Writing Habits of Successful Writers

The Writing Elf,   Oils, Angie Noll

The Writing Elf,

Oils, Angie Noll

I love stories, but I love learning about the people who create them even more. When I find an author or illustrator that I really like, I find out all I can about them. I’m not interested in their personal lives, sexual preferences or number of divorces. I’m purely interested in how they write or make art.

Wouldn’t you want to know what J.K. Rowling’s first few paragraphs of Harry Potter or Comoran Strike’s books were like and how she deals with difficult writing times? Or how James Patterson manages to be such a prolific yet captivating writer? What keeps Neil Gaiman, Cornelia Funke, Patricia Wrede and many other authors writing when the going gets tough?

Below is a list of the writing habits of successful authors. I know many authors share the same habit, but I’ve put the author’s name next to the habit as I found them or as I know them from years of being interested in what writers do. Perhaps, if you’re feeling stuck in your writing, you could pick just one habit, implement it for a while and see what happens…

1.     You can write, or do nothing.

During Neil Gaiman’s writing time, he has a personal rule for himself that ensures he writes. He says that he is allowed to write, or do nothing. That’s all. After a while, doing nothing becomes boring, so he writes.


2.     Rent a hotel room, but not a nice one.

Maya Angelou wrote in a hotel room, with little to distract her, and Ian Flemming specifically rented a shabby hotel room for two weeks, during which time he wrote a James Bond novel. His reasoning was that with nothing to distract you, like luxury or niceties, it’s best to write and get it done with so that you can leave the awful place sooner.


3.     Create a strict writing and physical health routine while writing

Haruki Murakami, and many other writers, understand the importance of a healthy body when it comes to writing. When writing a novel, Haruki gets up at 4am every day, and writes for 5 or 6 hours. In the afternoon, he runs for 10km’s or swims for 1500m. Or both! He says the routine becomes mesmerising, which helps him to reach deeper into himself. Kurt Vonnegut also advocated a physical health routine, Ernest Hemingway included daily walks or bicycle rides and Julia Cameron also advises a daily walk when you’re writing.


4. Create a writing routine for yourself

Stephen King has a writing routine that he sticks to as well. Every time he sits down to write, which is always between 8:00am and 8:30am, he has water or a cup of tea. He also has his vitamin pill, plus some music and his papers are all arranged in the same way every day and he sits in the same seat every day. He also talks about lulling the mind, in the same way that Haruki Murakami talks about a routine that mesmerises you.


5.     Go into nature

Henry David Thoreau, Henry Miller – many writers seek out solitude in nature to get their writing done.


6.     Get a daily distance from what you wrote during the day

Joan Didion spends an hour in the evening – not in the afternoon – going over what she wrote during the day, making notes and changing things. Towards the end of a book, she also sleeps with the manuscript in the same room as her. Each to his own, I say. Many of the writers that I’ve interviewed for the podcast, The Not Starving Artist, also read what they wrote only the day after, before starting the next piece of writing. The distance they get from it during a night’s sleep helps them to evaluate it more objectively.

7. Always stop writing for the day at a point where you know what’s going to happen next. That makes picking up your writing the next day easier.

A good piece of advice from Ernest Hemmingway.

8. Write standing up/lying down

Ernest Hemmingway used to write while standing up, and Maya Angelou would lie across her hotel bed, sideways, while writing. These sound like good things to try, because sitting for hours can lead to many aches and pains. Maybe that’s why writers are generally a walking bunch….

9. Instead of a strict writing routine, be flexible

J.K. Rowling can write anywhere, any time. She writes in whatever pockets of time she has available. Julia Cameron apparently also wrote The Artists Way in bits of time here and there. E.B. White didn’t wait for ideal conditions under which to write. He wrote amidst the noise and activity of his house, in the living room. When the noise got too much, he left.

10. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, reckless on whatever is at hand.

Henry Miller… I just love this. So many people focus on writing routines, writing habits, notebooks, fountain pens, writing software…. but not many remember to include the state of mind. He also says, ‘Don’t be a draught-horse. Work with pleasure only.’

11. You can’t edit a blank page

Jodi Piccoult, Neil Gaiman…. every writer knows the value of words on the page. Even words that are badly cobbled together are better than no words.

12. Be prepared to throw lots of writing away before you get to the real story.

Barbara Kingsolver said she has to throw away hundreds of pages before she gets to page one. Margaret Atwood suggests that your best friend is the waste paper basket. Jodi Anderson mentioned in an interview I did with her that she tries not to get too attached to her words, because she knows an editor might want to make changes. Karen Russel feels that if we make peace with the fact that we might have to throw away 90% of our first draft, then we can just enjoy the writing, even if it’s bad.

13. Turn off your cell phone

Nathan Englander, A.J. Jacobs and probably many other writers, write without Facebook, Instagram, email or cell phones open to distract them. Just unplug it all and write.

14: Write whether you feel like it or not

Khaled Hosseini is clearly not in the same camp as the joy loving Henry Miller, but then, Khaled’s advice is also given by many other authors. Just write.

15. Write a first draft by hand

This works for Neil Gaiman, Cornelia Funke, J.K.Rowling and many others.

I’ve also asked a few of the writers that I’ve interviewed for my podcast, The Not Starving Artist, to share their best writing advice, and here’s what they say:

Libby Kirch, writer of the Stella Reynolds mystery series and the Janet Black mystery series


With 3 younger kids at home, I must write first thing in the day, or it’s too easy to get sidetracked by life/mom/family obligations. I set my alarm for 5am. No hitting snooze—just stumble out of bed, pour a cup of coffee (thank you, pre-set!) and go right to my desk. That usually gets me 2 hours of writing time before the kids wake up. I try and do that Monday through Friday.

The other thing I do is dictate every other chapter. This can take practice to get used to, but if you can picture your scene unfolding like a movie, it’s a great way to get a lot of words down quickly, and I also think it’s a nice way to give my wrists and back a break from the computer!

Joanne MacGregor, Author, Psychologist


1. I give myself permission to write in any way that's working. My process changes for every book, and is different on different days, and that's okay. As long as I'm actually working on the MS, and not messing about on the internet or procrastinating in other ways, it's allowable.

2. I often bypass resistance by sliding into my day's writing sideways — I reread what I wrote in the last session, giving it a light edit as I go. This gets me into the mood of the characters and back into the story. If I'm still battling to start writing, I'll write about what I'm going to write. {For example: In this chapter, Betty will encounter Jim for the first time, perhaps at the funeral?, and find out what's been happening in his life the last five years...} At some point, while I'm doing this, it somehow slides into writing the actual narrative.

3. I ignore a lot of writing "rules." I don't write every day, and I have fifteen books out, so don't believe the people who say you have to. I don't log my word counts per session. I often do edit before I go on to the next session.

My rule is to do what works for me, for this book, at this time in my life with what's happening in my family, health, career, etc. Do what works - that's it.

Betty Thesky - Author, Flight Attendant, Podcast Host of “Betty in the sky with a suitcase.”


Writing isn't easy, creating something out of nothing is difficult, which is why it's so very satisfying. I have found that walking is a great creative hack, I will think of a scene then walk to flesh it out, driving can be creative also. One little habit I inherited from other writers is to ask creativity to flow though me as I'm writing. Sometimes you don't know where something came from, it was you, but not you. Sometimes if you embrace a gift it comes though you, you may have to set the scene and ask for help, then it just happens.

I also have very practical advise, I write the first draft by hand in notebooks. Yes it's more laborious but digitalisation saps creativity. The next step is typing which serves as the first edit, next I print and read and edit in red pen. A very crucial step is to read this version aloud, which is an attempt to hear it as a reader might read it. Sometimes it reads fine silently but the mistakes make themselves heard out loud.

Miriam Lancewood, Author of International Bestseller, ‘Woman in the Wilderness.’


I know what to write, because I am writing our story in a more or less chronological order. But how to write is sometimes more difficult. I am looking in myself for that passion and enjoyment. The writing goes well when I am submerged into the story, and I'm typing with a smile on my face or a frown, or even a racing heart.

But sometimes, I am dragging my feet, and everything I produce seems dull. Then I close the laptop, andsit outside on the veranda. If is cold and rainy, I put on a jacket. I take with me any short stories by Roald Dahl. Even if I read just one page, my enthusiasm is rekindled. Take for instance the few sentences below:

From: My uncle Oswald:

"Excuse me one moment, please, but what made you think that anything was going to happen with this rat?' Here we go, I thought. I knew I'd have to watch this wile Frenchman. ‘I was excited, sir, simply because the Professor was excited,' I said. 'He seemed to know something was going to happen. I can't tell you how. Don't forget gentlemen, I was only a very young junior assistant. The Professor did not tell me all his secrets.'

Just reading the words 'here we go', fills me with joy. In my mind I scan my own manuscript, and wonder in what situation I can use these words myself. In this way, reading a little bit of Roald Dahl sets me back on my tracks.

Fiona Ingram, Author



I make sure I edit lightly as I go along. That way I don’t have a huge editing task when I complete a book. Another tip is to glance at what I wrote the day before, to keep fresh in my mind the development of the plot.

Donna Barker, novelist and ghost writer


I find that if I want to have a productive writing day, I have to start early, even though I used to do my most creative writing in the evening, after yoga. But that was only once a week. To be able to write at least 1000 words a day, I start at 7 AM by doing 25 minutes of Morning Pages. I literally set my timer and handwrite whatever is on my mind for 25 minutes. Sometimes, if I feel like nothing is on my mind, I use a prompt book called Room To Write by Bonni Goldberg.

At the end of the 25 minutes, I take a 5 minute break and then from 7:30 to 8:30 I work on my work-in-progress. The free-writing by hand almost always leads me effortlessly into writing actual words for my book that are focused and that flow with relative ease. My belief is that by starting this way, my inner critic and editor is tricked into feeling like there’s nothing to be paying attention to since I’m still a little tired and my brain has just been journalling, words that I will never share and very rarely ever even look at again myself.

Here’s another article related to the habits of creative people. I realise that the more I look into the habits of writers and artists, the more I see similarities.


What is your favourite writing habit? Share it in the comments section.


The Not Starving Artist Podcast



Henry Miller, On Writing

Julia Cameron, The Artists Way

blog, Writingangie Noll