7 (Bad) Habits of Highly Successful Authors

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

We spend a lot of time on this blog giving you tips on becoming a successful author. But what if you have a few… shall we say… weaknesses? Can you have a few bad habits and still succeed?

The truth is, we’re all just muddling along. Even the most successful of us have habits or traits we know we shouldn’t. Nobody is doing everything exactly right.

So below are what I think are the most common foibles to which many 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 highly successful authors:

1. They’re impatient.

ImpatientEveryone 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. 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. They are 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 off 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. They are 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 = 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.

4. They get addicted to Bookscan sales reports.

We tell them again and again, “Stay off of Bookscan.” 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.

5. They can be thin-skinned.

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.

6. They can tend towards insecure.

It’s a well-known fact that all writers think they can’t write. One book, six books, 47 books … 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.

7. They’re remarkably unscheduled.

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 their 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.

And a Bonus Habit! They’re 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.

What are some of YOUR bad habits that you’re willing to share with us?


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85 Responses

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  1. I too like your thought about how the truth is “we’re all just muddling along.” And i identify with Shah’s observation that your post is great because it reminds us we are not a neurotic mess on our own.

    The bad habit I wrestle with most from your list is insecurity. I’ve struggled with this since my Junior High years, despite successes.

    Now if a publisher accepts a manuscript or i receive a letter praising my historical novel about the composer J.S. Bach, I strut about for awhile with my nose in the air until something happens to destroy my illusions of grandeur.

    But you know what? I’ve discovered that pride fences me in and humility sets me free. It truly is a blessing in disguise.

    Thank you so much, Rachelle, for your stimulating blogs.

    RuthAnn Ridley

    • RuthAnn: I think that we are all insecure to some extent, by the nature of what we are, we strive, but we are not sure if we will succeed. Like you, I found that being humble helped me a lot. I was not happy when I had my big job in Corporate America. I am happy now that I am writing, and putting pieces of my soul into the words, maybe it is a message, maybe I can help others, but being humble has made me happier.

  2. Yes. This exactly. I am most guilty of being an Amazon Ranking crack addict. There’s a little chart that shows my exact mood. Updated hourly.

    I’m also extremely impatient. My second book came out on Monday and I’m already in a panic. What if I never sell another book?

  3. Wow. I’m a little of all on some level, but mainly I’m a #7. Squeezin’ it in, baby, and then suddenly there’s a 100K MS in my hand. Tune and tweak, and you’re on your way. Don’t despise the day of small beginnings (or writings). The other thing is believing whether or not the MS is good enough, and finding the RIGHT people to help grow it, cut it, raise it to the next level.

    A classic post :)

  4. Mercey: Good for you! It is better to have more than less. I do the same, write a lot and then start pruning the tree.

  5. lidy says:

    Most definitely, I’m number 7. Even when I set a schedule to write 500 words or 1000 words, or any amount of words for the day, I can’t get it done. So I just squeeze in what writing I can, sometimes before the kids wake up and I leave for work in the morning, during my lunch hour and after I put the kids the bed, when all prep for the next day are completed, dinner cooked, dishes washed and whatever mess was made had been cleaned up. If I’m lucky and not too tired, that I just want a little R&R.

  6. Leanne Dyck says:

    Thank you for this peep talk. Am I human? Oh, yeah. Do I have flaws? Oh, yeah. My biggest failing to write a draft copy of comment before posting it on a blog. Every where I go on-line I’m attempting to build my author career. Yet how professional do I look without a well-written comment. Well at least I’ve never left a nasty comment.

  7. Timothy Kennedy says:

    And, they procrastinate. At least, I procrastinate.

    Rachelle, thanks for reminding us that we’re not alone. Sitting there at your writing station, in the company only of your doubts and anxieties, you can easily forget that you are a member of a privileged group–those who get to write!

  8. Sarah Lentz says:

    Have you been spying on me? No, I’m sure you haven’t, but, boy, can I relate to this list — except for the stuff about being a successful author, because I haven’t published a book of my own. Not yet, anyway. Thank you for this, though. Nice to know I’m not the only writer with these habits. :)

  9. You are not alone. I think I had a brain attack, I had my novel finished, final manuscript, was going to look for an agent, start sending query letter.
    Looking at the manuscript I thought how could I make it more interesting, so I changed the title to THE WITCH AND THE HOUND, and moved the timeline from the present to Victorian London, in 1867. The witch is a member of the aristocracy, Lady Elizabeth Gray, which makes the novel much more interesting than before.
    The downside is that I’m throwing away about 75% of my scenes, but the result will be better. So I’m doing a lot of writing.

  10. Sara Ella says:

    Hmmm….not published yet, but if I ever do get there I’ll possibly be #3. I enter writing contests every other month. While contests are good motivators and give me tangible deadlines to meet, I will say I sometimes get obsessed with waiting for the feedback. I want to know if they liked it, what they would change, what they would add, where they connected with my characters, etc…

    On the upside, great feedback=awesome day. Downside, negative feedback can send me straight to my freezer for a tub of cake batter ice cream BUT I try my best to look at it subjectively and move on :)Not everyone will like what I have to say.

    I think we all have our weaknesses, but they key is to recognize them and try to grow from there.

    Thanks for another fun blog post, Rachelle! I always enjoy reading them.

  11. All of these plus a huge general disgust with my first published book that I can’t seem to get past fiddling with.

  12. Anne says:

    Great article. But am I the only one who does not agree with point #6? I am not a writer who thinks I cannot write. I’ve always known I could write and grow professionally as a writer. I may have other insecurities but writing is not it.