The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers
September 8, 2010

September—ah, September! The hot haze of summer has blown away, and along with it our laid-back summer ways. The publishing industry, which has been snoozing away these last few weeks, is back from its vacation, and editors are at their desks and ever-anxious to discover that One. Perfect. Novel.There’s something so energizing about back to school time. It always makes me think of getting organized, setting new goals, and accomplishing them. And is there a better time than back-to-school to refresh your commitment to your craft, your creativity, and your goals as a writer? I think not.With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together a list of advice about the act of writing. You’ve heard some of it before, no doubt, but if you try doing just one of the things on this list, you'll see an improvement in your productivity—and your writing. [Find the list after the break.]1. Write often. Blogging doesn’t count. Texting your friends doesn’t count. Tweeting that you’re thinking about writing doesn’t count. Facebooking that you have writer’s block doesn’t count. Unplug yourself from the white noise of social networking babble and write.2. Finish what you started. You know how it happens—you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a novel that’s so brilliant, so amazing, that you simply have to get out of bed and write it down because you’re convinced you’re about to become the next J.K. Rowling. You work on it feverishly for awhile, then you start to feel kinda lost about where you’re going with the story, and before you know it, you’ve forsaken your novel for surfing the internet. It’s still there, languishing on your hard drive. You think of it fondly, but just haven’t found the time to get back to it. Guess what? Now is as good a time as any. So whether you join one of those crazy nanowrimo thingies or set your own goals, commit to finishing a project.3. Read well. US Weekly does not count. Sh*t My Dad Says (though hilarious) does not count. Sports blogs do not count. For your pleasure reading, choose something well-written (and maybe something—gasp!—out of your comfort zone) that will help you think about craft and inspire your own writing. Personally, I always seem to return to the classics. I re-read The Great Gatsby over the summer, and enjoyed it so thoroughly that upon finishing, I had to fight the urge to go back to the beginning and read it all over again.4. Get out of your own head. Writing is quite the solitary journey, but just because you write by yourself doesn’t mean your work in progress should remain under lock and key until you’ve lovingly typed that final page. The best way to improve your writing (other than writing consistently), is to find inspired, like-minded individuals whom you trust to read and critique your work. So if you haven’t already, join a crit group, and if possible, make plans to attend writer’s conferences (either locally or nationally), where you can attend workshops, meet other writers, and get the chance to put your work in front of editors and agents.5. Carry a notebook. Keep a notebook in your purse (or your man-purse or messenger bag or whatever guys are calling their purses these days). Use it to jot down sudden ideas, titles, thoughts, and impressions of what you see and experience. By jotting down things that touch you, impress you, strike you as beautiful or funny or odd, you’re giving yourself permission to take a break from the rush of daily life and reconnect with the world around you. It’s good for the soul—and for your fiction.6. Set a weekly goal. Too often, I see writers tweeting away about being waaaay shy of their daily word count goal for their WIP (gee, maybe that’s b/c they’re tweeting instead of writing). Well, rather than set a lofty daily goal for yourself, why not try a more reasonable goal? With life being so busy, it’s entirely understandable that you won’t be able to write every day. So try setting a weekly goal rather than a daily one—maybe strive to write for an hour a day, 5 days a week, and see how that works for you.7. Learn something new. The more you read and learn about the world, the more your writing and your characters will benefit from it. Read a book on a period of history that interests you, or on a subject that you’ve always been interested in that you didn’t know much about (llama farming, scuba diving, cheese making in France, whatever.). Stay curious about the world around you, and all of that good stuff will make its way into your writing.Remember: Have fun with whatever you’re working on, and always seek out things in life that inspire you.What about you? What books do you read for inspiration? Do you have any goals you’re working toward this fall? Do you have any tips for creativity and inspiration that you’d like to share?