It’s only natural, as a writer, to be fascinated by the writing habits of others… especially the routines of writers you particularly admire, who are highly successful, or who are extremely prolific.
I know I wonder what things other writers do that could benefit my own writing routines.
And I thought you might wonder about that, too.
So, I took to the internet with an eye out for the daily habits of writers — both copywriters and novelists. I read about E.B. White, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, and Maya Angelou, among others. And I read tips from Paul Hollingshead, Clayton Makepeace, John Forde, and Gary Halbert, just to name a few of the copywriters whose routines and advice I perused.
Rather than share routines, which you can easily find online, I looked for commonalities…
What are the things most of these well-known, successful writers did and continue to do?
Here’s what I found…
#1 – Write early.
The number one trend I identified among successful and prolific writers was a preference for writing early.
So many writers start out writing first in the day. This looks a little different for each one.
Some wake up early — at four or five in the morning — and write for two or three hours before doing anything else. Others get up at a more typical time — like six or seven — but still dedicate their first waking hours to writing. And a few others spend some quiet time in the morning before writing, but their first productive act in the day is to write.
How does this look for you? Do you start your day writing?
If not, maybe that’s an experiment worth trying. In the coming month, consider spending your first hour writing before you do anything else. See if it makes a difference in the quality of your work, how much you get done overall, and how you feel about your day.
#2 – Stick to a routine.
I was surprised by the number of novelists who cited sticking to a routine as an important part of being productive. It’s easy to picture fiction writers as creative types… writing when they feel like it and doing other things on a whim. But that image of the creative professional doesn’t hold up.
Whether a writer preferred to write in the morning, as most do, or spent more of their afternoon and evening hours writing, there was a good chance they kept to a similar routine every day.
And, as part of that similar routine, many expressed the value of writing whether you feel like it or not.
Whether you’re working on a novel, putting together content for your money-making website, or tackling a big project for a client, knowing when you plan to write each day — and having those hours be the same from day to day — can help you complete that project faster. Just remember, even if you don’t feel like writing, if it’s your writing time, make sure you’re putting words on the page.
#3 – Do thorough research.
This answer came up more often among the copywriters than the fiction writers, which isn’t really a surprise. But several novelists mention it, too. No matter what you’re working on, the writing will go more smoothly if you have a good grasp of your subject. And gaining a good grasp comes from doing good research.
It’s useful to have a strategy for your research. Otherwise, you can find yourself spending more time than you intended, which can get tricky if you have deadlines.
Here’s what works well for me:
- Start out with some general reading. Read 10 or so articles and blog posts on your topic. Read a book or two, if you have the time. Also, study any materials your client gives you, and study the competition.
- After you’ve done all that reading, make a list of specific questions you need to know the answers to in order to do your best work.
- As you research the answers to those questions, take good notes and jot down any new questions that come up. Then do a second round of research to answer those
Usually, this three-part process is enough to leave me feeling well-versed on a topic. But, as I write, there are often additional things I research as they come up.
#4 – Enjoy the process.
Many writers mentioned enjoying the process of writing.
As you sit down, think about what you’re undertaking… how neat it is to be writing a story or crafting a sales letter or penning an article. What you write will help or entertain other people. And, if you’re writing for a client, you’re getting paid to be creative.
Many writers also talked about being aware that much of what you write won’t make it into the final draft. So, not only is it important to enjoy the process… it’s also helpful to learn to enjoy writing badly.
#5 – Reading is essential.
A lot of writers spend a good chunk of their time reading.
Of course, read samples of the type of writing you do. If you write sales letters, read sales letters. If you write blog posts, read blog posts.
But, also read in your industry. If you mostly write about the food and wine industry, read up on what’s happening in that industry. Read success stories from key figures. See what companies in that industry are doing.
Read non-fiction of all kinds, but especially biographies and books covering areas that interest you, but you don’t necessarily write about.
Read novels. There’s no better way to learn the craft of storytelling… and telling stories will be part of your writing, no matter what type you’re doing.
Read poetry. Poems show you how to use metaphor, simile, and imagery. They also teach an economy of words.
#6 – Move in the afternoon.
Many of the writers who talk about working first thing in the morning also talk about exercising in the afternoon. They walk. They run. They swim. They do strength training.
The key takeaway here is stepping away from your work and doing something physically demanding can put you in touch with ideas that might have been eluding you while you were at your desk. And, taking care of your body and maintaining good physical fitness makes it easier to be creative… after all, creativity comes more naturally when you’re feeling good and full of energy.
#7 – Be human and have experiences.
You can’t imbue your writing with life and realism and analogies and examples, if all you ever do is sit at your desk. Go out with friends. Explore your city or town. Take up a hobby. Travel. Talk to people you don’t know.
However you do it, make sure you’re having new experiences and making new connections. Without those, even the most successful writer’s life will start to feel stale.
As we move into 2023, it’s a perfect time to revisit how you structure your day. Maybe you’ll adopt some of these tips from top writers to make your own writer’s life a little more productive and a little more fun.