7 Bad Habits of Successful Authors
Can you do all the things everyone tells writers *not* to do—and still become a successful author? I spend a lot of time sharing tips on how you “should” be. Hundreds of other bloggers are doing the same… not to mention all the books for writers and all the teaching going on at conferences.
But the truth is, we’re all just muddling along. Even the most successful of us have habits and/or traits we know we shouldn’t. Nobody is doing everything right.
So below are what I think are the most common foibles to which writers fall prey… and somehow they are still able to succeed. I give you this list not so you can gloat and feel superior (not for more than a minute anyway) but so that, if you happen to have any of these particular traits, you now know, unequivocally, that you can no longer use it as an excuse for not reaching your goals. Accept your weaknesses, and carry on.
Herewith, 7 bad habits of successful authors:
Everyone knows that it can take time to build a platform, time to get an agent, time to sell your book. It takes time for agents and editors to respond to you. It takes time to write a good book. Even self-published authors have to take the time to build their readership.
Everyone knows this, but it doesn’t matter. Once a person adds the word “writer” behind their name, it’s all over with. Any patience they enjoyed heretofore in their non-writerly life flies out the window. Almost all writers are, shall we say, less patient than they wish they were. But still, somehow, they make it through.
The upside: Patience may be a virtue, but impatience can be a motivator: Write another book. Build your platform. Do something different.
2. Inclined Toward Panic.
All of the foibles of the writer stem from their deep desire not just to be published, but to do it well, to be read by many, and to make a living doing it. So any time any of the specific goals seems threatened, even successful authors tend to get that cold-sweat feeling and wonder if it’s all over. This is when they call their agent or dash of an end-of-the-world email begging for reassurance that life as they know it really isn’t over.
The upside: Well, if you’re panicked at least you know you’re breathing.
3. Ruled by Reviews
While there are a few wise, brave and totally inhuman writers out there who swear they stay away from reviews both positive and negative, most writers are mere mortals and find that their moods live and die by the latest review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any of the professional review outlets up to the NYT and PW. Bad review = a bad day. No matter how many times we remind them that it’s all subjective, that every book gets some negative ones… it doesn’t matter. Many authors still find themselves slaves to the “stars.”
The upside: It’s nice when you’re getting a lot of great reviews. Otherwise… well, nevermind, that wouldn’t be the upside anymore.
3. Addicted to sales reports
We tell them again and again, “Stop looking at Amazon rankings.” We warn them, “That stuff’s like meth. It’s crack cocaine. It makes you feel horrible and ruins your life.” And yet they keep going back for more. We tell them those reports can have a low accuracy rate (depending on the genre of your book). Checking the numbers every 20 minutes isn’t going to help you. Alas, it’s to no avail. Crack is crack.
The upside: The one good thing about carefully tracking your sales is you may be able to tell if specific promotional efforts created a spike.
It’s like this weird poetic justice. As if #2 and #3 aren’t enough, many writers also take everything hard (in their cute, thin-skinned way) so those unhappy reviews and sales numbers hurt all the more. We tell them, “Develop rawhide!” Thicken your skin! It’s a tough road ahead! It doesn’t matter. We are what we are, right? It’s a rare writer who actually has a thick skin.
The upside: That thin skin is what allows people to truly feel things, to experience every up and down of life… and consequently, probably makes them better writers.
It’s a well-known fact that all writers think they can’t write. One book in, six books in, 47 books in… every writer is convinced, over and over again, that it was a fluke, they’re not a writer, they’ve lost it, they can’t possibly do this again. Ah, insecurity is beautiful, isn’t it?
The upside: If channeled properly, the insecurity can help a successful writer stay humble.
Impossible to believe, but contrary to ubiquitous writing advice, many writers do not have a set schedule by which they write every day. In fact, numerous successful authors are squeezing the writing in with their day job or even homeschooling five kids. (You know who you are.) My hat’s off to them… I wouldn’t recommend it but somehow they get it done.
The upside: If you can get large amounts of writing done with a less-structured schedule, then your flexibility speaks volumes to your ability to be creative and productive under less-than-ideal circumstances. That is nothing short of awesome.
7. Easily distracted
Even the successful authors are susceptible to Twitter, Facebook and reading those darn agent blogs. We’re all easily distracted these days, to our detriment I’m sure, but we can be productive nonetheless.
The upside: You never miss the latest post on the fabulous pie your cousin Mildred baked in honor of Uncle Fred’s colonoscopy.