Five Smarter Habits of Great Writers

Have you ever thought you could be a great writer… if only you had the time?

If only you could finally finish your novel, you’re sure it would be snapped up by agents and publishers.

If only the publishing industry wasn’t in shambles, publishers would wake up and realize you’re actually a genius and deserve their undivided attention.

If only….

I am here to tell you you can be a great writer. You can do it in less time and get more people to sit up and take notice. You just have to do it smarter.

Here are five smarter habits to become a great writer.

1. Write for Others

When I first wanted to be a writer, I did what most people do, I sat down at the computer and wrote whatever I felt like. I just typed out all my feelings, and since I was both a teenager and a bit of a dork, they were mostly complaints about girls. I would write for what felt like hours until I was exhausted. Then, I wouldn’t write again for weeks.

Basically, I was journaling. Journaling is fine, and some of the best writers started out by journaling every day. It’s a good way to learn to put sentences together and develop a habit of writing.

However, journaling alone won’t make you a great writer.

Journaling is kind of like starting a personal blog. Most of the big bloggers started out with a personal blog. I did. However, writing a personal blog is writing for yourself. To become great, you have to learn how to write for others. You can’t just write what you feel like writing. You have to learn to write what other people want to read.

The single best way to remain in obscurity as a writer is to write solely for yourself. Instead, write for others.

2. Write Something Scary Every Day

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.”

To become a great writer you have to push your limits. Don’t write the safe blog post. Write a post you’re not sure you can write.

Don’t write a story with the same basic plot, characters, and setting. Instead, write something wholly new.

Write from a different point of view. Choose a subject you don’t know very well (yet).

If you write every day, you will improve. If you write something scary every day, you will improve much faster.

3. Finish Short Pieces

When you’re first starting out as a writer, it’s more important to finish short pieces than to write the Great American Novel. In fact, most of the novelists we consider great began their writing careers by writing short stories or even newspaper articles.

Before Ernest Hemingway wrote his breakout bestseller, The Sun Also Rises, he worked as a newspaper reporter, and wrote short stories in his spare time.

Before Stephen King wrote his breakout bestseller, Carrie, he wrote dozens of short stories and a column for his college newspaper called, “Stephen King’s Garbage Truck.”

Before Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, he worked as a journalist, then as travel writer, and wrote short stories for fun.

When most people first start taking fiction writing seriously, they try to write a novel. It makes sense. You read novels, so why not try to write one. However, most great writers were well into their writing careers before they published their first novel.

Short stories are good practice, because they give you the chance to learn all sides of a story before you invest the hundreds of hours it takes to write a novel. They also help you get work into the public, allowing you to begin the hard but essential work of building an audience.

4. Test Your Skill by Submitting for Publication

Neil Gaiman said, “Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”

You won’t become a great writer until you start to submit your short stories and articles for publication. This is counter-intuitive. You might think you should wait until you’re a good writer before you start to submit your work.

However, studies have shown that when you put your skills to the test, you improve far faster than if you write without being tested. And for writers, publication is the best test of all. If the editors of literary magazines think your short story is good enough to publish, you passed the test. If they don’t, you have that much more motivation to get back to your daily practice.

Submitting takes courage, but so does being a great writer. If you want to be a greater, you have to summon the courage to submit your work.

5. Disregard All Advice

You can’t become great at anything in five easy steps, no matter how smart they are.

Great writers, like all great artists, break the rules. They write when they feel like it. They lock away their unfinished novels for years without submitting them for publication. They write for themselves.

Great writers are great because they learn the rules, and then, once mastered, they disregard everything they ever learned and write from the great rumblings of their soul. However, your writing will improve if you follow these habits of great writers.

What are the best lessons you’ve learned about how to become a better writer? Share your advice in the comments.

About the author:
Joe Bunting is the founder of The Write Practice, a community workbook for writers. His new ebook, Let’s Write a Short Story!, teaches people how to become great writers by writing and publishing short stories. Follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

About the author

Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is the founder of The Write Practice, a community workbook for writers. His new ebook, Let's Write a Short Story!, teaches people how to become great writers by writing and publishing short stories. Follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).