Writing is weird. As a recovering English major, I’m still trying to discover how it fits into my life. I graduated college with an iPhone note full of ideas for future screenplays, novels, and short stories, and eagerly told anyone who asked that my post-grad plans consisted of one thing: writing!
And then I got my first job.
I landed a gig as a writer with what I refer to now as a “content sweatshop.” Instead of turning in papers to kind professors, I was writing mindless copy for picky clients. Instead of researching the impact of the industrial revolution on William Blake’s poetry, I was researching—rather frantically—the difference between a Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 bankruptcy so I could write ten blogs for a bankruptcy lawyer by noon. The rigorous demand for content at work quickly left me with zero bandwidth to pursue any of my own writing in my free time, and I quickly became bitter towards the practice in general.
Two years later, I’m still suffering from a little bit of writer’s posttraumatic stress disorder. However, despite my trauma, I write every single day. Whether it’s an article, press release, or simply a well-thought-out email, I cannot escape the craft. Writing is hard, but it continues to be one of my strengths even when the romance has taken a backseat
Speaking from experience, here are five bad habits of good writers.
- You let reading become an optional activity. After completing my English degree, I wanted to be as far away as possible from names like Foucault, Shakespeare, Joyce, and Proust. The cure? Not reading at all for almost a year. However, as I got further into my professional life, the longing for story returned. In his book On Writing, Stephen King notes, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I started setting small, but practical, reading goals for myself, including a goal for how many books to read each year.
- You play the comparison game. Any well-intentioned writer has certain authors they admire, respect, even idolize, but when it comes to you and your writing, comparison is kryptonite. Comparison paralyzes a good writer with fear, which often manifests itself as our ugly friend, writer’s block. Trust your abilities, go with your gut, and then edit, edit, edit. No one is expecting, or even wants you to be, Hemingway. Inspiration is essential, but be careful to recognize when you allow the line to blur into comparison
- You shy away from the critics. If writing is anything, it is subjective. While style and syntax can be taught and polished, they ultimately become matters of preference to committed writers. Just like you don’t share the same taste in literature with everyone, you won’t always agree on writing style. However, the concept of story carries a bit more commonality across all genres. While a critic might not approve of your syntax choice, they might recognize an area for plot development you hadn’t previously noticed. I always find that when I get too close to my work, I get tunnel vision and struggle to identify problem areas. Be bold, and share your work with colleagues, friends, fellow word-nerds, whomever. Even though you might not be in perfect agreement, considering their insight will grow your work
- You prioritize routine over anything else. Routine is important, but too much of it can be detrimental to a writer’s creativity. Staying curious is one of the simplest ways to stay inspired. To become an avid observer and consumer of the world around you, make small choices to shake up your daily schedule. Read poetry instead of fiction. Listen to a podcast instead of the news. These micro decisions will improve your creative environment and provide new inspiration.
- You expect the best ideas to be big and obvious. On the first day of creative writing class, my professor asked us to visualize an object up close. After writing down a description, she asked us to slowly pan out from the object and observe the world around it, which eventually became the setting for our first story. My description started with an unassuming white couch that, over the course of an hour, gained a red wine stain and witnessed a marital spat.
Sitting down in front of a blank screen is daunting, even for the bestselling authors. The key is catching the fleeting thought and putting it under the microscope. To quote Stephen King again, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of Buried Bestsellers. . . . Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up. ”
The truest statement I can make is that I am a writer in progress. My iPhone note might still be collecting dust at the bottom of the list, but I am slowly starting to redefine the role of writing in my life.
It’s all about celebrating the baby steps, like learning to truly enjoy choosing a book or a podcast over Netflix after I get home from the office. However small, I still count each step as progress in my writing journey.
Post written by Ink & Well’s freelance word nerd, Grace Willis. A Nashville native, Grace works in publishing and spends her days communicating about books in every medium imaginable. She works hard to give her cat a better life and to help