reads. I’m honoured!

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