Five Winning Habits of Successful Writers
Once again, please welcome Dr. John Yeoman with a guest post on winning habits for successful writers.
Have you ever wanted a formula for success when writing a novel or short story? You’ll find clever strategies everywhere but it all comes down to a five-step program that never fails. Just work the program and if you have even the smallest amount of writing talent, it will work for you.
1. Write garbage – deliberately
Write every day and give yourself permission to write dross. The easiest way to complete a story is to jot it down quickly. Don’t be afraid to use the first words that comes to mind. Clichés are fine. Free associate, if you must.
Don’t waste time hunting for the perfect word or phrase at this point. Your inspiration will dry up. Besides, you’ll probably cut that perfect paragraph later, anyway. You can always go back to a bad story and make it better. You’ll ask yourself, how could I write such garbage? You’ll yearn to correct it.
Correcting a garbage draft is easy. But it’s tough to motivate yourself when returning to a blank page.
Another bonus of jotting down your first draft quickly and carelessly is that you’ll never have writer’s block. That’s often the anxiety created by a hopeless bid for perfection.
Tell yourself I’m now going to write dross. That way, you can’t fail.
2. Watch lots of soap operas
This method is painless, unless you hate soap operas. Sit through your favorite sitcoms and TV dramas with a notebook in hand. Make a note of the body language the actors use when they respond to each other.
Somebody insults somebody else. They lean forward. They invade that person’s space. Their face twists. But how? What does the other character do in terms of body language?
Observe how scenes switch back and forth. None last for more than a few moments. How does each one end? What tricks or scene hangers does the producer use to keep you glued to the screen between commercials? Are there unresolved questions, mysteries, or threats?
List the types of scene hangers you come across. These could be great devices to use in your own stories between episodes or chapters.
3. Eavesdrop shamelessly
Listen to conversations in bars, hair salons, gyms, parties, wherever people gather. Discover how people really talk. To be sure, you’ll get some odd looks if you pull out a notebook in a sauna, but you can still memorize unusual exchanges of speech, turns of phrase, and impromptu one-liners. Write them down later.
Above all, note how people in real life do not speak in proper grammatical sentences, then wait politely for the next person to do the same. Conversation is a blur of half-completed thoughts, isn’t it? Nobody is grammatical and nobody cares. Meaning is somehow conveyed between the words.
Capture the true forms and rhythms of speech in your stories and they’ll glow with authenticity.
4. Take 5-minute timeouts every day
Carry a notebook everywhere and do this simple drill: take time out for five minutes each day whenever you have some privacy. Look around you. Focus on the first thing you see. A busy street? Fine. A city park? Great. A blank wall? Superb. The more banal the scene, the better.
Pretend you’ve never come across that thing before. Make a note of what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Then put that moment of perception into just 20 words. Capture its essence. Write a haiku.
This time, you don’t want to use clichés. Make that moment uniquely yours. Choose memorable, magical words. File those impressions away to drop into your stories later.
Caution: this exercise is a challenge at first. But after a while it becomes habitual. James Joyce did it all the time while walking the streets of Dublin. The result was Ulysses.
After a while, you’ll find you just can’t write in a boring, clichéd way. Your habits won’t let you.
5. Get used to rewrites
Nobody writes perfectly the first time. Or even the fifth time. Accept the truth: if you want your stories to sell, you have to correct them a dozen times. Make them as good as you can, and then drop them in your sock drawer for a month. They’ll develop errors, dull interludes, and patches of downright ugliness all by themselves.
That’s the time to fix them. Then drop them back in the drawer for another month and do it all over again.
True, pro writers don’t always have the leisure for that process. But professionals have learned from a long and painful apprenticeship to get their stories 80% right after just the third draft. Eighty per cent is enough to satisfy a commercial publisher. Besides, a story that’s 100% perfect is unpopular. It puts editors out of work.
Secrets to Great Writing
So what’s the secret? Successful writing is 10% talent and 90% good habits. Use these five tips to develop your habits as a writer and sheer persistence will steer you to success.
About the Author: Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. He has published eight books of humor, some of them intended to be humorous. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at Writers’ Village.