3 Habits That Separate Good Writers From Tragic Wannabes

    You want to become a good, maybe even a great, writer.

    You study books on writing. You follow blogs on writing. Hell, you’ve even thought about taking a writing class.

    But you’re tormented by a recurring thought.

    What if you’re wasting your time? What if good writing simply isn’t in your DNA?

    What if no amount of study and practice will take you from where you are now to where you want to be?

    Because, let’s face it, not everyone can be a good writer.

    The persistent myth of good writing

    A certain snobbery exists around writing.

    You may even be guilty of it yourself.

    Literary fiction is better than genre fiction. Journalism is better than blogging. “Real” books are better than e-books.

    But one form of writing is not inherently better than another. Good writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    The only true measure of whether a piece of writing is any good is the impact it has on its intended audience.

    Did it engage them? Did it move them? Did it change them?

    All other questions are irrelevant.

    Of course, this creates a problem for serious writers like you who want to hone their skills. Because by the time you publish your work and learn your audience’s reaction, it’s too late to make any changes.

    And if your writing isn’t connecting with your audience, the most common reaction is no reaction at all:

    • No comments on your latest blog post.
    • No emails praising (or damning) your bold manifesto.
    • No reviews of your latest Kindle novel.

    So where does that leave you? How do you get good? How do you know if it’s even possible?

    The big question: can anyone become a good writer?

    I’ll come out and say it.

    I don’t believe that just anyone can become a good writer.

    Likewise, I don’t believe just anyone can become a good mathematician, a good artist or a good chef. Because nature inevitably plays its part.

    But deep down, this may actually reassure you. After all, who wants to be good at something that anyone can master?

    And while I don’t believe anyone can become a good writer, I do passionately believe everyone can become a better writer.

    Before you get good, you need to get better.

    3 essential steps to better writing

    Becoming a better writer boils down to three simple steps:

    1. Study – you learn the principles of good writing and the conventions of your chosen form. You study the rules of grammar and learn when it’s okay to break them. You seek to understand other elements of good writing, such as tone, pace and structure. You explore purpose and theme. And you recognize that there will always be more to learn.

    2. Practice – you write and rewrite until your work is as good as your current skills allow. You create a writing habit and commit to a daily target. You write when you’re in the zone and you write when you’re not. You write when friends are out having fun because you said to them: “No, I have to write.”

    3. Feedback – you seek comments and criticism from other writers, friends, teachers, perhaps a mentor. You know these people are an imperfect stand-in for your real audience, but understand that feedback is the fuel that drives your advancement. And when the feedback suggests that your writing falls short, you return to study and to practice.

    This learning cycle is essential because it helps you to hone your writing instincts. It trains the internal critic that guides the hundreds of tiny decisions you make each time you sit down and write.

    But it won’t teach you everything you need to become a good writer.

    The elusive qualities of good writing that can’t be taught

    While study, practice and feedback will improve your technical skills as a writer, some of the essential qualities of good writing are more elusive:

    • Empathy – the ability to put yourself in the mind of your reader or your characters. Empathy allows the blogger or freelance writer to connect powerfully with their chosen audience. It helps the novelist create believable characters who are nothing like their creator.
    • Imagination – the unique ideas and connections that exist below the surface of your writing. Imagination helps the fantasy writer create unfamiliar yet believable worlds. It helps a non-fiction author view an old problem from a fresh perspective. It gives the short story writer the premise for her next tale.
    • Passion – a love of language, a desire to communicate, and a delight in telling stories. Passion is the creative energy that carries you through times of uncertainty and rejection. It’s the voice that says quietly and consistently “be a writer.”

    These are the qualities that help you capture the heads and hearts of your audience.

    These are the qualities that create a unique and urgent voice that doesn’t need to fight for attention.

    These are the qualities that separate the good writers from the tragic wannabes.

    But if empathy, imagination and passion can’t be learned, how are they acquired?

    The simple habits that give you a shot at greatness as a writer

    Surprisingly, the habits that give you the best chance of becoming a good writer have little to do with writing.

    But if you integrate them into your life, they’ll take you closer to being a good writer than any teacher or mentor:

    • Live fully outside your writing. Life experiences are the fuel for authentic and powerful writing. Go out of your way to meet and understand different types of people – it will build your empathy muscle. Put yourself in new, even challenging, situations. Absorb everything. Life may sometimes imitate art, but more often, life inspires art.
    • Cultivate eclectic tastes. Read widely beyond the confines of your subject or genre. Watch film and television in a variety of genres – fiction and non-fiction – and listen to talks and podcasts on a wide range of topics. Unusual influences will make your writing stand out from your peers. Unexpected connections are the sparks that create new ideas and striking viewpoints.
    • Indulge your passions. True passion is a rare commodity and should be embraced wherever it arises. Don’t dismiss or downplay interests that seem unusual, uncool or irrelevant. Be bold in your enthusiasms and seek out others who share them. Learn to tolerate feeling different and precarious. Uninhibited passion tends to spills over into other areas of your life.

    Are you ready to get good?

    Anyone can become a better writer. It takes study, practice and feedback. And the right teachers and mentors will speed your progress.

    But you don’t have a shot at becoming a good writer until you stop thinking of writing as a skill to be learned, but as one facet of a much larger project: to become someone worth listening to.

    Because the world doesn’t crave people who’ve simply mastered the mechanics of good writing. But it will always need more writers with bold ideas to spread, and new stories to tell.

    So which habits will you adopt to get good? Let me know in the comments.

    About the author

      Glen Long

      is the editor of BoostBlogTraffic.com, which helps people get more traffic and make money blogging. He's also an instructor over at GuestBlogging.com - find out how to get your first 1,000 subscribers by writing for some of the world's most popular blogs.

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    • tamer says:

      A great article. When it comes to writing, the first thing that comes to my mind is “write about what” I really find it challenging to master this skill.

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    • M.J. Kane says:

      Awesome post! I can relate to each and every thought shared! Empathy, imagination, and passion….defiantly the keys to becoming a better writer. I have had to work on the ‘stepping out’ part and experiencing life more. After years of being an at home mom, I’ve been out of the loop of a lot of things besides being a wife and mother. My first novels focused on my experiences mixed with imagination. But now that I’m on novel 4, I’ve had to go out and find more experiences, and man have they given my writing a much needed boost! Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to share this post with my writers group!

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    • JAMES BYARS says:

      Thought provoking article!

      I’ve published a 110 page “introduction” to a science fiction series of books I’ve started this year. I have much to learn about the subject I’m doing the main story on, and yes,, I’m studying!

      I’ll take your thoughts to heart and also other advice I’ve already seen on this site. It looks like a good resources for writers.

      Thank you for your efforts on the site.

    • Very well thought out article, I was engaged the whole time. Certain articles like these just don’t click for me, yours did. Thank you so much.

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    • You make some wonderful points, Glen! I cannot express enough that feedback is very important. What’s funny to you may not be funny to someone else. What’s embarrassing to you may make someone really laugh.

    • Heads up to you, Great thought, “To become a great writer, become a better writer ” and infact “Thought of the day” to me.


    • Glen Long says:

      Thanks Zaharaddeen.

      Like you I hope it motivates more people than it discourages. But I don’t think a little discouragement is inherently bad. Those who are truly committed will ignore it and those who are discouraged might find satisfaction in other pursuits.

    • I really like your advice points, especially living outside your writing. Of course, my own life’s has been saturated by the most varied experiences, from tragic to exciting, violent to serene, urban to rural, ethnic to mainstream, poverty to wealth, criminal to religious, savage to spiritual, with every personality, group and subculture connected with these extremes. And I always remained an observer of human behavior as well as an involved “experiencer.” Too much to write about as it is. But not sure about my writing. Don’t know anyone who’d give me an honest criticism. Self-published a few short (but rather long) stories but haven’t bothered to promote them in any way. They’re part of a series of 12 I’m currently editing. Although I’ll probably never get any real feedback, I’ll keep plowing on, keeping your valuable advice in mind. Thanks.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Daniel,

        It sounds like you’ve got a lot of life experiences to draw upon, which I think is so valuable. I’d encourage you to try to connect with your audience somehow though. They’ll tell you if you’re on the right track.

    • Great post! You were able to hit on many good points. There’s a difference between writing to just express and to write to impress people.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Napoleon,

        So true! Writing to impress brings the wrong kind of energy to your writing I think. It’s a bit like using big words in conversation to try to sound clever. It’s not a true expression of who you are.

    • Barry Moolman says:

      I have just been email this article. Read it.
      It has inspired me to continue to write and not be discouraged. For the last five years attend a writer’s circle.
      My goal is to commence writing a fictional story. Have commenced with the story and learning all the time.
      Wishing you every success for future books you may desire to publish.
      Kind regards,

      • Glen Long says:

        Thanks Barry. Good luck with your writing too!

    • “Learn to tolerate feeling different and precarious.”

      One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received today—thanks!

      You’d think my many years as a punk rocker would have been enough training. Nope. Now that I own my own business, beefing up my ability to “feel different and precarious” is something I seem to be constantly working on in order to create the biz I truly envision. But focusing on what I love—the passion—helps to navigate the highs and lows—especially the lows.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Stephy,

        Glad that line resonated with you. 🙂 Yes I think passion is the engine that carries us through the difficult times. Good luck with your biz!

    • What an article! I am really amazed. From right now I will always try to follow your all rules what you have mentioned here to become a great writer.

      Thank You Long.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Mohammed,

        Glad you liked the article! And good luck with your goal of becoming a great writer.

    • Great advise. Along with all of what you mentioned, a writer has to be a good story teller. I like to surprise and twist a story and not let the reader think they ‘know’ what is going to happen. Never the obvious to spark emotions. Just when they do, I twist and turn it to get emotional reaction, whether good or bad. I get what I wanted, reaction and emotions. Not easy. You have to be the characters, all of them and it can be exhausting!!!! Thank you. Can you give advise on marketing books?

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Diana,

        Yes I agree an ability to tell stories is important too – even if you’re not a fiction writer. As for book recommendations Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath is a great one. It’s not about marketing per se but there’s a lot of overlap.

    • A well written article. I found it very interesting. To me it has the power to make weak writers active and good if they can use the tips stated here. Though, some observed it could discourage others, but the benefits could outshine the negative side.

      • Glen Long says:

        Thanks Zaharaddeen.

        Like you I hope it motivates more people than it discourages. But I don’t think a little discouragement is inherently bad. Those who are truly committed will ignore it and those who are discouraged might find satisfaction in other pursuits.

    • TC says:

      I agree with you in many points. If writing was only knowing how to write, all English professors would write books that sell like hot cakes. I think you need to be a little different, even eccentric to draw attention to your words. I have my 10 page rule. If a book doesn’t excite me until I reach the tenth page, I drop it. It needs to pull you in. Otherwise, you shouldn’t bother calling yourself a writer.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi TC,

        Yes, grabbing the reader’s attention is so important.

        And I think most forms of writing have their own equivalent of your 10 page rule. I studied screenwriting for a while and if you haven’t grabbed the reader’s attention in the first 10 pages, whoever’s reading your scripts will likely put it down and move to the next script in the pile.

        In the blogging world you might have as few as ten words…

    • Julian says:

      An interesting discussion is worth comment.

      I do think that you need to publish more about this topic, it might not
      be a taboo subject but generally people don’t speak about such subjects.

      To the next! All the best!!

    • Brian says:

      Insightful post. It really does boil down to doing the work and improving your craft. And I agree that a good story that connects with readers trumps stories that a literary world deems “good.” One of my favorite Steinbeck quotes: “…a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Brian,

        That’s a good quote from Steinbeck. And of course, it comes back to this idea that ultimately it all down to your audience and how they react – only they can tell you if your story is truly effective.

    • Great article, and very true.
      When it comes to writing something that stands out from the crowd enough to be noticed and passed on, I think it helps to create work that is not bound by what you fear others might think of it, or the way in which they may receive it.
      I know I have been hampered by this fear over the years, but late last year I finally gave myself permission to write what I needed to write, and not worry how it would be received.
      One of my good friends and critically honest readers has read the first 40,000 words, and says it is my best writing ever.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Ken,

        Yes I think that’s a great point too. If you allow yourself to be constrained by the fear of what people might think it will inevitably diminish your writing. By trying to be liked you end up being ignored.

        Well done for pushing through your fears and in the process raising your game as a writer!

    • Thanks for the article! Great points, and ultimately it comes down to the same old truth: to be a better writer, ya gotta put in the work.
      However, I strongly disagree with the idea that some people can’t become good writers. I think writing is a technique for expressing thoughts/feelings/and emotions.It’s a medium; a skill. Anyone can learn it and master it. The quality of what you choose to express makes you a good or bad writer. There’s also a large degree of subjectivity to “good writing,” which is largely dependent upon how much a certain reader connects with a piece of writing.
      Just my thoughts. Thanks for sharing yours!

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Germano,

        Thanks for your comment.

        Don’t worry, the world would be very boring if everyone agreed with me!

        Yes of course, “good” is very subjective and it means we can both be right. 😉

        But if by “good” we mean something more than simply just technically competent, I don’t think it’s something that everyone can realistically achieve.

        If I said that not everyone could be a good tennis player, it wouldn’t be controversial. But with writing we it seems we have to perpetuate the idea that anyone can do it if they put in a bit of work.

        However, I’m really just trying to make the point that becoming a good writer requires more than practicing writing.

    • Paul Back says:

      Hey Glen

      I love reading your blog posts – a range of different topics but none of them are boring.
      Until recently I had never been particularly interested in writing.

      I saw it as means to an end – but when you edit my work and highlight what I could be doing better, I discover it as an art.

      I’m not sure if I can be a great writer, but I know I’m learning to be a better writer with every bit of feedback.

      Looking forward to reading your next work

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Paul,

        Great to see you here and thanks for the kind comments.

        I’m glad you feel my feedback has helped improve your writing. 🙂

        As you’ve shown if you put in the hard work and listen to feedback you can make great progress.

        Who knows, you may even discover a passion for writing along the way!

    • Glen, thank you for an excellent post that both challenged me and encouraged me. I plan to spend even more time studying writing by reading a wider variety of books. My recent reading has already begun to help me in my weak areas. Your post made me more aware of some of my strengths too.

      Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Wendy,

        Many thanks for your comment. I’m glad the post reminded you of some of your strengths. It’s a good point and often overlooked.

        I think that while we often share our weaknesses with many others, our strengths are all our own.

    • Alex says:

      Great points here, it’s exactly as I would have written it. Writers can help themselves enormously by reading great literature, but from there it’s all about gaining experience and building your writing style.

      It’s always very easy to turn to George Orwell in such instances. His Rules For Writing are an excellent starting point for anyone after tips. The genius that he was, he crafted his skill over decades and had perfected it in time for his later books.

      Still, I must admit I prefer tangible books to the digital version.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Alex,

        Thanks for your comment. Glad to hear it’s exactly as you would have written it. 🙂

        I confess I haven’t read Orwell’s Rule for Writing, but it sounds like I should!

    • indrani says:

      Amazing things to learn for the people who want to start writing.

    • Sean says:

      It is good to do the work, but I think everyone is a writer at heart. It’s just an expression of how the person feels in my opinion. Whether or not people find that true, I still say anyone can write, it only requires a belief in yourself. The rest is taken cared of.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Sean,

        It’s certainly true that everyone is a writer, but for me only in the sense that everyone is also a painter, a musician and a philosopher.

        I guess I’m interested in what makes some artists and thinkers appealing to an audience and others less so. And to what extent it can be learned.

        I’m personally rather skeptical that my inner musician deserves much of an audience. 😉

    • Glen, Awesome post.

      I totally connect with your points and highlight the feedback message as critical for me. I definitely fall in the nature vs. nurture camp.

      In my history as a life-long student of writing, I’ve seen more than a few who had many of the elusive qualities that you describe.

      Sadly, some were still not successful at moving the reader in any significant way. Some were not memorable except in the terror they expressed at the risk of being open.

      In my mission to evolve, I’ve often wondered how it is that some writers become good (or even great) and others, well… remain, not-so-great?

      I might add to your list the elusive ability to be vulnerable. To “bleed upon the page” if you will — a sharing of the special connection to your interior voice which is set free to speak.

      Learning to do that fits with living a life with passion, empathy, and openness as well as a personal intimacy with your Self.

      A connection revealed through the words no matter how craftily they are shared.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Joseph,

        Yes vulnerability is a great addition. I think I was grasping in that direction with the point about being unashamed to embrace your passions, but you’ve brought out an important point.

        Maybe is all comes under the wider quality of authenticity. It’s an over-used word these days but I think to be authentic you must allow yourself to be a little vulnerable.

        Thanks for your wisdom here. 🙂

    • Great post, Glen! I’ve noticed the difference when I write when I’m trying to be so perfect with the mechanics, and then the times when I write from my heart, and that’s the writer I want to be–when the passion comes through and I write from my heart. There is a difference. Thanks for the post.

      • Glen Long says:

        Thanks Debbie!

        Yes I think worrying about correctness – in its many forms – can stifling as a writer, particularly in the early stages of a piece of work.

        And anyway, aren’t you supposed to write drunk and edit sober? Maybe that’s so your writing is a little less inhibited. 🙂

    • I expected nothing less from you, Glen. Congratulations and thanks for writing this piece!

      I’m constantly training myself to seek out authentic feedback from both readers and fellow creative writers. Lots of writers are scared to hear that their work fails or which details work against their intentions. But I’d agree with you that the worst kind of feedback is not receiving any feedback at all. I’d rather be shivering while someone critiques my work rather than sitting and staring at blank space.

      Finally, I truly believe that there’s no easy way out of honing your skills than to learn the basics of spelling and grammar, regardless of the language you use. English, French, German, Filipino, Chinese—all these have nuances and rules that you must learn and master before calling yourself a writer.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Stef,

        Another friendly face! 🙂

        I think being brave enough to seek feedback is just another way that writers have to go outside their comfort zones.

        And while I agree that a writer should work to perfect their spelling and grammar, if you have an original voice and interesting ideas there will always be people who can fix your grammar. Far fewer can fix a lack of ideas.

        In a recent Stephen King book – 11/22/63 I think – I remember that the main character talks about a student in his writing class who had little technical skill but whose writing was so raw and powerful that it transcended everyone else’s.

        Anyway, great to see you here. I’m a fan of your writing as you know.

    • I think that many of the world’s Tragic Wannabe Writer’s do a pretty good job at weeding themselves from the writer’s gene pool. We are seeing a surplus of writers entering the marketplace; let’s see how long they stay. You can hear them moan, “Writing well is hard work. Becoming a great writer must be impossible!”

      Writing well requires enough knowledge of your intended audience to know what they are seeking. A good writer has sufficient fire in their gut to keep their audience’s attention. Writing well requires that you know yourself and have the strength necessary to share yourself in what can sometimes be a callous world.

      Oh yeah, it also helps to have a great story to tell/sell.

      You are a compassionate man, Glen. You speak with the tough love that we need to hear when we aspire to become great writers. The world will get more great writers as a result of your work.

      Why, look at the passion pit that you have unleashed at writetodone.com!

      Whoops! I think that I triggered another conversation with your wife. Sorry about that! :0)

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Dave,

        Great to see you here – glad you enjoyed the post.

        I think you make a great point – it’s about earning your audience’s attention. And I think too many writers complain about not being heard above the noise, as if that’s simply an annoying obstacle. But it’s not an obstacle, it’s the whole game.

    • Great article, Glen! I agree that writing consistently will help us become better writers, as well as setting up a daily target and writing both when we are ‘in the zone’ or not.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Alina,

        Thanks for your comments.

        Yes I think writing requires a great deal of practice, and it’s not always the obvious, writerly things.

    • Shawna says:

      Outstanding article !
      Thank you very much.

    • I teach creative writing, and this comes up all the time. It applies to ANY creative endeavour, and not just to writing. Desire first, dedication next. If you are going to express yourself creatively and find your fans, you have to work hard at it and be persistent. The natural curiosity or imagination you were born with can be stoked by many factors, familial and/or environmental. There’s no magic to it; you just have to WANT it badly enough to keep trying.

      I love the way that you separated the science from the passion, Glen, by reminding us all that writers (and artists, photographers, sculptors, film-makers, dancers, singers, etc.) have to have something important to share, to begin with. Empathy, observation and love – these are the true media we dabble in. Bravo!

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Lorrie,

        Love that – “desire first, dedication later”. 🙂

        And the idea of stoking your natural curiosity is powerful. We too often think of “nature vs nurture” as if these are totally separate components but of course they’re dependent on each other.

        Thanks for your insights!

    • I absolutely loved this post. Thank you for writing it Glen.

      This line really hit home: “But you don’t have a shot at becoming a good writer until you stop thinking of writing as a skill to be learned, but as one facet of a much larger project: to become someone worth listening to.”

      • Glen Long says:

        Hey Jerod,

        Thanks for leaving a comment – I’m thrilled you enjoyed the post.

        Yes, when I wrote that line I knew I had my closing. 🙂

        Right, I’m off to check out Primility!

    • Duncan says:

      Thank you for that line of thought! It really reminds me of many things I need to cover to be that ‘better writer’. Procrastination is one thing need to be dealt with. Reading a lot, writing everyday, like you said, taking into consideration the expectation of the audience. Thank you again for that insight.

      • Glen Long says:

        My pleasure Duncan. And good luck with the procrastination! I think we all wrestle with that one from time to time.

    • I loved your article, Glen, because you pretty much nailed it. Cultivating a rich inner and outer life can be fuel, but also can veer into distraction. When do going to foreign films, book readings, lectures, the park, or socializing with friends and family inspire better writing, or simply keep me from writing? You affirm for me that writing is part of and a way of life, not so precious, and not just skills to be mastered. I will share your post and insights with others and my students (I teach meditation and writing). Thank you!

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Sheila,

        Yes you make a good point. I’m worried now – have I just given lazy writers a free pass to goof off? 🙂

        I guess if you find yourself watching films or reading books during time you set aside for writing, there’s a good chance you’ve veered into distraction.

        But I’m trying to make a case that time spent doing these other things is as important as time set aside for writing.

        I hope your students like the post!

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    • Hey Glen:

      How nice to see you taking a break from making others’ posts look good to share something of yours!

      An excellent post – and applause, applause for saying that not everyone can be a great writer. No one wants to say that “out loud” for some reason, but it’s true.

      And I think it does people a disservice to peddle the idea that anyone can. It’s misleading.

      I also give a big thumbs up for “empathy.” I think it’s the cornerstone of any great salesperson or marketer – and it certainly applies to writing as well.

      Just really, really liked this whole post. Nicely done!

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Gary,

        Great to see another familiar face here. 🙂

        Yes I think it does do people a disservice to say anyone can be great at writing – or indeed any skill – as long as they work hard at it.

        But what’s inspiring to me these days is that there are so many different niche audiences – and such a powerful tool for reaching them in the internet – that there’s an opportunity for us all to find a crowd for whom we can be great.

        And yes I can see how empathy is of vital importance for a salesperson and indeed isn’t a writer just someone who is selling ideas?

    • Mai Bantog says:

      What an insightful article, Glen. Making writing a habit is one area where I always fall short. Sure, I write every day because I have to do it as a freelance writer. I have jobs to accomplish and clients to satisfy. But when it comes to updating my blog and writing fiction (which is what I love most, to be honest), you know, the part where I just write for myself, I just can’t seem to find the time. Often I’m swamped with work that at the end of the day, I feel too tired to write.

      Any tips for making writing a habit, especially when there are no deadlines or monetary compensation involved?

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Mai,

        Yes I can certainly relate to this.

        The best approach I’ve found for establishing a writing habit is simply to make it the first thing you do in your day. Otherwise it’s too easy for your writing time to get squeezed by other demands as the day goes on.

        So if your working day starts at 9am, do whatever you need to do to get, for example, one whole hour of writing in before then. If you have time to do some more later in the day – great – if not, that’s fine too because you did your hour in the morning.

        • Mai Bantog says:

          Thanks, Glen. That is true; even if I allot time after work to write, it’s too easy to just say “I’ll do this tomorrow,” when I’m feeling tired and sleepy. But doing it first thing in the morning… that ‘s when I’m most productive, so it just might work. Thanks a lot! 🙂

          • Glen Long says:

            Hi Mai,

            Yes not everyone’s at their best first thing in the morning, but I think you owe it to your writing to give it some “peak brain time”, whenever that might be.

            Good luck! 🙂

    • Good stuff,, Glen. I think you hit the crux of the problem. Certain things can be taught, practiced, improved, but there has to be some raw talent in abundance to make it possible to excel.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Chris,

        Yes raw talent certainly helps but I think we often overlook the importance of raw material – the ideas and experiences gathered outside of writing practice.

        In my view there’s too much writing that is inspired by other writing in the same genre rather than life experience or original research.

    • Sam Edge says:

      A great article – I wonder if many writers fall short in the one category of living life? I know that is my short fall of the nine criteria – I tend to be quite a loner and writing and working online make my aversion to humans even easier. From what I gather this is common among writers.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Sam,

        Yes the wonders of the internet make it all too easy to be a high-functioning hermit. 🙂

        But there are other ways of stretching some of these muscles too. Reading autobiographies for instance can help you understand the internal lives of others without having to leave your house…

        • Sam Edge says:

          High functioning hermit. Ha! That’s exactly what I’ve become. Thanks for the words of advise. I’m a bit of an old dog so I do have a lifetime of experience to draw on but I’ve found my slow withdrawn from the off line world over the last few years takes some adjusting. Ironically I’ve become more worldly since my circle of friend is now global and I probably read two books a week on average. It’s definitely a work in progress. Enjoying your newsletter for sure

          Thanks, Sam

    • All of it makes incredible good sense. Very well said! 🙂

    • I will live life more fully. Finish the projects that are nearly done so I can finish more as well as start new ones.
      Last year, in my pursuit of learning more so I can eventually write for a living I put everything else aside. The problem was by the time the polar vortex came around I felt I had little to actually write about. No amount of empathy, imagination or passion can make up for a lack of material during a bout of winter blues.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Honey,

        Yes finishing projects not just starting them is important too.

        I’ve also tried putting everything else to one side but in the end I came to the conclusion that you need a mix of things in your life.

        I’ve often found that the best ideas occur in the gaps between writing sessions.

        And yes winter blues sucks. 🙁

    • Beth Havey says:

      Now that’s a truly amazing and wonderful idea, Mary. I love that. And our work doesn’t have to directly address social wrongs, but it does have a to find a way to touch the human heart.

      [email protected] HIghway

    • This is definitely one of our top guest posts!

      In particular, I like the fact that you’ve brought *empathy* into the picture as one of the key elements of good writing.

      If you look at this from a wider perspective, it would mean that in order to write better, a writer would need to develop more compassion and kindness.

      When we develop more empathy, we grow in compassion and kindness because empathy opens up the heart and helps us tune into the suffering and joy of others.

      This would mean that when we develop as writers, we can make the world a better place.

      Thank you for sharing this thoughtful and inspiring post with WTD readers, Glen.

      Mary Jaksch, Editor-in-Chief, WritetoDone

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Mary!

        Very pleased you think so. 🙂

        Yes I hadn’t quite considered the positive side effects of a little more empathy in the world but you’re absolutely right.

        And it reminds me of another habit, this time one of Steven Covey’s:

        Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

    • I officially love you, Glen Long. I so agree that we should live FULLY outside our lives + INDULGE our passions. I have writer friends who admonish me that I’m not chained to my computer 8 hours/day like them. I can’t live like that. I feel my other interests enrich my writing. You know your stuff and you say so, too. THANKS!

      • As Hemingway said, “In order to write about life, first you must live it.” 🙂

      • Glen Long says:

        Thank you Marcy!

        If being chained to the computer for 8 hours a day is working for someone, that’s excellent.

        But more often good writing needs raw materials, and you find those away from the computer.

        P.S. I just had to explain to my wife why someone on the internet was declaring their love for me. It’s okay though, I’ve smoothed things over now. 😉

    • It seems I am missing two of these steps: Feedback and passion.

      At least, passion in the way that I think, breath, and obsess over writing. I don’t. I can write, and I write, but it isn’t as though the words are burning through my veins or anything.

      And I’ve paid for feedback before, so that’s also not quite worth the price of admission.

      So, what would you tell someone like me?

      • Glen Long says:

        Hey Matthew,

        Good question. 🙂

        I guess I’d first ask why you are writing and what would happen if you just stopped?

        If the answer’s “I’d get fired” then maybe writing is simply a useful skill you need to do your job but not a passion. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We all have things like that in our lives.

        But I sense there’s something more to it if you’ve sought feedback in the past. So what’s pulling you to get better?

        • That’s the rub, there isn’t anything keeping me writing other than I can write.

          We all get feedback to measure where we are at. Much of my feedback was “Don’t Bother.”

          I have stopped writing fiction because I just don’t read it any longer. Sure, I write a 1000 word piece more to flex the chops after all of the reading I did on the subject of writing, but there’s nothing there that demands “I must do this or my most of me will explode.”

          If I didn’t have the blog, I wouldn’t be doing that, and I don’t know how much writing I would do. So, it’s pretty much just a schedule thing right now. Habits from a ghost long ago, as it were.

          • Glen Long says:

            Hi Matthew,

            That kind of feedback doesn’t sound very empowering!

            Maybe it’s time to take a sabbatical from your writing. Perhaps distance will lend a little perspective and give you space to discover some passion – for writing or maybe for something else.

    • Beth Havey says:

      Great article, Glen, you went where some “writer” blogs are afraid to go. And Elizabeth Love is right on too. The saturation of the market requires that we all work even harder. But if the passion is there, we will rise up out of the slush pile. I wish all of you a great writing day, Beth

      • Glen Long says:

        Thanks Beth.

        Glad you felt I dipped a toe where others fear to tread. 🙂

        I totally agree that we can rise up out of the slush pile with hard work and passion. Better still, let’s avoid the slush pile altogether and build an audience for our own work without the permission or validation of anyone but our readers.

        I agree the market is saturated, but I think it’s saturated with good but unremarkable work. If there’s ever a point where our readers are saturated with writing they love, then we’re all in trouble, but in the meantime I have to believe the cream with eventually rise to the top.

    • Yes, I agree with all of the this and practice each of these. I have for decades. I good writer knows each of these innately and doesn’t need to be told. It is the same for any other art.

      Unfortunately, the market is saturated with not-so-good writing and the real wordsmiths gets lost in the piles of garbage.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Elizabeth,

        Interesting point. I guess it depends what you mean by a wordsmith.

        I believe a writer who’s serving their audience in a way that isn’t easily replicated by other competent writers will find a way to break through. Maybe not right away, but there’s an inevitability about truly good writing.

        And if the market can’t tell (or simply doesn’t care about) the difference between good and not-so-good writing, it might be time to find a new market.

        I guess the ultimate test for me is this – do you admire the writing of the big players in your market? If not, it’s probably going to be a frustrating place to be.

    • Lynn Silva says:

      Hi Glen! : )

      So first of all, I have to say, as I was reading this article, I kept saying to myself, ‘I know this voice. Who is this?’ Then at the bottom I saw your name! Little did I know that the person who has taught me so much about writing was actually writing this article!

      Secondly, while the entire article really ‘nails it,’ I have to say what touched me the most is when you said, “Live fully outside your writing.” I’m introverted and socially awkward, but when I realized that talking to other people inspires topic ideas, it was like a whole new world came to life. I cannot tell you how much this has helped me. I no longer have that intense social anxiety when in public and I’m very tuned into people, surroundings, sounds…everything. I’m always looking for some ‘epiphany’ to include in a future writing piece.

      In addition, I LOVE reading and sometimes, my family and friends have hinted that I’m being selfish by going after my passion. This article completely validates everything I stand for and is such an inspiration.

      Thanks so much!

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Lynn!

        Well if you could see me, you’d see me blushing. 🙂

        Writing this was a reminder for me too of the importance of these habits. I can certainly relate to sometimes feeling uncomfortable in social situations but I think those experiences are no less useful to you as a writer.

        In fact the feeling of being outside your comfort zone is probably a good compass to navigate by. You won’t find growth in safety.

        Great to see you here Lynn and I’m so pleased this post helped you. 🙂

    • Bill Polm says:

      Good post, well thought out. And I agree mostly.
      However, I must disagree a bit with your use of the trerm good, I think that anyone can become a “good writer” given a degree of intelligence, say at least average. For example, o n this issue, read Brenda Ueland’s wonderful book “If You Want to Write.” Obviously, you and I define “good” differently. To me, “good” doesn’t have to include professional level, good enough to make one’s living as a writer. It’s doesn’t necessarily include being excellent or outstanding or even genius level, like Shakespeare or perhaps MIlton or Dante (suing classical examples).
      But I’m saying the above because I fell that by the time readers get to your “Are you ready to get good” you have discouraged a sizable portion of your readers, like those is unjustified low self-esteem when it comes to writing potential. Those who are all too ready to take the place of the “untalented.” I think “talent” is another often misused word, which people use as an excuse as if to say, “you’re really talented, but since I don’t have talent like you, I shouldn’t really go for it.”

      Perhaps, I give more weight to nurture over nature than you do. But, to me, desire, persistence, and will power trumpt latent ability more often than is commonly thought.

      Also, I must also differ on a couplle other points. I think that empathy and imagination can be taught or better learned. Again, “if you want it, you can get it.”

      But granted, not all people are geniuses. I am a good watercolorist (as well as writer), and drawing is my weak area, but I have greatly improved over the years through persistent practice and desire, but I doubt that I will reach Michelangelo’s level. But to imply to thousands of people with average intelligence that they might as well stop tyring, that they’ll never be “good” is not good!

      Otherwise, I agree. Your post contains a number of useful reminders.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Bill,

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

        “Good” is certainly open to interpretation. For me good writing goes beyond mere competence. It’s writing that would be missed by its audience if it disappeared. It’s writing that can’t be easily replaced by someone else.

        I do hope I have not discouraged most of the readers who reach the end of the post. On the contrary I hope it’s reassuring to learn that good writing does not simply mean spending hours and hours of each day in the act of writing, because not everyone is able to do that. I hope it’s a little heartening to hear that time spent pursuing other experiences can count too. 🙂

    • Fantastic article. Great thoughts for aspiring and established writers alike to keep in mind. I’m certainly in need of improvement on the get feedback front. I’ve been burned by so many fellow writers whose vision and world view does not match mine as to have grown skeptical about how helpful external input can be. But I know I just need to keep looking for that trusted, honest reviewer who identifies enough with me to want me to be my very best.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Eduardo,

        Yes it can be hard to get the right feedback. When I find myself in the role of giving feedback I try to keep myself honest by asking: “What feedback will be most useful in helping this person to improve as a writer?”

        But it can be tough sometimes to divorce “what I want to say” from “what they need to hear”.

    • It’s amazing how much of writing is setting oneself up to be a writer. Not by studying the dictionary or by becoming a grammar perfectionist.

      But by living life…

      By reading and meeting people and having the kind of intellectual curiosity that drives you to ask why people do the things they do.

      It’s obvious by your own writing that you are one of those people, Glen.

      Many thanks for helping us to be one too.


      • Glen Long says:

        Hey Jake. Great to see you! I really like the idea of “setting yourself up” for good writing. It’s a bit like deliberately putting yourself in harm’s way. Scary sometimes but necessary.

        P.S. I think you’re one of those people too. 🙂

    • Teresa Edmond-Sargeant says:

      Hi Glen,

      This is a great article! It’s an excellent reminder that mastering writing is a cycle. Also, it is true: one may become an expert writer through classes, books and online readings, but they can’t be taken to the next level without imagination, passion and empathy.

      • Glen Long says:

        Thanks Teresa. The learning cycle is definitely important but without those other qualities there’s the risk of skill without substance. I’d far rather read an interesting idea clumsily executed than a technically flawless piece which says nothing new.

    • Steve says:

      Glen, thanks for the reminder that, “The only true measure of whether a piece of writing is any good is the impact it has on its intended audience.”

      • Glen Long says:

        My pleasure Steve. Writing’s so often a solitary pursuit that I guess we shouldn’t be surprised it’s so easy to forget about the other important person – the reader.

    • The TechBlogChick says:

      Thank you. What a refreshing article: so free of mandates and shaming and unrealistic expectations. People blog for many reasons.

      Some writers like to scuba dive. They want to share tips with other divers. Some writers are excited about Bring Your Own Device BYOD cellphone plans. They want to show why all plans are not equal. Plenty of small businesses can hire workers with the money they saved in other areas like phones.

      Value is in the eye if the beholder.

      Is the writer clear? Is his message actionable? Important? It’s the reader who decides this, not a panel from American Idol.

      • Glen Long says:


        It’s the writing equivalent of the old philosophical question about the tree falling in the forest.

        Only your audience can tell you whether your writing is “making a noise” and no one audience is inherently better than another.

        P.S. I like the American Idol analogy. 🙂

    • Lourdes says:

      I definitely need to mingle and network. I have been hibernating and that’s not good. Always on the online courses, writing, and reading my course materials. I think I will start by taking some time to stroll down to my local coffee shop and observe while writing.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hi Lourdes,

        Yes mingling’s a good one. And it can be tricky for the introverts among us to push through that barrier but it’s so important.

        With so many people writing on laptops in coffee shops these days, it should be easier to strike up a conversation with: “What are you working on?”

    • The habit I am working on right now is one that is trying to ‘cultivate (my) eclectic tastes’.

      I have tended to have a very narrow scope in my reading/viewing habits (either sci-fi/fantasy or business books/podcasts).

      So recently I set myself the challenge of reading 100 classical literature books. Its going to take a few years to complete, but I hope to be more well-read by the end of it.

      • Glen Long says:

        Hey Katherine,

        That’s a great one! Whenever those Facebook quizzes go out that ask “How many of these 100 popular books have you read?” there’s always a handful of classics I’m embarrassed I haven’t read.

        What’s the first/next book on your list?

    • Glen Long says:

      Thanks Jovell!

      And yes, choice is so important here.

      It all comes down to where you choose to put your focus. And it’s not exactly obvious that becoming a better writer sometimes means focusing on things that aren’t directly related to writing.

      Very glad to have you in my audience. 🙂

    • And it starts with making that choice. It’s hard work but if you’d really like to be better then you’ll take to heart all that Glen said in this post.

      Hi Glen! You sure know how to “capture the head and hearts of your audience” and one of them is me. Thank you!

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